July 1st, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Job: Hoping Against Hope

The author of the biblical book of Job wrestled with the mystery of evil. If we look at this book as a drama or play, we can easily see Job as the protagonist, God as the hero, and Satan as the villain. Job’s three friends keep the drama going as they look at all the traditional solutions to the problem of evil and find them wanting. In the end, God interrupts the conversation and gives the answer which leaves theologians and intellectuals at a loss for words to this day.

With Israel’s exile still fresh in mind, the biblical author confronts the mystery of suffering, pushes hard against it, and refuses to be satisfied with pious platitudes. He begins to suspect that there is something more. He has seen the old logic of quid pro quo breaking down, and wonders whether the answer can even come in this life. There is a longing for immortality in his soul. Job expresses this in chapter 14:

There is hope for a tree, that if it is cut down, it will start its life again. Though its roots are old and its stump decays, it can sprout new branches from the ground. But mortals die and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As water disappears into the air and into the earth, so mortals lie down and do not rise again (Job 14:7–12).

Job is hoping against hope, believing against everything he has been taught to believe. The author senses something more to life than what appears. As a nation, the Israelites have seen themselves defeated in exile, yet a remnant still survives and carries with it the hope of rebirth.

As an Israelite himself, the author considers whether what they have experienced in their corporate life might also be possible in individual life. Could there really be a way to survive after death, a place where God’s justice and love will be truly realized? In one passage at least, Job voices confident hope that there is:

I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end God will take his stand upon the earth. After this body has decayed, these eyes will look upon the Lord, and I will see God close to me—not someone else, but God! My heart trembles at the thought! (Job 19:25–27)

In this passage Job makes the gigantic leap of faith. He has walked with God this far. He knows he is still suffering. He has experienced life’s meaninglessness. Yet in the experience of God he has found meaning, he has touched on something Real, something that seems capable of going on forever. And so he believes in it, in that space where faith and hope are mixed together, resting in the wordless confidence of a felt promise. He trusts that this journey with God will continue even after death. Love of God and eternal life are beginning to become the same thing.

Story From Our Community

The Daily Meditations answer questions asked and not asked. Often, after asking the Holy Spirit the message in Scripture, I get the answer from my reading the daily meditation. God has finally become more like that vision I had as a little boy. These writings have lifted the burden of the need to be quiet and conform. I am free to say I know what is true to me about who and what God is. Thank you for pulling me into a place of contentment in the discovery. I have never been this happy about my relationship with God. 
—Daniel D.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

June 23rd, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

We all have a yearning to be known by each other and by God. Professor and spiritual director Ruth Takiko West uses Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” as a model for our deepest spiritual questioning. 

“Who do you say that I am?” is a central question of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, as he helps the disciples clarify their relationship to and with him. It is also a crucial question for Jesus in his own identity clarification. We note the progression of questions: who do people say that I am, who do you say that I am, and, in Matthew’s Gospel, who do people say the Son of man is? Each of these questions goes to the heart of every Christian’s, or dare I say every person’s, longing for a connection to the Divine, to their deepest self, and to the world they live in. . .

[1] There is an inherently cyclical interrelationship between yearning for the presence of Spirit and learning what and who we are in the presence of Spirit. In the Christian tradition, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” He is emphasizing that despite what the crowd might be saying about him, it is imperative that they know who he is. It is equally important that we know who Jesus, God, or the Spirit is for us. Our personal beliefs lead us to yearn to know more about our unique relationship to the Divine. This awareness becomes the foundation upon which our spirituality is built. Our questions about who God is lead us to simultaneously ponder our own significance to Spirit.

Because Jesus taught by modeling, we follow his example and ask God, “Who do you say that I am?” Because we are the imago Dei (image of God), I believe God would say that we are God’s Beloved, fearfully and wonderfully made. It is important to consider what we might know about ourselves and how we interact or respond in the ways we do, or what we perceive or believe about our own faith, theology, and identity.

As we endeavor to live fully into this notion of belovedness, we must be introspective and self-aware, carefully uncovering and discovering our most authentic selves while staying connected to Spirit, utilizing the resources of prayer and other spiritual practices. This is the basis of how we live out our spirituality.

As we look in the mirror and at each other and Creation, once more we ask ourselves, “Who do you say that I am?” How might we represent the Holy in the world? How do we interact with each other and Creation? . . . We must be mindful to revere the Holy in our neighbors—to share our stories about God’s goodness and grace, companionship and love in the hopes of becoming the community that God has intended.

___________________________________________

LET MY LOVE STREAM THROUGH YOU, washing away fear and distrust. A trusting response includes Me in your thoughts as you consider strategies to deal with a situation. My continual Presence is a promise, guaranteeing that you never have to face anything alone. My children teethe on the truth that I am always with them, yet they stumble around in a stupor, unaware of My loving Presence all around them. How that grieves Me! When you walk through a day in trusting dependence on Me, My aching heart is soothed. Gently bring your attention back to Me whenever it wanders away. I look for persistence—rather than perfection—in your walk with Me.

PSALM 52:8; But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in the loving devotion of God forever and ever. But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

DEUTERONOMY 31:6; Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

EPHESIANS 4:30; And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 360). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

June 22nd, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Jesus as Spiritual Director

Every culture and religious tradition have some method of passing on spiritual wisdom and for helping individuals to discover their own. The Christian tradition of spiritual direction can find its origin in Jesus’ own way of relating to his disciples and the many who sought him out for healing and instruction. Jeannette Bakke emphasizes Jesus’ own intimacy with God as the source of his authority that he encourages others to rely on as well. 

Jesus is the ultimate spiritual director because of his intimacy with God, his Abba. Jesus listened and responded to others out of his attentiveness to the Father, out of his participation in the Jewish covenant community, and out of his knowledge of Scripture and Jewish law. But the Father’s love and presence and the Holy Spirit’s anointing were the most powerful influences in Jesus’ life and the source of direction for others. . . .

Jesus taught and offered direction to his disciples and others before and after the resurrection. In each case, he spoke to their personal situation within the framework of God’s faithfulness and invited them to recognize God’s loving presence and availability to guide and bless. . . .

At Jacob’s well Jesus listened to a woman about her relationship with God and her human relationships. Jesus pointed her directly to God.

It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselvesbefore him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration. (John 4:23–24, The Message). . . .

When he was speaking to groups, Jesus often told stories—parables—to invite people to listen to and respond to God. He used parables to catch people’s attention and to illustrate and clarify the nature of the kingdom of God. His audiences would have been startled by stories of a Samaritan hero (Luke 10:25–37), a justified tax collector (Luke 18:9–14), or a father running to welcome his prodigal son (Luke 15:20). These stories said, “Look, this is what God is like.” Jesus used these stories to offer spiritual direction by challenging people to look more closely at what they believed and why, what their own experience of God was and how they interpreted their experiences with God. This is the essence of spiritual direction—encouraging people to listen to and follow God. [Richard here: And, I would add, by whatever name they call God or understand the Great and Loving Mystery at the heart of the cosmos.]

In Scripture we observe Jesus always listening for the voice of his Abba—in relationship to his disciples, other individuals, small groups, and crowds. Present-day spiritual directors attempt to function in the same way by listening to the Holy Spirit and responding to directees and others out of prayerful attentiveness to God.


Story From Our Community

When my husband died ten years ago, I walked alone with my sadness. An encounter with a curious hummingbird, who flew in front of my face and looked at me for many seconds, revealed my hidden spirituality. I saw that we were connected, that all living things were connected, and I needed to pay attention to my own spiritual nature. This led me to spiritual direction training. . . I became myself: a listener, an empath, a person concerned with and connected to all of life. It was a startling and life-affirming moment that changed my life.
—Pamela P.

A Midwife for the Soul

June 21st, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

Tend only to the birth in you and you will find all goodness and all consolation, all delight, all being and all truth. Reject it and you reject all goodness and blessing. What comes to you in this birth brings with it pure being and blessing. But what you seek or love outside of this birth will come to nothing, no matter what you will or where you will it. —Meister Eckhart, Sermon on Matthew 2:2

The role of the “midwife” to the soul is a powerful metaphor for the ministry of spiritual direction. Drawing on Meister Eckhart’s text, Margaret Guenther writes about the comfort and guidance that good directors can offer those who are “giving birth to the soul.”

If Eckhart is to be believed, we give birth and are born ourselves again and again: the birth of God in the soul is our own true birth. . . .

There are those who feel that something is happening to and within them. Their tastes are changing, and their balance has shifted. Sometimes they are brought up short by a crisis: an experience of conversion, a tragic loss, a period of great pain, a sharp awareness of being on a threshold. As they approach midlife, women especially may feel impelled to explore their spirituality as they discover their new and unexpectedly authoritative voice. Men and women of all ages and life experiences may sense a call, not necessarily a vocation to the ordained ministry, but simply the awareness that God expects them to do something with their lives. . . .

As a spiritual midwife, the director’s task is to pay attention, to listen to what is not being said—or to what is being said but minimized. . . .

Spiritual direction is not a crisis ministry, even though the initial impulse to seek out a director may arise from a sense of urgent personal need. The midwife of the spirit is not an expert called in for the dramatic moments, either a crisis caused by pathology or the final, exciting moment of birth. Like a midwife, she works with the whole person and is present throughout the whole process. She “has time”—unlike the tightly scheduled physician who is concerned with specifics, complaints, and pathology. Or, for that matter, unlike the tightly scheduled parish clergy, who are concerned with program, administration, and liturgy. Instead she offers support through every stage and waits with the birthgiver when “nothing is happening.” Of course, there are no times when nothing is happening. Spiritual growth can be gradual and hidden; the director-midwife can discern or at least trust that something is indeed “happening.”

As a people, we are not comfortable with waiting. We see it as wasted time and try to avoid it, or at least fill it with trivial busyness. We value action for its own sake. . . . It is hard to trust in the slow work of God. So the model of pregnancy and birth is a helpful one. . . . There are times when waiting is inevitable, ordained, and fruitful.

The Importance of Experience

No matter the religion or denomination in which we are raised, our spirituality still comes through the first filter of our own life experience. We must begin to be honest about this instead of pretending that any of us are formed exclusively by the Scriptures or our church Tradition. There is no such thing as an entirely unbiased position. The best we can do is own and be honest about our own filters. God allows us to trust our own experience. Then Scripture and Tradition hopefully keep our personal experiences both critical and compassionate. These three components—Scripture, Tradition, and experience—make up the three wheels of what we at the CAC call the learning “tricycle” of spiritual growth. [1]

Historically, Catholics loved to say we relied upon the Great Tradition, but this usually meant “the way we have done it for the last hundred years.” What we usually consider “official teaching” changes every century or so. Most of our operative images of God come primarily from our early experiences of authority in family and culture, but we use teachings from the Tradition and Scriptures to validate them!

If we try to use “only Scripture” as a source of spiritual wisdom, we get stuck, because many passages give very conflicting and even opposite images of God. I believe that Jesus only quoted those Scriptures that he could validate by his own inner experience. At the same time, if we humans trust only our own experiences, we will be trapped in subjective moods and personal preferences.

It helps when we can verify that at least some holy people and orthodox teachers (Tradition) and some solid Scripture also validate our own experiences. Such affirmation makes us more confident that we are in the force field of the Holy Spirit and participating in God’s sacred work in this world.

Jesus and Paul clearly use and build on their own Jewish Scriptures and Tradition, yet they both courageously interpret them through the lens of their own unique personal experience of God. This is undeniable! We would do well to follow their examples. I will admit that the experiences we have of God—and of our own lives and desires—can be confusing and sometimes even contradictory to one another. This is why it is so helpful to have someone to walk with us as we uncover the deeper meaning of our experiences and what they might reveal to us about God and ourselves.

Christians have always relied on wise individuals to companion them in the process of coming to know who God is for them and who they are in God. As my friend Tilden Edwards, founder of the Shalem Institute writes, “We yearn for a soul-friend with whom we can share our desire for the Holy One and with whom we can try to identify and embrace the hints of divine Presence and invitation in our lives.” [2] Such soul-friends are sometimes called “spiritual directors,” the subject of this week’s meditations.


June 21

WAIT PATIENTLY WITH ME while I bless you. Don’t rush into My Presence with time-consciousness gnawing at your mind. I dwell in timelessness: I am, I was, I will always be. For you, time is a protection; you’re a frail creature who can handle only twenty-four-hour segments of life. Time can also be a tyrant, ticking away relentlessly in your mind. Learn to master time, or it will be your master. Though you are a time-bound creature, seek to meet Me in timelessness. As you focus on My Presence, the demands of time and tasks will diminish. I will bless you and keep you, making My Face shine upon you graciously, giving you Peace.

MICAH 7:7; But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.

REVELATION 1:8; I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the LORD God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty

ECCLESIASTES 3:1; 3:1 To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: 3:2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3:3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

NUMBERS 6:24–26; “The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face shine on you. and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”’.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 356). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

June 17th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Learning in the Shadows

Usually sometime around midlife, we come to a point where we’ve seen enough of our own tricks and we come to feel that my shadow self is who I am. We face ourselves in our raw, unvarnished, and uncivilized stateThis is the shadowland where we are led by our own stupidity, our own sin, our own selfishness, by living out of our false self. We have to work our way through this with brutal honesty, confessions and surrenders, some forgiveness, and often by some necessary restitution or apology. The old language would have called it repentance, penance, or stripping.

In a teaching I recorded with Sounds True about a decade ago, I shared that it wasn’t until I was in middle age, fully embarked on my vocation—a formally celibate priest evangelizing a gospel of love—when I had the courage to ask,

Richard, have you ever really loved anybody more than yourself? [Is there] anybody in particular you would die for?. . . I realized I did not have to do that, that my so-called celibacy which told me that if I did not love anybody particularly, I would automatically love God was not necessarily true. I worried that all I did was love myself in a very well-disguised form.

Much of my forties and my fifties was shadowboxing, seeing my own mixed motives, seeing my own inability to believe and to practice these very things I teach to others. I had become known as a spiritual teacher; and then I would see that very often I had dark thoughts, violent thoughts, lustful thoughts, and then would get up and talk to other people in more mature stages of spiritual development and I was not really there myself. I could point toward those further stages, but I was not really living them. [1]

I believe the darkness in which we find ourselves when facing our shadow can also become the shadowland of Godor what the saints call “the dark night”—if we can see God in it. Maybe this is even the most common pattern. The wound can become the sacred wound, or it can just remain a bleeding, useless wound with a scab that never heals. As I teach in The Art of Letting Go, 

The work of the shadowland can go on for quite a long time and if you do not have someone loving you during that period, believing in you, holding on to you, if you do not meet the unconditional love of God, if you do not encounter radical grace, being loved in your unworthiness, the spiritual journey will not continue. You have to discover God as unearned favor, unearned gratuity, or you will regress, you will go backwards. But in the shadowlands, you learn to live with contradiction, with ambiguity. This is true self-critical thinking. [2]

June 15th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Living with Shadow

All God appears to want from us is honesty and humility. There is no other way to read Jesus’ stories of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) or the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9–14). In each story, the one who did wrong ends up being right—simply because he is honest and humble about it. The one who is formally right ends up being terribly wrong because he is proud about his own performance. How have we been able to miss that important point? I suspect it is because the ego wants to think well of itself and deny any shadow material. Only the soul knows we grow best in the shadowlands.

Western civilization has failed to learn how to carry the shadow side. We did not teach our people how to carry the paschal mystery—with its suffering, death, and resurrection—within ourselves, and it is now coming back to haunt us. Christians have little ability to carry the shadow side of themselves, of the church, of history, or of reality itself. It is much easier to see things as all-good or all-bad, rather than both crucified and resurrected at the same time, as Christ is.

In many ways, it’s been a constant dilemma of the church. It seems to want to live in perfect light. It does not like the shadowland called Earth. We see in Christian history the Roman Church unable and unwilling to see its own huge shadow, Martin Luther’s abhorrence of his own shadow, the Swiss Reformers trying to outlaw darkness, the Puritans trying to repress shadow, typical believers afraid of their shadow, and fundamentalists preoccupied with Satan “out there.” All of us, it seems, are trying to avoid the mystery in human life, instead of learning how to carry it patiently, as Jesus did.

There are no perfect structures or perfect people. There is only the struggle to get there. It is Christ’s passion (patior in Latin, or the “suffering of reality”) that will save the world, when we are willing to join him in the pattern. “Your patient endurance will win you your lives,” writes Luke (21:19). Redemptive suffering instead of redemptive violence is the Jesus way. Patience comes from our attempts to hold together an always-mixed reality, not from expecting or demanding a perfect reality. That only makes us resentful and judgmental, which is what has characterized much of Christian history. Grateful people emerge in a world rightly defined, where even shadows are no surprise, but, in fact, opportunity for compassion and forgiveness. 

The more attached we are to any persona whatsoever, bad or good, the more shadow self we will have. So we need conflicts, relationship difficulties, moral failures, defeats to our grandiosity, even seeming enemies, or we will have no way to ever spot or track our shadow self. They are our necessary mirrors, and even then, we usually catch it out of the corner of our eye—in a graced insight and those gifted moments of inner freedom. Or in the Rear View Mirror


Embracing Shadow and Light

June 14th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »
We all identify with our persona/mask so strongly when we are young that we become masters of denial and learn to eliminate or hide anything that doesn’t support it. Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not recognize it as such. Our shadowself makes us all into hypocrites on some level. Hypocrite is a Greek word that simply means“actor,” someone playing a role rather than being “real.” We are all in onekind of closet or another and are even encouraged by society to play such roles. Usually everybody else can see our shadow, so it is crucial that we learn what everybody else knows about us—except us! Holy or whole individuals, the ones we call “saints,” are precisely the ones who have no “I” to protect or project. Their “I” is in conscious union with the “I AM” of God, and that is more than enough.  Divine union overrides any need for self-hatred or self-adoration. Such people do not need to be perfectly right, and they know they cannot be anyway, so they just try to be in right relationship. In other words, they try to be loving—above all else.  Love holds us tightly and safely and always. Such people have met the enemy and know that the major enemy is “me” (to borrow from the comic strip character Pogo). But they do not hate the “me” either, they just see through and beyond “me.” Shadow work literally “saves us from ourselves” (our false selves), which is the foundational meaning of salvation to begin with. I am afraid that the closer we get to the Light, the more of our shadow we see. Thus, truly holy people are always humble people. Christians would have been done a great service if the shadow had been distinguished from sin. Sin and shadow are not the same. We were so encouraged to avoid sin that many of us instead avoided facing our shadow, and then we ended up “sinning” even worse—while unaware besides! As Paul taught, “The angels of darkness must disguise themselves as angels of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The persona does not choose to see evil in itself, so it always disguises it as good. The shadow self invariably presents itself as something like prudence, common sense, and justice. It says, “I am doing this for your good,” when it is actually manifesting fear, control, manipulation, or even vengeance. Isn’t it fascinating that the name Lucifer literally means “light bearer”? The evil one always makes darkness look like light—and makes light look like darkness. The gift of shadowboxing is in the seeing of the shadow and its games in ourselves, which takes away most of the shadow’s hidden power. No wonder that Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) said that the mansion of true self-knowledge was the necessary first mansion on the spiritual journey. Socrates said the same thing, “Know yourself!” Unveiling the Shadow This week’s meditations focus on unveiling the shadow self, an essential concept in my work that comes from Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). It always needs initial clarification and definition. Let’s begin with the personal shadow. During the first half of our lives (and for many, into the chronological second half of life), we are building up our separate or false self. For the first months of life, human infants feel they are one with their caretaker, usually their mother. But soon the child grows into a sense of separateness, a split between my self and your self that understands “I’m here and you’re over there.” We call this dualistic consciousness.To put it very simply, as children we learn which behaviors cause approval and disapproval from our family, teachers, and friends. If we want to have some sort of control over our lives and create pleasant outcomes, we tend to develop those things which are acceptable and repress those things which are not. Those things we repress or deny about ourselves become our shadow. The qualities we “place” in our shadow aren’t necessarily or only bad; they simply are the ones that are not rewarded by our family system or culture. The more we have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work we will need to do. Therefore, we need to be especially careful of clinging to any idealized role or self-image, like that of minister, mother, doctor, nice person, professor, moral believer, or president of this or that. These are huge personas to live up to, and they trap many people in lifelong delusion that the role is who they are or who they are only allowed to be. The more we are attached to and unaware of such a protected self-image, the more shadow self we will likely have. This is especially dangerous for a “spiritual leader” or “professional religious person” because it involves such an ego-inflating self-image. Whenever ministers, or any true believers, are too anti anything, we can be pretty sure there is some shadow material lurking somewhere nearby. Zealotry is a good revelation of one’s overly repressed shadow. Our self-image is not substantial or lasting; it is simply created out of our own mind, desire, and choice—and everybody else’s preferences for us! It is not objective at all but entirely subjective (which does not mean that it does not have real influence). The movement to second-half-of-life wisdom has much to do with necessary shadow work and the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking, which alone allows us to see beyond our own shadow and disguise and to find who we are, “hidden with Christ in God,” as Paul puts it (Colossians 3:3). The Zen masters call it “the face we had before we were born.” This self cannot die, lives forever and is our True Self. Religion is always in some way about discovering our True Self, which is also to discover God, who is our deepest truth. ________________________________________________________ IHAVE LOVED YOU with an everlasting Love. Before time began, I knew you. For years you swam around in a sea of meaninglessness, searching for Love, hoping for hope. All that time I was pursuing you, aching to embrace you in My compassionate arms. When time was right, I revealed Myself to you. I lifted you out of that sea of despair and set you down on a firm foundation. Sometimes you felt naked—exposed to the revealing Light of My Presence. I wrapped an ermine robe around you: My robe of righteousness. I sang you a Love song, whose beginning and end are veiled in eternity. I infused meaning into your mind and harmony into your heart. Join Me in singing My song. Together we will draw others out of darkness into My marvelous Light. JEREMIAH 31:3; The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. ISAIAH 61:10; I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices. ( A) in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation. and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, ( B) as a bridegroom adorns his head 1 PETER 2:9 NKJV; 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous … Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 342). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

The Goal Is Union

June 11th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

The goal of our sexual longing is universal love, which is to say union with God, ourselves, and What Is. We came from union and all of our longing is a movement back toward union. The experiences of sexuality can help us glimpse and taste this unity and bring us to what I call the “Gate of the Temple,” but they do not by themselves carry us through the doors. The late gay contemplative writer Michael Bernard Kelly (1924‒2020) understood that our incarnate, finite loves find their source in Infinite Love:

In every era and in every part of life there is a tendency for us to focus on ‘experiences,’ ecstatic ‘thrills’. . . . This tendency is especially marked in sexuality and spirituality, where the tastes are so intoxicating, fleeting and profound. These tastes are essential; they are seeds, glimpses of that fullness to which we are called. However, they are not the Journey itself, not transformation, not mystical union, not enlightenment. They set us on the road—perhaps they are even glimpses of the destination—but we have not yet arrived. Indeed we have hardly set out! If we become addicted to simply seeking more and more ‘experiences,’ whether sexual or spiritual, we never will arrive. We all know this tendency in sexuality, but the seduction in spirituality can be more subtle, more compelling and more soul destroying.

So what is happening? Firstly, some element of this ‘addiction’ is probably inevitable in our yearning and longing, for the taste of ecstasy, however it comes, is so delicious, so overwhelming. Of course we seek it again and again!

‘You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet perfume. I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me and I am inflamed with love of your peace,’ says Saint Augustine [1], and in our different ways we know what he means. However, we must allow the withdrawing to take place. It is the withdrawing that will draw us towards the transformation, to the abiding fulfilment of that which we taste so briefly in our ecstasies. How does this happen?

When we taste the Mystery we long to drink deeply of it, to take it into ourselves, to be possessed by it, to surrender to it, to become it in an abiding way, ‘forever and ever.’ To become that which we taste. . . . This is mirrored very powerfully in the images of spiritual communion, where we eat and drink ‘the body and blood of the Lord,’ our very bodies merging and becoming transformed into the One who is the Beloved of our souls.

This is the heart of our yearning: to become that which we taste and hunger for, not briefly, but fully, totally, permanently, being utterly transformed into that which we desire so deeply. Union. Ecstasy. The ‘Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover,’ [2] the seeker transformed into that which she seeks.

_________________________________________________

TRUST ME and don’t be afraid, for I am your Strength and Song. Do not let fear dissipate your energy. Instead, invest your energy in trusting Me and singing My Song. The battle for control of your mind is fierce, and years of worry have made you vulnerable to the enemy. Therefore, you need to be vigilant in guarding your thoughts. Do not despise this weakness in yourself since I am using it to draw you closer to Me. Your constant need for Me creates an intimacy that is well worth all the effort. You are not alone in this struggle for your mind. My Spirit living within you is ever ready to help in this striving. Ask Him to control your mind; He will bless you with Life and Peace.

ISAIAH 12:2; Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. For the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and He also has become my salvation.” Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” See, God has come to save me.

ROMANS 8:9; You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.

ROMANS 8:6; The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 336). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

June 9th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Incarnational, Queer Love

Presbyterian minister Mihee Kim-Kort came to identify as queer [1] after she was ordained, married, and a mother. Once considered a pejorative, “queer” has been reclaimed by some LGBTQ people to describe themselves—and it reflects many attributes of a Christian incarnational view of the world!Although challenged by many of her preconceived ideas of what was acceptable to church and society, she has chosen to live and minister authentically as a queer Christian. In this passage describing queerness, she captures the heart of an embodied faith that celebrates love and sexuality. 

Christian history is full of stories of love and passion for God. . . .

This kind of passion . . .  is what fuels love and action, where “desire carries that life.” [2] Desire coaxes and draws out, leads and pushes, pulls and compels us to live and love out loud. The cliché slogan Make Love, Not War makes sense. There is something profoundly revolutionary about lovemaking as a way to reject making death. It’s resisting the darkness and destruction of life, of light and love. And while it’s protesting, resisting, and surviving, it’s also creating and making life in response to forces that would take away life. It’s more than surviving; it’s creating, thriving, flourishing.

What I realize I need and want to be a part of is a kind of work that cultivates the expansiveness of love. I dream often of the kind of world we could have for us, for our children, if we weren’t so concerned with regulating, disciplining, and closeting love all the time. If anything, it’s absolutely clear that this world needs more love. Rather than focusing so much energy on categorizing and classifying sexuality and making it conform to narrow representations, I long for our world to encourage lovemaking, to spark in those around me a desire to love ourselves and love each other into more life and love. [Richard here: This is the true sense of the Greek word eros, which describes any movement toward life. Eroticism then is to connect, to make contact, to desire; it’s when there’s that capacity to somehow get out of the self, to give yourself to another, and to receive them.] Because if there’s anything I’ve learned about love, whether experienced among family, friends, or my children, it is that it is contagious and expands exponentially. It overflows the cup. Once released and liberated, it changes everything. . . .

Queerness . . . always tends toward a dynamic generosity, a grace that allows for mistakes and failures, because our lives are richer when we hold all of what is human. . . . A queer spirituality transgresses the boundaries of how we live, move, and breathe through this world. It is truly embodied, and rooted in flesh-and-blood bodies, bodies that are surprising and show up as icons and words. It is also rooted in the body of Christ, in God-with-Us, in the continuous blurring of transcendence and immanence.

Story From Our Community

My sexuality has always been a great grief to me. The teachings in the Daily Meditations that we are “healed by our wounds” and that the way forward is not power and confrontation, but re-identification with our True Self is bringing about peace and healing. Thank you for these insights, which I wish I had had 40 years ago. 
—Andrew W.

June 8th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Biblical Erotic Poetry

Early Jewish scholars and Christian church fathers each debated whether the Song of Songs should be included in the Scriptures. We can understand why, because by any definition, it’s erotic poetry from beginning to end, while also surely a metaphor for God’s passionate delight in us and pursuit of us. Scholar and author Stephanie Paulsell speaks of the boldly and bodily affirming message (good news!) this biblical book offers us:

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” So opens the most erotic book of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, or, as it is sometimes called, the Canticle of Canticles, the Song of Songs. In this long poem lying at the heart of scripture between the pragmatic Ecclesiastes and the sublime Isaiah, a woman, “black and beautiful,” and a man, “radiant and ruddy,” speak the language of desire, cataloguing every inch of each other’s body, every smell and taste. “Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine,” he says to her (7:2). “His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh,” she tells her friends (5:13). . . .

From the pages of scripture sacred to Jews and Christians alike, the Song of Songs remains a testimony to mutuality in love, to the beauty of the human body, to the goodness of sexual desire, and the power of love: “Love is as strong as death,” the Song proclaims, “passion fierce as the grave.”

Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love all the wealth of his house,
it would be utterly scorned (8:6–7).

In the Song of Songs we find no anxiety about desire’s power to deny us the freedom to be who God intends us to be. In the Song of Songs, desire is portrayed as Mark Doty describes it in his meditation on the death of his lover, Wally Roberts: “the ineradicable force that binds us to the world.” [1] The relationship described in the Song is one of mutuality; the lovers are evenly matched in the force of their desire. They are equally vulnerable in their desire to be desired by the other; they are equally determined to give and receive pleasure. . . .

Through desire, Doty writes, “we are implicated in another being, which is always the beginning of wisdom, isn’t it . . . ?” [2] What a wonderful way to account for why the Song of Solomon appears in the wisdom literature of the Bible and why it ought to matter to us as we construct a Christian practice of honoring the body. Because it shows us a path, through desire, outside the boundaries of our individual selves. Because it offers a way of receiving the world that is motivated by love and speaks of God’s own passionate creativity. Because it teaches that in seeking the pleasure of another we may find our own deepest pleasure and in the commitment to another we may come to know ecstasy.