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God’s Love Made Manifest

CAC teacher emerita Cynthia Bourgeault suggests that the Divine attributes of love, mercy, and forgiveness are most clearly called forth in our earthly existence. She begins with the Sufi phrase “I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known,” a mystical description of why God created the universe.

Notice that there is a subtle double meaning at work in this phrase. At one level “I loved to be known” is a synonym for “I longed to be known” (and the phrase is often translated that way). But you can read the words in another way—“I loved in order to be known”—and when you do, they reveal a deeper spiritual truth. In order to become known to another, we must take the risk of loving that person, and this includes the real possibility of rejection and the even more painful prospect of heartbreak if the beloved is lost to us. . . .

Could it be like this for God as well?

Could it be that this earthly realm, not in spite of but because of its very density and jagged edges, offers precisely the conditions for the expression of certain aspects of divine love that could become real in no other way? This world does indeed show forth what love is like in a particularly intense and costly way. But when we look at this process more deeply, we can see that those sharp edges we experience as constriction at the same time call forth some of the most exquisite dimensions of love . . . qualities such as steadfastness, tenderness, commitment, forbearance, fidelity, and forgiveness. These mature and subtle flavors of love have no real context in a realm where there are no edges and boundaries, where all just flows. But when you run up against the hard edge and have to stand true to love anyway, what emerges is a most precious taste of pure divine love. God has spoken [God’s] most intimate name.

Let me be very clear here. I am not saying that suffering exists in order for God to reveal himself. I am only saying that where suffering exists and is consciously accepted, there divine love shines forth brightly.

Bourgeault invites readers to examine this phenomenon in their own lives:

The principle can be tested. Pay attention to the quality of human character that emerges from constriction accepted with conscious forgiveness as compared to what emerges from rage and violence and draw your own conclusions.

At any rate, I have often suspected that the most profound product of this world is tears. . . . Tears express that vulnerability in which we can endure having our heart broken and go right on loving. In the tears flows a sweetness not of our own making, which has been known in our tradition as the Divine Mercy. Our jagged and hard-edged earth plane is the realm in which this mercy is the most deeply, excruciatingly, and beautifully released. That’s our business down here. That’s what we’re here for.

Reference:

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2008), 99–100.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 4, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Meadow (detail), 1972, photograph, California, public domain. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 11, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Seeing what is. Acknowledging. Clearing the air. After the vines are ripped from the wall, allowing new growth.

Story from Our Community:

The Daily Meditations lift my spirits while I travel a very difficult journey of deliberate forgiveness. Sixteen years ago, I was raped by someone I grew up with and trusted. For many years I hated him, and I think that was appropriate at the time. Eventually, I was able to shift the energy I expended towards the person who violated me. I even gained the ability to pray for his wellbeing. I know that not everyone has the same experience, but it was very healing for me to begin to understand him as a human being and not simply as a rapist. Forgiveness of this caliber is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done. —K.L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Quest for the Grail: Weekly Summary

Sunday
Healthy religion teaches us how to see, how to see more clearly, and how to see things all the way through.
—Richard Rohr

Monday
The young knight is the seeker in each of us, yearning for the Grail [DM team: the soul, our True Selves]. The Grail offers the capacity for renewal, forgiveness, and transformation. It also is within us.
—Carol Pearson

Tuesday
By asking “Whom does my soul serve?” we learn to turn our attention to the deeper purposes of what we do. We enlarge our vision of what’s possible and gradually learn to root our actions in soul.
—Bill Plotkin

Wednesday
We sense more and more that Someone Else is for us, more than we are for ourselves. All we can do is get out of the way. We realize that this is a radically benevolent universe, and it is on our side.
—Richard Rohr

Thursday
After the Grail experience, the ordinary forever becomes extraordinary. God is both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in everything.
—Richard Rohr

Friday
Once we have learned the truth of the Grail, of love, we cannot believe the world of power is adequate or a correct response to reality. The heroic journey unites power and love.
—Richard Rohr

An Invitation to Quest

This week’s Daily Meditations on the quest for the Holy Grail invite us into the realm of archetype, myth, and journey. Author and scholar Jean Houston has thought a great deal about these topics, and offers questions for reflection on how we have, or have not, responded to the adventurous questions of our soul:

Once you answer the call to a larger life, there is no turning back. Indeed, each of us might usefully consider where we find ourselves right now on the cycle of our own particular journeys. Have you heard a call to the larger life? Have you refused it, and if so, why? Have you accepted the call but then met with monsters of recalcitrance who refused to let you pass across the threshold to your own deeper capacities and possible life? Did you finally outwit these monsters and get across? Are you caught in the belly of the whale through despair, depression, or just plain sloth? Have unusual allies or helpers shown up? A telephone call at the right time? A book falling open at an important passage? Do you find yourself in the midst of the road of trials, and if so, do you experience it as full of adventures or as just one damn crisis after another? Is there awaiting you a sacred marriage or a transformational friendship? Do you feel the yearning for the inner beloved of the soul? Are you seeking atonement or attunement with your father or mother . . .? Are you finding a boon, an insight, a project that may bring some healthy solution to your own and the world’s problems? . . . Or perhaps you find yourself, like the rest of us, in several different stages of the journey at the same time.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:

Jean Houston, A Mythic Life: Learning to Live Our Greater Story (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 92­–93.

Explore Further:

Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 1, 2 & 3 (details), 2022, photographs, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images by Katrina Lillian Sorrentino appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Entelechy: the seeded, coded essence that contains both patterns and possibilities for your life. Ever since I left my Christian marriage, I wanted to do the Camino, a pilgrimage that people from all over the world make to St. James’ tomb in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In May, I walked it as a ritual in order to shed a previous version of Self and embody a truer one. I walked a total of 333 miles in order to capture entelechy through the photograph. This series is a relic of a ritual that carried me further into being. —Katrina Lillian Sorrentino

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

The Parables of Jesus: Weekly Summary

Sunday
We are not all weeds, but we are not all wheat, either. We have to learn, even now, to accept and forgive this mixed bag of reality in ourselves and in everybody else.
—Richard Rohr

Monday
Parables are a wisdom genre. They belong to mashal, the Jewish branch of the universal tradition of sacred poetry, stories, proverbs, riddles, and dialogues through which wisdom is conveyed.
—Cynthia Bourgeault

Tuesday
Jesus says that God is like the shepherd, seeking always to find those who are out of community with their fellows, and when they have found it, when they have found their community with their fellows, then all the world seems to fit back into place, and life takes on a new meaning.
—Howard Thurman

Wednesday
Do we want to be a part of the wedding feast to which all are invited? The only people who don’t get in on the party are those who don’t want to come—so I guess we have to ask ourselves, “Do we want to come?”
—Richard Rohr

Thursday
If this is really the parable of the Sower and not the parable of the different kinds of ground, then it begins to sound quite new. The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere.
—Barbara Brown Taylor

Friday
When we expect, we’re soon going to resent it when we don’t get what we think we deserve. So, what the Gospel says is “Stop expecting!” Everything is a gift.
—Richard Rohr

Lectio Divina with the Parable of the Prodigal Son

Cynthia Bourgeault unpacks how the parable of the Prodigal Son challenges our typical forms of judgment. Click here to read the Gospel passage (Luke 15:11–32), and pay particular attention to the older brother’s response.

The egoic operating system will always get stuck in judgment and self-meritoriousness. The older brother with his indignant “This isn’t fair!” is a textbook example of the egoic operating system at work. Through him, Jesus is asking us to look closely at that part in each one of us that insists on keeping score, that can’t let go into the generosity and the blessedness. The parable’s concluding image—of the older son standing alone outside, refusing to join the party because he feels he has been slighted—is a vivid symbol of the way the egoic operating system holds us back from joining the dance of Divine Mercy in full swing all around us. If we’re stuck in the ego, we can’t hear the music. . . .

When we look closely at this parable, we discover . . . it’s a challenge to the basic structures, assumptions, and beliefs about ourselves that keep the binary mind firmly in place. It’s supposed to challenge you; it’s supposed to make you angry—and it’s supposed to make you look at yourself more closely. This parable provides particularly rich ground for lectio divina. . . . As you sit with it in meditation, see if you can discover where all three of these characters—older son, younger son, and father—live within your own being and what part each one plays in your life. Allow the parable to become a mirror that reflects back to you your own state of consciousness. If you work with it that way, you’re using it the way Jesus really intended it, as a tool for personal transformation of consciousness. [1]

If you are new to the practice of lectio divina, we offer these instructions from Father Richard:

Read the selected passage slowly four times. With the first reading (perhaps aloud), listen with your heart’s ear for a phrase or word that stands out for you. During the second reading, reflect on what touches you, speaking that phrase or word aloud or writing about it in a journal. Third, respond with a prayer or expression of what you have experienced and to what you are called. Fourth, rest in silence after the reading. [2]

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:

[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2008), 49–50.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2016), 30.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Bexley Park (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Oak and Moss (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer and Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Parables require us to take a second look. These images make us pause and wonder, “what is that, really?” Perhaps it’s my own shadow, responding from the subconscious with knee-jerk reactions and judgments.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Everything Is a Gift

Father Richard preaches about Jesus’ invitation to undeserved mercy, a worldview at odds with our entire economic system. Click here to read the Gospel passage (Matthew 20:1–16).

Another familiar parable is the story of laborers who arrive at the last hour and get paid as much as the ones that began work at the first hour. Let’s be honest: None of us who are “worker-bees” appreciate this story. All of us would think that if we bore the burden of the day’s heat working than we would deserve more than someone else. Yet this passage makes it clear that the landowner promised them what was fair, they agreed to the deal, and he gave them the usual wage.

We call this reaction a sense of entitlement. Many Americans have it, especially if we grew up rather comfortable. When we grow up comfortable, we think we deserve. We think we have a special right. We would be offended if we didn’t get our bonus or our raise. We all think we deserve just a bit more; this really creates a high degree of unhappiness and anger in our society. Of course, Jesus always turns everything on its head, ending with the punch line: “Those that you think are the last might well be first” (Matthew 20:16). We’d better be ready to be surprised. The way most of us measure things—especially if we are privileged and comfortable—demonstrates that we might in fact not love God at all, but just ourselves.

There’s only one way to get us out of this meritocracy and entitlement. Once in our lives we have to experience undeserved love at a deep, gut level. Where we didn’t merit it, we weren’t worthy of it; in fact we were unworthy of it, and we got it anyway. That’s called mercy. Only the experience of divine mercy breaks down this entire way of counting. And that’s what we do—we’re all counters. We are! We think to ourselves, “You gave this much, so you deserve this much.”

Every such expectation is a resentment waiting to happen. When we expect, we’re soon going to resent it when we don’t get what we think we deserve. So, what the Gospel says is “Stop expecting!” Entitlement is lethal for the soul. Everything is a gift—one hundred percent pure gift. The reason any of us woke up this morning had very little to do with us and everything to do with God. All twenty-four hours today are total gift. And so, the only real prayer is to say “Thank you!” and to keep saying it. When our prayer is constantly “Thank you,” and we know we deserve nothing, and that everything is a gift, we stop counting. Only when we stop counting and figuring out what we deserve, will we move from the world of merit into the wonderful world of grace. And in the world of grace, everything is free.

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Who Deserves Anything?,” homily, September 21, 2014.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Bexley Park (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Oak and Moss (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer and Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Parables require us to take a second look. These images make us pause and wonder, “what is that, really?” Perhaps it’s my own shadow, responding from the subconscious with knee-jerk reactions and judgments.

Story from Our Community:

I am finding a lot of lived Truth in the Daily meditations. I am a 91-year-old man, and I’ve learned that it’s important to listen to your body. Listening to your body and to God are quite similar and require quieting the mind. Once you learn it is possible, listening is simple and easy. —Reed H.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

The Sower’s Generosity

Author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor considers her usual response to the parable of the Sower scattering seed on different types of ground. Click here to read the Gospel passage (Matthew 18–23).

I started worrying about what kind of ground I was on with God. I started worrying about how many birds were in my field, how many rocks, how many thorns. I started worrying about how I could clean them all up, how I could turn myself into a well-tilled, well-weeded, well-fertilized field for the sowing of God’s word. I started worrying about how the odds were three to one against me—those are the odds in the parable, after all—and I began thinking about how I could beat the odds . . . by cleaning up my act.

That is my usual response to this parable. I hear it as a challenge to be different, as a call to improve my life, so that if the same parable were ever told about me it would have a happier ending, with all of the seed falling on rich, fertile soil. But there is something wrong with that reading of the parable, because if that is what it is about, then it should be called the parable of the different kinds of ground.

Taylor asks whether our familiar interpretation may miss the more dramatic message of God’s radical grace:

Instead, it has been known for centuries as the parable of the Sower, which means there is a chance, just a chance, that we have got it all backwards. We hear the story and think it is a story about us, but what if we are wrong? What if it is not about us at all but about the sower? What if it is not about our own successes and failures and birds and rocks and thorns but about the extravagance of a sower who does not seem to be fazed by such concerns, who flings seed everywhere, wastes it with holy abandon, who feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, shouts hallelujah at the good soil and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?

If this is really the parable of the Sower and not the parable of the different kinds of ground, then it begins to sound quite new. The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity of our maker, the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into his seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of his truth.

Reference:

Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 25–26.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Bexley Park (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Oak and Moss (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer and Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Parables require us to take a second look. These images make us pause and wonder, “what is that, really?” Perhaps it’s my own shadow, responding from the subconscious with knee-jerk reactions and judgments.

Story from Our Community:

I am finding a lot of lived Truth in the Daily meditations. I am a 91-year-old man, and I’ve learned that it’s important to listen to your body. Listening to your body and to God are quite similar and require quieting the mind. Once you learn it is possible, listening is simple and easy. —Reed H.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Heaven Is a Great Party

In this homily, Father Richard considers the parable of the wedding feast and points out how few of us seem even to desire to attend God’s banquet. Click here to read the Gospel passage (Matthew 22:1–10).

God has always had a very hard time giving away God: No one seems to want this gift. We’d rather have religion, and laws, and commandments, and obligations, and duties. I’m sure many of us attend church out of duty, but gathering with the Body of Christ is supposed to be a wedding feast. Do you know how many times in the four Gospels eternal life is described as a banquet, a feast, a party, a wedding, the marriage feast of the Lamb? There are fifteen different, direct allusions to eternal life being a great, big party. 

Do you know how many parables there are about eternal life being a courtroom or a judgment scene? One. Matthew 25. And that’s good. We need Matthew 25 because it makes it very clear that the ultimate issue is about how we care for the poor and marginalized. But we forget this good news of Jesus, sending a message out to the highways and the byways, inviting everybody who’s willing to come to the banquet. It’s that simple!  

Jesus goes out of his way to mention the good and the bad alike. We don’t like that either. We only want the good people to be there at the banquet, assuming, of course, that we’re the good people. Did you ever see the irony of that? Don’t you realize that every religion thinks that they are the ones that God likes? And we end up gathering at the party with that smug certitude; but when we do, it resembles something that very often isn’t much like a party. I don’t want to offend anybody, but sometimes only half of us even sing when we’re at church; half of us don’t even pick up the hymnals. I’m not trying to be cruel, but let’s just be honest and admit that many of us aren’t excited to be at church. For many of us, the Body of Christ is not a party.

Instead, we often believe that heaven is a giant courtroom scene. The good people win, the bad people lose, and almost everybody is bad except our group. That won’t work! It gives no joy and no hope to the world. It tells people they’re on the right side when sometimes they’re very unloving people who don’t care about the poor or the marginalized at all. And the statistics prove that Christians are no better than anybody else, in fact, very often—I’m sorry to say it—we’re worse.

Do we want to be a part of the wedding feast to which all are invited? The only people who don’t get in on the party are those who don’t want to come—so I guess we have to ask ourselves, “Do we want to come?”

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “In the End, a Banquet,” homily, October 14, 2017.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Bexley Park (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Oak and Moss (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer and Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Parables require us to take a second look. These images make us pause and wonder, “what is that, really?” Perhaps it’s my own shadow, responding from the subconscious with knee-jerk reactions and judgments.

Story from Our Community:

I recently retired from working as a parish priest in the Church of England in order to focus fully on mental health counseling. My calling is to heal the sick of body, mind, and spirit. I have been walking through a dark night of the soul since 2011, a deconstruction that continued for far longer than I thought possible. But it was only in this darkest of years that reconstruction has begun. Reading your daily meditations has been part of that reconstruction process. Thank you for introducing me to others who think so broadly and so beautifully. Your work enables mine. —Karen H.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

A Sheep Lost and Found

In this 1951 sermon, theologian and mystic Howard Thurman (1900–1981) reflects on Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, starting with the sheep’s perspective. Click here to read the Gospel passage (Luke 15:4–7).

A sheep was enjoying his grass . . . and then when he started feeling chilly, he didn’t recall, but the only thing that he remembers is that suddenly he became aware that he was cold, and there was a throwback in his mind, and he realized that he had been cold for some time. But, the grass was good. Then he looked around, and he discovered that he was alone. That everybody had gone. That is, that all the sheep had gone. And he began crying aloud.

And then the shepherd, who had many sheep, missed him when he got back to the fold, and he left his ninety and nine . . . to try to find this sheep that was lost. And Jesus says, “God is like that.” Nothing heavy and theological about that. Very little that is dogmatic, technically, about it. Just that here is a shepherd who loves his sheep, and one of the sheep in doing the most natural thing in the world—and that is to eat the grass—did it with such enthusiasm and over a time interval of such duration that he didn’t know when the shepherd called, and he was lost.

And why was he lost? He was lost because he was out of touch . . . with the group that sustained him, the group that fed him, that gave him a sense that he counted. That’s all. And as soon as he was out there alone, he said, “I’m just here by myself. Nothing but me in all of this? And I want to feel that I count with the others.” There’s a certain warmth in that. There’s a certain something that is creative and redemptive about the sense of community, about the fellowship.

Thurman speaks of the pain of being separated from our communities:

Insulation is something that is spiritual; . . . there’s something inside of me that pulls up . . . the drawbridge. . . . Sometimes I do it because I’m afraid; sometimes I do it because I’m clumsy and awkward, and I don’t quite know how to establish a relationship or relationships with my fellows that can float my spirit to them and bring their spirit to me. . . .

Now, Jesus says that God is like the shepherd, seeking always to find those who are out of community with their fellows, and when they have found it, when they have found their community with their fellows, then all the world seems to fit back into place, and life takes on a new meaning. . . .

The lost sheep. The searching shepherd. And the cry of anguish of the sheep was the voice of identification that the shepherd heard. That is how God is, if we let him.

Reference:

Howard Thurman, Sermons on the Parables, ed. David B. Gowler and Kipton E. Jensen (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 22–24, 25.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Bexley Park (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Oak and Moss (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer and Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Parables require us to take a second look. These images make us pause and wonder, “what is that, really?” Perhaps it’s my own shadow, responding from the subconscious with knee-jerk reactions and judgments.

Story from Our Community:

I recently retired from working as a parish priest in the Church of England in order to focus fully on mental health counseling. My calling is to heal the sick of body, mind, and spirit. I have been walking through a dark night of the soul since 2011, a deconstruction that continued for far longer than I thought possible. But it was only in this darkest of years that reconstruction has begun. Reading your daily meditations has been part of that reconstruction process. Thank you for introducing me to others who think so broadly and so beautifully. Your work enables mine. —Karen H.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Wisdom Teachings

Episcopal priest and CAC emerita teacher Cynthia Bourgeault describes how Jesus’ parables are a part of a genre that aims to bring about inner change in the hearer:

Parables are a wisdom genre. They belong to mashal, the Jewish branch of the universal tradition of sacred poetry, stories, proverbs, riddles, and dialogues through which wisdom is conveyed. . . .

We can see the razor edge of [Jesus’] brilliance as he takes the familiar world of mashal far beyond the safety zone of conventional morality into a world of radical reversal and paradox. He is transforming proverbs into parables—and a parable, incidentally, is not the same thing as an aphorism or a moral lesson. Its closest cousin is really the Buddhist koan, a deliberately subversive paradox aimed at turning our usual mind upside down. . . . Their job is not to confirm but to uproot. You can imagine the effect that had on his audience! Throughout the gospels we hear people saying again and again, “What is this he’s teaching? No one has ever said anything like this before. Where did he get this? Where did he come from?” [1]

Theologian Harvey Cox explores how parables invite the hearer to encounter God in an everyday and ever-changing reality:

Stories were Jesus’ stock-in-trade, the main medium by which he conveyed his message. The parables occupy fully 35 percent of the first three Gospels. But one of their most surprising features is that they are not about God. They are about weddings and banquets, family tensions, muggings, farmers sowing and reaping, and shrewd business dealings. God is mentioned in only one or two. . . . Rabbi Jesus obviously wanted us to look closely at this world, not some other one. It is here and now—all around us in the most ordinary things—that we find the divine presence. . . .

But Jesus’ stories, though similar to Zen koans in some ways, were also different in important respects. While the Zen stories aim at changing one’s perception of the world, Jesus wanted people to see that the world itself was changing, and that therefore, they had better change the way they looked at it. He invited them, in effect, to become part of the change. Time after time he said, “They that have eyes to see, let them see, and they that have ears, let them hear.” He simply wanted people to pay attention to what was going on around them and to discern a reality that was just under their noses. To describe this change he used a term that his listeners would have found familiar, though they might have been startled by the way he used it. He called it the coming of the “reign of God.” What he meant was that something was happening, not just in the consciousness of the listener, but also in the world itself. Something new and unprecedented was happening, and they could be a part of it. [2]

References:

[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2008), 23–24, 27.

[2] Harvey Cox, When Jesus Came to Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2004), 155, 159. Note: minor edits made for inclusive language.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 12 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Bexley Park (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Oak and Moss (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images by Carrie Grace Littauer and Claudia Retter appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Parables require us to take a second look. These images make us pause and wonder, “what is that, really?” Perhaps it’s my own shadow, responding from the subconscious with knee-jerk reactions and judgments.

Story from Our Community:

I’m a Quaker and I love the description of worship as a “listening prayer.” When I stayed with some friends in Belarus, I noticed they answer the telephone not by giving their number or name, but by saying “I am listening” and then wait to hear the speaker. It’s a wonderful metaphor for prayer. —Diana L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Embodied Faith

Episcopal priest and CAC teacher emerita Cynthia Bourgeault shares a story about the body’s integral role in sustaining our faith:

In many spiritual traditions of the world, the body is viewed with fear and suspicion, considered to be the seat of desire and at best a dumb beast that must be trained and brought into submission to the personal will. But what is missed here—and it is of crucial importance—is that the moving center [1] also carries unique perceptive gifts, the most important of which is the capacity to understand the language of faith encoded in sacred gesture.

There is a famous story attributed to Russian Orthodox archbishop Anthony Bloom [1914–2003] . . . that makes this point quite strikingly. A young man came to him for spiritual consultation, angry and distressed because he couldn’t make any sense out of his Christianity. The dogma and theology seemed like so much bunk, and the creeds frequently made him furious. He yearned for a life of faith. . . . What did Father Anthony suggest?

The archbishop listened intently and then made a rather surprising suggestion: that the young man simply go home and make one hundred full prostrations a day for a month.

Now in Orthodox practice a full prostration is not a simple bob-and-curtsy, as genuflection tends to be in the West. One goes flat out on the floor, face down, with arms outstretched; holds the position for at least a good long in-and-out breath; and then slowly rises to one’s feet. . . . When he returned a month later, [the young man’s] eyes were glowing with faith, and the creeds no longer made him angry. The reason, as the archbishop knew full well, is that through the deep, rhythmic gestures of bowing and emptying himself, the man came to understand something that could not be found by the mind. It lived in his body. In connecting with his body, he reconnected with the wellsprings of his faith.

According to Bourgeault, our bodies and their natural movements can offer us spiritual insights in a way that the intellectual mind simply cannot:

It’s amazing how those learning experiences invariably wind up among our most vivid childhood memories. From learning to ride a bicycle when I was seven, I came to know something about interior balance, getting the hang of something from the inside out. From learning to float, I discovered that trust means relaxing and letting something else hold you up. From ecstatic lovemaking, I learned not to fear dissolving into oneness. The language of spiritual transformation is already written deeply within our bodies. . . .

In terms of the spiritual journey, trying to find faith with the intellectual center is something like trying to play a violin with a saw: it’s simply the wrong tool for the job. This is one reason why all religious traditions have universally insisted that religious life cannot be done with the mind alone; that is the biggest single impediment to spiritual becoming.

References:

[1] “The moving center basically is about intelligence through movement. It’s the way that our body is able to put its tentacles out and explore and gain information from the world. It’s that whole realm of things that we don’t do directly with our intellectual rational brain but that deeply engage us. We drive a car, ski down a hill, sail a boat. It gets in our bodies. That kind of intelligence, which we mostly underuse, is a huge reservoir of connectivity and information with the world.”

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, Introductory Wisdom School Transcript (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), 17. Available through the CAC’s online course, Introductory Wisdom School.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003) 28–29, 30–31.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Kazuo Ota, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Unsplash. Nick Moore, Untitled (detail), 2018, photograph, Richmond, Unsplash. Jordan Whitt, Cataloochee river (detail), 2016, Cataloochee, photograph, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: There is knowledge in our muscles and bones. When our body encounters the world, a door into deeper understanding can be opened.

Story from Our Community:

The more I embody Spirit and trust my True Self, the more life guides me in the right direction. One of the most challenging — and rewarding — parts was forgiving the unconscious acts of violence that “I” and “us” have both endured and created. I am personally responsible for the world and I have the power to change this with compassion, forgiveness, and understanding. I finally feel a sense of belonging on all levels. We are part of this collective consciousness, and still have work to do.
—Nienke J.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Freedom from Our Passions

Blessed are the pure of heart; for they shall see God. —Matthew 5:8

Episcopal priest and CAC teacher emerita Cynthia Bourgeault writes of the difference between our modern understanding of emotions and the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers:

In the psychological climate of our own times, our emotions are almost always considered to be virtually identical with our personal authenticity, and the more freely they flow, the more we are seen to be honest and “in touch.” A person who gravitates to a mental mode of operation is criticized for being “in his head”; when feeling dominates, we proclaim with approval that such a person is “in his heart.”

In the Wisdom tradition, this would be a serious misuse of the term heart. Far from revealing the heart, Wisdom teaches that the emotions are in fact the primary culprits that obscure and confuse it. The real mark of personal authenticity is not how intensely we can express our feelings but how honestly we can look at where they’re coming from and spot the elements of clinging, manipulation, and personal agendas that make up so much of what we experience as our emotional life today. . . .

In the teachings of the Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers, these intense feelings arising out of personal issues were known as the “passions,” and most of the Desert spiritual training had to do with learning to spot these land mines and get free of them before they did serious psychic damage. In contrast to our contemporary usage, which tends to see passion as a good thing, indicating that one is fully alive and engaged, the Desert tradition saw passion as a diminishment of being. It meant falling into passivity, into a state of being acted upon (which is what the Latin passio actually means), rather than clear and conscious engagement. Instead of enlivening the heart, according to one Desert Father, the real damage inflicted by the passions is that “they divide our heart into two.” . . .

The heart, in the ancient sacred traditions, has a very specific and perhaps surprising meaning. It is not the seat of our personal affective life—or even, ultimately, of our personal identity—but an organ for the perception of divine purpose and beauty. . . .

Finding the way to where our true heart lies is the great journey of spiritual life. . . . [1]

Bourgeault describes contemplation and letting go as the pathway back to the heart’s wholeness:

The core practice for cleansing the heart, for restoring the heart to its organ of spiritual seeing, becomes supremely, in Christianity, the path of kenosis, of letting go. The seeing will come, and it’s a part we still have to work on in Christianity, but the real heart of emotion is the willingness to let go, to sacrifice . . . your personal drama, the letting go at that level, so that you can begin to see. [2]

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 32–34.

[2] An Introductory Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault: Course Transcript and Companion Guide (Wisdom Way of Knowing: 2017), 124. Now available through the online course Introductory Wisdom School (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2019).

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), 2022, New Mexico, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 6 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: As we learn the art of detachment, we see the simplicity and truth of each passing moment: anger, resentment, excitement, a tree, bark, marbles in the dirt.

Story from Our Community:

Most of my life has been filled with fear — fear of the unknown, of pain, and losing. At times fear subsided a bit, but with one emotional upset, I could be sent into a downward spiral of desperation and foreboding. In my search for some type of relief, I stumbled upon Centering Prayer. This started my road to freedom from fear. I went from a love of self and my “things” to a love for God and others— a love that surpasses my human understanding. Peace is not dependent on what is around me but firmly planted in stillness within.
—Gigi N.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

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Our theme this year is Nothing Stands Alone. What could happen if we embraced the idea of God as relationship—with ourselves, each other, and the world? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.