Feminine Incarnation

June 9th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

The First Incarnation
Monday, June 10, 2019

In mythic imagination, I think Mary intuitively symbolizes the first incarnation—or Mother Earth. I am not saying Mary is the first incarnation, only that she became the natural archetype for it. Carl Jung believed that humans produce in art and story the inner images the soul needs in order to see itself and to allow its own transformation. Perhaps this is why the Madonna is still the most painted subject in Western art.

Mirabai Starr, student and translator of mystics across religions and a fellow New Mexican and dear friend of the CAC, writes about one such image that has had far-reaching impact. (We will hear more about Mirabai’s inter-spiritual history later in the week.)

When Christianity collided with indigenous religions around the world, a kind of nuclear fusion unfolded between the Earth Mother and the Mother of Christ. The apparition known as Our Lady of Guadalupe, from the Valley of Mexico, is a particularly potent example. This hybrid of Mother Mary and Tonantzin, the Mother of the Corn in Aztec tradition, appeared on the exact spot where the Nahuatl people had been worshiping the fertility goddess for millennia, and she spoke first to an indigenous farmer in his own language. Her skin was dark like their own, yet her features were European. She wore the traditional pre-Columbian maternity sash and also a mantle of stars, like the Virgin Mary. She made it clear that she was the Mother of All People and that her task and her delight was to love us, to give us shelter, to comfort our hearts, and to protect us.

The appearance of Our Lady in the sixteenth century in the Valley of Mexico coincided with the height of the Spanish Conquest, when the colonizers were systematically eradicating indigenous culture, murdering dissenters, and strangling the rights of the native people. The tender mercy of Mother Mary alchemically melded with the fierce power of the Mother of the Corn, and a glorious advocate emerged. Our Lady of Guadalupe bypassed the fear and suspicion engendered by the oppressors and offered a reconciling love that has continued as a wellspring of support for the people of Latin America. . . . [1]

I believe that Mary is the major feminine archetype in the Christ Mystery, foreshadowed as Sophia or Holy Wisdom (see Proverbs 8:1; Wisdom 7:7), and again shown in the cosmic symbol of “a Woman clothed with the sun and standing on the moon” (Revelation 12:1-17). Neither Sophia nor the Woman of Revelation is precisely Mary of Nazareth, yet in so many ways, both are—and each broadens our understanding of the Divine Feminine.

The first incarnation (creation) is symbolized by Sophia-Incarnate, a beautiful, feminine, multicolored, graceful Mary. She is invariably offering us Jesus, God incarnated into vulnerability and nakedness. Mary became the symbol of the First Universal Incarnation. She then hands the Second Incarnation (Jesus) on to us. Earth Mother presenting Spiritual Son, the two first stages of the Incarnation. Feminine Receptivity handing on the fruit of her yes and inviting us to offer our own yes. There is a wholeness about this that many find very satisfying to the soul. Mary is all of us both receiving and handing on the gift.

Archetypal Feminine
Sunday, June 9, 2019

I know I am taking some risks writing about Feminine Incarnation. There are certainly limitations to the construct of binary genders. God and Christ are beyond gender, and all humans are a blend of masculine and feminine traits. But because Western Christianity and culture have primarily worshipped male images, I believe it’s important to reclaim and honor female wisdom. Whether you identify as a cisgender man or woman, are trans or non-binary, I hope this week’s reflections will help you see aspects of yourself that may have been ignored or suppressed. [1]

I draw from my own encounters with God, my mother, sisters, and many women friends and colleagues over the years. And I’ll share insights from several women I deeply respect. I hope these perspectives invite you to trust your own experiences with the divine feminine. For many, it is an utterly new opening, since most Christians falsely assumed that God is strictly masculine even though there are numerous descriptions of a mothering, feminine God throughout the Bible.

In spite of patriarchy’s attempt to marginalize women, the feminine incarnation continues to appear in innumerable ways. This week we’ll focus especially on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Whenever I go to Europe, I am struck by how many churches are dedicated to Mary. Here in New Mexico and throughout Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe is found everywhere: in tattoos, murals, bathtubs converted to garden shrines, and gilt statues. Why did the first fourteen hundred years of Christianity, in both the Eastern and Western churches, fall head over heels in love with this seemingly quite ordinary woman? After all, the New Testament speaks very little of Mary.

We are clearly dealing with not just a single woman here but a foundational symbol—or, to borrow the language of Carl Jung (1875–1961), an “archetype”—an image that constellates a whole host of meanings that cannot be communicated logically but is grounded in our collective human unconscious.

In some ways, many humans can identify with Mary more than they can with Jesus precisely because she was not God! The Gospels attribute no miraculous works or heroic acts to her, simply trust and pure being more than doing. From her first yes to the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:38), to Jesus’ birth itself (Luke 2:7), to her yes at the foot of the cross (John 19:25), and her presence at fiery, windy Pentecost (see Acts 1:14, where she is the only woman named at the first outpouring of the Spirit), Mary appears on cue at key moments of the Gospel narratives. She is Everywoman and Everyman, and that is why I call her the feminine symbol for the universal incarnation.

Summary: Week Twenty-three

Unity and Diversity

June 2 – June 7, 2019

Unitive consciousness—the awareness that we are all one in Love—lays a solid foundation for social critique and acts of justice. (Sunday)

In the Trinity, the three must be maintained as three and understood as different from one another. Yet the infinite trust and flow between them is so constant, so reliable, so true, and so faithful that they are also completely one. (Monday)

Gravity, atomic bonding, orbits, cycles, photosynthesis, ecosystems, force fields, electromagnetic fields, sexuality, human friendship, animal instinct, and evolution all reveal an energy that is attracting all things and beings to one another, in a movement toward ever greater complexity and diversity—and yet ironically also toward unification at ever deeper levels. (Tuesday)

People can meet God within their cultural context but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation itself. —Christena Cleveland (Wednesday)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s observation that eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings is the most segregated hour in America still stands to challenge each congregation to examine the difference in its midst and to develop a higher capacity and moral compass to embrace it and to celebrate it. —Jaqueline Lewis (Thursday)

Nothing exists without these three interdependent energies that emerged from the first flaring forth over 13.8 billion years ago: differentiation or diversity; subjectivity, interiority, or essence; and communion or community and interconnectedness. —Joan Brown (Friday)

Practice: You Belong

At the Center’s spring conference, The Universal Christ, we read the following call and response with 2,000 people gathered in Albuquerque and thousands more online. Later we heard from so many people that this litany of welcome was powerfully moving. Read it aloud to yourself and feel truly welcomed—all of you, even the parts that culture or church have denied. Are there pieces of you not named here that you would like to recognize? Consider sharing your own welcome statement with your faith community and invite others to collaborate in making this vision more complete and actualized.

We would like to let you know that you belong. . . .

People on all parts of the continuum of gender identity and expression, including those who are gay, bisexual, heterosexual, transgender, cisgender, queer folks, the sexually active, the celibate, and everyone for whom those labels don’t apply. We say, “You belong.”

People of African descent, of Asian descent, of European descent, of First Nations descent in this land and abroad, and people of mixed and multiple descents and of all the languages spoken here. We say, “You belong.”

Bodies with all abilities and challenges. Those living with any chronic medical condition, visible or invisible, mental or physical. We say, “You belong.”

People who identify as activists and those who don’t. Mystics, believers, seekers of all kinds. People of all ages. Those who support you to be here. We say, “You belong.”

Your emotions: joy, fear, grief, contentment, disappointment, surprise, and all else that flows through you. We say, “You belong.”

Your families, genetic and otherwise. Those dear to us who have died. Our ancestors and the future ones. The ancestors who lived in this land, in this place, where these buildings are now . . . we honor you through this work that we are undertaking. We say, “You belong.”

People who feel broken, lost, struggling; who suffer from self-doubt and self-judgment. We say, “You belong.”

All beings that inhabit this earth, human or otherwise: the two-legged, the four-legged, winged and finned, those that walk, fly, and crawl, above the ground and below, in air and water. We say, “You belong.”

Diversity, Essence and Communion

June 7th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Unity and Diversity

Diversity, Essence, and Communion
Friday, June 7, 2019

Sr. Joan Brown is a longtime friend and Franciscan, serving as Executive Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light, a nonprofit that works for climate justice. She writes about three foundational principles needed for harmony and wholeness:

All of us who live, breathe, and walk upon this amazing, holy Mother Earth are called to understand the cosmic principles inherent in the interdependent energy dynamic that throbs through every element of life. Nothing exists without these three interdependent energies that emerged from the first flaring forth over 13.8 billion years ago: differentiation or diversity; subjectivity, interiority, or essence; and communion or community and interconnectedness. These energies offer vital lessons for the critical times in which we live, where diversity causes conflict, living is often at a superficial level, and individualism runs rampant. [1]

First, every one of us—every human being, every drop of water, every molecule, every bird, each grain of sand, and each mountain—is distinct or different. Each is a distinct manifestation of Divine Love energy. The universe thrives upon, and cannot exist without, diversity. The very differences that we shun, avoid, or even destroy are necessary for life to continue in a multitude of magnificent forms. . . .

The second cosmic principle, interiority or essence, is more easily understood by people of all religious traditions. Every created thing is holy. Every blade of grass, grasshopper, child, and element is holy. Ecological degradation, racism, discrimination, hate, and disinterest in working for justice and love each speak to the lack of honoring the interiority of that which stands before me. . . . In order to help people adjust and cope with climate change, which is the most critical concern of our day, I believe we must get in touch with the sacred essence of everything that exists.

The third cosmic principle, communion or community, is intimately linked to differentiation/diversity and interiority/essence. A quote attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh states it well: “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.” [2] The gravitational pull of love draws everyone and everything into relationship and communion. . . .

Perhaps, as Beatrice Bruteau wrote, “If we cannot love our neighbor as ourself, it is because we do not perceive our neighbor as ourself.” [3] If we are unable to see that we are in communion with another, we will not realize that what we do to ourselves, we do to the other and to the earth. Likewise, we do not realize that, ultimately, our lack of understanding turns back toward us in violence, whether that is fear of other races and diversity, or destruction of Earth because we see the natural world as an object rather than a subject with interiority. . . .

We are called to be larger than who we can imagine being in this moment. The cosmic principles are a new way of understanding, seeing, and acting in a world that seems to be torn apart by a misunderstanding of the beauty of diversity, the holiness of essence, and the evolutionary pull of communion.

Breaking Down Walls

June 6th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Unity and Diversity

Breaking Down Walls
Thursday, June 6, 2019

Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis is senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church, a multiracial, welcoming, and inclusive congregation in New York City. We were honored to have her speak at our Universal Christ conference this March. Today I’d like to share a short excerpt from her book The Power of Stories:

Christian biblical images of the peaceable realm are abundant: Isaiah’s prophecy of a time when lions will lie down with lambs [11:6-7]; Paul’s teachings on the equality of male and female, Jew and Gentile, and slave and free [Galatians 3:28]; and John’s challenge to love the neighbor whom we can see as an expression of the love of God whom we cannot see [1 John 4:11-12, 20-21] all echo the gospel teachings of Jesus. Love is the ethic of Jesus of Nazareth—love of God, neighbor, and self. Jesus, Paul of Tarsus told us, is our peace, the one whose love breaks down walls of hostility that separate people [Ephesians 2:14-16]. The church, as the body of Christ, is called and commissioned to break down those walls wherever we encounter them. It is our mission, and we understand that.

Thus, every Sunday morning in American churches, bulletins, greeters, and signs on the door offer messages of welcome. Yet what is often meant by welcome is that strangers can come in as long as they look like us, don’t offend us, don’t challenge us, and work heroically to fit in with our communal sense of self. In American culture, what we are likely to be made uncomfortable by are racial and ethnic differences, generational differences, theological differences, or differences due to sexual orientation. But, as psychologist Robert Carter argues, what matters most in American culture is race. [1]

Though American congregations share the call to welcome, in fact, only 7. 5 percent of the over three hundred thousand Christian congregations in the United States are multiracial and multicultural, which means no one racial or ethnic group makes up more than 80 percent of its members. [2] Even churches with a sincere desire to diversify may encounter barriers, such as location, language, and worship style. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s observation that eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings is the most segregated hour in America still stands to challenge each congregation to examine the difference in its midst and to develop a higher capacity and moral compass to embrace it and to celebrate it.

The gospel message is clear, yet relatively few clergy are able to lead their congregants into this vision of shalom. Clergy do not lead in a vacuum; they work in a context and in a culture that is often counter to the gospel. In other words, the vision we are called to story is often met with resistance that needs to be navigated. We must learn to cross cultural borders and break down resistance to a radical ethic of welcome.

As a Catholic (meaning “universal”) priest and spiritual teacher, I take Rev. Lewis’ message to heart. I hope you will join me in committing to change our culture, communities, churches, and institutions into places where all feel like they belong and are completely welcome (which might mean changing a few things that we take for granted).

Cross-cultural Discipleship

June 5th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

If God is always Mystery, then God is always in some way the unfamiliar, beyond what we’re used to, beyond our comfort zone, beyond what we can explain or understand. Many first learn to love and know God through the familiar, human face of Jesus and from there come to recognize God’s presence everywhere. Similarly, there are times and places to gather with people who are like us, but if that’s all we’re doing, we’re not growing and love is not growing in the world. 

Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist, theologian, and professor at Duke University’s Divinity School, brings this concept close to home, to our local parishes and communities. 

Cultural differences in the body of Christ enable different types of people to draw near to the heart of Jesus. . . . Jesus did a fantastic job of knowing his audience and speaking directly to their hearts. For example, Jesus talked sheep to shepherds, fish to fishermen, and bookish theology to bookish theologians. He was all things to all people. I think that our differences enable us to speak richly and directly to the hearts of all types of people. . . .

Culturally homogeneous churches are adept at targeting and attracting a certain type of person and creating a strong group identity. However, attendees at such churches are at a higher risk for creating the overly simplistic and divisive . . . labels that dangerously lead to inaccurate perceptions . . . as well as hostility and conflict. What often begins as an effective and culturally specific way to reach people for Christ ends up stifling their growth as disciples. Perhaps this is because we often fail to make a distinction between evangelism and discipleship. People can meet God within their cultural context but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation and on the cross. [I, Richard, would add that Jesus crossed “into other cultures” quite consistently in his entire public ministry. This is rather hard to miss!]

Discipleship is cross-cultural. When we meet Jesus around people who are just like us and then continue to follow Jesus with people who are just like us, we stifle our growth in Christ and open ourselves up to a world of division. However, when we’re rubbing elbows in Christian fellowship with people who are different from us, we can learn from each other and grow more like Christ. . . .

For this reason, I believe that churches and Christian organizations should strive for cultural diversity. Regardless of ethnic demographics, every community is multicultural when one considers the various cultures of age, gender, economic status, education level, political orientation and so on. Further, every church should fully utilize the multifaceted cultural diversity within itself, express the diversity of its local community, expertly welcome the other, embrace all who are members of the body of Christ [which is everyone] and intentionally collaborate with different churches or organizations in order to impact the kingdom. And churches situated in multiethnic communities—I’m not letting you off the hook—should absolutely be ethnically diverse . . . seeing culturally different others as God’s gift to us.

Love Draws Us Together

June 4th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Unity and Diversity

Love Draws Us Together
Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The third [revelation] is that our Lord God, almighty wisdom, all love, just as truly as [God] has made everything that is, so truly [God] does and brings about all that is done . . . we are securely protected through love, in joy and sorrow, by the goodness of God. . . . All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. —Julian of Norwich [1]

For Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), a French Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist, love is “the very physical structure of the Universe.” [2] That is a very daring statement, especially for a scientist to make. Yet for Teilhard, gravity, atomic bonding, orbits, cycles, photosynthesis, ecosystems, force fields, electromagnetic fields, sexuality, human friendship, animal instinct, and evolution all reveal an energy that is attracting all things and beings to one another, in a movement toward ever greater complexity and diversity—and yet ironically also toward unification at ever deeper levels. This energy is quite simply love under many different forms. (You can use another word if it works better for you.)

Love, the attraction of all things toward all things, is a universal language and underlying energy that keeps showing itself despite our best efforts to resist it. It is so simple that it is hard to teach, yet we all know love when we see it. After all, there is not a Native, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, or Christian way of loving. There is not a Methodist, Lutheran, or Orthodox way of running a soup kitchen. There is not a gay or straight way of being faithful, nor a Black or Caucasian way of hoping. We all know positive flow when we see it, and we all recognize resistance and coldness when we feel it. All the rest are mere labels.

When we are truly “in love,” we move out of our small, individual selves to unite with another, whether in companionship, friendship, marriage, or any other trustful relationship. Have you ever deliberately befriended a person standing alone at a party? Perhaps someone who was in no way attractive to you or with whom you shared no common interests? That would be a small but real example of divine love flowing. Don’t dismiss it as insignificant. That is how the flow starts, even if the encounter doesn’t change anyone’s life on the spot. To move beyond our small-minded uniformity, we have to extend ourselves outward, which our egos always find a threat, because it means giving up our separation, superiority, and control.

Christena Cleveland recognizes that so much is lost when we refuse to cross the “borders” that keep us apart.

How much are the people for whom Christ died suffering because we remain paralyzed and divided by our differences when we should be working together as the hands and feet of Jesus in the world? There must be a better and more efficient way to carry out our roles within the mission of God. Surely, we can do better. [3]

Unity and Diversity

June 3rd, 2019 by Dave No comments »

One in Love

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The primary problem is that our identities are too small. We tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. . . . Indeed, adopting a common identity is the key to tearing down cultural divisions and working toward reconciliation. —Christena Cleveland [1]

God’s major problem in liberating humanity has become apparent to me as I consider the undying recurrence of hatred of the other, century after century, in culture after culture and religion after religion.

The dualistic mind, upon which most of us were taught to rely, is simply incapable of the task of creating unity. It automatically divides reality into binary opposites and does most of its thinking inside this limited frame. It dares to call this choosing of sides “thinking” because that is all it knows how to do. “Really good” thinking then becomes devising a strong argument for our side’s superiority versus another country, race, group, political party, or religion.

It seems we must have our other! We struggle to know who we are except by opposition and exclusion. Eucharist was supposed to tell Christians who we are in a positive and inclusionary way. But many Catholics, particularly clergy, have made the Holy Meal into a “prize for the perfect” and a “reward for good behavior” instead of medicine for sickness—which we all equally need. Now I see what our real sickness is. Our sickness or “sin” is the illusion of separateness, a completely mistaken identity which is far too small and too boundaried. The Eucharist is made to order to remind us that we are all one body of Christ. Even those in “other flocks” (see John 10:16)—other religions or no religion at all—are still part of the one body of God, which is, first of all, creation itself.

Christianity’s long history of anti-Semitism is one example of this. Throughout Europe, leaders at the highest levels of church and culture, and even canonized saints, thought Jews were a problem—while their own leader Jesus, his mother Mary, and all the apostles were fully Jewish! Figure that one out. Anti-Semitism only lessened for a time during the Crusades when Christians directed their negative energy toward Muslims. Later, when there were no obvious “others” around, we Christians divided into warring denominations and did our fighting there.

Humans are wired to scapegoat and project our shadow elsewhere. Being able to recognize our own negativity takes foundational conversion and transformation of the egoic self. Unitive consciousness—the awareness that we are all one in Love—lays a solid foundation for social critique and acts of justice. I hope we will let God show us how to think and live in new ways, ways that meet the very real needs of our time on this suffering planet.

Diversity Protected

Monday, June 3, 2019

White dominant culture has been alive and well for centuries, and its grasp for power is only growing more desperate. Today we see unabashed racism, classism, and sexism at the highest levels of the United States government. How naïve many of us were to think we lived in a post-racial society after the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and after we saw an African American president and his family in the White House. Now our collective shadow has again come out in the open for all to see.

It seems every generation must be newly converted. While we seek to transform individual hearts and minds we must also work to create change throughout systems. Until a full vision of equity is realized, we must continue naming and resisting the ways in which so many people are excluded and oppressed. Author and activist adrienne maree brown writes:

Separation weakens. It is the main way we are kept (and keep each other) in conditions of oppression. . . . Where we are born into privilege, we are charged with dismantling any myth of supremacy. Where we are born into struggle, we are charged with claiming our dignity, joy and liberation. . . . From that deep place of belonging to ourselves, we can understand that we are inherently worthy of each other. Even when we make mistakes, harm each other, lose our way, we are worthy. [1]    

I believe the problem of otherness and separation is so foundational to all of reality that it had to be overcome in the very nature of God—from the very beginning—and in all things created in the image of God, which is exactly all things. God has to include otherness—diversity, if you will—but God also has to be diversity overcome and resolved, first inside of the Deity Itself (the Trinity), and then in all those created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27), who are imprinted, marked, and “turned into the image that they reflect” (see 2 Corinthians 3:18).

The members of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are the Christian placeholder names for clear distinction, pluriformity, and otherness. You can use other words if you want; what’s important is distinction and diversity in loving relationship. The three must be maintained as three and understood as different from one another. Yet the infinite trust and flow between them is so constant, so reliable, so true, and so faithful that they are also completely one. They must be diverse, and they must be one—at the same time. The glue that preserves both truths at the same time is Infinite Love.

Our basic human problem of unity and diversity has been resolved in the very nature of God, but unless we allow ourselves inside of that Infinite flow, we ourselves will always remain the three but never the one. If we remain exclusive monotheists, like Judaism, Islam, and much of Christianity up to now, we normally try to impose a false uniformity on others but rarely know how to love, honor, and respect diversity. We remain in competing tribes and colonies.

Like the Godself, we must be both “three and one,” different and united: diversity affirmed, protected, and overcome by One Shared Love. Even the very basic element of the atom appears to mirror such cyclical diversity, attraction, and allurement—within itself.

Summary: Week Twenty-two

Meeting Christ Within Us

May 26 – May 31, 2019

The goal of Christian spirituality is to recognize and respond to the continual interior movements of the Spirit, for the Spirit will always lead us toward greater union with Christ and greater love and service of God and others. —Richard Hauser (Sunday)

So many mystics seem to equate the discovery of their own souls with the very discovery of God. This will feel like a calm and humble ability to quietly trust yourself and trust God at the same timeIsn’t that what we all want? (Monday)

If you can trust and listen to your inner divine image, your whole-making instinct, or your True Self, you will act from your best, largest, kindest, most inclusive self. (Tuesday)

Many Westerners today are now reacquiring and accessing more of the skills we need to go into the depths of things—and to find God’s Spirit there. (Wednesday)

Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich (Thursday)

While God is transcendent, God is also immanent, and chooses to dwell within us. Contemplative spirituality helps us realize God’s presence within us. —Phileena Heuertz (Friday)

Practice: Centering Prayer

Centering prayer is a simple form of Christian meditation developed in the 1970s by three Trappist monks: Thomas Keating, William Meninger, and Basil Pennington. Read Phileena Heuertz’s introduction to this practice and then take some time to walk through the steps:

Centering prayer roots us in divine love. It is a modernized prayer method based on the intuitive prayer rooted in lectio divina and The Cloud of Unknowing. It is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer—prayer in which we experience the divine’s immanent presence within us. Centering prayer is grounded in relationship with God, through Christ, and is a practice to nurture that relationship. . . .

Centering prayer complements and supports other modes of prayer—verbal, mental, or affective prayer. It facilitates resting in the divine presence. Centering prayer offers a way to grow in intimacy with God, moving beyond conversation to communion.

As Father Thomas [Keating] emphasizes, the source of centering payer, as in all methods leading to contemplative prayer, is the indwelling Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The focus of centering prayer is the deepening of our relationship with the living Christ. The effects of centering prayer are ecclesial, as the prayer tends to build communities of faith and bond the members together in mutual friendship and love. To practice centering prayer, follow these steps.

  1. Sit in an upright, attentive posture in a way that allows for a straight spine and open heart. Place your hands in your lap.
  2. Gently close your eyes and bring to mind your sacred word, image, or breath as your symbol to consent to the presence and action of God within you. Your sacred symbol is intended to be the same every time you pray. It helps to ground you in the present moment. It allows you to give your undivided, loving, yielded attention to God. Choose a name for God or an attribute of God like love, peace, and so on. You may prefer a sacred image instead or simply a mindful breath.
  3. Silently, with eyes closed, recall your sacred symbol to begin your prayer. As you notice your thoughts, gently return to your sacred symbol. Do this however many times you notice thoughts, feelings, or sensations.
  4. When your prayer period is over, transition slowly from your practice to your active life.

It is recommended to pray in this fashion for a minimum of twenty minutes, two times a day. Start out slowly with initial prayer periods of five to ten minutes, then work up to the desired length of time.

God’s Temple

May 31st, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Meeting Christ Within Us

God’s Temple
Friday, May 31, 2019

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  —1 Corinthians 6:19

I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. —Galatians 2:20

Phileena Heuertz is a dear friend, member of our Board of Directors, and co-founder of Gravity, a center for contemplative activism. In this excerpt from her book Mindful Silence she reflects on the gift of contemplation.

Kataphatic prayer comes from the Greek kataphatikos, which in essence means “with images or concepts.” . . . This kind of prayer utilizes our faculties for reason, imagination, feelings, and will. We use words, images, and feelings to communicate with the divine. In this sense, God is mediated through our mental and affective capacities.

Apophatic prayer comes from the Greek apophatikos, which essentially means “without images or concepts.” This kind of prayer lets go of reason, imagination, feelings, and will. And in this way, our encounter with God is unmediated. It is a naked mode of prayer—being to being or essence to essence without filtration through the thinking or affective mind. . . .

Apophatic prayer is rooted in the doctrine of the divine indwelling (Luke 17:21; John 7:38, 14:3; Romans 8:10-11; 1 Corinthians 6:15-20; Galatians 2:20). While God is transcendent, God is also immanent, and chooses to dwell within us. Contemplative spirituality helps us realize God’s presence within us.

The word contemplative derives from a root that means to set aside a place of worship or to reserve a cleared space in front of an altar. In Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, a contemplative stance is obvious. The Israelites cleared space for worship with the Ark of the Covenant and finally with their temple. Jesus honored the temple worship of his Jewish tradition but also tried to enlighten his people to realize that sacred buildings, rituals, and rules are meant to bring us into the awareness of the divine presence in us and in all of those around us.

Jesus drew our attention to the doctrine of the divine indwelling in a radical declaration that he himself was the temple (John 2:19). . . . Paul elaborates on Jesus’ teaching of the doctrine of divine indwelling by declaring that not just Jesus’ but our body too is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). How marvelous! The Creator of the universe resides within our being.

But unfortunately, we’re not very well acquainted with God-within. We’ve mastered the theology of God’s transcendence but have failed to embrace God’s immanence. There’s a part of us that doubts our deep connection to this divine love. Contemplative spirituality helps us overcome this disconnect. It’s one thing to have a “personal relationship” with the transcendent Jesus [or Christ]—much like a relationship with a friend or lover. It’s quite another thing to become one with Jesus, by growing familiar with his immanence (John 17:21). It’s from this oneness that enduring love of God and neighbor is possible.

Our Deepest Desire

May 30th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Meeting Christ Within Us

Our Deepest Desire
Thursday, May 30, 2019

Find your delight in the Lord who will give you your heart’s desire. —Psalm 37:4

One of my favorite mystics is the English anchorite Julian of Norwich (1342–1416). After a serious illness, during which she experienced “shewings” or revelations of Jesus’ love, she wrote about the compassionate, mothering God she had encountered. Today’s meditation is longer as I want to share John Philip Newell’s beautiful summary of Julian’s visions:

She says that Christ is the one who connects us to the “great root” of our being. . . . [1] “God is our mother as truly as God is our father,” she says. [2] We come from the Womb of the Eternal. We are not simply made by God; we are made “of God.” [3] So we encounter the energy of God in our true depths. And we will know the One from whom we have come only to the extent that we know ourselves. God is the “ground” of life. [4] So it is to the very essence of our being that we look for God. . . .

God “is in everything,” writes Julian. [5] God is “nature’s substance,” the very essence of life. [6] So she speaks of “smelling” God, of “swallowing” God in the waters and juices of the earth, of “feeling” God in the human body and the body of creation. [7] . . . Grace is given to save our nature, not to save us from our nature. It is given to free us from the unnaturalness of what we have become and done to one another and to the earth. Grace is given, she says, “to bring nature back to that blessed point from which it came, namely God.” [8] It is given that we may hear again the deepest sounds within us.

What Julian hears is that “we are all one.” [9] We have come from God as one, and to God we shall return as one. And any true well-being in our lives will be found not in isolation but in relation. She uses the image of the knot . . . to portray the strands of time and eternity intertwined, of the human and the creaturely inseparably interrelated, of the one and the many forever married. Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. In Christ, we hear not foreign sounds but the deepest intimations of the human and the divine intertwined.

And for Julian, the key to hearing what is at the heart of the human soul is to listen to our deepest longings, for “the desire of the soul,” she says, “is the desire of God.” [10] Of course, many of our desires have become infected or overlaid by confusions and distortions, but at the root of our being is the sacred longing for union. It is to this deepest root that Christ leads us. Our soul is made “of God,” as Julian says, so it is grounded in the desires of God. And at the heart of these holy desires is what Julian calls “love-longing.” [11] It is the most sacred and the most natural of yearnings. The deeper we move within the human soul, the closer we come to this divine yearning. And the nearer we come to our true self, “the greater will be our longing.” [12]

How did we ever lose such massive, in-depth wisdom?

Going to the Depths

May 29th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Christianity’s foundational belief is always incarnation. Yet Christians in the West have focused on abstract ideas instead of actual transformation into our own incarnate humanity. Now that very humanity has grown tired of disembodied spiritualities that allow no validation or verification in experience. Thus, many religions hide an actual agenda of power and control, obfuscating and distracting us from what is right in front of us. This is exactly what we do when we make the emphasis of Jesus’ Gospel what is “out there” as opposed to what is “in here.”

For example, insisting on a literal belief in the virgin birth of Jesus is very good theological symbolism, but unless it translates into a spirituality of interior poverty, readiness to conceive, and human vulnerability, it is largely a “mere lesson memorized” as Isaiah puts it (29:13). It “saves” no one. Likewise, an intellectual belief that Jesus rose from the dead is a good start, but until you are struck by the realization that the crucified and risen Jesus is a parable about the journey of all humans, and even the universe, it is a rather harmless—if not harmful—belief that will leave you and the world largely unchanged.

Many Westerners today are now reacquiring and accessing more of the skills we need to go into the depths of things—and to find God’s Spirit there. Whether they come through contemplation, psychology, spiritual direction, shadow work, the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs typology, grief and bereavement work, or other models such as Integral Theory or wilderness experience [1], these tools help us to examine and to trust interiority and depth.

One of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life came in 1984 during a journaling retreat in Ohio led by the psychotherapist Ira Progoff (1921–1998). [2] Dr. Progoff guided us as we wrote privately for several days on some very human and ordinary questions. I remember first dialoguing with my own body, dialoguing with roads not taken, dialoguing with concrete memories and persons, dialoguing with my own past decisions, and on and on.

I learned that if the quiet space, the questions themselves, and blank pages had not been put in front of me, I may never have known what was lying within me. Progoff helped me and many others access slow tears and fast prayers, and ultimately intense happiness and gratitude, as I discovered depths within myself that I never knew were there. I still reread some of what I wrote over forty years ago for encouragement and healing. And it all came from within me!

Today we are recovering freedom and permission and the tools to move toward depth. What a shame it would be if we did not use them. The best way out is if we have first gone in. The only way we can trust up is if we have gone down. That has been the underlying assumption of male initiation rites since ancient times but, today, such inner journeys and basic initiation experiences are often considered peripheral to “true religion.”

The Voice of God

May 28th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Meeting Christ Within Us

The Voice of God
Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms. —1 Corinthians 2:11-13

If you can trust and listen to your inner divine image, your whole-making instinct, or your True Self, you will act from your best, largest, kindest, most inclusive self. I would also like to add “your most compassionately dissatisfied self” because the soul’s journey invites us to infinite depth that we can never fully plumb!

Rather than consuming spiritual gifts for yourself alone, you must receive all words of God so that you can speak them to others tenderly and with subtlety. If any thought feels too harsh, shaming, or diminishing of yourself or others, it is not likely the voice of God but the ego. Why do humans so often presume the exact opposite—that shaming voices are always from God and graced voices are always the imagination? That is a self-defeating (“demonic”?) path.

If something comes toward you with grace and can pass through you and toward others with grace, you can trust it as the voice of God. One holy man who recently came to visit me put it this way: “We must listen to what is supporting us. We must listen to what is encouraging us. We must listen to what is urging us. We must listen to what is alive in us.” I personally was so trained not to trust those voices that I often did not hear the voice of God speaking to me, or what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature.”

Yes, a narcissistic person can misuse such advice, but someone genuinely living in love will flourish inside such a dialogue. That is the risk that God takes—and we must take—for the sake of a fruitful relationship with God. It takes so much courage and humility to trust the voice of God within. Mary personifies such trust in her momentous and free “Let it be” to the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:38). Don’t you suppose that Gabriel sounded just like her own mind? She never talks about such an angel again.

We must learn how to recognize the positive flow and to distinguish it from the negative resistance within ourselves. It takes years of practice. If a voice comes from accusation and leads to accusation, it is quite simply the voice of the “Accuser,” which is the literal meaning of the biblical word “Satan.” Shaming, accusing, or blaming is simply not how God talks. God is supremely nonviolent. God only cajoles, softens, and invites us into an always bigger field and it is always a unified field.