Archive for August, 2020

Order, Disorder, Reorder: Part Two

August 18th, 2020

The Disorder of Dismantling Racism
Tuesday,  August 18, 2020

The universal pattern of transformation I’m writing about these three weeks is not limited to religious or spiritual growth. Nor is it only individuals that are invited to make the journey. Whole churches and even cultures experience times of disorder and disruption. In the United States, many of us are discovering that a large number of things we believed to be true—about our nation and ourselves—are not entirely true. I believe this is a necessary step that we must take for the sake of healing and justice in our nation and our world—no matter how “disordering” and even disorienting it may be. Perhaps I can only say this because I believe so completely in the possibility of Reorder! Author Austin Channing Brown, who teaches on issues of racial justice, was raised in a devoutly Christian home and has worked in and with churches for most of her professional life. I hope you can read her words with the openness they deserve.

I learned about whiteness up close. In its classrooms and hallways, in its offices and sanctuaries. At the same time, I was also learning about Blackness, about myself and about my faith. My story is not about condemning white people but about rejecting the assumption—sometimes spoken, sometimes not—that white is right: closer to God, holy, chosen, the epitome of being. . . .

Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. It is risky and messy. It is haunting work to recall the sins of our past. But is this not the work we have been called to anyway? Is this not the work of the Holy Spirit to illuminate truth and inspire transformation?

It’s haunting. But it’s also holy.

And when we talk about race today, with all the pain packed into that conversation, the Holy Spirit remains in the room. This doesn’t mean the conversations aren’t painful, aren’t personal, aren’t charged with emotion. But it does mean we can survive. We can survive honest discussions about slavery, about convict leasing, about stolen land, deportation, discrimination, and exclusion. We can identify the harmful politics of gerrymandering, voter suppression, criminal justice laws, and policies that disproportionately affect people of color negatively. And we can expose the actions of white institutions—the history of segregation and white flight, the real impact of all-white leadership, the racial disparity in wages, and opportunities for advancement. We can lament and mourn. We can be livid and enraged. We can be honest. We can tell the truth. We can trust that the Holy Spirit is here. We must.

For only by being truthful about how we got here can we begin to imagine another way.

Story from Our Community:​
I recently made the trip to my family’s old cottage on a remote lake. As I settled in [to the cottage] on an unusually clear night, my eyes began to adjust to the lack of ambient light from car headlights and shopping centers. I looked up at the very same sky I had left at my suburban home and saw not just a few stars, but constellations, then clouds of stars, until the night sky seemed more light than darkness. It’s times like these when I’m startled by how close and abundant God’s love really is, whether my eyes and heart are open or not. —James M.

It Must Happen to Us

August 17th, 2020

Order, Disorder, Reorder:
Part Two

It Must Happen to Us
Monday,  August 17, 2020

Sooner or later, if we are on any classic “spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter our lives that we simply cannot deal with using our present skill set, our acquired knowledge, or our strong willpower. It will probably have to do with one of what I call the Big Six: love, death, suffering, sexuality, infinity, and God.  Spiritually speaking, we will be led to the edge of our own private resources. At that point we will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it (8:14). We will and must “lose” at something. This is the only way that Life–Fate–God–Grace–Mystery can get us to change, let go of our egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.

There is no practical or compelling reason to leave one’s present comfort zone in life. If it’s working for us, why would we? Nor can we force ourselves into the second stage of disorder (though we must certainly be open to it). Any conscious attempt to engineer or plan our own enlightenment is doomed to failure because it will be ego driven. We will try to “succeed” in the midst of our failure and “order” our time in disorder! But unexpected weaknesses, failure, and humiliation force us to go where we never would otherwise. We must stumble and be brought to our knees by reality. “God comes to you disguised as your life,” as my friend Paula D’Arcy wisely says. We must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern.

There must be, and if we are honest, there always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change, or even understand. Normally a job, a fortune, or a reputation has to be lost, a house has to be flooded, an illness has to be endured. Some kind of falling, what I call “necessary suffering,” is programmed into the journey. By denying our pain or avoiding our necessary falling, many of us have kept ourselves from our own spiritual depths. We still want some kind of order and reason, instead of suffering life’s inherent disorder and tragedy.

Order, Disorder, Reorder:
Part Two

Disorder: Stage Two of a Three-Part Journey
Sunday,  August 16, 2020

Last week’s Daily Meditations focused on Order as the first stage of healthy development. To continue growing, we must go through a period—or even many periods—of Disorder. The pattern of transformation involves at least some measure of suffering. Part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger (John 12:24). If we’re not willing to let go of our smaller selves, our norms, beliefs, and preferences, we won’t be able to enter the more expansive and inclusive space of Reorder.

The invitation from Jesus to move from one stage to another seems quite clear in his frequent invitation to metanoia: to turn around or change our minds. I remember having problems with that myself. I thought, “Why should I turn around? I’m baptized, confirmed, have shared the Eucharist, and am even ordained! I’m right!” How foolish and yet how typical of someone in love with Order. That’s precisely the stubbornness Jesus is talking about.

Almost inevitably, our ideally ordered universe—our “private salvation project” as Thomas Merton called it—will eventually disappoint us, at least if we are honest. At some point in our lives, we will be deeply disappointed by what we were originally taught, by where our choices have led us, or by the seemingly random tragedies that take place in all our lives. There will be a death, a disease, a disruption to our normal way of thinking or being in the world. It is necessary if any real growth is to occur.

Some of us find this stage so uncomfortable we try to flee back to our first created order—even if it is killing us. Others today seem to have given up and decided that “there is no universal order,” at least no order we will submit to. That’s the postmodern stance, which distrusts all grand narratives and ideologies, including often any notions of reason, a common human nature, social progress, universal human norms, absolute truth, or objective reality. Much of the chaos that reigns in the American culture and government these days is the direct result of such a “post-truth society.”

But permanent residence in Disorder is rather tragic and certainly unhelpful. It tends to make people negative and cynical, and usually angry. Searching for some solid ground, we can easily become quite opinionated and dogmatic about one form of political correctness or another. While some accuse religious people of being overly dogmatic, this stymied position worships disorder itself as though it were a dogma.

I can see why Christianity adopted the language of being “born again.” The great traditions seem to say the first birth is not enough. We not only have to be born, but remade. The remaking of the soul and the refreshing of the eye has to be done again and again.

A Further Journey

August 14th, 2020

Order, Disorder, Reorder:
Part One

A Further Journey
Friday,  August 14, 2020

If we are granted this first stage of Order (and not all are), we feel innocent and safe. Everything is basically good, it all means something, and we feel a part of what looks normal and deserved. It is our “first naïveté.” Everything has an explanation, and thus feels like it is straight from God, solid, and forever. This is probably why we are so reluctant to relinquish our innocence; it often feels like a loss of faith.

Most worldviews have encouraged this perspective. We, in the United States, are a “first half of life culture,” largely concerned about surviving successfully. Probably most cultures and individuals across history have been situated in the first half or “Order” stage, because it is all they had time for. We try to do what seems like the task that life first hands us: establishing an identity, a home, relationships, friends, community, security, and building a proper platform for our only life.

But this is only the first task! When we try to stay in this first satisfying explanation of how things are, we tend to avoid any conflict, inconsistencies, suffering, or darkness and therefore opportunities for transformation. The familiar and habitual are so falsely reassuring, we make our homes there permanently. The ego believes that disorder or change is always to be avoided, so we hunker down and pretend that our Order is entirely good, should be good for everybody, and is always “true” and even the only truth. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push—usually a big one—or we will not go. Even many Christians do not like anything that looks like “carrying the cross,” no matter how piously they use the phrase.

Most of us are never told that we can set out from the known and familiar to take on a further journey. Our institutions, including our churches, and our expectations are almost entirely configured to encourage, support, reward, and validate the tasks of the first half of life. We are more struggling to survive than to thrive, more just “getting through” or trying to get to the top than finding out what is really at the top or even at the bottom.

Most of us in the first half of life suspect that all is not fully working, and we are probably right! Many, if not most, will settle for first-stage survival, and never get to “the unified field” of life itself. As Bill Plotkin, a wise guide, puts it, many of us learn to do our “survival dance,” but we never get to our actual “sacred dance.”

Order, Disorder, Reorder: Part One

August 13th, 2020

Awe, Wonder, and Love
Thursday,  August 13, 2020

A sense of wonder and awe is the foundation of religion. Too often we associate religion with belonging to a church or professing certain beliefs, but the religious instinct is so much broader than that. Sikh activist and human rights lawyer Valarie Kaur teaches us that awe and wonder can make us available to greater depths of compassion, union, and love.

Wonder is our birthright. It comes easily in childhood—the feeling of watching dust motes dancing in sunlight, or climbing a tree to touch the sky, or falling asleep thinking about where the universe ends. If we are safe and nurtured enough to develop our capacity to wonder, we start to wonder about the people in our lives, too—their thoughts and experiences, their pain and joy, their wants and needs. We begin to sense that they are to themselves as vast and complex as we are to ourselves, their inner world as infinite as our own. In other words, we are seeing them as our equal. We are gaining information about how to love them. Wonder is the wellspring for love. . . .

The call to love beyond our own flesh and blood is ancient. It echoes down to us on the lips of indigenous leaders, spiritual teachers, and social reformers through the centuries. [The founder of Sikhism] Guru Nanak called us to see no stranger, Buddha to practice unending compassion, Abraham to open our tent to all, Jesus to love our neighbors, Muhammad to take in the orphan, [Hindu mystic saint] Mirabai to love without limit. They all expanded the circle of who counts as one of us, and therefore who is worthy of our care and concern. These teachings were rooted in the linguistic, cultural, and spiritual contexts of their time, but they spoke of a common vision of our interconnectedness and interdependence. . . .

What has been an ancient spiritual truth is now increasingly verified by science: We are all indivisibly part of one another. We share a common ancestry with everyone and everything alive on earth. The air we breathe contains atoms that have passed through the lungs of ancestors long dead. Our bodies are composed of the same elements created deep inside the furnaces of long-dead stars. We can look upon the face of anyone or anything around us and say—as a moral declaration and a spiritual, cosmological, and biological fact: You are a part of me I do not yet know.

But you don’t have to be religious in order to open to wonder. You only have to reclaim a sliver of what you once knew as a child. If you remember how to wonder, then you already have what you need to learn how to love.

The Cosmic Order

August 12th, 2020

Order, Disorder, Reorder:
Part One

The Cosmic Order
Wednesday,  August 12, 2020

Matter is the common, universal, tangible setting, infinitely shifting and varied, in which we live. . . . By matter we are nourished, lifted up, linked to everything else, invaded by life. —Teilhard de Chardin

The physical structure of the universe is love. —Teilhard de Chardin

For Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), a French Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist, love is at the physical heart of the universe. He viewed love as the attraction of all things toward all things. We could say that love is the universal ordering principle. In this passage from Liberation and the Cosmos, CAC faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes imagines a conversation between Civil Rights lawyer and educator Barbara Jordan (1936–1996) and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993). It captures the essence of what is good and possible about Order—in both the laws of cosmos and the land.

Marshall: How about this, Barbara? Suppose, just for argument’s sake, that we consider the law to be a reflection of the order of the cosmos? Although there is chaos and synchronicity, there is also the potential for creative genesis.

Jordan: I remember reading the work of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, mystic, and paleontologist who did a good deal of work on consciousness and the laws of the universe. . . .

The laws of nations give clues as to the state of mind of a populace, and sometimes they provide a history of our processive movement toward our highest good. That’s all of the science that I know. But from what I understand, there are laws of the universe as well as laws of nation-states. Matter and spirit are intertwined so that the “quanta of matter and spirit that once permeated the early universe become fibers of matter influenced by gravity and threads of spirit drawn by love.” [1] . . .

Marshall: Let me say a few cosmological things. While our laws are in place to prevent, proscribe, and punish, the laws of the universe seem to be focused on connection, attraction, and a cosmic holding mechanism. . . . Where was Teilhard when I needed him? The idea that we are connected to a future good, and moving toward something better, would have been a breath of fresh air . . . . Now that I am on this side of the continuum, I’m certain that the trajectory of human life is toward mutuality and care of self and neighbor. [2]

I wish more of us understood and accepted the “laws of the universe,” which include disruption, dynamism and evolution, instead of clinging so tightly to the “law and order” of church and country. Jesus himself indicated that “heavenly” and “human” laws are not on equal footing. He refused to enforce or even bother with what he considered secondary issues like ritual laws, purity codes, and membership requirements. He regarded them as human commandments, which far too often took the place of love (see Matthew 15:3, 6‒9).

Order, Disorder, Reorder: Part One

August 11th, 2020

From Innocence to Knowledge
Tuesday,  August 11, 2020

Many Christians look to the Garden of Eden as the ultimate example of Order. While we can certainly mourn the suffering, it doesn’t do us any good to regret “the Fall.” It had to happen; failure is part of the deal! If Christ is theLogos, the blueprint for all creation, then God has always had our growth and salvation in mind. In this passage, theologian and mystic Rev. Howard Thurman (1900–1981) explores the creative tension that exists between innocence and knowledge, each honoring the other.

The setting is the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are the central figures in an idyllic surrounding. All is peaceful. All is innocent. They are told by God that they are free to do anything except one thing. They are forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge which grows in the midst of the garden [Genesis 2:16–17]. For if they eat of the fruit they shall be driven from the garden and from that day forward they shall be responsible for their own lives. They eat of the fruit; they are driven out of the garden; they become responsible for their own lives. With the coming of knowledge, they have lost their innocence.

The transition from innocence to knowledge is always perilous and fraught with hazard. There is something very comforting and reassuring about innocence. To dwell in innocence is to inhabit a region where storms do not come and where all the breezes are gentle and balmy. It is to live in the calm of the eye of the hurricane. It is to live in a static environment which makes upon the individual no demands other than to be. All else is cared for; is guaranteed.

But when knowledge comes, the whole world is turned upside down. The meaning of things begins to emerge. And more importantly, the relations between things are seen for the first time. Questions are asked and answers are sought. A strange restlessness comes over the spirit and the enormity of error moves over the horizon like a vast shadow. Struggle emerges as the way of life. An appetite is awakened that can never be satisfied. A person becomes conscious of himself; the urge to know, to understand, to find answers, turns inward. Every estimate of others becomes a question of self-estimate, every judgment upon life becomes a self-judgment. The question of the meaning of one’s self becomes one with the meaning of life.

This process of moving from innocence to knowledge is never finished. Always there is the realm of innocence, always there is some area of innocence untouched by knowledge. The more profound the growth of knowledge, the more aware the individual becomes of the dimensions of innocence. Pride in knowledge is always tempered by the dominion of innocence.

Thurman offers here a wonderful description of the first stage of Order and a poetic, accurate account of early forays into Disorder. Surely moving between these two polarities is part of the Divine Dance. my body? What is mine to do?

Story from Our Community:
My husband has a diagnosis of “Moderate Cognitive Decline,” probably heading towards Alzheimer’s. Richard’s meditations have helped me rise above my personal grief, anger, and resentment. When I find myself feeling inconvenienced by all the things I now have to do because my husband no longer can, I am reminded of how strong and skilled God has made me. This must be one of the gates through which I am passing on my way to more closely aligning myself with the nature of the Universal Christ. —Linda F.

Necessary Boundaries

August 10th, 2020

Order, Disorder, Reorder:
Part One

Necessary Boundaries
Monday,  August 10, 2020

Law, tradition, and boundaries—what I call Order—seem to be necessary in any spiritual system both to reveal and to limit our basic egocentricity. Such containers make at least some community, family, and marriage possible. Boundaries seem to be the only way that human beings can find a place to stand, a place to begin, a place from which to move out. Even those who think they don’t have any boundaries usually do. We discover them when we trespass against them. The human soul flourishes on solid ground, especially in the first years of life.

As Paul belabors in his Letter to the Romans (see especially chapters 2–7), the law is given for the sake of information, education, and transformation, but is not itself enlightenment. Even though allegiance to boundaries, limits, and laws is almost universally confused with religion and even salvation itself, “the law will not save anyone” (Galatians 3:11). Law has to do with the pattern of how transformation happens—and that’s all. The struggle with boundaries and law creates the wrestling ring, but is not, itself, the encounter or the victory.

Human beings seem to need to fight and engage with something before they can take it seriously—and before they can discover what they really need or want. The people who never fight religion, guilt, parents, injustice, friends, marriage partners, and laws usually don’t respect their own power, importance, and freedom. They remain content with the external values of the first “lawful” container, instead of working to discover their own.

I am trying to hold us inside a very creative tension, because both law and freedom are necessary for spiritual growth, as Paul says in both Romans and Galatians. He learned this from Jesus, who says seven times in a row, “The law says . . . but I say” (Matthew 5:21–48), while also assuring us that he “has not come to throw out the law but to bring it to completion” (5:17). Despite having been directly taught to hold this creative tension, rare is the Christian believer who holds it well.

The psyche cannot live with everything changing every day, everything a matter of opinion, everything relative. There must be a sound container holding us long enough so we can move beyond survival mode. There has to be solid ground, trust, and shared security, or we cannot move outward. There has to be a foundational hope, and for hope to be a shared experience there must be agreed-upon meanings and shared stories that excite and inspire us all. If there are truly stories from the great patterns that are always true, they will catapult us into a universal humanity and pluralistic society. We will both stand on solid ground and, from that solid ground, create common ground. If it does not support our movement outward, then it is not solid ground at all.

Order, Disorder, Reorder:
Part One

The Universal Pattern
Sunday,  August 9, 2020

It seems quite clear that we grow by passing beyond some perfect Order, through an often painful and seemingly unnecessary Disorder, to an enlightened Reorder or resurrection. This is the universal pattern that connects and solidifies our relationships with everything around us. This week’s meditations focus on Order, the first in the sequence. We will take a closer look at Disorder and Reorder in the following two weeks.

The trajectory of transformation and growth, as I see the great religious and philosophical traditions charting it, uses many metaphors for this pattern. We could point to the classic “Hero’s Journey” charted by Joseph Campbell; the Four Seasons or Four Directions of most Native religions; the epic accounts of exodus, exile, and Promised Land of the Jewish people, followed by the cross, death, and resurrection narrative of Christianity. Each of these deeply rooted “myths,” in its own way, is saying that growth happens in this full sequence. To grow toward love, union, salvation, or enlightenment, we must be moved from Order to Disorder and then ultimately to Reorder.

A sense of order is the easiest and most natural way to begin; it is a needed first “container.” I cannot think of a culture in human history, before the present postmodern era, that did not value law, tradition, custom, family loyalties, authority, boundaries, and morality of some clear sort. While they aren’t perfect, these containers give us the necessary security, predictability, impulse control, and ego structure that we need, before the chaos of real life shows up. As far as I can see it, healthily conservative people tend to grow up more naturally and more happily than those who receive only freeform, build-it-yourself worldviews.

We need a very strong container to hold the contents and contradictions that arrive later in life. We ironically need a very strong ego structure to let go of our ego. We need to struggle with the rules more than a bit before we throw them out. We only internalize values by butting up against external values for a while. All this builds the strong self that can positively follow Jesus—and “die to itself.” [1]

In our time, many people are questioning and rejecting the institutions, churches, and authority figures that have long provided stability. Looking to the perennial tradition, which has held up over time, can help create a positive “container.” We cannot each start at zero, entirely on our own. Life is far too short, and there are plenty of mistakes we do not need to make—though, of course, there are some that we need to make. We are parts of social and family ecosystems that, when they are rightly structured, keep us from falling. More importantly, these systems show us how to fall and how to learn from that very falling.

Spark of the Devine

August 7th, 2020
Image credit: Motherhood Through the Spirit and Water (detail), c. 1165; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100.

The Rhineland Mystics

Spark of the Divine
Friday,  August 7, 2020

Matthew Fox has studied, written, and taught on theology and the mystics for decades. In one of his books on Meister Eckhart, Fox writes:

In the soul, Eckhart maintains, there is “something like a spark of divine nature, a divine light, a ray, an imprinted picture of the divine nature.” [1] . . . But we have to make contact with this divine spark by emptying ourselves or letting go. And then we will know the unity that already exists. [2]

Indian-born teacher Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999) puts it in similar terms:

Life’s real and highest goal . . . [is] to discover this spark of the divine that is in our hearts. . . . When we realize this goal, we discover simultaneously that the divinity within ourselves is one and the same in all—all individuals, all creatures, all of life. [3]

Meister Eckhart was frequently criticized by his contemporaries (and still is by some people today) because his language was far too unitive. We like our distinctions! We don’t want to hear that we have the same soul as our enemies, not our personal ones and certainly not our cultural or global ones! We want to hate them, don’t we? And far too often our religion seemingly gives us permission to do so. But mystics don’t hate anyone. They simply can’t. They pray, as Jesus does on the cross, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The mystic knows the other person doesn’t know. It’s not malice as much as ignorance and unawareness. And, of course, it’s a burden to know; it’s a responsibility to know, because once we know that God has inhabited all that God has created, then all of our distinctions are silly. They are just ways to create self-importance and superiority for ourselves and put down someone else. We’ve played this game since grade school!

Mysticism begins when we start to make room for a completely new experience of God as immanent, present here and now, with and within all of us. God isn’t only transcendent, “out there,” and separate from me. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) wrote that God is “more intimate to me than I am to myself.” [4] St. Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510) said, “My me is God: nor do I know my selfhood except in God.” [5] Like all mystics, they overcame the gap, and we can too. When God is no longer out there or over there, we have begun the mystical journey. It’s not simply that we have a new relationship with God. It’s as though we have a whole new God!

That’s what Meister Eckhart meant when he said, “Let us pray to God that we may be free of God.” [6] That’s not sacrilege; that’s a beautifully humble prayer because we know that our present notion of God is never all God is. As Augustine boldly stated, “Si enim comprehendis, non est Deus” (“If we comprehend it, it is not God”). [7] Our present experience is never enough, but it is gratefully where we begin, and these mystics teach us that we grow with each experience of God.

The Rhineland Mystics

August 6th, 2020

A Mirror Image
Thursday,  August 6, 2020

An image is not of itself, nor is it for itself. It rather springs from the thing whose reflection it is and belongs to it with all its being. It owes nothing to a thing other than that whose image it is; nothing else is at its origin. An image takes its being immediately from that of which it is the image and has one sole being with it, and it is that same being. —Meister Eckhart

Sometimes it takes a mystic to translate another mystic for the rest of us. My dear friend, CAC faculty member, and modern mystic James Finley helps us understand Eckhart’s words. A slow, prayerful reading of this brilliant text will deepen your own insight:

[Meister Eckhart] says that the generosity of the Infinite is infinite and [that God] gives [God’s self] away as the reality of all things. And he says that our sorrow is that we do not know that we are the generosity of God. . . .

This is a paraphrase of Eckhart: Imagine you’re standing before a full-length mirror, and imagine the image of you is conscious, that it can think. And this image of you has been through a lot of therapy; it’s taken a lot of courses on being an insightful image. And it has come to a point in which it informs you that it doesn’t need you.

You say to the image of you, “Well, you know, this is going to be rough, really, since you’re an image of me.”

“No,” the image says, [after a pause], “I’ve worked on this; I’ve come to this point.”

And so, to gently help the image out, you step halfway off the side of the mirror; and half the image disappears. The image has a panic attack and goes back into therapy and says to the therapist, “I’m not real! I’m not real! I was working on my affirmations. I bolstered up my confidence, but I don’t know where I went. I buckled!”

Now, the image was real, but the image wasn’t real in the way that it thought it was real. It was real, but not real without you. It was real as an image of you. See?

Eckhart says, “The image owes no allegiances to anything except that of which it is the image.”. . . There is nothing that has the authority to say what it is except that of which it is the image. And so it is with us, Eckhart says, that we are the image of God. Without God, we are nothing, absolutely nothing. In being the image of God, we owe no allegiances to anything but the Infinite Love in whose image we are made. And the idolatry of diversions of the heart where we wander off into cul-de-sacs with the imagined authority of anything less or other than Infinite Love to name who we are: this is the problem.

A Dominican Mystic

August 5th, 2020

The Rhineland Mystics

A Dominican Mystic
Wednesday,  August 5, 2020

Another of the Rhineland Mystics was Meister Eckhart. His writings were probably the height of Western nondualism. Carl McColman has written several accessible books on the Christian mystics that broaden and deepen our notion of mysticism. He even makes a mystic like Meister Eckhart understandable! Here McColman captures the essence of Eckhart:

Meister Eckhart stands alongside Bernard of Clairvaux and John of the Cross as one of the most celebrated Christian mystics; he is also one of the most controversial figures, having a number of his teachings declared as heretical shortly after his death. Today, some scholars believe that the censure of Eckhart’s ideas may have been politically motivated and have made efforts to have his name formally cleared by the Vatican.

Eckhart entered the Dominican Order as a youth. After spending some time in Paris, he returned to his native Germany, where he became renowned as a preacher. [The Dominicans are the Order of Preachers, and Meister Eckhart was a very popular homilist in his day.] “Meister” is not his name, but a title, referring to his receiving a master’s degree in theology. Eckhart’s impressive body of work includes academic treatises in Latin, along with about one hundred sermons in his native German. The German writings generally were his more spiritually daring.

The problem with [reading] Eckhart seems to be that his ideas were often expressed using language that could easily be misinterpreted. [I, Richard, believe he was misinterpreted because he was a nondual thinker, speaking to mostly dualistic thinkers—just as Jesus was doing.] He has been accused of pantheism (the belief that all things are God) or monism (the idea that there is ultimately no distinction between God and creation). [Richard again: I believe Eckhart was primarily teaching panentheism, which means God in all things.] He stressed God as a ground of being present throughout creation—including in the human soul—and that each Christian is invited to give birth to Christ within one’s soul. As a preacher, Eckhart saw his sermons as a means of inspiring his listeners to recognize the divine presence within, and in so doing to be “wonderfully united” to God. In his Sermon 5, he offers four goals for his preaching:

When I preach, I am accustomed to talk about detachment, saying that we should become free of ourselves and of all things. Secondly, I say that we should be in-formed back into the simple goodness, which is God. Thirdly, I say that we should be mindful of the great nobility which God has given the soul in order that we should become wonderfully united with [God]. Fourthly, I speak of the purity of the divine nature, and of the radiance within it which is ineffable. God is a word: an unspoken word. [1] [RR: Unspoken, that is, until and unless we ourselves speak from the True Self!]