Archive for October, 2021

Being “God’s Somebody”

October 29th, 2021

Everybody is God’s somebody. —Bishop Michael Curry, Love Is the Way

Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry, with whom Fr. Richard has worked on several occasions, shares how knowing we are “God’s somebody” allows us to love ourselves and others.

I’ve come to see that the call of God, the love that bids us welcome, is always a call to become the true you. . . . Not an imitation of someone else. The true you: someone made in the image of God, deserving of and receiving love.

There is a Jewish proverb, “Before every person there marches an angel proclaiming, ‘Behold, the image of God.’” Unselfish, sacrificial living isn’t about ignoring or denying or destroying yourself. It’s about discovering your true self—the self that looks like God—and living life from that grounding. Many people are familiar with a part of Jesus’s summary of the law of Moses: You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. Yourself. Loving the self is a required balance. If we fail in that, we fail our neighbor, too. To love your neighbor is to relate to them as someone made in the image of the God. And it is to relate to yourself as someone made in the image of the God. It’s God, up, down, and all around, and God is love.

The ability to love yourself is intimately related to your capacity to love others. The challenge is creating a life that allows you to fulfill both needs. I often speak of the loving, liberating, life-giving God. Sharing godly love liberates the true self, so that we can more fully live and discover that place where “your deep gladness and the world’s great hunger meet,” as Frederick Buechner put it in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.

I don’t know exactly why it works that way, other than to channel my grandma: “We’ve got a good God and a good Gospel.” . . .

All I know is that I have seen the wonderful personal transformations that happen when people start navigating with God’s GPS. I’ve experienced it myself. . . .

My job is to plant seeds of love, and to keep on planting, even—or especially—when bad weather comes. It’s folly to think I can know the grand plan, how my small action fits into the larger whole. All I can do is check myself, again and again: Do my actions look like love?

If they are truly loving, then they are part of the grand movement of love in the world, which is the movement of God in the world. . . .

It is impossible to know, in the moment, how a small act of goodness will reverberate through time. The notion is empowering, and it is frightening—because it means that we’re all capable of changing the world, and responsible for finding those opportunities to protect, feed, grow, and guide love.


Sarah Young………

LINGER IN MY PRESENCE A WHILE. Rein in your impulses to plunge into the day’s activities. Beginning your day alone with Me is essential preparation for success. A great athlete takes time to prepare himself mentally for the feat ahead of him before he moves a muscle. Similarly, your time of being still in My Presence equips you for the day ahead of you. Only I know what will happen to you this day. I have arranged the events you will encounter as you go along your way. If you are not adequately equipped for the journey, you will grow weary and lose heart. Relax with Me while I ready you for action. ZECHARIAH 2:13; Be still before the LORD, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”

EPHESIANS 2:10; For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

HEBREWS 12:3; For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 624). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

October 28th, 2021

Beginning as “Beloved”

And a voice came out of the heavens: “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.” —Mark 1:11

In a homily on the Feast of Jesus’ Baptism, Fr. Richard Rohr describes the powerful nature of being named a beloved child of God. 

We can’t start a spiritual journey on a negative foundation. If we just seek God out of fear or guilt or shame (which is often the legacy of original sin), we won’t go very far. If we start negative, we stay negative. We have to begin positive—by a wonderful experience, by something that’s larger than life, by something that dips us into the depths of our own being. That’s what the word baptism means, “to be dipped into.”

Jesus is thirty years old when his baptism happens. According to Mark’s Gospel, he hasn’t said a single thing up to now. Until we know we’re a beloved son or beloved daughter or even just beloved, we don’t have anything to say. We’re so filled with self-doubt that we have no good news for the world. In his baptism, Jesus was dipped in the unifying mystery of life and death and love. That’s where it all begins—even for him! The unique Son of God had to hear it with his own ears and then he couldn’t be stopped. Then he has plenty to say for the next three years, because he has finally found his own soul, his own identity, and his own life’s purpose.

After fourteen years as a chaplain in the Albuquerque jails, I am convinced that the reason people make great mistakes is because they have never heard what Jesus heard on the day of his baptism. They never heard another human voice, much less a voice from heaven, say to them, “You are a beloved son. You are a beloved daughter and in you I am well pleased.” If we’ve never had anyone believe in us, take delight in us, affirm us, call us beloved, we don’t have anywhere to begin. There’s nothing exciting and wonderful to start with, so we spend our whole lives trying to say those words to ourselves: “I’m okay, I’m wonderful, I’m great.” But we don’t really believe it. The word has to come from someone greater than us. That’s really a parent’s primary job—to communicate to their child that they are a beloved, eternally-existing child of God. Our jails are filled to over-flowing with people who never heard this foundational message—and sadly, so is much of our world.

The only purpose of the gospel, and even religion, is to communicate that one and eternal truth. Once we have that straight, nothing can stop us and no one can take it away from us, because it is given only, always, and everywhere by God—for those who will accept it freely. My only job and any preacher’s job is to try to replicate and resound that eternal message of God that initiates everything good on this earth—You are beloved children of God!

October 27th, 2021

Made in the Divine Image

Father Richard views religion’s purpose as reminding us of who we truly are: 

The essential work of religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in ourselves and everything else too. Whatever we call it, this ‘image of God’ is absolute and unchanging. There is nothing we can do to increase or decrease it. It is not ours to decide who has it or does not have it. It is pure and total gift, given equally to all. [1]

It is often the mystics who understand that “My deepest me is God!” to paraphrase St. Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510). [2] In these passages, contemplative writer Ursula King presents three mystics who saw God’s divine image as more fundamental in the human soul than sin. The fourth century theologian and mystic Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–c. 394) held that: 

In each human soul there exists a divine element, a kind of inner eye capable of glimpsing something of God, for there exists a deep relationship, an affinity between human and divine nature. [3]

The medieval mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg (c. 1212–c. 1282) yearned for the soul’s original intimacy with God:

Mechtild’s work is motivated by the deep desire that the soul return to its original being in God. It is her true nature to live in the flowing light of the Godhead, just as it is a bird’s nature to fly in the air and a fish’s nature to swim in water. She has emanated from the heart of God, where she must return, but she discovers her utter nakedness before and in God: “Lord, now I am a naked soul!” Yet her intense love pours out in praise of God:

O God! so generous in the outpouring of Thy gifts!
So flowing in Thy Love!
So burning in Thy desire!
So fervent in union!
O Thou who doest rest on my heart
Without whom I could no longer live! [4]

In the early seventeenth century, Francis de Sales (1567–1622) became Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland. In a time of deep religious division, he was known for his belief in “original goodness.” Ursula King continues:   

Whereas many other spiritual writers in seventeenth-century France held a pessimistic view of the human being, stressing sin and abnegation, Francis de Sales believed in the inherent goodness of human nature. Human beings have a natural inclination to love God, due to the correspondence between divine goodness and human souls, which bear some kind of divine imprint or spark. God holds us by this goodness as in some way linked to himself “as little birds by a string, by which He can draw us when it pleases His Compassion.” Francis does not speak about the “ground” of the soul like the Rhenish [or Rhineland] mystics, but refers to the “mountain top” of the soul, the utmost summit where self ends and God begins, a no-place which is yet a place, a dwelling place that can only be reached by an all-transforming movement of love. [5]

Creation Is Very Good

October 26th, 2021

God saw all God had made, and indeed it was very good. —Genesis 1:31

In Judaism, there is no concept of “original sin.” Instead of believing humans are born in sin, Judaism affirms our place in a “very good” creation. Rabbi Ellen Bernstein is a leading thinker about spirituality and the environment. Commenting on Genesis 1, she writes of humanity’s responsibility to manifest the “goodness” that is our birthright.

On the sixth day, God designs the land creatures, creates the first human couple, and completes the entire creation. In and of itself, an individual creation may be good, but when it can contribute to a larger interdependent ecosystem, it is very good. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The goodness of this day is further emphasized through the language used to describe it. While all the other days are referred to as “a” day, the sixth day is referred to as “the” day. This day is distinguished among all the rest: it is whole. Wholeness rests in the complete web of life.

Both from an ecological perspective and from Genesis’ point of view, goodness resides in the community, the web of life, in the relations of the whole biosphere. All organisms interact constantly with their surroundings, in an endless cycle of giving and receiving. No creature, human or otherwise, can live in isolation. “No matter how sophisticated and complex and powerful our institutions,” said Wendell Berry, “we are still exactly as dependent on the earth as the earthworms.” [1] Ultimately our individual happiness rests on the health and well-being of the larger earth ecosystem and the common good. [2]

Author Danielle Shroyer understands the goodness of creation as its and our capacity to grow in potential toward further goodness. The Garden of Eden is not a place of perfection so much a place of wholeness and unfolding life itself. 

Creation is the result not of destruction, but of God’s goodness overflowing. . . . God looks upon creation and says, “It is very good.” It’s . . . a declaration, over and over, of creation’s goodness. . . . If we imagine creation to be something as simplistic as a utopian happy-go-lucky place where nothing ever will go wrong, we disparage the beauty and harmony illustrated in the Genesis stories. God’s goodness is not that shallow and neither is God’s creation. I wonder if there is not something immature about our desire for the garden to be perfect. . . .

A more appropriate view of creation would be not perfection but potential. God designed the world to develop and function in a certain way, while allowing for creation to live freely into its potential. Sometimes creation will live up to and into its potential, while other times it will renounce it. . . . Potential reminds us once again that goodness is both an origin and a goal. It is given to us as a gift, but it is also given to us as a calling. [3]

Sarah Young….

COME TO ME when you are hurting, and I will soothe your pain. Come to Me when you are joyful, and I will share your Joy, multiplying it many times over. I am All you need, just when you need it. Your deepest desires find fulfillment in Me alone. This is the age of self-help. Bookstores abound with books about “taking care of number one,” making oneself the center of all things. The main goal of these methodologies is to become self-sufficient and confident. You, however, have been called to take a “road less traveled”: continual dependence on Me. True confidence comes from knowing you are complete in My Presence. Everything you need has its counterpart in Me.

ISAIAH 49:13; Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

JOHN 15:5; I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

JAMES 1:4; But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 618). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

October 25th, 2021

A Hopeful Foundation

We are not loved because we are so beautiful and good. We are beautiful and good because we are loved. —Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Joy (video interview, 2014)

There is plenty of evidence in the world to conclude that there is something fundamentally flawed with humanity. However, Fr. Richard Rohr believes that we have overlooked another and more helpful “origin story”—that of Original Goodness.

Our creation story says that we were created in the very “image and likeness” of God, and out of generative love (Genesis 1:27; 9:6). This starts us out on an absolutely positive and hopeful foundation, which cannot be overstated.

We have heard this phrase so often that we don’t get the existential shock of what “created in the image and likeness of God” is saying about us! It’s the best therapeutic affirmation we could hope for! If this is true, it says that our family of origin is divine. Our core is original blessing, not original sin. This says that our starting point is totally positive. As the first chapter of the Bible says, it is “very good” (1:31). We do have someplace good to go home to. When the beginning is right, the rest is made considerably easier.

The Bible will build on this foundational goodness, a true identity “hidden in the love and mercy of God,” [1] as Thomas Merton said. That goodness is the place to which we are always trying to get back. There are many detours along the way, and many “devils” planting the same doubt suggested to Jesus, “If you are a son (or daughter) of God” (Matthew 4:3, 6). All of the Bible is trying to illustrate through various stories humanity’s objective unity with God. This is so important to know and believe.

Due to this lack of mysticism and the contemplative mind, I find that many, if not most, Christians still have no knowledge of the soul’s objective union with God (see 2 Peter 1:4). They often actually fight me on it, quoting to me that “all things human are evil and depraved,” or “humans are like piles of manure, covered over by Christ.” Such a negative starting point will have a very hard time creating loving, dignified, or responsive people.

To preach and know the gospel we must get the “who” right! What is the self we are working with? Who are we? Where do we objectively abide? Where did we come from? Is our DNA divine or is it depraved?

The great illusion that we must all overcome is the illusion of separateness. It is almost the only task of religion—to communicate not worthiness but union, to reconnect people to their original identity “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). The Bible calls that state of separateness “sin,” and its total undoing is stated frequently as God’s clear job description: “My dear people, we are already the children of God; it is only what is in the future that has not yet been revealed, and then all we know is that we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).

The Shadow of Original Sin

Fr. Richard reflects on the negative consequences of Christianity’s emphasis on “original sin.”

The truth of our Original Goodness was sadly complicated when the concept of original sin entered the Christian mind.

This idea was put forth by Augustine in the fifth century but never mentioned in the Bible. We usually taught that human beings were born into “sin” because Adam and Eve “offended God” by eating from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” As punishment, God cast them out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22–23). We typically think of sin as a matter of personal responsibility and culpability, yet original sin wasn’t something we did at all. It was something that was done to us (“passed down from Adam and Eve”). Evil was a social concept much more than an individual act.

In one way, the doctrine of “original sin” was good and helpful in that it taught us not to be surprised at the frailty and woundedness that we all carry. Just as goodness is inherent and shared, so it seems with evil. And this is, in fact, a very merciful teaching. Knowledge of our shared wound ought to help us to be forgiving and compassionate with ourselves and with one another.

I truly believe that Augustine meant the idea of original sin to be a compassionate one. Yet historically, the teaching of original sin started us off on the wrong foot—with a no instead of a yes, with mistrust instead of trust. We have spent centuries trying to solve the “problem” that we’re told is at the heart of our humanity. But when we start with a problem, we tend never to get beyond that very mind-set.

Over thirty years after the publication of Matthew Fox’s book Original Blessing, author Danielle Shroyer explores the theme further. She writes: 

Sin is not the primary thing that is true about us. Before we are anything else, we are made in God’s image, and we are made to reflect that image in the way we live. Before scripture tells us anything else about ourselves, it tells us we are good. I think that’s because that’s the way God intended it. When we ground ourselves in the fact that God created us good, we are capable of confronting all the other things that are true about us, even the difficult things. Love is tremendously healing. [1]

To begin climbing out of the hole of original sin, we must start with a positive and generous cosmic vision. Generosity tends to feed on itself. I have never met a truly compassionate or loving human being who did not have a foundational and even deep trust in the inherent goodness of nature and humanity.

The Christian story line must start with a positive, over-arching vision for humanity and for history, or it will never get beyond the primitive, exclusionary, and fear-based stages of most early human development. By and large, that is where we still are.

October 20th, 2021

Living with the Land

In the West, most Christians have been shaped by culture and faith into a paradigm that normalizes acquisition, at great cost to others, ourselves, and the land itself. As Richard puts it, “Perhaps the primary example of our lack of attention to the Christ Mystery can be seen in the way we continue to pollute and ravage planet Earth, the very thing we all stand on and live from.”Theologian, scholar, and Cherokee descendant Randy Woodley describes the difference between the attitude of early North American settlers and the Indigenous people who were already present on the land. He writes: 

The very land itself meant something quite different to the newcomer than it did to the host people. Something was missing. The difficulty, as the Natives saw it, was with the settlers themselves and their failure to tread lightly, with humility and respect, on the land. The settlers wanted to live on the land, but the host people lived with the land. Living on the land means objectifying the land and natural resources and being shortsighted concerning the future. Living with the land means respecting the natural balance.

To Indigenous peoples, the problems of a Western worldview are obvious. The way of life demonstrated by Western peoples leads to alienation from the Earth, from others, and from all of creation. This lifestyle creates a false bubble called “Western civilization,” which people in the West think will protect them from future calamity. This false hope is detached from all experience and reality.

The problem is that the Western system itself is what brings the calamity. There is little doubt that much of what we are experiencing today as so-called natural disasters have their origin in human carelessness.

How do we avoid the impending disaster brought on by a settler lifestyle of living on the land and against nature? The answer is simple: we learn to live with nature. [1]

In 1990, Indigenous leaders spoke at a global conference on the environment, and provided a hopeful vision for the future: 

We have jeopardized the future of our coming generation with our greed and lust for power. The warnings are clear and time is now a factor. . . . We speak of our children, yet we savage the spawning beds of the salmon and herring, and kill the whale in his home. We advance through the forests of the earth felling our rooted brothers indiscriminately, leaving no seeds for the future. We exploit the land and resources of the poor and indigenous peoples of the world. We have become giants, giants of destruction. . . . We must return to the spiritual values that are the foundation of life. We must love and respect all living things, have compassion for the poor and the sick, respect and understanding for women and female life on this earth who bear the sacred gift of life. We must return to the prayers, ceremonies, meditations, rituals, and celebrations of thanksgiving which link us with the spiritual powers that sustain us and, by example, teach our children to respect. [2]

The Shadowlands of Domination

October 19th, 2021

Facing Christianity’s entanglement with empire building means learning how to incorporate the “shadow side” of reality. This is necessary and yet exceedingly difficult to do, which is why Richard returns to the subject of the shadow so often:

Western civilization has failed to learn how to carry the shadow side of all things. Our success-driven culture scorns all failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty. Yet Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by praising “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)! Just that should tell us how thoroughly we have missed the point of the Gospel. Instead, we developed a system involving winners and losers, which is not Jesus, who identified with the losers without hating the winners. What a recipe for transformation of culture! We avoid the very things that Jesus praises, and we try to project a strong, secure, successful image to ourselves and to others.

Because we did not teach our people how to carry the paschal mystery (the universal entanglement of life and death) that Jesus embodied, it is now coming back to haunt us. Many of us have little ability to carry our own shadow side, much less the shadow side of our church, group, nation, or period of history. But shadowlands are good and necessary teachers. They are not to be avoided, denied, fled, or explained away. They are not even to be forgiven too quickly. First, like Ezekiel the prophet, we must eat the scroll that is “lamentation, wailing, and moaning” (2:10) in our belly.

American Indian scholar George Tinker offers a clear view of the shadow side of the Western conquest of the Americas, particularly in the United States.

American Indians continue to suffer from the effects of conquest by European immigrants over the past five centuries—an ongoing and pervasive sense of community-wide post-traumatic stress disorder. We live with the ongoing stigma of defeated peoples who have endured genocide, the intentional dismantling of cultural values, forced confinement on less desirable lands called “reservations,” intentionally nurtured dependency on the federal government, and conversion by missionaries who imposed a new culture on us as readily as they preached the gospel. . . .

[Indian peoples] suspect that the greed that motivated the displacement of all indigenous peoples from their lands of spiritual rootedness is the same greed that threatens the destruction of the earth and the continued oppression of so many peoples and ultimately the destruction of our White relatives. Whether it is the stories the settlers tell or the theologies they develop to interpret those stories, something seems wrong to Indian people. But not only do Indians continue to tell the stories, sing the songs, speak the prayers, and perform the ceremonies that root themselves deeply in Mother Earth; they are actually audacious enough to think that their stories and their ways of reverencing creation will someday win over our White settler relatives and transform them. Optimism and enduring patience seem to run in the life blood of Native American peoples.

May justice, followed by genuine peace, flow out of our concern for one another and all creation. [1]

Sarah Young……

COME TO ME with your defenses down, ready to be blessed and filled with My Presence. Relax and feel the relief of being totally open and authentic with Me. You have nothing to hide and nothing to disclose because I know everything about you already. You can have no other relationship like this one. Take time to savor its richness, basking in My golden Light. One of the worst consequences of the Fall is the elaborate barriers people erect between themselves and others. Facades abound in the world, even in My body, the church. Sometimes, church is the last place where people feel free to be themselves. They cover up with Sunday clothes and Sunday smiles. They feel relief when they leave because of the strain of false fellowship. The best antidote to this artificial atmosphere is practicing My Presence at church. Let your primary focus be communing with Me, worshiping Me, glorifying Me. Then you will be able to smile at others with My Joy and love them with My Love.

1 JOHN 1:5–7; ⁵This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. ⁶If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. ⁷But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

EXODUS 33:14; The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

PHILIPPIANS 4:8; ⁸Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 604). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

October 18th, 2021
Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 13 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.

Week Forty-Two: Christianity and Empire

Jesus as Central Reference Point

The first of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Eight Core Principles is that “The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point.” Affirming Jesus as central provides Fr. Richard and all of us with a confidence that comes from the Gospel. Richard writes: 

Without the assurance of Jesus’ teaching and example, I would not have the courage or the confidence to say what I say. How can I trust that things like nonviolence, the path of descent, simplicity of life, forgiveness and healing, the preference for the poor, and radical grace itself are as important as they are, unless Jesus also said so? This discernment is made even harder, however, by the fact that the actual Jesus agenda is so rarely emphasized in most Christian churches.

In her autobiography, Dorothy Day (1897–1980) paraphrased theologian Romano Guardini by lamenting, “the Church is the Cross on which Christ was crucified. . . .” [1] Doesn’t that hurt? And yet, maybe it’s true. In many ways, the institutional church does not seem to believe its own Gospel.

It wasn’t always this way, but starting in 313 CE, Christianity gradually became the imperial religion of the Roman Empire. It was mostly top-down and hierarchical for the next 1700 years. As the “imperial mind” took over, religion had less to do with Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, inclusivity, forgiveness, and simplicity, and instead became fully complicit in the world of domination, power, war, and greed itself.

Lay theologian and educator Verna Dozier (1917–2006) highlights some of the significant shifts that took place when Christianity became an imperial religion: 

It is hard for us to understand what happened to the people of God under Constantine. Surely the church got a breathing space from persecution. . . . Constantine dreamed of restoring the ancient glory of the empire, and he believed that could be best achieved through Christianity. Constantine himself was not changed; the church was. It became the imperial church. Christian worship began to be influenced by imperial protocol. Incense, the sign of respect for the emperor, began to appear in Christian churches. Ministers began dressing in more luxurious garments, processions and choirs developed, and eventually the congregation came to have a less active role in the worship.

More important than any of this, however, was the kind of theology that developed. The gospel of good news to the poor now saw riches and pomp as signs of divine favor. The coming kingdom of God was no longer a fundamental theme. In the view of Eusebius [c. 260–c. 340], the father of church history, the plan of God had been fulfilled in Constantine and his successors. Beyond the present political order, all that Christians can hope for is their own personal transference into the heavenly kingdom. [2] [DM Team: CAC teacher Brian McLaren calls this version of Christianity an “evacuation plan for the next world.”]

This week’s meditations highlight how we lost the essence of Jesus’ message when the church aligned with empire—and the painful results that followed. 

Jesus and the Empire

On his podcast “Another Name for Every Thing,” Fr. Richard discussed with co-hosts Paul Swanson and Brie Stoner what he sees as the “trajectory” of the Jesus movement and how Jesus lived a simple life of non-cooperation with the empire of his day. 

Paul: Richard, can you help us understand how the original spirit of the Jesus movement kind of lost its momentum as it got institutionalized [and the church colluded with the empire]? How did we lose that ability to speak truth to power and to empire in such a way?

Richard: It’s possible to trace the movement of Christianity from its earliest days until now. In Israel, Jesus and the early “church” offered people an experience; it moved to Greece, and it became a philosophy. When it moved to Rome and Constantinople, it became organized religion. Then it spread to Europe, and it became a culture. Finally, it moved to North America and became a business. This isn’t much of an exaggeration, if it’s an exaggeration at all. The original desire or need for a “Jesus” experience was lost, and not even possible for most people. Experience, philosophy, organized religion, culture, business—in each of those permutations and iterations, Christianity was seen as above criticism. It simply was the religion, the philosophy, the culture.

Those are the big historical reasons that we look to different places for our authority. We gave it to emperors and kings and presidents instead of the Gospel, pretending Jesus was Lord but we didn’t really mean it. Now, I know it’s easy to be cynical, to look at the disastrous effects of Christianity’s complicity with empire and want to give up on the whole endeavor, but I also want to proclaim that the flow of grace is a truly wonderful thing. Even inside of each of those iterations, misguided as they were—and we still are today—humble, loving people emerged—in every one of them.

Brie: At the end of the day, I think we’re all longing to really live this out. And there’s a cost to wanting to live into this type of prophetic imagination that Jesus is showing us.

Richard: I think if we try to communicate what Jesus’ social justice teaching is, we won’t find a highly rarefied explanation of justice theories, and so forth. The way to do justice is to live simply, to not cooperate with consumerism, with militarism, with all the games that have us trapped. Jesus just does it differently, ignoring unjust systems and building up a better system by his teaching to his disciples. His name for the better system was the kingdom of God or the reign of God. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. He’s showing us “We’re just going to do it better. Let’s not be anti-anything. Let’s be for something: for life, and for universal love.”

Reverencing Creation and the Creator

October 15th, 2021

For Fr. Richard and the Franciscan tradition, the incarnation is at the heart of a creation-affirming spirituality. We meet God in creation because we meet God everywhere! Instead of a barrier to the spiritual life, creation is a doorway. People who live in deep and harmonious relationship with nature have always known this. Sarah Augustine, a Tewa woman from New Mexico, writes:

Conversation with [Indigenous elders] has helped me to glimpse existence from an Indigenous cosmology and provided me a perspective about the nature of reality, which really begins with insight on the nature of the Creator.

Romans 1 states:

This is because what is known about God should be plain to them because God made it plain to them. Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse. (Verses 19–20, Common English Bible)

This Scripture is consistent with an Indigenous worldview—that the nature of the Creator is evident in the creation. What does creation tell us about God’s divine nature?

Indigenous Peoples have been accused of animism—that is, worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. But really, the basis of Indigenous spirituality is reverence. The Diné (Navajo), my relatives from New Mexico and Arizona, “do not worship the Sun, or the sun bearer, as supposed,” Steve Darden, my Diné mentor, instructed me. Rather, they express reverence for the Spirit of Life, the Creator, by finding elements of the Creator’s nature in the Sun—faithful, unfailing. Giver of Light. Giver of life. . . .

Reverence is deep respect. The Creator is evident in creation, which surrounds me. I can see it and experience it with my senses. I am part of it. Humility is acknowledging that I am not separate from creation; I am a part of a web of life. I have been taught that this mutual dependence is a gift. Life is a gift. [1]

For Franciscan sister Ilia Delio, the universe is an overflowing expression of divine love and creativity. She seeks to help us to recover a sense of the sacredness of creation. In a recent book, she wrote this poem/prayer, which reflects a deep reverence and respect for creation: 

Creation flows from the fountain fullness
of creative energy,
Springing from a creative and dynamic Source of Love.
Relational, personal, generative, communicative
Spilling over on the canvas of space-time;
Creation is like a song
That flows in the most beautiful of harmonies.

What could possibly account for such
Creative beauty bubbling up
Into life?
Could it be
The Beauty of Life itself,
A Divine community of Love? . . . [2]

Sarah Young…..

TRY TO STAY CONSCIOUS OF ME as you go step by step through this day. My Presence with you is both a promise and a protection. My final statement just before I ascended into heaven was: Surely I am with you always. That promise was for all of My followers, without exception. The promise of My Presence is a powerful protection. As you journey through your life, there are numerous pitfalls along the way. Many voices clamor for your attention, enticing you to go their way. A few steps away from your true path are pits of self-pity and despair, plateaus of pride and self-will. If you take your eyes off Me and follow another’s way, you are in grave danger. Even well-meaning friends can lead you astray if you let them usurp My place in your life. The way to stay on the path of Life is to keep your focus on Me. Awareness of My Presence is your best protection.

MATTHEW 28:20; and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

HEBREWS 12:1–2; Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus,

Creation-Centered Prayer

October 14th, 2021

In a conference on Franciscan mysticism, Fr. Richard talked about the “Four Splits” that keep us from recognizing and accessing the presence of God at all times and in all things. As he reminded the audience: 

The spiritual nature of reality, and the material, the physical, have been one ever since the Big Bang. The incarnation did not just happen 2,000 years ago; rather, matter and spirit have been one since God decided to manifest himself/herself. . . .

Christ is everywhere. The entire planet is anointed and messianic, if you will. All bears the Christ mystery. The whole point of going to communion in church is to sacramentalize the universe. We’re not only in communion when we go to communion. We’re always in communion when we learn this. We’re in communion driving to church. We’re in communion walking up the steps of the church. We’re in communion at the bathroom break. We’re in communion when we’re in nature.

Franciscan sister José Hobday (1929–2009), a personal friend of Richard’s and a beloved presence in the early years of the CAC, was a Seneca elder, an author, and a storyteller. She writes of how she learned to “pray always” from the Native American spirituality of her mother, which honored this sense of being in constant communion and harmony with God in all things.  

My mother prayed as a Native American. That meant she saw living as praying and praying as living. She tried to pray her life. She expressed her prayer of gratitude, for example, in the way she did things. She told me many times, “When you stir oatmeal, stir it slowly so you don’t forget that oatmeal is a gift and that you don’t take it for granted.”

She made a prayer out of the way she stirred oatmeal. Doing things prayerfully. That reflected her approach to prayer. She always did that. She even did it in the way she walked. She taught me and my brothers to walk with our hearts high and to walk softly on the earth because the earth is our mother. . . . As we walked, she said, we should be ready to enter into every movement of beauty we encountered. . . .

So, what things have I learned from Native American spirituality? First, to make my prayer creation-centered. Indians pray as relatives of the earth. They consider the sky their father, the earth their mother. The sun can be a brother or a sister. This makes you a creature with a relationship to creation, not someone above it or better than it. . . .

In our prayer, we might very well reflect on . . . creatures, and their relationship with creation. That is what Native Americans have done. It has not only kept them in touch with creation, but with the Creator as well. [1]

Sarah Young

BE PREPARED TO SUFFER FOR ME, in My Name. All suffering has meaning in My kingdom. Pain and problems are opportunities to demonstrate your trust in Me. Bearing your circumstances bravely—even thanking Me for them—is one of the highest forms of praise. This sacrifice of thanksgiving rings golden-toned bells of Joy throughout heavenly realms. On earth also, your patient suffering sends out ripples of good tidings in ever-widening circles. When suffering strikes, remember that I am sovereign and that I can bring good out of everything. Do not try to run from pain or hide from problems. Instead, accept adversity in My Name, offering it up to Me for My purposes. Thus your suffering gains meaning and draws you closer to Me. Joy emerges from the ashes of adversity through your trust and thankfulness.

JAMES 1:2–4; My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

PSALM 107:21–22; 21; Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. ²²Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.

PSALM 33:21; For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy Name.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 594). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.