Reach the universal through concrete encounter. The one is the way to the many; the specific is the way to the spacious; the now is the way to the always; the here is the way to everywhere

The way to any universal idea is to proceed through a concrete encounter (with creation, with people, especially in vulnerability and with those at the margins). The one is the way to the many; the specific is the way to the spacious; the now is the way to the always; the here is the way to everywhere; the material is the way to the spiritual; the visible is the way to the invisibleWhen we see contemplatively, we know that we live in a fully sacramental universe, where everything is an epiphany.

Epiphany week reflections from Fr. Richard Rohr

We must discover and accept what unique part of the divine mystery is ours to reflect. The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality, to trust our divine image and grow in God’s likeness. (Sunday)

The world today tends to be cynical about most things. We have a hard time believing in an enchanted world, a sacred or benevolent universe. Why would we if we see only at the surface level? Everywhere we turn, every time we watch the news, we see suffering. We have become skeptical about God’s goodness, humanity’s possibilities, and our planet’s future. We can’t help seeing what is not and are often unable to recognize or appreciate what is, with a deeper seeing or second gaze. From the very beginning, we see that nature is good, humans are good, and God is good. I have never met a loving human being who did not also believe in the foundational goodness of people and all of creation. We are sons and daughters of God, and all creatures are our brothers and sisters. We come forth from God, we have the privilege of co-creating with God, and we will return to God. Each being uniquely reflects part of the mystery of God for a while on this earth, before returning home. Remember, the divine image is objectively held by all people, but we each have to choose to grow in our likeness to God. That is our primary task on this earth. God always sees and loves the image; we tend to get distracted by the likeness. We must discover and accept what unique part of the divine mystery is ours to reflect. All each of us can give back to God is what God has already given to us. We must choose it, respect it, and allow it to blossom.

Contemplation allows us to experience the reality of our participation in God’s nature for ourselves. Once we plug into the Divine consciousness, God can work through us for the good of the world. (Monday)

We are not so much human beings trying to become spiritual. We’re already inherently spiritual beings and our job is learning how to be good humans! (Tuesday)

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to [us] as it is, infinite.” —William Blake (Wednesday)

“Man [sic] is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees Himself, but reveals Himself to the ‘mirror’ in which He is reflected.” —Thomas Merton (Thursday)

When we see contemplatively, we know that we live in a fully sacramental universe, where everything is an epiphany. (Friday)

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Contemplation helps us to actually experience our experiences so that they can become transformational. Contemplation exposes our small self so that we can be open to our Big Self, which many of us call “God.” This week we will explore what the contemplative mind is and how it is necessary—in some form—to allow us to rediscover our inherent divine “image” and grow into our “likeness” of God. Without contemplative consciousness, we live on the surface of our own experiences and our own self.

The world today tends to be cynical about most things. We have a hard time believing in an enchanted world, a sacred or benevolent universe. Why would we if we see only at the surface level? Everywhere we turn, every time we watch the news, we see suffering. We have become skeptical about God’s goodness, humanity’s possibilities, and our planet’s future. We can’t help seeing what is not and are often unable to recognize or appreciate what is. I see this temptation in myself almost every day. I have to pray and wait for a second gaze, a deeper seeing. This is my daily bread.

From the very beginning, we see that nature is good, humans are good, and God is good. I have never met a loving human being who did not also believe in the foundational goodness of people and all of creation. We are sons and daughters of God, and all creatures are our brothers and sisters. We come forth from God, we have the privilege of co-creating with God, and we will return to God. Each being uniquely reflects part of the mystery of God for a while on this earth, before returning home. Remember, the divine image is objectively held by all people, but we each have to choose to grow in our likeness to God. That is our primary task on this earth. God always sees and loves the image; we tend to get distracted by the likeness.

We must discover and accept what unique part of the divine mystery is ours to reflect. All each of us can give back to God is what God has already given to us. We must choose it, respect it, and allow it to blossom. The most courageous thing we will ever do is to bear humbly the mystery of our own reality, to trust our divine image and grow in God’s likeness. It is simply a matter of becoming who we already are.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 96-97; and
Contemplative Prayer (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2003), CDMP3 download.

Divinization Monday, January 8, 2018

By God’s divine power, God has given us all the things we need for life and for true devotion that allow us to know God, who has called us by God’s own glory and goodness. In this gift, God has given us a guarantee of something very great and wonderful. Through this gift, you are sharers in the divine nature itself. —2 Peter 1:3-4

Spirituality is primarily about human transformation in this life, not just salvation in a future realm. While Western Christianity lost much of this emphasis, and became rather practical and often superficial, the Eastern church taught theosis or divinization as the very real process of growing in union and likeness with God in this world. [1] This is one of the many losses Christianity experienced in the Great Schism of 1054, when the popes of East and West mutually excommunicated one another. The later Protestant Reformation, while needed, did not reclaim this wisdom and further split the church, each side losing something of value.

In fact, most of Judeo-Christian history reflects a split from depth and interiority (which some identify with the feminine). This led us to rely on dualistic thinking, which is incapable of comprehending, much less experiencing, the mystical, nonviolent, or non-dual level. With the rational mind, we literally could not imagine God and humanity being one, or being one with our neighbor, because the dualistic mind always splits things apart and takes sides. The contemplative mind or non-dual thinking allows us to see things in wholes instead of in parts.

Lest any Catholics or Protestants think I am dredging up some old condemned heresy, consider these words from Pope John Paul II: “The venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches, that is the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers on divinization (theosis), passed into the tradition of all the Eastern Churches and is part of their common heritage. This can be summarized in the thought already expressed by St. Irenaeus at the end of the second century: God passed into man so that man might pass over to God.” [2]

Popes do not quote such statements unless they know they are part of the Perennial Tradition and go back to the early undivided church. Pope John Paul II was acknowledging that the Western church had largely lost its foundational belief in divinization, and in the practical order had even denied its possibility. Instead, we were just “sinners in the hands of an angry God” and even “totally depraved.” No wonder humans suffer from such lack of self-esteem today. We haven’t told them the central and foundational Good News! I believe this is the source of a lot of the anger and disillusionment with Christianity today.

Contemplation allows us to experience the reality of our participation in God’s nature for ourselves. Once we plug into the Divine consciousness, God can work through us for the good of the world.

References:
[1] See Michael Christensen and Jeffery Wittung, eds., Partakers of the Divine Nature (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press: 2007), for the history, loss, and development of the theme of “deification” in the Christian tradition.
[2] Pope John Paul II, “Orientale Lumen,” Apostolic Letter of May 2, 1995, I:6. Note [14] in this papal letter gives references to Iranaeus’ writings.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 117-119.

The Lost Tradition of Contemplation
Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The awesome and even presumptuous message of divinization is found in the Judeo-Christian story of Creation: we are “created in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:27 and 5:2). Many tomes of theology have been written to clarify this claim, and this is theologians’ primary consensus: “Image” is our objective DNA that marks us as creatures of God from the very beginning. “Likeness” is our personal appropriation and gradual realization of this utterly free gift of the image of God. It’s all too easy to recognize our daily unlikeness to God in ourselves and others, so we have a hard time believing this could be true in ourselves or others. But some form of contemplative practice will allow us to rest in and trust this deeper and truest self.

Actually, who you are in God and who God is in you is the only self that has ever existed. It’s the only self that exists right now. The trouble is, most people don’t know it. It’s not their fault; we just have not given them the tools they need to connect with who they really are. The dualistic and argumentative mind will never get you there. Thus we have an identity crisis on a massive scale!

The contemplative mind has not been systematically taught in the West for the last five hundred years. The Spanish Carmelites Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) and John of the Cross (1542-1591) were the last well-known teachers of contemplative awareness in European thought. With the so-called “Enlightenment” and the argumentative Reformation, Western Christianity almost abandoned contemplation in favor of dualistic thinking and its own strange form of “rational” thought, which actually produced fundamentalism in both its Catholic and Protestant forms. Thomas Merton (1915-1968) felt that even the monasteries no longer taught the contemplative mind in any systematic way, as monks just “said prayers” with their old dualistic minds. Without contemplation, there is not much depth or interiority to Christianity. It is just beliefs and belonging systems. That is probably why the Reformation was so necessary. Unfortunately, reacting to unjust or unhealthy systems with only dualistic thinking will produce more of the same.

You cannot know God the way you know anything else; you only know God or the soul of anything subject to subject, center to center, by a process of “mirroring” where like knows like and love knows love—“deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7). The Divine Spirit planted deep inside each of us yearns for and responds to God—and vice versa (see James 4:5). The contemplative is deeply attuned and surrendered to this process.

We are not so much human beings trying to become spiritual. We’re already inherently spiritual beings and our job is learning how to be good humans! I believe that’s why Jesus came as a human being: not to teach us how to go to heaven, but to teach us how to be a fully alive human being here on this earth.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 121, 122;
Contemplative Prayer (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2003), CDMP3 download;
Transforming the World through Contemplative Prayer, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CDMP3 download;
The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 16; and
Just This (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 39.

Learning to See
Wednesday, January 10, 2017

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to [us] as it is, infinite. —William Blake [1]

Contemplation is about seeing, but a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciatingThe contemplative mind does not tell us what to see, but teaches us how to see what we behold.

Contemplation allows us to see the truth of things in their wholeness. It is a mental discipline and gift that detaches us—neurologically and spiritually—from our addiction to our habitual way of thinking, usually in our left brain which likes to be in control. Through contemplative practice we stop identifying solely with our small binary, dualistic mind which strips things down to two choices and then usually identifies with only one of them.  The rational, dualistic mind does not have the capacity to hold the big questions of life like love, death, suffering, sexuality, God, or anything infinite.

We need a contemplative, non-dual mind to accept or even have an elementary understanding of what is meant by Jesus being fully human and fully divine—at the same time. Western Christianity has tended to overemphasize his divinity, and we thus lost sight of how Jesus holds these two together. When we couldn’t put together this paradox in Jesus, we couldn’t recognize the same truth about ourselves and others. We too are a paradox, a seeming contradiction that is not actually a contradiction at all. Yet we ended up being “only” human and Jesus ended up being “only” God. We missed the major point!

This is why we end the Daily Meditations with “Gateway to Presence,” an invitation to contemplative knowing. Only a non-dual mind can discover that to be human is to also be divine.

How do we learn contemplative consciousness—this deep, mysterious, and life-giving way of seeing, of being with, reality? Why does it not come naturally to us? Many people experience this knowing in small glimpses, in brief moments of intimacy, awe, or grief. But such wide-eyed seeing normally does not last. We return quickly to dualistic analysis and use our judgments to retake control. Contemplation is simply a way of maintaining the fruits of great love and great suffering over the long haul. And that takes a lot of practice. In fact, our whole life becomes one continual practice or a “school of union.”

References:
[1] William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” The Complete Poems, ed. Alicia Ostriker (Penguin Classics: 1977), 188. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 7-9; and
The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 3 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Mirroring the Divine – Thursday, January 11, 2018

In Christianity the inner self is simply a stepping stone to an awareness of God. Man [sic] is the image of God, and his inner self is a kind of mirror in which God not only sees Himself, but reveals Himself to the mirror in which He is reflected. Thus, through the dark, transparent mystery of our own inner being we can, as it were, see God through a glass. All this is of course pure metaphor. It is a way of saying that our being somehow communicates directly with the Being of God, Who is in us. If we enter into ourselves, find our true self, and then pass beyondthe inner I, we sail forth into the immense darkness in which we confront the I AM of the Almighty. —Thomas Merton [1]

Your life is not about you; you are about Life. You are an instance of a universal, eternal pattern. The One Life that many call “God” is living itself in you, through you, and as you! You have never been separate from God except in your mind. Can you imagine that?!

This realization is an earthquake in the brain, a hurricane in the heart, a Copernican revolution in the mind, and a monumental shift in consciousness. Yet most of us do not seem interested in it. It is too big to imagine and can only be revealed slowly.

One of my favorite Eastern Fathers, Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), taught “What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as One, received not in essence but by participation.” [2] He’s not saying, “I am God.” No one can or wants to live up to that! He is saying that we objectively participate in the One Life of God (panentheism rather than pantheism).

We are much more prepared to understand this in a post-Einstein world—where energy, movement, or life itself is the one constant, and not an isolated substance. We don’t manufacture our core identity by good behavior, sacraments, or reading the Bible. We merely awaken it by letting loving people rub off on us, eating the Eucharist, enjoying an entirely sacramental universe, and fully recognizing God’s image in all creatures, without exception.

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation (HarperCollins: 2004), 11.
[2] Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 1, from The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent, from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives, trans. John Anthony McGuckin (Shambhala: 2003), 160.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 45-46, 47-48.

Awe and Surrender
Friday, January 12, 2018

To begin to see with new eyes, we must observe—and usually be humiliated by—the habitual way we encounter each and every moment. It is humiliating because we will see that we are well-practiced in just a few predictable responses. Not many of our responses are original, fresh, or naturally respectful of what is right in front of us.

The most common human responses to a new moment are mistrust, cynicism, fear, defensiveness, dismissal, and judgmentalism. These are the common ways the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!

To let the moment teach us, we must allow ourselves to be at least slightly stunned by it until it draws us inward and upward, toward a subtle experience of wonder. We normally need a single moment of gracious awe to get us started. Look, for example, at the Judeo-Christian Exodus narrative: It all begins with a murderer (Moses) on the run from the law, encountering a paradoxical bush that “burns without being consumed.” Awestruck, he takes off his shoes and the very earth beneath his feet becomes “holy ground” (see Exodus 3:2-6) because he has met “Being Itself” (see Exodus 3:14). This narrative reveals the classic pattern, repeated in different forms in the varied lives and vocabulary of all the world’s mystics.

The spiritual journey is a constant interplay between moments of awe followed by a process of surrender to that moment. We must first allow ourselves to be captured by the goodness, truth, or beauty of something beyond and outside ourselves. Then we universalize from that moment to the goodness, truth, and beauty of the rest of reality, until our realization eventually ricochets back to include ourselves! This is the great inner dialogue we call prayer.

We humans resist both the awe and, even more, the surrender. Both are vital, and so we must practice.

The way to any universal idea is to proceed through a concrete encounter. The one is the way to the many; the specific is the way to the spacious; the now is the way to the always; the here is the way to everywhere; the material is the way to the spiritual; the visible is the way to the invisible. When we see contemplatively, we know that we live in a fully sacramental universe, where everything is an epiphany.

While philosophers tend toward universals and poets love particulars, mystics and contemplative practice teach us how to encompass both.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 9-11.



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