Sacred Silence

January 9th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Action and Contemplation: Part One

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Most of us who live in a capitalist culture, where everything is about competing and comparing, will find contemplation extremely counterintuitive. How do we grasp something as empty, as harmless, as seemingly fruitless as the practice of silence? Only when we know that it also offers a “peace beyond understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and a “joy that no one can take from you” (John 16:22).

Silence needs to be understood in a larger way than simply a lack of audible noise. Whenever emptiness—what seems like empty space or absence of sound—becomes its own kind of fullness with its own kind of sweet voice, we have just experienced sacred silence.

When religious folks limit their focus in prayer to external technique and formula, the soul remains largely untouched and unchanged. Too much emphasis on what I call “social prayer” or wordy prayer feeds our egos and gives us far too much to argue about. That is surely why Jesus emphasized quiet prayer in one’s own “inner room” and warned us not to “babble on as the pagans do” (Matthew 6:5-7). Oh, the years we Catholics and others have wasted arguing about liturgy in a juridical way! For me, law and liturgy are two different realms. How can we truly pray when we are preoccupied with formula and perfection of technique?

If we can see silence as the ground of all words and the birth of all words, then when we speak, our words will be calmer and well-chosen. Our thoughts will be non-judgmental. Our actions will have greater integrity and impact.

When we recognize something as beautiful, that knowledge partly emerges from the silence around it. It may be why we are quiet in art galleries and symphony halls. If something is not surrounded by the vastness of silence and space, it is hard to appreciate it as singular and beautiful. If it is all mixed in with everything else, then its particularity does not stand out.

As one author I read years ago said, silence is the net below the tightrope walker. [1] We are walking, trying to find the right words to explain our experience and the right actions to match our values. Silence is that safety net that allows us to fall; it admits, as poets often do, that no words or deeds will ever be perfectly right or sufficient. So the poet keeps trying, for which we are grateful! The great spaciousness and safety net beneath a tightrope walker is silence; it offers freedom from self-preoccupation and the fear of making a mistake. A regular practice of contemplation helps us trust that silence will uphold us, receive our mistakes, and give us the courage to learn and grow.

Inner Silence

January 8th, 2020 by Dave No comments »


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Silence is not the absence of being; it is a kind of being itself. It is not something distant, obtuse, or obscure of which only ascetics and hermits are capable. Most likely we have already experienced deep silence, and now we must feed and free it and allow it to become light within us. We do not hear silence; rather, it is that by which we hear. We cannot capture silence; it must enthrall us. Silence undergirds our very being as ceaseless, primary prayer.

Silence is a kind of thinking that is not thinking. It is a kind of thinking which truly sees (from the Latin contemplata meaning “to see”). Silence, then, is truly an alternative consciousness. It is a form of intelligence, a form of knowing beyond reacting, which is what we normally call emotion. It is a form of knowing beyond mental analysis, which is what we usually call thinking. Philosopher René Descartes (1596–1650) was not wrong when he said, “I think, therefore I am.” He was accurately describing the Western person. Most of us believe that we are what we think, but we are so much more than our thoughts about things.

At their higher levels, all of the great world religions teach that this tyrannical mode of thinking has to be relativized and limited or it takes over—and rather completely takes over—to the loss of primal being. Pretty soon, words mean less and less; they mean whatever the ego wants them to mean. Witness our political discourse today! But this leads to more and more cynicism and suspicion about all words, even our own.

The ego uses words to get what it wants. When we are in an argument with our family, friends, or colleagues, that is what we do. We pull out the words that give us power, make us look right or superior, and help us win the argument. But words at that level are rather useless and even dishonest and destructive.

The soul does not use words. It surrounds words with space, and that is what I mean by silence. Silence is a kind of wholeness. It can absorb contraries, paradoxes, and contradictions. Maybe that is why we do not like silence. There is nothing to argue about in true inner silence, and the mind likes to argue. It gives us something to do. The ego loves something it can take sides on. Yet true interior silence does not allow you to take sides. That is one reason contemplation is so liberating and calming. There are no sides to take and only a wholeness to rest in—which frees us to act on behalf of love.

Silence, the Great Teacher

January 7th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Action and Contemplation: Part One

Silence, the Great Teacher
Tuesday, January 7, 2020

It seems like our society is at a low point in terms of how we talk about challenging, controversial topics within our political discourse and even our church reflections. I believe the only way through this polarization is a re-appreciation for silence. (If the word silence does not suit you, feel free to substitute nothingness, emptiness, vastness, formlessness, spaciousness, etc.)

Silence has a life of its own. It is not just that which is around words and underneath images and events. It is a being in itself to which we can relate and become intimately familiar. Philosophically, we would say being is that foundational quality which precedes all other attributes. Silence is at the very foundation of all reality—naked being, if you will. Pure being is that out of which all else comes and to which all things return.  Or as I like to say, Reality is the closest ally of God.

When we connect with silence as a living, primordial presence, we can then see all other things—and experience them deeply—inside that container. Silence is not just an absence, but a primal presence. Silence surrounds every “I know” with a humble and patient “I don’t know.” It protects the autonomy and dignity of events, persons, animals, and all created things.

To be clear, the kind of silence I’m describing does not ignore injustice. While some folks who claim to be enlightened contemplatives are merely navel-gazers, as Thomas Merton suggested, there are others who use silence to advance the cause of justice. Barbara Holmes explains:

We tend to presume that one must create silent spaces for contemplation. It is as if we have drawn the spiritual veil around contemplative activity, seeking to distance prayerful and reflective practices from the noise of the world. [That couldn’t be further from the truth!] . . . European domination in Africa and in other nations elicited the silence of those captive cultures. . . . Some of us allow [silence] to fully envelop and nurture our seeking; others who have been silenced by oppression seek to voice the joy of spiritual reunion in an evocative counterpoint.

As frightening as it may be to “center down,” we must find the stillness at the core of the shout, the pause in the middle of the “amen,” as first steps toward restoration. [1]

We must find a way to return to this place, live in this place, abide in this place of inner silence. Outer silence means very little if there is not a deeper inner silence. Everything else appears much clearer when it appears or emerges out of silence.

Without silence, we do not really experience our experiences. We are here, but not in the depth of here. We have many experiences, but they do not have the power to change us, awaken us, or give us the joy and peace that the world cannot give, as Jesus says (John 14:27).

Without some degree of inner and even outer silence, we are never living, never tasting the moment. The opposite of contemplation is not action, it is reaction. We must wait for pure action, which proceeds from deep silence.

Action and Contemplation: Part One

January 6th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

Our Foundational Commitment
Sunday, January 5, 2020

The most important word in our Center’s name is not Action nor is it Contemplation; it’s the word and.We need both compassionate action and contemplative practice for the spiritual journey. Without action, our spirituality becomes lifeless and bears no authentic fruit. Without contemplation, all our doing comes from ego, even if it looks selfless, and it can cause more harm than good. External behavior must be connected to and supported by spiritual guidance. It doesn’t matter which comes first; action may lead you to contemplation, and contemplation may lead you to action. But finally, they need and feed each other as components of a healthy dynamic relationship with Reality. In fact, this relationship between Action and Contemplation is so important that it will be the underlying theme of my Daily Meditations for 2020, as I look at it from many angles.

I used to think that most of us begin with contemplation or a unitive encounter with God and are then led through that experience to awareness of the suffering of the world and to solidarity with that suffering in some form of action. I do think that’s true for many people, but as I read the biblical prophets and observe Jesus’ life, I think it also happens in reverse: first action, then needed contemplation. 

No life is immune from suffering. When we are in solidarity with the suffering caused by pain, injustice, war, oppression, colonization—the list goes on and on—we face immense pressure to despair, to become angry or dismissive. When reality is split dualistically between absolute good and bad, total right and wrong, we are torn apart. Yet when we are broken, we are most open to contemplative consciousness or nondual thinking. We are desperate to resolve our own terror, anger, and disillusionment, so we finally allow ourselves to be led into the silence that holds everything together in wholeness. 

The contemplative, nondual mind is not saying, “Everything is beautiful” when it’s not. However, we do come to “Everything is still beautiful” by contemplatively facing the conflicts between how reality is and how we wish it could be. In other words, we have to begin with the dilemma of a seemingly totally dualistic problem. We’ve first got to name good and evil with some clarity and differentiate between right and wrong. We can’t be naive about evil. But if we remain focused on this duality, we’ll become unlovable, judgmental, dismissive people. I’ve witnessed this pattern in myself. We must eventually find a bigger field, a wider frame, which many call nondual thinking or “contemplation.” 

Jesus does not hesitate to dualistically name good and evil and to show that evil is a serious matter. However, he does not stop there. He often speaks in dualistic images, especially in regard to issues of wealth and power: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). He draws a stark line between the sheep and the goats, the compassionate and the indifferent (Matthew 25:31-46). Yet Jesus goes on to overcome these dualisms by the contemplative, nondual mind. We can and should be honest about evil, even at the risk of making some people uncomfortable; but we must not become hateful nor do we need to punish the “goats” in our life. We keep going deeper until we can also love them and seek their healing and transformation.  

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:
What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

An Embarrassing Silence
Monday, January 6, 2020

When I first learned contemplation in my Franciscan novitiate, I was taught a practice of silent, wordless prayer. Over the decades, I have learned there are many paths to contemplation, a myriad of ways to access nondual consciousness. (The Saturday practices in the Daily Meditations are our own attempts to help spread the good news of contemplation in many forms.) Regardless how we practice—with stillness, breath, observation, chanting, walking, dancing, calm conversation—contemplation calls the ordinary thinking mind into question. We gradually come to recognize that this thing we call “thinking” does not enable us to love God and love others. We need a different operating system, and it both begins with and leads to silence. 

Even through practices full of sounds and words, contemplation helps us access a foundational silence, a deep, interior openness to Presence. One of our faculty members, Barbara Holmes, writes: “An ontological silence can occupy the heart of cacophony, the interiority of celebratory worship. . . . Silence [is] the source of all being. . . . Silence is the sea that we swim in.” [1] And yet we’re often oblivious to it. Thus, the need for practice.

In my book The Naked Now, I call non-silence “dualistic thinking,” where everything is separated into opposites, like good and bad, life and death. In the West, we even believe that is what it means to be educated—to be very good at dualistic thinking. Join the debate club! But both Jesus and Buddha would call that judgmental thinking (Matthew 7:1-5), and they strongly warn us against it.

Dualistic thinking is operative almost all of the time now. It is when we choose or prefer one side and then call the other side of the equation false, wrong, heresy, or untrue. But what we judge as wrong is often something to which we have not yet been exposed or that somehow threatens our ego. The dualistic mind splits the moment and forbids the dark side, the mysterious, the paradoxical. This is the common level of conversation that we experience in much of religion and politics and even every day conversation. It lacks humility and patience—and is the opposite of contemplation.

In contemplative practice, the Holy Spirit frees us from taking sides and allows us to remain content long enough to let it teach, broaden, and enrich us in the partial darkness of every situation. We need to practice for many years and make many mistakes in the meantime to learn how to do this. Paul rather beautifully describes this kind of thinking: “Pray with gratitude and the peace of Christ, which is beyond knowledge or understanding (what I would call “the making of distinctions”), will guard both your mind and your heart in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Teachers of contemplation show us how to stand guard and not let our emotions and obsessive thoughts control us.

When we’re thinking nondualistically, with this guarded mind and heart, we will feel powerless for a moment, stunned into an embarrassing and welcoming silence. Then we will discover what is ours to do.

Summary: Week Fifty-three

Summary: An Evolving Faith

December 29, 2019 – January 3, 2020

God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever evolving, yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. (Sunday)

For me, a true comprehension of the full Christ Mystery is the key to the foundational reform of the Christian religion. Understanding the expansive reality of Christ will move us beyond any attempts to corral or capture God into our exclusive group. (Monday)

Simply put, any notion of a future church must be a fully practical church that is concerned about getting the job of love done—and done better and better. (Tuesday)

One of the most promising things that has come out of the emerging church has been folks looking back and reclaiming the best of their traditions, seeing that it is not an either/or but a both/and—God is doing something ancient and something new. —Shane Claiborne (Wednesday)

This new kind of Christianity can only emerge as a trans-denominational movement of contemplative spiritual activism. —Brian McLaren (Thursday)

The most important aspect of this [new] form of Christianity in the future is simple, obvious, and yet radical: it is about love, as Jesus taught and embodied. —Brian McLaren (Friday)

Practice: Love and Compassion

As we begin a new year, I am delighted to share this beautiful practice from my friend and fellow CAC faculty member James Finley, who invites us to awaken to our oneness with love and compassion.

Meditation allows us to see the world through the eyes of compassion. This compassionate vision of the world impels us to live in ways in which our words and behavior toward others embody compassion. Compassion forms the essential bond between seeking God in meditation and all forms of social justice. For the more we are transformed in compassion, the more we are impelled to act with compassion toward others. [1]

When you sit in meditation, your breathing naturally slows. Quietly focusing your attention on your breathing is a way of slowing down and settling into a deep meditative awareness of oneness with God. Breathing out, be quietly aware of breathing out. Breathing in, be quietly aware of breathing in. Each time you realize you have drifted off into thoughts, memories, sensations, and other ego-based modes of being, simply return to your breathing as your anchoring place in present-moment attentiveness.

Your efforts in following the path of breath awareness might be enhanced by repeating a word or phrase with each breath. A practice I have found particularly helpful is to pair breath awareness with the phrase “I love you.”

As you inhale, listen to the incoming breath so intently that you can hear in it God’s silent “I love you.” In this moment, God is flowing into you as the source and reality of your very being. As you exhale, breathe out a silent “I love you” back to God. As you inhale, be aware of the air as being God flowing into you, as the divine gift of your very being. As you exhale, allow your silent “I love you” to be your very being, flowing back into the depths of God.

Simply sit, open to God breathing divine love into the depths of your being, as you breathe your whole being, as a gift of love, back into God.

This one practice alone, engaged in with heartfelt sincerity and devotion, can awaken you to God’s total and complete oneness with you as the giver, the sustainer, and the reality of the sheer miracle of your very being. As this realization of God’s oneness with you grows, you will begin to realize how foolish it is to imagine that God is, in any way, distant from you. You discover how foolish it is to imagine that you could in any way, hide from God, who is wholly one with all that is within your mind and heart, your very being. [2] 

A School for Love

January 3rd, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Summary: An Evolving Faith

A School for Love
Friday, January 3, 2020

Today, friend and CAC faculty member Brian McLaren continues describing the three shifts Christianity needs to make in order to be true to the vision and mission of Jesus the Christ. Yesterday Brian explained the importance of becoming (1) “decentralized and diverse.” Today, he describes the need to be (2) “radically collaborative” and to (3) “love as Jesus taught and embodied.” Rather than a top-heavy institution concerned about in-house salvation, the Christianity of the future will place love of God, neighbor, self, and all creation at the center. Brian writes:

The diverse and decentralized movement we need will be radically collaborative, working with, across, and, when necessary, outside of and in spite of existing institutions to seek the common good. It will not be anti-institutional because institutions are necessary for human survival, but neither will it be institutional, in the sense that it is preoccupied with its own survival or bringing benefits only to its members. Rather, it will be trans-institutional, working across institutions, both religious and non-religious, seeking the common good of those inside and outside the movement and the institutions it involves. . . .

The . . . most important aspect of this [new] form of Christianity in the future is simple, obvious, and yet radical: it is about love, as Jesus taught and embodied [emphasis mine—RR]. . . .

The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor [1], with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. This love for neighbor was, in turn, inextricably related to an appropriate love for self. In fact, to love neighbor as oneself leads to the realization that oneself and one’s neighbor are actually distinct yet inseparable realities. In today’s world, we must add that, for Jesus, God’s love extends to the wildflower, the meadow grass, the sparrow, and the raven. He saw all of God’s creatures as part of one heavenly realm, as did dear St. Francis, and as do more and more of us.

When I think of this [new] kind of Christianity of the future, then, I think of a movement of revolutionary love. I see it as distinctively Christian, but not in any exclusive way, because if we truly see love as Jesus’ point and passion, then the depth of our devotion to Christ will always lead us to love our Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Indigenous, nonreligious, agnostic, atheist, and other neighbors as ourselves. . . .

In this desirable future, every willing Christian congregation makes every competing interest subsidiary to love, which is the fruit of all contemplation and the goal of all action. If we embody this [emergent] form of Christianity, . . .  if we become the seeds of a movement of contemplative activism in the Spirit of Christ, I can imagine hundreds of thousands of congregations, . . . each a locally and globally engaged school of love, teaching future generations to discover, practice, and live in love: love for our neighbor, love for ourselves, love for all creatures and all creation—all comprising love for God, who is all in all in all.

Summary: An Evolving Faith

Diverse Discipleship
Thursday, January 2, 2020

I have known Brian McLaren for many years as a friend and colleague, and he recently joined the faculty of the CAC’s Living School. He is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian who has spent the last two decades passionately advocating for “a new kind of Christianity.” Today and tomorrow, Brian will be sharing three shifts Christianity must make if it wants to serve as a universal path of spiritual transformation. The first shift is to become “decentralized and diverse.” Brian writes:

More and more of us are hoping, praying, and dedicating ourselves to a [new] form of Christianity. This new kind of Christianity can only emerge as a trans-denominational movement of contemplative spiritual activism. . . .

This emerging or emergence Christianity . . . will be decentralized and diverse rather than centralized and uniform. In other words, it will have the shape of a movement rather than an institution. It will be drawn together . . . by internal unity of way of life, mission, practices, and vision for the common good. . . .

Instead of hoarding and centralizing resources like expertise, education, mentoring, and authority, we need to multiply them and democratize them.

This, of course, was Jesus’ original approach. He never announced to his disciples: “Hey folks, we’re going to start a new, centralized, institutional religion and name it after me.” Instead, he played the role of a nonviolent leader and launched his movement with the classic words of movement, “Follow me” (see Matthew 4:19, for example). He used his power to empower others. He did great things to inspire his followers to do even greater things [see John 14:12-14]. Rather than demand uniformity, he reminded his disciples that he had “sheep of other folds” (John 10:16). . . . He recruited diverse disciples who learned—by heart—his core vision and way of life. Then he sent these disciples out as apostles to teach and multiply his vision and way of life among “all the nations” (Matthew 28:19).

As he repeatedly explained, the dangerous, turbulent, uncertain times, together with the failure of existing institutions, made this strategy essential: “The time is ripe,” he said (Luke 10:2, slightly paraphrased), “and we need more laborers.” (This pattern of multiplying leader/teacher/practitioners is exactly the pattern we find, not only with Jesus in the Gospels, but also with Paul throughout the New Testament, in places like 2 Timothy 2:2 and 1 Corinthians 11:1.) . . .

In dangerous times like these, . . . we have to produce generations of dedicated, courageous, and creative contemplative activists who will join God to bring radical healing and change to this damaged world, before it’s too late.

We need this movement—not someday, maybe, but right now, definitely.

Moving Forward by Looking Back

January 1st, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Summary: An Evolving Faith

Moving Forward by Looking Back
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
News Year’s Day

It seems appropriate to begin the new year by sharing new visions for the future of Christianity. For our faith to evolve, we need to look at the old and original in order to build something new and novel. My friend Shane Claiborne is a young Evangelical leading this kind of hopeful and faith-filled renewal that builds on the past. Shane and many others are nurturing a “new monastic” movement, learning from the best of Christianity’s history and traditions in order to find modern and relevant ways to follow Jesus and embody the Reign of God on earth today. In Shane’s words:

There was a time in the 1980s and 90s, when the response to the hypocrisies in the church was to start new, creative expressions of church—what many came to call “the emerging church movement.” My community in Philly, The Simple Way, was one of the fruits of that era. . . .

Many new movements have been born amid the remnants of the past. Fresh life can come from the compost of Christendom. I think we are poised for another great awakening. . . .

God is restoring all things. Institutions like the church are broken, just like people, and they too are being healed and redeemed. My friend Chris Haw put it this way. It’s the difference between being in a canoe and a rowboat. In a canoe, you look forward as you row, but in a rowboat, you look back as you move forward. Our way forward is behind us. . . .

Rather than throw out the traditions, I want to know and study them, find the treasures and spit out the bones.

The church needs discontentment. It is a gift to the Reign of God, but we have to use our discontentment to engage rather than to disengage. We need to be a part of repairing what’s broken rather than jumping ship. One of the pastors in my neighborhood said, “I like to think about the church like Noah’s Ark. That old boat must have stunk bad inside, but if you tried to get out, you’d drown.”

Just as we critique the worst of the church, we should also celebrate her at her best. We need to mine the fields of church history and find the treasures, the gems. We need to celebrate the best that each tradition can bring—I want the fire of the Pentecostals, the love of Scripture of the Lutherans, the political imagination of the Anabaptists, the roots of the Orthodox, the mystery of the Catholics, and the zeal of the Evangelicals.

One of the most promising things that has come out of the emerging church has been folks looking back and reclaiming the best of their traditions, seeing that it is not an either/or but a both/and—God is doing something ancient and something new. Phyllis Tickle [1934–2015] called it “hyphenated denominations”—Presby-mergence, Bapti-mergence, Luther-mergence—because what they are doing is renewing and building on what was.

Moving Forward by Looking Back

January 1st, 2020 by Dave No comments »

Wednesday, January 1, 2020
New Year’s Day

It seems appropriate to begin the new year by sharing new visions for the future of Christianity. For our faith to evolve, we need to look at the old and original in order to build something new and novel. My friend Shane Claiborne is a young Evangelical leading this kind of hopeful and faith-filled renewal that builds on the past. Shane and many others are nurturing a “new monastic” movement, learning from the best of Christianity’s history and traditions in order to find modern and relevant ways to follow Jesus and embody the Reign of God on earth today. In Shane’s words:

There was a time in the 1980s and 90s, when the response to the hypocrisies in the church was to start new, creative expressions of church—what many came to call “the emerging church movement.” My community in Philly, The Simple Way, was one of the fruits of that era. . . .

Many new movements have been born amid the remnants of the past. Fresh life can come from the compost of Christendom. I think we are poised for another great awakening. . . .

God is restoring all things. Institutions like the church are broken, just like people, and they too are being healed and redeemed. My friend Chris Haw put it this way. It’s the difference between being in a canoe and a rowboat. In a canoe, you look forward as you row, but in a rowboat, you look back as you move forward. Our way forward is behind us. . . .

Rather than throw out the traditions, I want to know and study them, find the treasures and spit out the bones.

The church needs discontentment. It is a gift to the Reign of God, but we have to use our discontentment to engage rather than to disengage. We need to be a part of repairing what’s broken rather than jumping ship. One of the pastors in my neighborhood said, “I like to think about the church like Noah’s Ark. That old boat must have stunk bad inside, but if you tried to get out, you’d drown.”

Just as we critique the worst of the church, we should also celebrate her at her best. We need to mine the fields of church history and find the treasures, the gems. We need to celebrate the best that each tradition can bring—I want the fire of the Pentecostals, the love of Scripture of the Lutherans, the political imagination of the Anabaptists, the roots of the Orthodox, the mystery of the Catholics, and the zeal of the Evangelicals.

One of the most promising things that has come out of the emerging church has been folks looking back and reclaiming the best of their traditions, seeing that it is not an either/or but a both/and—God is doing something ancient and something new. Phyllis Tickle [1934–2015] called it “hyphenated denominations”—Presby-mergence, Bapti-mergence, Luther-mergence—because what they are doing is renewing and building on what was.

The Work of Healing

December 31st, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Up to now, top-down religion has pretty much spoiled the show. We need trained experts, scholars, leaders, and teachers, but the truths of Christianity must be made much more accessible, available, localized, and pastoral. Most people do not need to have encyclopedic knowledge of theology or Scripture. To begin with, why not flatten out the huge and unbiblical distinction between clergy and laity? [1]

While Christian churches do much good, we have one huge pastoral problem that is making Christianity largely ineffective—and largely decorative. Solid orthodox theology is sorely needed (and yes, I am obsessed with it), yet we clearly need good and compassionate pastoral and healing practices ten times more!

It seems to me that we must begin to validate Paul’s original teaching on “many gifts and many ministries” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Together, these diverse gifts “make a unity in the work of service” (Ephesians 4:12-13, Jerusalem Bible). Individual communities may do this well, but on the whole we need Christian people who are trained in, validated for, and encouraged to make home and hospital visits; do hospice work and jail ministry; support immigrants and refugees; help with soup kitchens or food pantries; counsel couples before, during, and after marriage; share child development resources with families; offer ministries of emotional, sexual, and relational healing; help with financial counseling; build low-cost housing; take care of the elderly; run thrift centers—all of which put Christian people in immediate touch with other people and for which no ordination is needed. Ordination would probably even get in the way. Remember, healing was most of the work Jesus did. This fact is almost too obvious.

My vision of any future church is much flatter and much more inclusive. Either we see Christ in everyone, or we hardly see Christ in anyone. Frankly, my hope for Christianity is that it becomes less “churchy,” less patriarchal, and more concerned with living its mission statement than with endlessly reciting our heavenly vision and philosophy statement—the Nicene Creed—every Sunday. There seem to be very few actionable items in most Christians’ lives beyond attending worship services, which largely creates a closed and self-validating system. 

Simply put, any notion of a future church must be a fully practical church that is concerned about getting the job of love done—and done better and better. Centuries emphasizing art and architecture, music, liturgy, and prescribed roles have their place, but their overemphasis has made us a very top-heavy and decorative church that is constantly concerned with its own in-house salvation.

Summary: An Evolving Faith

December 30th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Patient Trust
Sunday, December 29, 2019

God keeps creation both good and new—which means always going somewhere even better. God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever evolving, yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. 

If we understand the Eternal Christ Mystery as the symbolic Alpha Point for the beginning of what we call “time,” we can see that history and evolution indeed have an intelligence, a plan, and a trajectory from the very start. Christ is both the Divine Radiance at the Beginning Big Bang and the Divine Allure drawing us into a positive future. We are thus bookended in a Personal Love—coming from Love and moving toward an ever more inclusive Love. This is the Christ Omega (see Revelation 1:8).

Christians believe the final goal does have a shape and meaning. Creation began and continues in its “very goodness” (see Genesis 1:31). Everything that arises seems to converge. The biblical symbol of the Universal and Eternal Christ stands at both ends of cosmic time, assuring us that the clear and full trajectory of the world we know is an unfolding of consciousness with “all creation groaning in this one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22).

The New Testament has a clear sense of history working in a way that is both evolutionary and positive. For example, Jesus’ many parables of the Kingdom lean heavily on the language of growth and development. His common metaphors for growth are seeds, sprouting and ripening grain, weeds and wheat growing together, and the rising of yeast. [1] His parables of the “Reign of God” are almost always about finding, discovering, being surprised, experiencing reversals of expectations, changing roles and status. None of these notions are static; they are always about something new and good coming into being.

Why do I think this is so important? Frankly, because without it we become very impatient with ourselves and others. Humans and history both grow slowly and often move three steps forward, two steps back. We expect people to show up at our doors fully transformed and holy before they can be welcomed in. But growth language says it is appropriate to wait, trusting that change of consciousness, what the Bible calls in Greek metanoeite, can only come with time. This patience ends up being the very shape of love. Without an evolutionary worldview, Christianity does not really understand, much less foster, growth or change. Nor does it know how to respect and support where history is heading. 


A Universal Pattern

Monday, December 30, 2019

Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together. —Colossians 1:17

Anything called “Good News” needs to reveal a universal pattern that can be relied upon, and not just clannish patterns that might be occasionally true. This is probably why Christianity’s break with ethnic Judaism was inevitable, although never intended by either Jesus or Paul, and why by the early second century Christians were already calling themselves “catholics” or “the universals.” They believed God is leading all of history somewhere larger and broader and better for all of humanity. Yet, after Jesus and Paul—except for occasional theologians like Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, and Francis of Assisi—the most widely accepted version of Christianity had little to do with the cosmos, creation, nature, or even history. Our beliefs did not generally talk about the future, except in terms of judgment and apocalypse. This is no way to guide history forward. It is certainly no way to give humanity hope, purpose, direction, or joy.

Christianity puts itself in a limited and precarious position when it is tied to any culture-bound Jesus or an expression of faith that does not include the Eternal Christ. Without a universal story line that offers grace and caring for all of creation, Jesus is kept small and seemingly inept. God’s care must be toward all creatures, or God ends up not being very caring at all, making things like water, trees, animals, and history itself accidental, trivial, or disposable. But grace is not a late arrival, appearing only two thousand years ago when Jesus came, or when a few lucky humans read his words in the Bible. God’s grace cannot be a random problem-solver doled out to the few and the virtuous—or it is hardly grace at all! (See Ephesians 2:7-10 if you want the radical meaning of grace summed up in three succinct verses.)

For me, a true comprehension of the full Christ Mystery is the key to the foundational reform of the Christian religion. Understanding the expansive reality of Christ will move us beyond any attempts to corral or capture God into our exclusive group. As the New Testament dramatically puts it, “Before the world was made, we have been chosen in Christ . . . claimed as God’s own, and chosen from the very beginning” (Ephesians 1:4, 11) “so that God could bring everything together, in heaven and on earth, as a plan for the fullness of times” (1:10). If all of this is true, we have a theological basis for a very natural religion that includes everybody. The problem was solved from the beginning. 

Summary: Week Fifty-two

Incarnation

December 22 – December 28, 2019

God, who is Infinite Love, incarnates that love as the universe itself. Then, a mere 2,000 years ago, as Christians believe, God incarnated in personal form as Jesus of Nazareth. (Sunday)

Divine incarnation took the form of an Indwelling Presence in every human soul and in all creatures, but each in a unique way. (Monday)

Remember, when we speak of Advent or preparing for Christmas, we’re not just talking about waiting for the little baby Jesus to be born. We’re in fact welcoming the Universal Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history. (Tuesday)

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I do not give birth to the Son of God in my own person and time and culture? . . . We are all meant to be mothers of God. —Matthew Fox, paraphrasing Meister Eckhart (Wednesday)

An incarnational worldview is the only way we can reconcile our inner worlds with the outer one, unity with diversity, physical with spiritual, individual with corporate, and divine with human. (Thursday)

The traditional understanding of the Incarnation is that the Person of Christ subsists in two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. —Beatrice Bruteau (Friday)

Practice: The Meaning of Life

Michael Lerner is an American rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, a political activist, and the editor of Tikkun, a Jewish interfaith magazine. Rabbi Lerner has shared my work with his audiences, noting the message of love and justice that flows through all the Abrahamic faiths and touches on all the great religious and spiritual traditions. In today’s practice, Rabbi Lerner imagines an education for the future where students would learn to engage in studies that would prepare them for spiritual transformation. In alignment with our consideration of “incarnation,” one of the topics students would explore is “Meaning of Life.” Lerner explains:

In this stream, students would learn about the various ways people have sought to discover a framework of meaning for life. Students would study art and poetry, music and dance, world literature and philosophy, religions and forms of spirituality. They would be encouraged to consider their own paths for finding meaning, and to develop rituals, poetry, music, and dance that fit the lives they are shaping for themselves or as part of ongoing communities of meaning.

Students would also be exposed to the range of human suffering, projects and strategies for ameliorating or reducing suffering, and the range of responses and attempts to give meaning to the suffering and the attempts to be with suffering without giving it any larger meaning. They would also be exposed to the ways people have sought to find meaning through community action, mutual support, and love. Many students will have already had their own exposure to suffering in their families and communities, but the school situation will give them a different a take: an opportunity to reflect on suffering and its meaning. So, too, students will explore experiences of unity, mystical luminosity and joy that are as much dimensions of life as suffering and cruelty.

Finally, students would be encouraged to prepare of a rite of passage that they, together with parents and teachers as advisors, devised for themselves: a kind of “hero’s quest” in which they were initiated into the realities of some aspect of adult life. Adapting from suggestions made by [Zen Roshi] Joan Halifax, I suggest that such a rite of passage would involve going through a process that would include:

  1. Plunging into some (carefully discerned) arena of activity
     
  2. Allowing oneself to separate from familiar paths and ways of coping so that one can “not know”
     
  3. Allowing oneself to experience confusion, fear, and disorientation without jumping into denial or easy resolution of conflict
     
  4. Healing oneself and incorporating into one’s being the knowledge learned as part of this process
     
  5. Ending with a firm determination to liberate oneself and the world from suffering.

[While] it could be argued that many students have already gone through stages “1” through “3,” few get to “4” or “5.” Commitment to healing oneself and making a commitment to liberation for self, others, and the world is an essential part of spiritual transformation. [1] 


December 27th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Incarnation

Divine Creativity
Friday, December 27, 2019

Though I did not have the privilege of meeting her personally, Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) was a brilliant scholar with a wide-ranging interest in mathematics, religion, science, and philosophy. Through her writing and relationships, she influenced the study of contemplative practice and evolutionary consciousness in significant ways. Enjoy this glimpse into her thoughts on incarnation:

The traditional understanding of the Incarnation is that the Person of Christ subsists in two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. But Christ is only one Person, the divine Person called “the Word.” . . . What would seem to be the [opposites] of Being are held together in the intimate union of a single Person. Without ceasing to be God, the Word becomes human. And without ceasing to be incarnate as a human being, this Person is divine.

It seems impossible, but this is what Christians claim we believe. . . . Indeed, we could never have proposed such a thought to ourselves if we had not sensed its reality in ourselves. We do not pretend to understand the Incarnation in an analytical abstract way. We rather understand it in an experiential way. We know what it means because we resonate with it in our own being. Whatever meaning it has for us comes from the deepest level of our sense of our own reality. . . .

[I want to pause here for just a moment to celebrate what Bruteau is saying: What is true in Jesus is true in us! We never could have claimed this intellectually if we did not sense it intuitively.]

In the case of the cosmos, we can say that God as Creator is incarnate as self-creating universe, including self-creating creatures within that universe, such as, for instance, ourselves as human beings. [Or, as I like to say, God creates things that create themselves.] Creativity itself is what’s evolving in the cosmos, and . . . we are in a position to realize ourselves as incarnate divine creativity. This has two effects. It makes the whole thing intensely meaningful. . . . We are part of this, creative contributors to this. And this is the other effect: we bear some responsibility. We have to take our part in the work. We, for instance, are now in a position to do something about all the suffering. . . . We are agents within the system and can have causal effects on other parts of the system. We have intelligence, we have empathy and capacity to feel for others and to care about them, we even have insight into the Ground [or Spirit] present in every being and calling for an appropriate form of absolute respect.

Because of our inherent dignity as children of God, we are empowered and called, like Jesus was, to create a more loving and compassionate world. Responding to this divine invitation might be the ultimate gift we could offer back to God this Christmas season.