Brian McLaren, Author at Center for Action and Contemplation
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A Revelation of Heaven on Earth

We return today to CAC teacher Brian McLaren, who illustrates how one of the Bible’s most challenging books—Revelation—can be a source of wisdom and hope for us today:

There’s a beautiful visionary scene at the end of the Book of Revelation that is as relevant today as it was in the first century. It doesn’t picture us being evacuated from Earth to heaven as many assume. It pictures a New Jerusalem descending from heaven to Earth [see Revelation, chapter 21]. This new city doesn’t need a temple because God’s presence is felt everywhere. It doesn’t need sun or moon because the light of Christ illuminates it from within. Its gates are never shut, and it welcomes people from around the world to receive the treasures it offers and bring the treasures they can offer. From the center of the city, from God’s own throne, a river flows—a river of life or aliveness. Along its banks grows the Tree of Life. All of this, of course, evokes the original creation story and echoes God’s own words in Revelation: “Behold! I’m making all things new!”

Rather than giving its original readers and hearers a coded blueprint of the future, Revelation gave them visionary insight into their present situation. It told them that the story of God’s work in history has never been about escaping Earth and going up to heaven. It has always been about God descending to dwell among us. . . . God wasn’t a distant, terrifying monster waiting for vengeance at the end of the universe. God was descending among us here and now, making the tree of true aliveness available for all. [1]

Earlier in the year, Richard shared the shocking hopefulness of the Bible’s apocalyptic literature:

God puts us in a world of passing things where everything changes and nothing remains the same. The only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. It’s a hard lesson to learn. It helps us appreciate that everything is a gift. We didn’t create it. We don’t deserve it. It will not last, but while we breathe it in, we can enjoy it, and know that it is another moment of God, another moment of life. People who take this moment seriously take every moment seriously, and those are the people who are ready for heaven. [2]

Brian offers this final encouragement:

What was true for Revelation’s original audience is true for us today. Whatever madman is in power, whatever chaos is breaking out, whatever danger threatens, the river of life is flowing now. The Tree of Life is bearing fruit now. True aliveness is available now. That’s why Revelation ends with the sound of a single word echoing through the universe. That word is not Wait! Nor is it Not Yet! or Someday! It is a word of invitation, welcome, reception, hospitality, and possibility. It is a word not of ending, but of new beginning. That one word is Come! The Spirit says it to us. We echo it back. Together with the Spirit, we say it to everyone who is willing. Come! [3]

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2015), 256–257.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The End of Worlds,” homily, November 15, 2015.

[3] McLaren, 257.

Story from Our Community:
I began a journey of being present after both my parents passed in the fall of 2020. As part of my practice, I began taking simple thankfulness walks. A friend introduced me to Richard Rohr’s writings, which I started using as prompts for my walks. It has truly been an unveiling experience and had helped me to process my grief in a way that had brought growth. —Jeanne R.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations editorial team.

Image credit: Nicholas Kramer, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Seattle. Used with permission.
Image inspiration: Here, in these bare rose sepals, is the pattern of life: the budding of spring, the bloom of summer, the wilting of autumn, the barrenness of winter. In accepting this process, we unveil and make room for new life, new growth, new blooms.

Leaning into Harmony

CAC teacher Brian McLaren is convinced that something beautiful lies “unveiled” on the other side of complexity and perplexity. He writes about the harmony that arises after struggling with and accepting doubt as a part of our faith journey.

This coming-into-union, this encounter-without-judgment, this knowing-without-control goes from me to you to us and beyond, to plants and animals and all of the created world. We come to hear the “same music,” the sound of the genuine [1], flowing through everything, every thing, every thing.

And this, I propose, is the core of spiritual experience shared by all or nearly all religions. It is the pearl of great price and the great treasure buried in the field, to use Jesus’ terminology [see Matthew 13:44–45]. Unfortunately, that treasure is often made inaccessible to insiders and outsiders alike because the gatekeepers of our traditions have never themselves explored the field and are unaware of its greatest treasure, or else they have experienced it but forgotten it, so now they neglect it. Some of them even built razor-wire fences around the part of the field where it is hidden, and they distract us with lesser things that are of more use or interest to them: beliefs, rules, policies, controversies, budgets, programs, activities, rituals, offerings, inquisitions.

The good news, however, is that this treasure is not the wholly owned subsidiary of any religious entity. The gatekeepers do not have an exclusive license to distribute it. The good news is that this . . . spirituality is available to everyone, like wind, rain, and sun, because it is, in my Christian vocabulary, the presence of grace and the creative current of the Holy Spirit that flows like a song through all of creation.

It is here. Available. At hand. Within reach. Right now. If those of us who have found this treasure in our religious traditions can begin to sing it, speak it, pray it, celebrate it, and live it out loud, perhaps together we can lean into Harmony as a civilization. Perhaps we can sing the song of Harmony in genuine harmony as a multi-faith visionary choir.

Right now, much work waits to be done. In politics, we’ve been studying war for centuries. We must now study how to create the conditions for deep and lasting peace. In many sectors of religion, we’ve been obsessed for centuries with escaping this day-to-day life on earth for an afterlife in heaven (or an experience of personal bliss). We must now cherish life on earth and engage with it by focusing our best energies on learning to love neighbor, self, earth, and God, who is Love. In education, for centuries we’ve been focused on basic morality, technology, and critical thinking. Now we must learn how to teach our children not just to know right from wrong, and not just to be able to make a living, and not just to be able to think critically, but also to live well with ourselves, one another, and the earth, discovering and cherishing the “sound of the genuine” in all things.

References:
[1] Howard Thurman, “The Sound of the Genuine,” Baccalaureate Address, Spelman College, May 4, 1980.

Brian D. McLaren, Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It (St. Martin’s Essentials: 2021), 200–201.

Story from Our Community:
I began a journey of being present after both my parents passed in the fall of 2020. As part of my practice, I began taking simple thankfulness walks. A friend introduced me to Richard Rohr’s writings, which I started using as prompts for my walks. It has truly been an unveiling experience and had helped me to process my grief in a way that had brought growth. —Jeanne R.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations editorial team.

Image credit: Nicholas Kramer, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Seattle. Used with permission.
Image inspiration: Here, in these bare rose sepals, is the pattern of life: the budding of spring, the bloom of summer, the wilting of autumn, the barrenness of winter. In accepting this process, we unveil and make room for new life, new growth, new blooms.

Mystical Hope: Weekly Summary

Mystical Hope

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Week Forty-Nine Summary and Practice

Sunday, December 5, 2021—Friday, December 10, 2021

Sunday
Hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without full closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves. —Richard Rohr

Monday
Theologically speaking, we identify the virtues of faith, hope, and love as participation in the very life of God. We don’t achieve this by will power; we already participate in it by our deepest nature. —Richard Rohr

Tuesday
Hope must be born over and over again, for where there is love, there is always hope.Ilia Delio

Wednesday
In Bonaventure’s world, the frame of reality was still big, hopeful, and positive. He was profoundly Trinitarian, where the love always and forever flows in one positive and forward direction. —Richard Rohr

Thursday
Hope fills us with the strength to stay present, to abide in the flow of the Mercy no matter what outer storms assail us. It enters us and fills us with its own life—a quiet strength beyond anything we have ever known. —Cynthia Bourgeault

Friday
This dynamic of being able to yield unconditionally to God’s future is what John of the Cross calls hope, a hope that exists without the signature of our life and works, a hope independent of us and our accomplishments. —Constance FitzGerald

 

Presenting Our Lives to God

Author and CAC teacher Brian McLaren understands Jesus’ mother Mary as an example for all of us to find a larger hope by surrendering our lives to God. Here he comments on Luke’s Gospel and offers an Advent practice inspired by Mary:

All of us experience this sense of frustration, disappointment, impatience, and despair at times. We all feel that we have the capacity to give birth to something beautiful and good and needed and wonderful in the world. But our potential goes unfulfilled, or our promising hopes miscarry. So we live on one side and then on the other of the border of despair.

And then the impossible happens. . . .

In Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus, God aligns with the creative feminine power of womanhood rather than the violent masculine power of statehood. The doctrine of the virgin birth, it turns out, isn’t about bypassing sex but about subverting violence. The violent power of top-down patriarchy is subverted not by counterviolence but by the creative power of pregnancy. It is through what proud men have considered “the weaker sex” that God’s true power enters and changes the world. That, it turns out, is exactly what Mary understood the messenger to be saying: [read her Magnificat, especially Luke 1:48, 51, 52, 53]. . . .

So Mary presents herself to the Holy Spirit to receive and cooperate with God’s creative power. She surrenders and receives, she nurtures and gives her all, because she dares to believe the impossible is possible. Her son Jesus will consistently model her self-surrender and receptivity to God, and he will consistently prefer the insightful kindness of motherhood to the violent blindness of statehood.

That’s what it means to be alive in the adventure of Jesus. We present ourselves to God—our bodies, our stories, our futures, our possibilities, even our limitations. “Here I am,” we say with Mary, “the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me according to your will.”

So in this Advent season—this season of awaiting and pondering the coming of God in Christ—let us light a candle for Mary. And let us, in our own hearts, dare to believe the impossible by surrendering ourselves to God, courageously cooperating with God’s creative, pregnant power—in us, for us, and through us. If we do, then we, like Mary, will become pregnant with holy aliveness. . . .

Activate: Start each day this week putting Mary’s prayer of commitment and surrender, “Let it be to me according to your will,” into your own words. Let this be a week of presenting your life to God so that “holy aliveness” grows in you.

Meditate: After lighting a candle, hold the words, “Here I am, the Lord’s servant,” in your heart for a few minutes in silence. Try to return to those words many times in the week ahead.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2014), 68, 69–70.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations editorial team.

Image credit: Nicholas Kramer, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Seattle. Used with permission.
Image inspiration: What if I stopped complaining about how suburban streetlights pollute the night sky and instead tried to discover what beauty their light could uncover? How could my commitment to seeing something as it is, without judgment, help me see beyond my initial impression of it?
—Nicholas Kramer, Photographer of December DM photo series

Seeking Aliveness

Carl Jung

Seeking Aliveness
Thursday, November 25, 2021
Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.

Ann Ulanov is a noted Jungian scholar, theologian, and therapist. Here she writes about “aliveness” as the key to transformation:

Aliveness comes down to one thing—consenting to rise, to be dented, impressed, pressed in upon, to rejoin, to open, to ponder, to be where we are in this moment and see what happens, allowing the breath of not knowing to be taken, wanting to see what is there and what is not there. Aliveness springs from our making something of what we experience and receiving what experience makes of us. This is the wonder of the child the New Testament always recommends us to return to, what the philosopher Paul Ricœur calls our “second naiveté”. . . . In such a space we allow ourselves to depend on something greater than ourselves, to take what it gives us and respond to it. . . . [RR: This is the beginning of an actual relationship with God and the movement beyond mere religion.]

Wanting to protect ourselves from psychic pain, we limit our imaginations, our ability to play around with ideas, our bodily sensations. We take someone else’s words instead of fumble for our own. We neglect giving attention to our dreams. We fear to go down into the depths of one relationship and instead substitute ever new ones. We avoid saying the hard truth to one we love. . . . We may sacrifice whole parts of ourselves in order to protect against pain, but then the whole of us loses some of its essential vitality. . . .

This struggle to live all we can in the face of death, illness, loss of relationship, unbearable grief, acts of injustice, is a struggle we share in all our different circumstances of life. . . . In the New Testament words, the pearl of great price [Matthew 13:45–46] is what we sell all we have for the sake of; riches, fame, security do not ensure simple happiness in being, only this precious aliveness. What, then, is that pearl of great price? It is feeling alive and real, vibrantly the aliveness that belongs to each of us. [1]

CAC teacher and author Brian McLaren reflects on the spiritual journey as a quest for aliveness. He writes:

What we all want is pretty simple, really. We want to be alive. To feel alive. Not just to exist but to thrive, to live out loud, walk tall, breathe free. We want to be less lonely, less exhausted, less conflicted or afraid . . . more awake, more grateful, more energized and purposeful. We capture this kind of mindful, overbrimming life in terms like well-being, shalom, blessedness, wholeness, harmony, life to the full, and aliveness. . . .

The quest for aliveness is the best thing about religion, I think. It’s what we’re hoping for when we pray. It’s why we gather, celebrate, eat, abstain, attend, practice, sing, and contemplate. When people say “I’m spiritual,” what they mean, I think, is simple: “I’m seeking aliveness.” [2]

References:
[1] Ann Belford Ulanov, The Unshuttered Heart: Opening to Aliveness/Deadness in the Self (Abingdon Press: 2007), 15–16, 17.

[2] Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho Books: 2014), xv.

Story from Our Community:
I’ve been following Fr. Richard for at least 10 years and so much of what he says parallels others in the fields of human psychology and spirituality. Fr. Richard’s work has kept me grounded through many challenging times. I am grateful for the work that he’s done and can’t say enough about the impact it has had on my life. —James H.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Rose B. Simpson, Holding it Together (detail), 2016, sculpture.
We featured the artist of these sculptures, Rose B. Simpson, at our recent CONSPIRE conference—so many of us were impacted by her creations that we decided to share her work with our Daily Meditations community for the month of November.
Image Inspiration: How many ways can I express myself? People ask me “who is your work modeled after?” And they’re all self-portraits because the only story I can really tell is my own. And so they’re all about different journeys I’ve had in my life. —Rose B. Simpson, CONSPIRE Interview, 2021

Christianity and Empire: Weekly Summary

Christianity and Empire

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Week Forty-Two Summary and Practice

Sunday, October 17—Friday, October 22, 2021

Sunday
How can I trust that things like nonviolence, the path of descent, simplicity of life, forgiveness and healing, the preference for the poor, and radical grace itself are as important as they are, unless Jesus also said so? —Richard Rohr

Monday
I know it’s easy to be cynical, to look at the disastrous effects of Christianity’s complicity with empire and want to give up on the whole endeavor, but I also want to proclaim that the flow of grace is a truly wonderful thing. —Richard Rohr

Tuesday
Many of us have little ability to carry our own shadow side, much less the shadow side of  our church, group, nation, or period of history. But shadowlands are good and necessary teachers. —Richard Rohr

Wednesday
We must return to the spiritual values that are the foundation of life. We must love and respect all living things, have compassion for the poor and the sick, respect and understanding for women and female life on this earth who bear the sacred gift of life. —Indigenous delegates to the Global Forum on Environment, 1990

Thursday
In the dark, enslaved people slipped away to the quiet of thick brush arbors, hollows, or river banks to pray, to sing, to experience God in their misery and obscurity. There. . . God met them and became their consolation and their joy. —M. Shawn Copeland

Friday
In Christ, we see an image of a God who is not armed with lightning bolts but with basin and towel, who spewed not threats but good news for all, who rode not a warhorse but a donkey, weeping in compassion for people who do not know the way of peace. —Brian McLaren

 

A Hymn of Remorse

At the end of this week’s meditations, you may find it helpful to pray a “Hymn of Remorse,” with lyrics by CAC teacher Brian McLaren:

We covered over your colorful earth with gray cement.
We cut down trees and stripped the soil wherever we went.
We scarred the hills for gold and coal,
Blind with greed inside our soul,
Our goal: to have complete control.

Lord, have mercy. Can we be restored?
Lord, have mercy.

What of the lands of tribes and nations who lived here first?
Who took the best with broken treaties, and left the worst?
By whom were slaves bought, used, sold?
Who valued humans less than gold?
Who told us racist lies until our hearts went cold?

Lord, have mercy. Can we be restored?
Lord, have mercy.

The noise of traffic is drowning out the songbird’s song.
Your voice within us is telling us that we’ve gone wrong.
You call us from our selfishness,
To be blessed—and to bless
To turn to you, to begin anew.

Lord, have mercy. Can we be restored?
Lord, have mercy.

—Brian McLaren

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound. 

Reference:
Brian McLaren, “Hymn of Remorse,” from Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry: Conversations on Creation, Land Justice, and Life Together, ed. Steve Heinrichs (Herald Press: 2013), 209. Used with permission. Listen to a recording of this song.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 13 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: Our state-sanctioned history celebrates explorers who chose separation, conquest, and domination. What if we chose differently and looked instead through our own “windshields” with humility, reverence, and awe for the diversity of God’s creation?

God’s Supremacy in Love

Christianity and Empire

God’s Supremacy in Love
Friday, October 22, 2021

CAC teacher and author Brian McLaren has spent years calling Christians to a practice of faith that reflects the loving, nonviolent Jesus of the Gospels instead of the conquering Jesus of colonialism and empire:

The God imaged by Jesus exerts no dominating supremacy. In Christ, we see an image of a God who is not armed with lightning bolts but with basin and towel, who spewed not threats but good news for all, who rode not a warhorse but a donkey, weeping in compassion for people who do not know the way of peace. In Christ, God is supreme, but not in the old discredited paradigm of supremacy: God is the supreme healer, the supreme friend, the supreme lover, the supreme life-giver who self-empties in gracious love for all. The king of kings and lord of lords is the servant of all and the friend of sinners. The so-called weakness and foolishness of God are greater than the so-called power and wisdom of human regimes.

In the aftermath of Jesus and his cross, we should never again define God’s sovereignty or supremacy by analogy to the kings of this world who dominate, oppress, subordinate, exploit, scapegoat and marginalize [see Luke 22:25–27]. Instead, we have migrated to an entirely new universe, or, as Paul says, “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17) in which old ideas of supremacy are subverted. [1]

In his own words, Choctaw elder and retired Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston “walks two paths”: that of his Native American tradition and that of Christ. Our understanding of God is deepened by his insightful description of Jesus, who experienced his own visions from God and was called to bring healing to his people.

I have come to understand what caused the pain and death that was visited on my nation, and I know that it was not the will of a loving God. The Messiah I knew as a child, the Jesus of my ancestors, walked the long Trail with my people. He was there. He suffered with them. He is not the white man’s god, but a Native healer who made his own vision quest, not once, but four times. He went out to make his lament and he was given visions. He was not afraid of the silence. He was not afraid to speak about what he saw and heard and felt, and consequently, he changed the world.

Now you and I are called to do the same. . . .

The Jesus of the Trail of Tears, the Jesus of the Lakota and the Choctaw, the Jesus who went to a lonely hilltop and made his lament is the One who shows us the way. He found his vision, changed his name, and saved his people. He was purified. He was with his trusted friends. He made himself open to the sacred. The more we come to know him, the more we come to understand ourselves. In the end, his vision and ours are intimately connected. His path and ours are one. [2]

References:
[1] Brian D. McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian (Convergent: 2016), 92–93.

[2] Steven Charleston, The Four Vision Quests of Jesus (Morehouse Publishing: 2015), 40–41.

Story from Our Community:
As a retired psychologist, I did not believe in evil. One could always provide a diagnosis and explain “bad behavior.” As I reread the words of Jesus, who commanded us to “love one another” and to help the poor, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry… then to witness my own Government take funds from the poor and give it to the rich—I knew this was evil. I look forward to learning more from these meditations. —James M.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 13 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: Our state-sanctioned history celebrates explorers who chose separation, conquest, and domination. What if we chose differently and looked instead through our own “windshields” with humility, reverence, and awe for the diversity of God’s creation?

Who We Are Is Who We Will Be

Hell, No!

Who We Are Is Who We Will Be
Friday, September 17, 2021

My colleague Brian McLaren has long explored what it might mean to be a “new kind of Christian.” Brian once wrote a fictionalized story about a pastor asking questions at the edges of his faith. Dan, the book’s main character, strikes up a friendship with an older, former pastor who mentors him into a larger, more generous, and loving Christianity. This pastor leads Dan through a thought experiment:

Imagine that you have just died and passed through the doorway of death. And you enter heaven. And it is a place of intense brightness, a place fragrant with goodness, a place alive with love. The presence of God seems to pervade everyone and every thing. . . . In this place, people are humble and genuinely interested in others. . . . It is a place of true freedom, trust, and intimacy. And even though it is a place of great diversity, with people of all cultures and languages and times retaining all their uniqueness, it is a place where no one argues, no one fights, no one hates, and no one complains—not because they aren’t allowed to but because they don’t want to, because they accept and love one another completely. They are fully alive. . . . Think about how you would feel entering that place.

OK. Now I want you to imagine that someone has walked beside you through that doorway of death. And that person has lived his life cramped in hatred and fear, tight in guilt and greed, ingrown in lust and selfishness. He has spent every day of his life complaining and being bitter and blaming others and being ungrateful. He has been suspicious of those different from himself, and he has become an expert at lying and cheating and using others. He is proud, arrogant, unwilling to admit he is wrong. . . . Now, how would that person feel?

Could it be that the very light that seems beautiful to you would seem blinding to him? Could the very warmth of the love of that place that to you is so perfect seem to him horrible? Could the acceptance and love and trust and openness that welcome you seem to him disgusting, weak, terrifying, insipid, or repulsive? . . . Maybe it’s not that there are two places beyond the door of death, heaven and hell. Sometimes I wonder if hell is just what heaven feels like for those who haven’t learned in this life what this life is intended to teach. I believe with all my heart that God is not willing for even one person to miss out on the joy and glories of heaven. . . . We are becoming on this side of the door of death the kind of people we will be on the other side.

Richard here: In the Gospels, Matthew’s especially, Jesus teaches that we will face consequences for the choices we make in our lifetimes, but they are never for the sake of punishment. Instead, they are a manifestation of God’s redemptive and healing love, which will ultimately prevail.  

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey (Jossey-Bass: 2001), 90–91.

Story from Our Community:
I grew up in the Catholic Church of the 1950s, which Richard Rohr describes so well—a judgmental God with rules that could lead me to heaven or hell. I left the Catholic Church and found a Christian community that encourages me to think for myself about my religious beliefs and values. Then several years ago, a friend introduced me to the teachings of Richard Rohr and I will forever be grateful for his wisdom, which has changed my life as well as my faith. —Ted W.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, La Hija de los Danzantes (detail), 1933, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A portal is an invitation to ponder what lies beyond. This young woman peers into a portal in curious exploration, unsure of what she will find, but still relaxed and open to what comes. In the same way, we are invited to accept that God’s love is constant even beyond our limitations of human knowing. In life and death, God’s love is.

Living Inside God’s Great Story: Weekly Summary

Living Inside God’s Great Story

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Week Thirty-Five Summary and Practice

Sunday, August 29—Friday, September 3, 2021

Sunday
I would gather my siblings and neighborhood friends and have them sit on a bench in the backyard. I would hold my penny catechism upside down since I couldn’t read yet, and I would pretend to teach “about Jesus.” I must have been a weird little kid, but I was happy too!

Monday
Everyone creates their own definition of perfection that they try to live up to, and then they experience the illusion that they’re either perfectly wonderful or completely inadequate.

Tuesday
Although one could find contemplative nuances in the communal prayers and everyday work of baking biscuits, it is in the legacy of the healers that I found the most overt practices. —Barbara Holmes

Wednesday
The reality of Thomas Merton made God’s unreality impossible to me. That is, his very reality was to me, the presence of God as a transformed person. —James Finley

Thursday
I had this feeling of being seen. Known. Named. Loved. By a Someone bigger than the sky that expanded above me. It was as if the whole sky were an eye, and all space were a heart, and I was being targeted as a focal point for attention and love. —Brian McLaren

Friday
I was also one of the relatively rare few who also had it patterned into me that prayer was listening to God. Not even listening for messages, exactly . . . but just being there, quietly gathered in God’s presence. —Cynthia Bourgeault

 

Fishing with the Divine

The two, fish and God, go together like fish and water. —Brian McLaren

For two of our CAC faculty, Barbara Holmes and Brian McLaren, fishing is a deeply spiritual practice. Brian shares how fly fishing connects him with the force and source of Life.

There’s something about capturing a fish that feels both primal and holy, especially when I’m not fishing to get dinner, but “for sport” or for “catch and release,” as it’s called. When a fish takes my artificial fly, whether it’s a trout in Yellowstone or a tarpon in the Everglades, I feel that the line could be an electric cord, transferring the animal’s aliveness, its vital energy, its élan, like a current through my arm to my body and my soul.

The truth is that I don’t actually fish just “for sport,” as if fishing were a competition that involved me winning over the fish (or over other fishermen, although sometimes, that element is certainly present). Nor do I fish simply to catch and release. No, I fish for this sense of connection—to know the fish by feeling its power, its resistance, its strength, its aliveness. . . .

The old Scottish novelist (and Canadian Governor General) John Buchan (1875—1940) famously said, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” [1] For some people, God seems easily attainable, as familiar as a lucky coin in the pocket, as conjurable as steam from a teapot. But for many of us, God is more elusive, and at best, we hope God is there, here, in here, but we can claim no rational certainty. In this way, encountering God is a lot like encountering a cutthroat trout that you can’t see. You can place yourself in a suitable location, prepare yourself, reach out your line, and—wait. And hope. And wait. And hope some more. And wait some more. [2]

A photo of Barbara Holmes fishing off a dock. Barbara Holmes shares: “One of the ways I practice contemplation in my life is through fishing. It’s the place and the space where I find a real connection through the ocean, the waves, the sound of the water, the birds diving, and the struggle with the adversary, which is the fish.” [3]

We invite you to watch this video where Barbara talks about her love of fishing as a practice of contemplation, connection, and community. 

References:
[1] John Buchan, “Lost Monsters,” in Great Hours in Sport, ed. John Buchan (Thomas Nelson and Sons: 1921), 15.

[2] Brian D. McLaren, The Galápagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey (Fortress Press: 2019), 173, 174.

[3] Barbara A. Holmes, “Introduction,” Our Teachers (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2021), faculty presentation, May 5, 2021, video.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.

The Cosmos Reveal God’s Great Love

Living Inside God’s Great Story

The Cosmos Reveal God’s Great Love
Thursday, September 2, 2021

Brian McLaren grew up, as I did, in a very religious home, where “our story” was defined by strict religious obligations, with clear insiders and outsiders. However, a mystical experience in nature opened Brian up to God’s Great Story. He writes:

I grew up in a religious home. A full-dose, hard-core, shaken-together-and-my-cup-runneth-over, conservative, Bible-believing, Evangelical, fundamentalist Christian home. . . . Holidays and Sundays were just the spiritual appetizers. For the main course, there was also church every Sunday night. And there was a Wednesday night prayer meeting too. . . .

Some neighborhood buddies . . . invited me on a weekend retreat with the youth group from their Southern Baptist church. And that’s where spirituality snuck up and crashed upon me like an unexpected wave at the beach. The retreat leader sent us off on Saturday afternoon for an hour of silence during which we were supposed to pray. I climbed a tree—being a back-to-nature guy—only to discover that my perch was along an ant superhighway and that mosquitoes also liked the shade of that particular tree. But eventually, between swatting and scratching, I actually prayed. My prayer went something like this: “Dear God, before I die, I hope you will let me see the most beautiful sights, hear the most beautiful sounds, and feel the most beautiful feelings that life has to offer.” . . .

In spite of my sincerity, absolutely nothing happened. . . . [After supper,] a few friends and I snuck away to a hillside and found ourselves sitting under one of those sparkling autumn night skies. I walked several paces away from my friends and lay back in the grass, fingers interlocked behind my head, looking up, feeling strangely quiet and at peace. Something began to happen.

I had this feeling of being seen. Known. Named. Loved. By a Someone bigger than the sky that expanded above me. Young science geek that I was, I pictured myself lying on a little hill on a little continent on a little planet in a little solar system on the rim of a modest galaxy in a sea of billions of galaxies, and I felt that the great big Creator of the whole shebang was somehow noticing little, tiny me. It was as if the whole sky were an eye, and all space were a heart, and I was being targeted as a focal point for attention and love. And the oddest thing happened as this realization sank in. I began to laugh. I wasn’t guffawing, but I was laughing, at first gently, but eventually almost uncontrollably. Profound laughter surged from within me.

It wasn’t a reactive laughter, the kind that erupts when you hear a good joke or see somebody do something ridiculous. It was more like an overflowing laughter, as if all that space I had been feeling opening up inside me was gradually filling up with pure happiness, and once it reached the rim, it spilled over in incandescent joy. “God loves me! Me! God! At this moment! I can feel it!”

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (HarperOne: 2011), 5, 7, 8.

Story from Our Community:
I begin each day with the joy of these reflections. Full of wisdom and insight, new ways of looking and longing, I share them with friends, family, and grandchildren. I love Fr. Richard’s Franciscan incarnation theology of the “Christ-soaked world.” Nothing is wasted. Everything is sacred. —Liz M.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.

An Evolving Faith Includes Doubt

An Evolving Faith

An Evolving Faith Includes Doubt
Wednesday, June 2, 2021

In my mind, one of the markers of an evolving faith is an ability to integrate doubt—to hold the tension between what we’ve been taught and what we’ve come to know as true. When grounded in an experience of Love, doubt does not represent a step backwards, but is a necessary condition for any movement forward. CAC teacher Brian McLaren speaks of his personal journey with doubt as the essential ingredient in the evolution of his faith from “orthodoxy” or right belief to “orthopraxy” or right way of life.

Before doubt, I thought that faith was a matter of correct beliefs. My religious teachers taught me so: that if I didn’t hold the right beliefs, or at least say that I held them, I would be excommunicated from my community, and perhaps, after death, from God’s presence. They taught me this not to be cruel but because they themselves had been taught the same thing, and they were working hard, sometimes desperately, to be faithful to the rules as they understood them. I tried to do the same, and I would still be doing so today if not for doubt.

Doubt chipped away at those beliefs, one agonizing blow at a time, revealing that what actually mattered wasn’t the point of beliefs but the clear window of faith, faith as a life orientation, faith as a framework of values and spirituality, faith as a commitment to live into a deep vision of what life can be, faith as a way of life, faith expressing itself in love.

For all those years, when I said, “I believe,” I thought I understood what I was doing. But more was going on, so much more. . . .

Looking back, I now see that underneath arguments about what I believed to be true factually, something deeper and truer was happening actually.

For example, whether or not the creation story happened factually as described in Genesis, I was committing myself to live in the world as if it actually were a precious, beautiful, meaningful creation, and as if I were too. . . .

What mattered most was not that I believed the stories in a factual sense, but that I believed in the meaning they carried so I could act upon that meaning and embody it in my life, to let that meaning breathe in me, animate me, fill me. . . . Whether I considered the stories factually accurate was never the point; what actually mattered all along was whether I lived a life pregnant with the meaning those stories contained. To my surprise, when I was given permission to doubt the factuality of my beliefs, I discovered their actual life-giving purpose. . . .

Doubt need not be the death of faith. It can be, instead, the birth of a new kind of faith, a faith beyond beliefs, a faith that expresses itself in love, a deepening and expanding faith that can save your life and save the world.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Faith after Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It (St. Martins: 2021), 206, 207, 212.

Story from Our Community:
These have been extremely challenging times and, though difficult and often dangerous, inside each of them lay opportunity. I can enmesh myself in ego (my own and of others), yet I do my best to awaken to Christ consciousness. Everything is for the sake of spiritual evolution. It’s all about love for the sake of more love. Each of us has been Divinely granted yet another day to recognize the only real force—LOVE. —Robert L.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, bamboo 天竹子 (detail), 2015, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The capacity of bamboo to grow mirrors our own potential for inner unfolding. As long as there is life, there is evolution. As long as we have breath, our faith can continue to grow.
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