Archive for May, 2021

May 31st, 2021

Foundational Hope

The Jesuit scientist Teilhard de Chardin wrote that “Love is the physical structure of the universe.” [1] Our theological way of saying the same thing is “Let us create in our image” (Genesis 1:26), in the image of the triune God, who is love, who is a dynamic cycling of infinite outpouring and infinite receiving.

If our God is both incarnate and implanted, both Christ and Holy Spirit, then an unfolding inner dynamism in all creation is not only certain, but also moving in a positive direction. A divine goal is always before us, waiting to be unveiled. The strong death wishes, mass shootings, suicides, and the high amount of emotional struggle we experience in our world today is surely, in part, a result of our major failure to provide Western civilization with a positive and hopeful understanding of our own “good news.” And the good news must be social and cosmic, and not just about “me.”

Foundational hope demands a foundational belief in a world that is still and always unfolding to something better. This is the virtue of hope. Personally, I have found that it is almost impossible to heal individuals over the long haul, if the whole cosmic arc is not also a trajectory toward the good.

Admittedly, sometimes the suffering and injustices of our time make it hard to believe in the arc of love. Indigenous Choctaw elder and Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston describes in practical terms how this love and foundational hope surround us at all times:

The signs are all around us. We can see them springing up like wildflowers after the prairie rain. People who had fallen asleep are waking up. People who had been content to watch are wanting to join. People who never said a word are speaking out. The tipping point of faith is the threshold of spiritual energy, where what we believe becomes what we do. When that power is released, there is no stopping it, for love is a force that cannot be contained. Look and see the thousands of new faces gathering from every direction. There is the sign of hope for which you have been waiting. . . .

Hope lets us literally see the presence and action of the holy in our everyday lives. This is not an imaginary desire viewed through rose-colored glasses. It is the solid evidence of the power of love made visible in abundance.

Sometimes, in this troubled world of ours, we forget that love is all around us. We imagine the worst of other people and withdraw into our own shells. But try this simple test: Stand still in any crowded place and watch the people around you. Within a very short time, you will begin to see love, and you will see it over and over and over. A young mother talking to her child, a couple laughing together as they walk by, an older man holding the door for a stranger—small signs of love are everywhere. The more you look, the more you will see. Love is literally everywhere. We are surrounded by love. [2]

This is such a powerful reminder to use a contemplative gaze to look at the world around us. Signs of love abound, reminding us of God’s essential nature.

Dualistic Clarity Before Nondual Oneness

May 28th, 2021

We must operate from a level of nondual consciousness to understand more fully the oneness or unity that the Gospel and the Christian scriptures offer us. The divine image and dignity are inherent in every being. We have the freedom and honor of choosing to grow (or not) in our unique likeness of this image. Jesus is one clear example of this path who models inclusive, nondual, compassionate thinking and being.

Why then does Jesus tell stories that show harsh judgment, casting the rejected into “outer darkness” and “eternal punishment,” especially in Matthew’s Gospel (see Matthew 25:46)? This seems to undo all the mercy and forgiveness Jesus demonstrates in the rest of his life and teaching. Let me explain how I see it.

We sometimes think that affirming oneness means refraining from taking a stand on issues of importance. Instead, clear-headed dualistic thinking must precede any further movement into nondual responses, especially about issues that people want to avoid. We cannot make a nonstop flight to nondual thinking or we just get fuzzy thinking. First, we must use our well-trained and good mind, and then find our response in a holistic (body, mind, soul, and heart) response. This is at the heart of mature spirituality, and one of the most common confusions. Many assert justice by naming the problem in stark relief and “prophetically” staying right there. Others speak too quickly of love, forgiveness, and communion before they have themselves hung for a while in the “tragic gap,” as Parker Palmer calls it.

Note that Jesus reserves his most damning and dualistic statements for matters of economic justice where power is most resistant: “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24); “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24); or the clear dichotomy in Matthew 25 between sheep (who feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned) and goats (who don’t). The context is important. Jesus’ foundational and even dualistic bias is always against false power and in favor of the powerless. Unfortunately, Christians have managed to avoid most of what Jesus taught so unequivocally and with dualistic clarity: nonviolence, sharing of resources, simplicity, loving our enemies.

History shows that we will almost always compromise or completely avoid the Gospel issues of justice, power, money, and inclusion. Only a small number of Christians have learned the contemplative response to these same social evils, but the number is growing. More and more individuals are finally learning the artful balance of practicing clear-headed critique and open-door compassion—at the same time!  These are people who recognize the human need for restitution, making amends, and full public accountability, and the divine capacity for forgiveness and patience. If either are sacrificed, we do not have the full Gospel. Yes, it is still a small minority who know how to do both, but they are the hope of the world.


LET ME ANOINT YOU with My Presence. I am King of kings and Lord of lords, dwelling in unapproachable Light. When you draw near to Me, I respond by coming closer to you. As My Presence envelops you, you may feel overwhelmed by My Power and Glory. This is a form of worship: sensing your smallness in comparison to My Greatness. Man has tended to make himself the measure of all things. But man’s measure is too tiny to comprehend My majestic vastness. That is why most people do not see Me at all, even though they live and move and have their being in Me. Enjoy the radiant beauty of My Presence. Declare My glorious Being to the world!

1 TIMOTHY 6:15–16;
15 which God will bring about in his own time —God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom

JAMES 4:8;
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

ACTS 17:28;
The natural life which men live is from God; and they are supported in it by him; and from him they have all the comforts and blessings of life; and all motions, whether external or internal, of body or of mind, are of God, and none of them are without the concourse of his providence, and strength assistance from him; though the disorder and irregularity of these motions, whereby they become sinful, are of themselves, or of the devil; and their being, and the …

PSALM 145:3–6
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty— and I will meditate …

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 306). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

May 27th, 2021

Action Based in Oneness

We must proclaim the truth that all life is one and that we are all of us tied together. Therefore it is mandatory that we work for a society in which the least person can find refuge and refreshment. . . . You must lay your lives on the altar of social change so that wherever you are, there the Kingdom of God is at hand! 

Howard Thurman, Commencement address, Garrett Biblical Institute, 1943

Scholar and activist Liza Rankow has centered her work in spirituality and justice on the teachings of Howard Thurman. Hers is a clear explanation of the radical connection between mysticism and social action, which is at the core of our message here at the CAC.  She credits the prophetic Howard Thurman as her teacher, one who “recognized an inherent oneness that breathes through all life and being.” [1]

I describe [Thurman’s] view of oneness as “north” on the ethical compass of the mystic ethos. (And one need not have had a personal experience of mystic union to adopt this ethic and worldview.) It is something to guide us, to point ourselves toward, to check ourselves against as we work for justice, healing, and liberation. It is the ideal that compels us, although we may never attain it, expanding the radius of our concern and the depth of our responsibility. . . .

There is a stereotype of mystics seeking to escape the world, concerned only with the ecstasy of their own experience of union with the Divine; yet in that union is a doorway that opens out into everything and everyone. The experience of oneness brings us back into relationship with the allness. The oneness and the allness inter-be (to return to the term from Thich Nhat Hanh). Thus we feel deeply the wounds of a battered world, and the suffering and the needs of the people—including, as Thurman puts it in Jesus and the Disinherited, those “with their backs against the wall”—the disenfranchised, the marginalized and the oppressed. [2] Inaction is not an option. The mystic worldview creates an ethical mandate, and it offers a new way to enter the world of social transformation—from the position of oneness rather than dualism. It shifts the paradigm. . . .

We do not undertake this work alone. We have comrades, community, allies and accomplices all over the planet. There is strength and hope in remembering this, and in reaching beyond the manifest world to the larger Life that surrounds us—the forces of Nature, the wisdom of the Ancestors, the power and presence of the Spirit. These too are part of the oneness. A mystic approach to social action invites us to call on energies beyond our finite selves in order to stand with grace, courage, and fierce love, addressing the indignities of the world with a depth that causes them to crumble. Thurman reminds us that God is against all dualisms, and anything that denies the oneness of Life, ultimately, cannot stand.

Unity with the Spirit

May 26th, 2021
While we have the language of philosophy, psychology, modern science, and sociology to describe the truth of universal interconnectedness, the mystics first described it based on their own experience. In this meditation, African American mystic and scholar Howard Thurman (1899‒1981) reminds us of how our love for God is one with our love for our neighbor. Long ago, Plotinus [205–270 CE] wrote, “If we are in unity with the Spirit, we are in unity with each other, and so we are all one.” [1] The words of this ancient Greek mystic are suggestive; for they call attention to the underlying unity of all of life. The recognition of the Spirit of God as the unifying principle of all life becomes at once the most crucial experience of humanity. It says that whoever is aware of the Spirit of God in themselves enters the doors that lead into the life of their fellow people. The same idea is stated in ethical terms in the New Testament when the suggestion is made that, if a person says they love God, whom they hath not seen and does not love their brother or sister who is with them, they are a liar and the truth does not dwell in them [1 John 4:20]. The way is difficult, because it is very comforting to withdraw from the responsibility of unity with one’s fellow people and to enter alone into the solitary contemplation of God. One can have . . . [perfect] solitary communion without the risks of being misunderstood, of having one’s words twisted, of having to be on the defensive about one’s true or alleged attitude. In the quiet fellowship with one’s God, one may seem to be relieved of any necessity to make headway against heavy odds. This is why one encounters persons of deep piousness and religiosity who are intolerant and actively hostile toward their fellow people. Some of the most terrifying hate organizations in the country are made up in large part of persons who are very devout in their worship of their God. The test to which Plotinus puts us, however, is very searching. To be in unity with the Spirit is to be in unity with one’s fellow people. Not to be in unity with one’s fellow people is thereby not to be in unity with the Spirit. The pragmatic test of one’s unity with the Spirit is found in the unity with one’s fellow people. We see what this means when we are involved in the experience of a broken relationship. When I have lost harmony with another, my whole life is thrown out of tune. God tends to be remote and far away when a desert and sea appear between me and another. I draw close to God as I draw close to my fellow people. The great incentive remains ever alert; I cannot be at peace without God, and I cannot be truly aware of God if I am not at peace with my fellow people. ________________________________________________ IN A WORLD OF UNRELENTING CHANGES, I am the One who never changes. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Find in Me the stability for which you have yearned. I created a beautifully ordered world: one that reflects My perfection. Now, however, the world is under the bondage of sin and evil. Every person on the planet faces gaping jaws of uncertainty. The only antidote to this poisonous threat is drawing closer to Me. In My Presence you can face uncertainty with perfect Peace. REVELATION 22:13; I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. ROMANS 5:12; “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned JOHN 16:33 AMP ; I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace. In the world you have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous [be confident, be undaunted, be filled with joy]; I have overcome the …(world) Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 302). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

May 25th, 2021

Wholeness as Holiness

Spare me perfection. Give me instead the wholeness that comes from embracing the full reality of who I am, just as I am.

—David Benner, Human Being and Becoming

Author and psychotherapist David Benner writes of the importance of embracing “wholeness” as a path to holiness, which recognizes and affirms the “oneness” of who we are, without needing to eliminate or perfect any part of ourselves. This generates the same goodwill towards others, leading to greater love. 

The harmonic of the universe is wholeness, not perfection; more specifically, it is wholeness that involves differentiation. Fusion is a union that sacrifices differentiation; wholeness retains differentiation. Without wholeness, we hear only the cacophonous noise of the various parts of our selves, clanging together. Without differentiation, we hear only the pure sound of a single tone, but not its harmonics. . . .

How do you know if you are on a path that leads to increasing wholeness and involves living out of wholeness? You will hear harmony, not simply the cacophony of a fragmented self. You will also sense the energy of the larger whole—an energy that goes beyond your own. You will, at least occasionally, experience the thrill of being simply a small part of a large cause, the thrill of being a tool, seized by a strong hand and put to an excellent use. You will be comforted by knowing that we are all interconnected. In a very real sense, therefore, what you do for another, you do for yourself. Love passed on to others becomes the most meaningful form of self-love, and care of the earth and its inhabitants becomes care of self.

We live wholeness when we re-member our story and, through it, experience a deeper sense of being part of a greater whole. We live wholeness when we know we belong—to people, to a place, to a community and tribe, to earth, to God (however named), and to the cosmos. . . . We live wholeness when we know that what we already have is enough and that all we need is to be resourceful with it.

Living wholeness is participating in the dynamism of love that gathers everything together into greater unity and consciousness. It is to live with an openness of mind and heart, to encounter others, not as strangers, but as parts of one’s self. When we enter into the heart of love in this way, we enter the field of relatedness and come to know our truest and deepest belonging and calling.

Wholeness and love are inseparable. . . . In the words of Ilia Delio, “Our challenge today is to trust the power of love at the heart of life, to let ourselves be seized by love, to create and invent ways for love to evolve into a global wholeness of unity, compassion, justice, and peacemaking.” [1] This is living wholeness and love.

We Turn Around One Thing

Unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained. We must actually distinguish things and separate them, usually at a cost to ourselves, before we can spiritually unite them (Ephesians 2:14‒16). Perhaps if we had made that simple distinction between uniformity and true unity, many of our problems, especially those of overemphasized, separate identities, could have been overcome. The great wisdom of Pentecost is the recognition through the Spirit of an underlying unity amidst the many differences!

Paul already made this universal principle very clear in several of his letters. For example, “There is a variety of gifts, but it is always the same Spirit. There are all sorts of services to be done, but always the same Lord, working in all sorts of different ways in different people. It is the same God working in all of them” (1 Corinthians 12:4–6). We see this beautiful diversity and yet unity in the universe itself—from Latin, unus + versus, “to turn around one thing.”

Although we here at the Center are fully committed to the perennial tradition—the recurring themes and truths that surface in all the world’s religions—we are not seeking some naïve “everything is one.” Rather, we seek the hard fought and much deeper “unity of the Spirit which was given us all to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Here we must study, pray, wait, reconcile, and work to achieve true unity—not a foolish and boring uniformity, which is rather undesirable and even unholy. The deeper unity we seek and work for is described by Julian of Norwich when she writes, “The love of God creates in us such a oneing that when it is truly seen, no person can separate themselves from another person” [1], or any other creature, I would add. This is something that we can embrace originally at a primal and then deeper levels of consciousness. Children already enjoy this unity at a pre-rational level, and mystics later enjoy it consciously at a trans-rational and universal level.

So what we might now call deep ecumenism is not some form of classic pantheism or unfounded New Age optimism. It is the whole method, energy, and final goal by which God is indeed ushering in an ever recurring “new age” (Matthew 19:28).

What has been “unveiled,” especially this past year with the pandemic, is that we really are one. We are one in both suffering and resurrection. Jesus’ final prayer is that we can consciously perceive and live this radical union now (John 17:21‒26). Our job is not to discover or even prove this, but only to retrieve what has already been discovered—and rediscovered—again and again, by the mystics, prophets, and saints of all religions. Until then we are all lost in separation—while grace and necessary suffering gradually “fill in every valley and level every mountain” to make a “straight highway to God” (Isaiah 40:3–4).

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Drawing of the historic front building

Explore Radical Love in Our New Podcast
Love. Period

How do we live from a space of inclusive love? Tune in to our new podcast, Love. Period, from Rev. Jacqui Lewis PhD and the Center for Action and Contemplation. Writer, scholar, activist, and pastor of New York City’s Middle Church, Dr. Lewis brings her devotion, clarity, and energy to this conversational podcast.  

Love. Period. with Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis

In dialogue with artists, activists, and faith leaders, such as actor Titus Burgess, Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor, Mark Charles, V Ensler, and many others, Dr. Lewis reveals the transformative potential—and urgent need—for radical love in our times.  

Listen to Love. Period on your favorite podcast platform or online.

Catch the Replay of Every Thing is Sacred:
a Live Broadcast with Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr and Patrick Boland in a side-by-side zoom call.

Do you yearn for a deeper understanding of the embodied Christ? Join us for a replay of the first-ever live broadcast with Richard Rohr and Patrick Boland, authors of Every Thing is Sacred. In this sold-out event, Fr. Richard and Patrick discussed life-changing ways to live within the wisdom of the Universal Christ. 

Watch the replay on YouTube.

Exploring the Wisdom Path with Cynthia Bourgeault

Discover what it takes to create—and sustain—a wisdom rhythm in your life. Connect and learn with others on the journey toward the Wisdom Way in this 14–week online course from Cynthia Bourgeault and the CAC. Financial assistance is available for those who apply by July 28. Registration closes August 4, or when full.

Learn more about The Introductory Wisdom School
Time commitment: 4–6 hours a week
Course runs August 11 – November 16, 2021

Learn About Our Values-Based Financial Model

As the CAC continues to grow in resources through generous financial support, we wondered: How do we meet our financial needs from a place of love? We learned our financial decisions must consider both our organizational health and our responsibility to the common good.

This drive led us to establish a new financial philosophy, which embodies our commitment to align our financial decisions with our organizational values and spiritual lineage.

Our new financial model captures Fr. Richard’s theological themes around money, operational implications around our financial resources, and the CAC’s key financial principles.

Financial Principles

  1. We operate from a clear definition of “enough.”
  2. We practice transparency.
  3. We seek for money to never be the barrier to participation.
  4. We understand exchanges of money first and foremost as vehicles for advancing our mission and message.
  5. We commit to spend simply, equitably, and sustainably.
  6. We lead with giving and generosity.

Where we now stand as an organization is just the beginning. We have big plans. Finding the right set of questions seems the best place to discern what comes next. We look forward to sharing the outcomes and impacts of this journey with you.

The Power of Love

May 21st, 2021
Maximilian Kolbe (1894–1941) was a Polish Franciscan priest known for his leadership, his skill as a writer, and his passionate devotion to the Virgin Mary. A prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp, he chose to save the life of another inmate by offering his own. One of the eyewitnesses to this selfless exchange, a doctor, recounts: It happened that at the end of July or the beginning of August, a prisoner escaped from the garden detail, I believe. This escapee not having been found, the camp authorities decided to choose ten prisoners from barrack 2. During roll call, I was separated from the Servant of God [as Kolbe was called during the process for canonization] by three or four persons. [The commander] chose ten prisoners, among them Francis Gajowniczek [1901‒1995]. When this man learned what was to happen to him, he began to cry with pain and despair that he had a wife and children, that he wanted to see them again, and that he was going to die. At that point, Father Maximilian Kolbe stepped out of line, lifted his cap, and declared to [the commander], pointing to Gajowniczek, that he wanted to sacrifice himself for that prisoner, as he had no wife and children. [The commander] asked him his profession. He replied: “I am a Catholic priest.” There followed a moment while the SS showed a certain surprise. Then [the commander] ordered Gajowniczek to get back in line and the Servant of God to take his place among those condemned to the bunker.[1] In an Easter season 2021 sermon, contemplative priest and co-founder of the Center for Spiritual Imagination, Adam Bucko, reflected on Kolbe’s story and the meaning of the Gospel today: Growing up in Poland, I was shaped by many stories of World War II that I heard over and over again as a kid. . . . I believe these stories [of Kolbe and others] offer us a way out. A way out of the logic that our world operates on. A logic that lives inside of us and governs so many of our basic drives. A logic that led to the war these stories described and, also, in some ways, is responsible for many of the heartbreaking things we are witnessing today. Personal things and societal things. This logic can best be described by what philosopher Hegel [1770–1831] called the “master-slave dialectic.” Applied to our societal history, it tells us that, when left to ourselves, we often organize our lives according to the principle of domination. . . . In the gospel [on Maundy Thursday] we are shown that real power is not the power of domination but rather the power of love. And that looking at life from the vantage point of love, we see that our being and our joy increase to an extent that we give it away. We see that the real significance of our lives grows the more we are willing to move beyond seeing others as threats and instead choose to delight “in their energy . . . [and] give away some of our own life to help resource their lives.” _______________________________________________ I, THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, am with you and for you. What more could you need? When you feel some lack, it is because you are not connecting with Me at a deep level. I offer abundant Life; your part is to trust Me, refusing to worry about anything. It is not so much adverse events that make you anxious as it is your thoughts about those events. Your mind engages in efforts to take control of a situation, to bring about the result you desire. Your thoughts close in on the problem like ravenous wolves. Determined to make things go your way, you forget that I am in charge of your life. The only remedy is to switch your focus from the problem to My Presence. Stop all your striving, and watch to see what I will do. I am the Lord! ROMANS 8:31–32; If God is for us,who can be against us?32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? MICAH 7:7; But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. 1 CORINTHIANS 12:3; wherefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is LORD,” except by the Holy Spirit. Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 292). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Forgiving Reality and Forgiving Ourselves

May 20th, 2021

Dr. Edith Eger was just 16 years old when she was taken to Auschwitz with her family. She lost her mother and father to the gas chambers the very day they arrived, and she survived with the help and companionship of her sister. Decades later, when she began a university education in the United States, a young man handed her a copy of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. She reflects that:

[Frankl] is speaking to me. He is speaking for me. . . . I read this, which is at the very heart of Frankl’s teaching: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. [1] Each moment is a choice. No matter how frustrating or boring or constraining or painful or oppressive our experience, we can always choose how we respond. And I finally begin to understand that I, too, have a choice. This realization will change my life.

In time Viktor Frankl and Edith Eger developed a friendship and he mentored her as she became a therapist, specializing in treating those suffering from PTSD. At one point, Dr. Eger was invited to return to teach in Germany, where she spent time at both a former mountain retreat of the Nazis, and the labor camp where she was held. Here she reflects on her choice to forgive Reality by forgiving herself: 

The choice to accept myself as I am: human, imperfect. And the choice to be responsible for my own happiness. To forgive my flaws and reclaim my innocence. To stop asking why I deserved to survive. To function as well as I can, to commit myself to serve others, to do everything in my power to honor my parents, to see to it that they did not die in vain. To do my best, in my limited capacity, so future generations don’t experience what I did. To be useful, to be used up, to survive and to thrive so I can use every moment to make the world a better place. And to finally, finally stop running from the past. To do everything possible to redeem it, and then let it go. I can make the choice that all of us can make. I can’t ever change the past. But there is a life I can save: It is mine. The one I am living right now, this precious moment. . . .

And to the vast campus of death that consumed my parents and so very many others, to the classroom of horror that still had something sacred to teach me about how to live—that I was victimized but I’m not a victim, that I was hurt but not broken, that the soul never dies, that meaning and purpose can come from deep in the heart of what hurts us the most—I utter my final words. Goodbye, I say. And, Thank you. Thank you for life, and for the ability to finally accept the life that is.

Making a Choice

May 19th, 2021
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. –Viktor Frankl The quote above sounds like something a teacher of contemplation would say! The practice of contemplation helps us to stand back from ourselves and take the view of what I and others call “the stable witness.” Then we are not attached to our thoughts or our knee-jerk reactions, and we can find the space we need to choose the way we want to act or the words that would be most helpful. While he is not known as a teacher of contemplation, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1905—1997) developed this wisdom during his time as an inmate in Auschwitz. He writes: The experiences of camp life show that humanity does have a choice of action.            There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Humanity can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. We who lived in concentration camps can remember the people who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. . . . Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it becomes clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision [emphasis mine], and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally, therefore, any person can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of them—mentally and spiritually. They may retain their human dignity even in a concentration camp. . . . It is this spiritual freedom—which cannot be taken away—that makes life meaningful and purposeful. . . . The way in which a person accepts their fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which they take up their cross, gives them ample opportunity—even under the most difficult circumstances—to add a deeper meaning to their life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation they may forget their human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a person either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford them. . . . When we are no longer able to change a situation . . . we are challenged to change ourselves. _______________________________________________ I WANT YOU TO KNOW how safe and secure you are in My Presence. That is a fact totally independent of your feelings. You are on your way to heaven; nothing can prevent you from reaching that destination. There you will see Me face to Face, and your Joy will be off the charts by any earthly standards. Even now, you are never separated from Me, though you must see Me through eyes of faith. I will walk with you till the end of time and onward into eternity. Although My Presence is a guaranteed promise, that does not necessarily change your feelings. When you forget I am with you, you may experience loneliness or fear. It is through awareness of My Presence that Peace displaces negative feelings. Practice the discipline of walking consciously with Me through each day. JOHN 10:28–29;I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 1 CORINTHIANS 13:12; For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. PSALM 29:11; The Lord will give strength unto his people His special people, his covenant people, whom he has chosen for himself; these are encompassed with infirmities, and are weak in themselves; but there is Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 288). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Coming to Terms with Life and Love

May 18th, 2021

I have been deeply moved by the wisdom of Etty Hillesum (1914–1943) for quite some time, and found myself returning to her journals many times over this past year. She died at Auschwitz at the age of 29, but her deepening relationship with God in the last two years of her life led her into great solidarity with those who suffered and to loving God even in her enemies. Living at the Westerbork transit camp, first as an employee of the Jewish Council and later as an inmate, Hillesum did everything in her power to help others. Here are excerpts of her wisdom:

I kneel once more on the rough coconut matting, my hands over my eyes, and pray: “Oh, Lord, let me feel at one with myself. Let me perform a thousand daily tasks with love, but let every one spring from a greater central core of devotion and love.” Then it won’t really matter what I do and where I am. . . .

We human beings cause monstrous conditions, but precisely because we cause them we soon learn to adapt ourselves to them. Only if we become such that we can no longer adapt ourselves, only if, deep inside, we rebel against every kind of evil, will we be able to put a stop to it. . . .

Etty Hillesum knew that the banality of evil makes it harder to recognize, and easier to adapt ourselves to it. As the war continued, she fully accepted the “cruciform nature of reality” and chose to love ever more consciously:

By “coming to terms with life” I mean: the reality of death has become a definite part of my life; my life has, so to speak, been extended by death, by my looking death in the eye and accepting it, by accepting destruction as part of life and no longer wasting my energies on fear of death or the refusal to acknowledge its inevitability. It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we enlarge and enrich [life]. . . .

We could fight war and all its excrescences by releasing, each day, the love that is shackled inside us, and giving it a chance to live. . . .

All that matters now is to be kind to each other with all the goodness that is in us. . . .

And there is only one way of preparing the new age, by living it even now in our hearts. . . .

I love people so terribly, because in every human being I love something of You [God]. . . .

Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.

The Modern Disguise of Evil

May 17th, 2021
Reporting on the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust, the Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) used the phrase “the banality of evil.” It is a shocking phrase to many because it flies in the face of our idea that evil is demonic, monstrous, and villainous, something that everybody immediately recognizes as grotesque and terrible. Arendt’s phrase actually helps explain how the Holocaust or Shoah (catastrophe) could happen. Somehow evil became commonplace. In his introduction to Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, Israeli journalist Amos Elon writes: [Arendt] concluded that Eichmann’s inability to speak coherently in court was connected with his incapacity to think, or to think from another person’s point of view. . . . He personified neither hatred or madness nor an insatiable thirst for blood, but something far worse, the faceless nature of Nazi evil itself . . . aimed at dismantling the human personality of its victims. The Nazis had succeeded in turning the legal order on its head, making the wrong and the malevolent the foundation of a new “righteousness.” In the Third Reich evil lost its distinctive characteristic by which most people had until then recognized it. The Nazis redefined it as a civil norm. . . . Within this upside-down world Eichmann . . . seemed not to have been aware of having done evil. [1] As both Thomas Aquinas and C.S. Lewis taught, for evil to succeed, it must disguise itself as good, which is apparently much easier to do than we imagine. [2] What previous generations called “the devil” is still quite active, though disguised in the banality of evil. The devil isn’t going to appear in red with horns and a tail and entice us to follow him. When Paul talks about the devil, he uses words like “powers,” “principalities,” and “thrones” (see Colossians 1:16). These are almost certainly his premodern words for what we would now call corporations, institutions, nation-states, ideologies of supremacy, and organizations that demand our full allegiance and thus become idolatrous—not just “too big to fail,” but even too big to be criticized. Suddenly, the medieval notion of devils comes very close to home. We must first convict evil in its glorified organizational form. When we idolize and refuse to hold such collective realities accountable, they usually become demonic in some way. We normally cannot see it until it is too late. [3] Hannah Arendt wrote, “The sad truth of the matter is that most evil is done by people who never made up their minds to be or do either evil or good.” [4] While evil may reside primarily in “corporate” form, the resistance to it begins with us as individuals. The rest of this week is dedicated to the stories and wisdom of individuals who made a clear decision to confront evil and hatred with goodness and love, even at the risk of their own lives. Week Twenty: Choosing Love in a Time of Evil How Do We “Save” the World? The Divine Mind transforms all human suffering by identifying completely with the human predicament and standing in full solidarity with it from beginning to end. This is the real meaning of the crucifixion. The cross is not just a singular event. It’s a statement from God that reality has a cruciform pattern. Jesus was killed in a collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths, caught between the demands of an empire and the religious establishment of his day. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world, which is both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole. In so doing, Jesus demonstrated that Reality is not meaningless and absurd, even if it isn’t always perfectly logical or consistent. Reality is filled with contradictions, what St. Bonaventure and others (such as Alan of Lille and Nicholas of Cusa) called the “coincidence of opposites.” Jesus the Christ, in his crucifixion and resurrection, “recapitulated all things in himself, everything in heaven and everything on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). This one verse is the summary of Franciscan Christology. Jesus agreed to carry the mystery of universal suffering. He allowed it to change him (resurrection) and—it is to be hoped—us, too. Christ frees us from the endless cycle of projecting our pain elsewhere or remaining trapped inside of it. This is the fully resurrected life, the only way to be happy, free, loving, and therefore “saved.” In effect, Jesus was saying, “If I can trust it, you can too.” We are indeed saved by the cross—more than we realize. The people who hold the contradictions and resolve them in themselves are the saviors of the world. They are the only real agents of transformation, reconciliation, and newness. These “saviors” exist in every period of time and in every faith tradition. At times they exist even with no “faith” at all, beyond a consciously held belief that solidarity with all of life is, in fact, the meaning of life. For whatever reason, such people agree to share the fate of God for the life of the world now. These people feel called and agree to not hide from the shadow side of things or the rejected group, but in fact draw close to the pain of the world and allow it to radically change their perspective. They agree to embrace the imperfection and even the injustices of our world, allowing these situations to change them from the inside out, which is the only way things are changed anyway. The Gospel is simply the wisdom of those who agree to carry their part of the infinite suffering of God. It must be recognized that many non-Christians fully accept this vocation with greater freedom than many Christians. This week, we will be focusing on people, both Jewish and Christian, who chose to act out of solidarity and compassion during the genocidal evil of the Holocaust, what many Jewish people refer to as the “Shoah” or “catastrophe.” ____________________________________________________________ Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning AS YOU SIT QUIETLY in My Presence, remember that I am a God of abundance. I will never run out of resources; My capacity to bless you is unlimited. You live in a world of supply and demand, where necessary things are often scarce. Even if you personally have enough, you see poverty in the world around you. It is impossible for you to comprehend the lavishness of My provisions: the fullness of My glorious riches. Through spending time in My Presence, you gain glimpses of My overflowing vastness. These glimpses are tiny foretastes of what you will experience eternally in heaven. Even now you have access to as much of Me as you have faith to receive. Rejoice in My abundance—living by faith, not by sight. PHILIPPIANS 4:19; PHILIPPIANS 3:20–21; 2 CORINTHIANS 5:7 l (Jesus Calling®) (p. 284). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.