Archive for November, 2020

A Faith Created by Courageous Movements

November 30th, 2020

Monday,  November 30, 2020

In his book We Make the Road by Walking, my friend and colleague Brian McLaren describes some of the Spirit-led movements that shaped Judaism from the time of Moses, and sustained Christianity. We must remember that such movements are not simply a past occurrence, but something in which we are called to participate in our own time. 

I believe that the Spirit of God works everywhere to bring and restore aliveness—through individuals, communities, institutions, and movements. Movements play a special role. In the biblical story [of Exodus], for example, Moses led a movement of liberation among oppressed slaves. They left an oppressive economy, journeyed through the wilderness, and entered a promised land where they hoped to pursue aliveness in freedom and peace. Centuries after that, the Hebrew prophets launched a series of movements based on a dream of a promised time . . . a time of justice when swords and spears, instruments of death, would be turned into plowshares and pruning hooks, instruments of aliveness [Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3]. Then came John the Baptist, a bold and nonviolent movement leader who dared to challenge the establishment of his day and call people to a movement of radical social and spiritual rethinking. . . .

When a young man named Jesus came to affiliate with John’s movement through baptism, John said, “There he is! He is the one!” Under Jesus’ leadership, the movement grew and expanded in unprecedented ways. . . . It rose again through a new generation of leaders like James, Peter, John, and Paul, who were full of the Spirit of Jesus. They created learning circles in which activists were trained to extend the movement locally, regionally, and globally. Wherever activists in this movement went, the Spirit of Jesus was alive in them, fomenting change and inspiring true aliveness. . . .

[Christianity] began as a revolutionary nonviolent movement promoting a new kind of aliveness on the margins of society. . . . It claimed that everyone, not just an elite few, had God-given gifts to use for the common good. It exposed a system based on domination, privilege, and violence and proclaimed in its place a vision of mutual service, mutual responsibility, and peaceable neighborliness. It put people above profit, and made the audacious claim that the Earth belonged not to rich tycoons or powerful politicians, but to the Creator who loves every sparrow in the trees and every wildflower in the field. It was a peace movement, a love movement, a joy movement, a justice movement, an integrity movement, an aliveness movement.

Spirituality and Social Movements

A Spirit-Led Christianity
Sunday,  November 29, 2020
First Sunday of Advent

The God who became flesh in Jesus is the hidden God of whom the prophets speak to us. Jesus shows himself to be such precisely in the measure that he is present via those who are the absent, anonymous people of history, those who are not the controllers of history, namely, the mighty, the socially acceptable, “the wise and the learned” (Matthew 11:25). —Gustavo Gutiérrez

Much of what Jesus said seems to have been understood and taken to heart during the first several hundred years after his death and resurrection. Before the imperial edict of 313 that pushed Christians to the top and the center of the Roman Empire, values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, and love of enemies were common within the faithful community. The church at that point was still countercultural and non-imperial—a social movement for the reign of God. After 313 we lost that free position. Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning war, money, and authority.

If we look at texts in the hundred years preceding Emperor Constantine’s edict, it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army. The army was killing believers. Christians were on the bottom but, by the year 400, the entire army had become Christian, and was now killing the pagans. In a two-hundred-year period, Christians went from being complete outsiders to directing the inside! Once Christians joined the inside group, they had to defend their power. There’s not much room for any talk of the cross or powerlessness anymore.

Official Christianity slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point, which is probably why what we now call the movements of “religious life” began and flourished in the desert after 313. People went to the edges of the church and took vows of poverty, living in satellites that became “little churches,” without ever formally leaving the big Church.

Francis and Clare of Assisi formed their own “social movement” through a foundational agenda for justice. They lived in humility and simplicity outside the dominant social, political, and religious systems. For the Franciscans who followed in their footsteps, the first priority was living the spiritual life in a visible way that shouted Gospel love! Their life, close to the bottom, was where they hoped to learn the science of love. Their small communities were to be patterns for living and disseminating the transformative power of the Gospel.

Imperial Christianity is always about power. It seldom teaches about nonviolence, forgiveness, inclusion, simplicity, mercy, love, compassion, or understanding in a primary way. Yet Spirit-led movements within Christianity have flourished and continued to emphasize the values that defined the early Church and made it so threatening to the social order. I believe that any future church will be led by the Spirit back to those foundational values, making it a much flatter and more inclusive community. The examples of non-imperial movements within Christianity strive not towards protecting their own power and influence, but toward supporting the supreme work of love flowing into the world.

Merton’s Call for Racial Justice

November 27th, 2020

Thomas Merton:
Contemplation and Action

Merton’s Call for Racial Justice
Friday,  November 27, 2020

In the midst of the intense struggle for civil rights, Thomas Merton insisted that Christians had a moral duty to address racism—on a personal and systemic level. His words were prophetic at the time and continue to be relevant to this day. In Seeds of Destruction, he writes:

The race question cannot be settled without a profound change of heart, a real shake-up and deep reaching metanoia [Greek for repentance or change of mind] on the part of White America. It is not just [a] question of a little more good will and generosity: it is a question of waking up to crying injustices and deep-seated problems which are ingrained in the present setup and which, instead of getting better, are going to get worse. [1]

The purpose of non-violent protest, in its deepest and most spiritual dimensions is then to awaken the conscience of the white people to the awful reality of their injustice and of their sin, so that they will be able to see that the Negro problem is really a White problem: that the cancer of injustice and hate which is eating white society and is only partly manifested in racial segregation with all its consequences, is rooted in the heart of the white people themselves. [2]

In later writings, Merton elaborates on the pernicious evil of systems of oppression and how we must combat them through the use of faith, hope, and love.

When a system can, without resort to overt force, compel people to live in conditions of abjection, helplessness, wretchedness . . . it is plainly violent. To make people live on a subhuman level against their will, to constrain them in such a way that they have no hope of escaping their condition, is an unjust exercise of force. Those who in some way or other concur in the oppression—and perhaps profit by it—are exercising violence even though they may be preaching pacifism. And their supposedly peaceful laws, which maintain this spurious kind of order, are in fact instruments of violence and oppression. [3]

Growth, survival and even salvation may depend on the ability to sacrifice what is fictitious and unauthentic in the construction of one’s moral, religious or national identity. One must then enter upon a different creative task of reconstruction and renewal. This task can be carried out only in the climate of faith, of hope and of love: these three must be present in some form, even if they amount only to a natural belief in the validity and significance of human choice, a decision to invest human life with some shadow of meaning, a willingness to treat other people as other selves. [4]

Merton’s Love of Nature

November 26th, 2020

Thursday,  November 26, 2020
Thanksgiving in the US

Part of Thomas Merton’s legacy, which I believe has been underappreciated, is his great love of nature. In the hills of Kentucky, he found his connection to God strengthened by every leaf, every tree, every sunrise. I felt it as well in my time at his hermitage. Theologian and GreenFaith fellow Sister Kathleen Deignan writes of Merton’s relationship to the natural world, which inevitably led to his activism on the earth’s behalf:

Curiously, what remains hidden or obscure in [Merton’s] very public discourse on matters of the sacred is the significance that the natural world played as the ecstatic ground of his own experience of God. But a close reading of his voluminous writings reveals his intimate rapport with and progressive espousal of creation as the body of divinity—at once veiling and unveiling the God he so longed to behold and be held by. [1]

[Merton] chose to live alone in the forest as refuge for his own existential pain, but also to make reparation for the violation of earth and earth peoples. Here he became a poet, a protester, a prophet . . . [2]

Deignan’s selections from Merton’s journals demonstrate how his love for nature (he even calls the forest his “bride”) leads him to grieve and denounce nature’s abuse:

I love the woods, particularly around the hermitage. Know every tree, every animal, every bird. [3]

When I am most sickened by the things that are done by the country that surrounds this place I will take out the [Hebrew biblical] prophets and sing them in loud Latin across the hills and send their fiery words sailing south over the mountains to the place where they split atoms for the bombs in Tennessee.

There is also the non-ecology, the destructive unbalance of nature, poisoned and unsettled by bombs, by fallout, by exploitation: the land ruined, the waters contaminated, the soil charged with chemicals, ravaged with machinery, the houses of farmers falling apart because everybody goes to the city and stays there . . .

It is necessary for me to live here alone without a woman, for the silence of the forest is my bride and the sweet dark warmth of the whole world is my love, and out of the heart of that dark warmth comes the secret that is heard only in silence, but it is the root of all the secrets that are whispered by all the lovers in their beds all over the world. I have an obligation to preserve the stillness, the silence, the poverty, the virginal point of pure nothingness which is at the center of all other loves. I cultivate this plant silently in the middle of the night and water it with psalms and prophecies in silence. It becomes the most beautiful of all the trees in the garden, at once the primordial paradise tree, the axis mundi, the cosmic axle, and the Cross. [4]

Richard again: It is passages such as these which let you know why I, like so many tens of thousands, consider Merton a primary teacher of the spiritual life. In our time, maybe the primary teacher. He puts it all together (and with such good words, too).

One God of the Earth

November 25th, 2020

Thomas Merton:
Contemplation and Action

One God of the Earth
Wednesday,  November 25, 2020

One way that our growth in love becomes stuck is when we identify so much with our group or country that it replaces our faith in the One God of all. As we see in politics in the United States, most people only know how to love people who are like themselves with regard to their race, their nationality, their religion, or their political party. Thomas Merton especially warned about the phenomenon we know in our day as “Christian nationalism.” When belief in country and religion merge as one, the alternative way of Jesus takes a back seat. I invite you to read Merton’s challenging words with willing mind and heart:

A “Christian nationalist” is one whose Christianity takes second place, and serves to justify a patriotism in whose eyes the nation can do no wrong. In such a case, it becomes “Christian faith” and “Christian heroism” to renounce even one’s Christian protest and to obey the dictates of the (unchristian) Nation without question. Instead of that Christian independence which realizes that the Nation itself may come under the higher judgment of God, there arises the notion of a “Christian” obedience in which the faithful are urged to accept the national purpose on the justification of any and every means. They renounce all judgment and choice in order to follow secular authority blindly since “the Government knows best.”. . .

The great question then is one of clarification. We can no longer afford to equate faith with the acceptance of myths about our nation, our society, or our technology; to equate hope with a naive confidence in our image of ourselves as the good guys against whom all the villains in the world are leagued in conspiracy; to equate love with a mindlessly compliant togetherness, a dimly lived and semi-radiant compulsiveness in work and play, invested by commercial artists with an aura of spurious joy. [1]

Richard again: While we can be grateful for any freedoms and privileges protected by our national governments, we cannot allow them to claim that they are themselves the foundational source of those rights. That role belongs to God! Our love and respect for human dignity must be extended to people of all nations, not just our own. I wrote this prayer almost ten years ago on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. We need the grace of universal solidarity to join the One God in our ever-expanding love for the world:

God of all races, nations, and religions,
You know that we cannot change others,
Nor can we change the past.
But we can change ourselves.
We can join You in changing our only
And common future where Love “reigns”
The same over all.
Help us not to say, “Lord, Lord” to any nationalist gods,
But to hear the One God of all the earth,
And to do God’s good thing for this One World.

Thomas Merton: Contemplation and Action

November 24th, 2020

Recovering Our Original Unity
Tuesday,  November 24, 2020

What is the relation of [contemplation] to action? Simply this. He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. —Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton was the first writer I encountered who spoke so clearly about the connection between contemplation and action. I believe that is true in part because he knew it from his own life. If you’ve ever read The Seven Storey Mountain, you know that Merton did not begin his faith journey as an activist. In fact, he lived his first two decades largely concerned with his own advancement, experience, and pleasure. It seems that he began his vocation to the priesthood motivated, at least to some extent, by the same egoic concerns, though pointed in a more holy direction. However, at some point, Merton’s personal agenda for self-improvement must have fallen flat, which allowed him to fall more deeply into God and his True Self. He became far less concerned with the “I” who prayed than he was with the “One” to whom, with whom, and in whom he was praying.

As Merton reflected: “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” [1] He had finally recognized that the “programs for happiness” which he had pursued his whole life were never going to bring him the sense of worthiness he desired. Instead, he embraced this paradoxical statement: “In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart.” [2]

Merton had an uncanny ability to describe the truth of his own heart in a way the rest of us could understand. And he deeply believed that our inner healing was for the sake of the outer world. Near the end of his life, as Merton participated in ongoing dialogue between Eastern and Western monastic traditions, he shared the following prayer. It was radical in its time and remains just as necessary today:

Oh, God, we are one with You. You have made us one with You. You have taught us that if we are open to one another, You dwell in us. Help us to preserve this openness and to fight for it with all our hearts. Help us to realize that there can be no understanding where there is mutual rejection. Oh God, in accepting one another wholeheartedly, fully, completely, we accept You, and we thank You, and we adore You, and we love You with our whole being, because our being is in Your being, our spirit is rooted in Your spirit. Fill us then with love, and let us be bound together with love as we go our diverse  ways, united in this one spirit which makes You present in the world, and which makes You witness to the ultimate reality that is love. Love has overcome. Love is victorious. Amen. [3]

Contemplative Responsibility

November 23rd, 2020

Thomas Merton:
Contemplation and Action

Contemplative Responsibility
Monday,  November 23, 2020

Thomas Merton has been a primary teacher and inspiration to me ever since I read his book The Sign of Jonas as a teenager. He was one of the most influential American Catholics of the twentieth century. It was Merton who reintroduced the Christian contemplative tradition to the Western church in the 1950s and 60s. By living a contemplative life, Merton grew in love for God and all of God’s children and creation—so much so that he became committed to doing what he could for the common good. Amidst the societal disruptions of the 1960s, it was not enough for him to simply pray. He also devoted himself to action—writing, collaboration, and teaching—though he never lost his deep yearning for solitude and contemplation.

As Merton began to seriously wrestle with the injustices plaguing the United States and the world, he published Seeds of Destruction, a book urging Christians to reflect on their moral responsibility to take a stand on issues such as racism, war, and poverty. His words speak to our moment as well:

The contemplative life is not, and cannot be, a mere withdrawal, a pure negation, a turning of one’s back on the world with its sufferings, its crises, its confusions and its errors. . . . The monastic [that is, contemplative] flight from the world [or what I call “the system”—RR] into the desert is . . . a total rejection of all standards of judgment which imply attachment to a history of delusion, egoism and sin . . . a definitive refusal to participate in those activities which have no other fruit than to prolong the reign of untruth, greed, cruelty and arrogance in the world of people. . . .

The freedom of the Christian contemplative is not freedom from time, but freedom in time. It is the freedom to go out and meet God in the inscrutable mystery of God’s will here and now, in this precise moment in which God asks humanity’s cooperation in shaping the course of history according to the demands of divine truth, mercy and fidelity. . . .

Therefore it seems to me to be a solemn obligation of conscience at this moment of history to take the positions which . . . are, it seems to me, in vital relation with the obligations I assumed when I took my monastic vows. To have a vow of poverty seems to me illusory if I do not in some way identify myself with the cause of people who are denied their rights and forced, for the most part, to live in abject misery. To have a vow of obedience seems to me to be absurd if it does not imply a deep concern for the most fundamental of all expressions of God’s will: the love of God’s truth and of our neighbor.

Richard again: Thomas Merton knew that contemplation and solidarity with the universal suffering of creation (the planet itself, animals, humans) is to enter into the eternal suffering of God, what Dominican Gerald Vann called “the Divine Pity.”[1]

Thomas Merton:
Contemplation and Action

Joy and Sadness: A Lesson from Merton’s Hermitage
Sunday,  November 22, 2020

In 1985 my Franciscan “guardians” (as Francis called our superiors) gave me a year’s leave to spend in contemplation. It was a major turning point in my life, and ultimately led to the formation of the Center for Action and Contemplation.

The first thirty days of my “sabbatical” were spent in the hills of Kentucky, in Thomas Merton’s (1915–1968) hermitage about a mile away from the main monastery. I was absolutely alone with myself, with the springtime woods, and with God, hoping to somehow absorb some of Merton’s wisdom. That first morning, it took me a while to slow down. I must have looked at my watch at least ten times before 7:00 AM! I had spent so many years standing in front of crowds as a priest and a teacher. I had to find out who I was without those trappings—the naked me alone before God.

In the mornings I would put my chair in front of the door and watch the sun come up. In the late afternoons, I would move my chair to the other side of the hermitage and watch the sun go down. The little squirrels and birds came closer and closer. They’re not afraid when we’re absolutely still.

Father William McNamara’s definition of contemplation as “a long loving look at the real” became transformative for me. The world, my own issues and hurts, all my goals and desires gradually dissolved and fell into proper perspective. God became obvious and ever present. I understood what Merton meant when he said, “The gate of heaven is everywhere.” [1]

I tried to keep a journal of what was happening to me. Back then, I found it particularly hard to cry. But one evening I laid my finger on my cheek and found to my surprise that it was wet. I wondered what those tears meant. What was I crying for? I wasn’t consciously sad or consciously happy. I noticed at that moment that behind it all there was a joy, deeper than any private joy. It was a joy in the face of the beauty of being, a joy at all the wonderful and lovable people I had already met in my life. Cosmic or spiritual joy is something we participate in; it comes from elsewhere and flows through us. It has little or nothing to do with things going well in our own life at that moment. I remember thinking that this must be why the saints could rejoice in the midst of suffering.

At the same moment, I experienced exactly the opposite emotion. The tears were at the same time tears of an immense sadness—a sadness at what we’re doing to the earth, sadness about the people whom I had hurt in my life, and a sadness too at my own mixed motives and selfishness. I hadn’t known that two such contrary feelings could coexist. I was truly experiencing the nondual mind of contemplation.

The Kingdom’s Common Sense

November 20th, 2020

Jesus and the Reign of God

The Kingdom’s “Common Sense”
Friday,  November 20, 2020

My friend and colleague Brian McLaren has thought deeply and practically about what Jesus means when he speaks of the “Kingdom of God.” He views it as synonymous with the Gospel itself.

Jesus proposed a radical alternative—a profoundly new framing story that he called good news. News, of course, means a story—a story of something that has happened or is happening that you should know about. Good news, then would mean a story that you should know about because it brings hope, healing, joy, and opportunity. . . .

The term kingdom of God, which is at the heart and center of Jesus’ message in word and deed, becomes positively incandescent in this kind of framing. As a member of a little colonized nation with a framing story that refuses to be tamed by the Roman imperial narrative, Jesus bursts on the scene with this scandalous message: The time has come! Rethink everything! A radically new kind of empire is available—the empire of God has arrived! . . . Open your minds and hearts like children to see things freshly in this new way, follow me and my words, and enter this new way of living. At every point, the essence of his kingdom teaching subverts the “common sense” of the Roman Empire and all its predecessors and successors:

Don’t get revenge when wronged, but seek reconciliation.

Don’t repay violence with violence, but seek creative and transforming nonviolent alternatives.

Don’t focus on external conformity to moral codes, but on internal transformation in love.

Don’t love insiders and hate or fear outsiders, but welcome outsiders into a new “us,” a new “we,” a new humanity that celebrates diversity in the context of love for all, justice for all, and mutual respect for all.

Don’t have anxiety about money or security or pleasure at the center of your life, but trust yourself to the care of God.

Don’t live for wealth, but for the living God who loves all people, including your enemies.

Don’t hate your enemies or competitors, but love them and do to them not as they have done to you—and not before they do to you—but as you wish they would do for you. . . . The phrase “kingdom of God” on Jesus’ lips, then, means almost the opposite of what an American like me might assume, living in the richest, most powerful nation on earth. To a citizen of Western civilization like me, kingdom language suggests order, stability, government, policy, domination, control, maybe even vengeance on rebels and threats of banishment for the uncooperative. But on Jesus’ lips, those words describe Caesar’s kingdom: God’s kingdom turns all of those associations upside down. Order becomes opportunity, stability melts into movement and change, status-quo government gives way to a revolution of community and neighborliness, policy bows to love, domination descends to service and sacrifice, control morphs into influence and inspiration, and vengeance and threats are transformed into forgiveness and blessing.

Jesus and the Reign of God

November 19th, 2020

The Kingdom as Consciousness

Wednesday,  November 18, 2020

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul offers a puzzling injunction to the new Christians. He writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus Christ” (2:5). CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault explores how developing this kind of “Christ-consciousness” is the key to understanding Jesus’s teaching on the “Kingdom of Heaven.”

How do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we see through his eyes? How do we feel through his heart? How do we learn to respond to the world with that same wholeness and healing love? That’s what Christian orthodoxy really is all about. It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice. . . .

Jesus uses one particular phrase repeatedly: “the Kingdom of Heaven.” You can easily confirm this yourself by a quick browse through the gospels; the words jump out at you from everywhere. . . .

So what do we take it to be? . . . [Jesus] says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). It’s not later, but lighter—some more subtle quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken into it. . . .

The Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from. It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place. . . The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. And these are indeed Jesus’s two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does. . . .

When Jesus talks about this Oneness . . . . what he more has in mind is a complete, mutual indwelling: I am in God, God is in you, you are in God, we are in each other. His most beautiful symbol for this is in the teaching in John 15 where he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in me as I in you” [see John 15:4–5]. A few verses later he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love” [John 15:9]. . . . There is no separation between humans and God because of this mutual interabiding which expresses the indivisible reality of divine love. . . .

No separation between human and human is an equally powerful notion—and equally challenging. One of the most familiar of Jesus’s teachings is “Love your neighbor as yourself” [Matthew 22:39] . . . as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals out there . . . there are simply two cells of the one great Life.

Story from Our Community:
Clink, / This AND that. / My heart. / Mercy. / Now. / I am still, empty.
—Teresa B., written while sipping tea the morning after the U.S. election.

The Reign of God as Community
Thursday,  November 19, 2020

The world has suffered much from the various forms of Christian colonialism. Yet the Reign of God is an alternative to domination systems and all “isms.” Jesus teaches that right relationship (i.e., love) is the ultimate and daily criterion. If a social order allows and encourages strong connectedness between people and creation, people and each other, people and God, then you have a truly sacred culture: the Reign of God. It is not a world without pain or mystery, but simply a world where we are connected and in communion with all things.

The Kingdom is about union and communion, which means that it is also about mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, letting go, solidarity, service, and lives of love, patience, and simplicity. Who can doubt that this is the sum and substance of Jesus’ teaching? In the Reign of God, the very motive for rivalry, greed, and violence has been destroyed. We know we are all part of God’s Beloved Community.

Author, activist, and community organizer Lisa Sharon Harper describes it in this way:

Evidence of the presence of the Kingdom of God is thick wherever and whenever people stand on the promise of God that there is more to this world—more to this life—than what we see. There is more than the getting over, getting by, or getting mine. There is more than the brokenness, the destruction, and the despair that threaten to wash over us like the waters of the deep. There is a vision of a world where God cuts through the chaos, where God speaks and there is light. There is a vision where there is protection and where love is binding every relationship together.[1]

Jesus did not come to impose Christendom like an imperial system. Every description he offers of God’s Reign—of love, relationship, non-judgment, and forgiveness, where the last shall be first and the first shall be last—shows that imposition is an impossibility! Wherever we have tried to force Christianity on people, the long-term results have been disastrous. The Gospel flourishes in the realm of true freedom.

But it is a freedom we must choose for ourselves. It is almost impossible to turn away from what seems like the only game in town (political, economic, or religious), unless we have glimpsed a more attractive alternative. It is hard to imagine it, much less imitate it, unless we see someone else do it first. Jesus is that icon of the more attractive alternative, a living parable. Jesus has forever changed our human imagination, and we are now both burdened and gladdened by the new possibility. There is good news to counter the deadening bad news, but one first has to be turned away from a conventional way of understanding.

I do not think that Jesus ever expected that the whole world would become formally Christian, but his truth about right relationship and his proclamation of the power of powerlessness will save the world from self-destruction.

Center for Action and Contemplation

November 17th, 2020

Dear Dave,

I returned last week from an eight-day silent retreat. With all that has happened this year, I found the time in stillness even more necessary than usual. Periods of extended silence offer us the opportunity to step out of the world of dualism and opposition and into the world of nondual oneness. Both of these worlds exist, but most of us live only experiencing the world where separateness dominates. It’s no wonder we have the problems that we have! I believe only the contemplative mind can allow transformation at the deepest levels and help us rest in the awareness of God’s loving presence. This is why I started the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) years ago and why I am so committed to this work today.

2020 has been an unprecedented year, unlike anything I have seen in my 77 years — and we are not out of the woods yet. Where we go from herewill write the story of this chapter of history. I’m convinced that the root of our divisions can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, and spiritual. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (re-ligio = to re-ligament or bind together).

Only together can we participate in the unity of the Spirit as we learn to relate to each other out of compassion and love. When action and contemplation are united, our lives and actions begin to heal our suffering world by their very presence. Jesus is the perfect example of how the inner revolution of prayer is deeply connected to the outer transformation of social structures and social consciousness. Our hope lies in the fact that contemplation will change the society that we live in, just as it has changed us!

We thank you for being part of this community. I hope our work has been helpful in your life during this challenging year and we are so grateful for your partnership in making it possible.

Twice a year we pause the Daily Meditations to ask for your support. This year we do so in profound respect of the needs and struggles in our larger community, and we trust your discernment about the right way to help.

For those of you who have been impacted by our work and are financially able, please consider donating. Your support is what enables us to share this message with people around the world. Every donation is received with gratitude and appreciation.

Please take a moment to read our Executive Director Michael’s note below about how you can help and the publication we’d like to share.

Tomorrow the Daily Meditations will continue exploring Jesus and the Reign of God.

May it be so.

Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

Dear Friends,

We have asked ourselves many times this year: “what is ours to do?” Amid the constellation of social challenges, we shifted much of our work to keep up with the changing realities in the world. I sincerely hope that our efforts to make the transformational and healing impact of the contemplative path accessible have been helpful for you.

Father Richard founded the CAC in 1987 because he saw a deep need for the integration of both Action and Contemplation. That founding message was the theme of our Daily Meditations this year because we believe there is more need for it today than ever before. We have seen our reader community expand significantly in recent months as thousands of people are searching for trustworthy guidance during these difficult times.

Thank you for being part of our community and one of the partners that makes all of this possible. Our organization is not funded by any denomination, endowment, or large foundation; we are supported by thousands of small donations from people like you.

Please consider making a one-time donation or a recurring gift. Your support allows us to keep our work free and accessible for more people around the world. If you are able, please consider making your donation a monthly one. Monthly support helps create the stability we need to share this message in a broader and more inclusive way.

In gratitude for an online donation of any size, we will send you a free digital version of our current edition of ONEING: Order, Disorder, Reorder.

For the first time, this edition includes contributions from all five of CAC’s core faculty. We invite you to experience the writings of our faculty as they walk through the ancient, transformational pattern of Order, Disorder, and Reorder, in a way that is strikingly applicable to our current moment.

Now more than ever, we honor the needs in all of our communities, and we trust your discernment on how best to help. Thank you for any support you can offer our work as we look to expand our vision and mission for years to come.

We are grateful to be partners together and we deeply appreciate any support you are able to continue providing to the CAC.

Onwards together,

Michael Poffenberger, CAC Executive Director

Michael Poffenberger
Executive Director, Center for Action and Contemplation

The Kingdom is like a Mustard Seed

November 16th, 2020

The Kingdom Is like a Mustard Seed
Monday,  November 16, 2020

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32

The Reign of God is Jesus’ message, but he never describes it literally. He walks around it and keeps giving different images of the Real. For example, the mustard seed is very small and insignificant, and the kingdom is “like” that. Pliny the Elder, a contemporary of Jesus, wrote an encyclopedic book called Natural History, in which he describes all the plants that were known in the Mediterranean world. He says two main things about the mustard plant: it’s medicinal, and it’s a weed that cannot be stopped:

Mustard . . .  with its pungent taste and fiery effect is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once. [1]

The two images on which Jesus is building in this parable of the mustard seed are a therapeutic image of life and healing, and a fast-growing weed. What a strange thing for Jesus to say: “I’m planting a weed in the world!” Jesus’ teachings of nonviolence and simplicity are planted and they’re going to flourish, even wildly so. The old world is over.

The virtue for living in the in-between times Jesus calls “faith.” He is talking about the grace and the freedom to live God’s dream for the world now—while not rejecting the world as it is. That’s a mighty tension that is not easily resolved.

There are always two worlds. The world as it is usually operates on power, ego, and success. The world as it could be operates out of love. One is founded on dominative power, and the other is a continual call to right relationship and reciprocal power. The secret of this Kingdom life is discovering how we can live in both worlds simultaneously.

The Reign of God
Sunday,  November 15, 2020

Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated for history a new social order. He called it the Reign or Kingdom of God and it became the guiding image of his entire ministry. The Reign of God is the subject of Jesus’ inaugural address (see Mark 1:15, Matthew 4:17, and Luke 4:14–30), his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), and the majority of his parables. Once this guiding vision of God’s will became clear to Jesus, which seems to have happened when he was about thirty and alone in the desert, everything else came into perspective. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel says, “From then onwards” (4:17), Jesus began to preach.

In order to explain this concept, it may be helpful to first say what it is not: the “Kingdom” is not synonymous with heaven. Many Christians have mistakenly thought that the Reign of God is “eternal life,” or where we go after we die. That idea is disproven by Jesus’ own prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

“Thy Kingdom come” means very clearly that God’s realm is something that enters into this world, or, as Jesus puts it, “is close at hand” (Matthew 10:7). We shouldn’t project it into another world. What we discover in the New Testament, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, is that the Kingdom of God is a new world order, a new age, a promised hope begun in the teaching and ministry of Jesus—and continued in us.

I think of the Kingdom of God as the Really Real (with two capital Rs). That experience of the Really Real—the “Kingdom” experience—is the heart of Jesus’ teaching. It’s Reality with a capital R, the very bottom line, the pattern-that-connects. It’s the goal of all true religion, the experience of the Absolute, the Eternal, what is.

God gives us just enough tastes of God’s realm to believe in it and to want it more than anything. In the parables, Jesus never says the Kingdom is totally now or totally later. It’s always now-and-not-yet. When we live inside the Really Real, we live in a “threshold space” between this world and the next. We learn how to live between heaven and earth, one foot in both worlds, holding them precious together.

We only have the first fruits of the Kingdom in this world, but we experience enough to know that it’s the only thing that will ever satisfy us. Once we have had the truth, half-truths do not satisfy us anymore. In its light, everything else is relative, even our own life.