×

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.

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.

 

Love Poured Out

For Cynthia Bourgeault, the heart of Jesus’ ministry is summed up in the way he radically surrenders himself for the sake of love:  

[Jesus’] idea of “dying to self” was not through inner renunciation and guarding the purity of his being, but through radically squandering everything he had and was. In life he horrified the prim and proper by dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, by telling parables about extravagant generosity, by giving his approval to acts of costly and apparently pointless sacrifice such as the woman who broke open the alabaster jar to anoint him with precious oil; by teaching always and everywhere, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth.” John’s disciples disapproved of him for drinking and banqueting; the Pharisees disapproved of him for healing on the sabbath. But he went his way, giving himself fully into life and death, losing himself, squandering himself, “gambling away every gift God bestows.” It is . . . love utterly poured out, “consum’d with that which it was noursh’d by,” in the words of Shakespeare’s sonnet—that opens the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven. This is what Jesus taught and this is what he walked.  

And he left us a method for practicing this path ourselves, the method he himself modeled to perfection in the garden of Gethsemane. When surrounded by fear, contradiction, betrayal; when the “fight or flight” alarm bells are going off in your head and everything inside you wants to brace and defend itself, the infallible way to extricate yourself and reclaim your home in that sheltering kingdom is simply to freely release whatever you are holding onto—including, if it comes to this, life itself. The method of full, voluntary self-donation reconnects you instantly to the wellspring; in fact, it is the wellspring. The most daring gamble of Jesus’ trajectory of pure love may just be to show us that self-emptying is not the means to something else; the act is itself the full expression of its meaning and instantly brings into being “a new creation”: the integral wholeness of Love manifested in the particularity of a human heart. [1]

Howard Thurman (1900–1981) likewise understood the heart of Christian spirituality as surrender to God, which paradoxically opens our lives up to a greater freedom that we could not otherwise have imagined:  

I surrender myself to God without any conditions or reservations. I shall not bargain with [God]. I shall not make my surrender piecemeal but I shall lay bare the very center of me, that all of my very being shall be charged with the creative energy of God. Little by little, or vast area by vast area, my life must be transmuted in the life of God. As this happens, I come into the meaning of true freedom and the burdens that I seemed unable to bear are floated in the current of the life and love of God.

The central element in communion with God is the act of self-surrender. [2]

References:  
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening (Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 2004), 86–87. 

[2] Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (New York: Harper and Row, 1953), 175. 

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Leaves (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Christ Figure from the Office of Richard Rohr (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Web (detail), 2021, photograph, Washington, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

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: Fallen leaves in water surrender to the cycles of seasons. A spider’s web catches and kills a passing fly. Can we surrender to these moments too? Death is an invitation to slip beyond the web of knowing. What might we find if we allowed the cycle of death and resurrection in our own lives?

Story from Our Community:

Yesterday, I read the devotion on God as a Mother Hen just before I had an emergency breast biopsy following a mammogram with suspicious results. The women in the room that morning were God incarnate, holding my heart steady with their gaze and comforting me as they led me through each awkward and painful step. I wept quietly, knowing God spoke to me directly that morning through that Mother Hen analogy that was moments later brought to life by my compassionate nurses.
—Andrea G.

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 Metaphysics of Hope

For as the heavens reach beyond earth and time,
we swim in mercy as in an endless sea. —Psalm 103:11

Cynthia Bourgeault explores the idea that mystical hope is something that arises from within us, not as a result of our own effort, but as a fruit of our ability to consciously abide in what she calls “the Mercy” of God. Bourgeault writes:

We ourselves are not the source of that [mystical] hope; we do not manufacture it. But the source dwells deep within us and flows to us with an unstinting abundance, so much so that in fact it might be more accurate to say we dwell within it. . . .

The term I will use to describe this embodying fullness is “the Mercy.” It is the water in which we swim. Mercy is the length and breadth and height and depth of what we know of God—and the light by which we know it. You might even think of it as the Being of God insofar as we can possibly penetrate into it in this life, so that it is impossible to encounter God apart from the dimension of mercy. . . .

The mercy of God . . . is unconditional—always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being. . . . Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love. . . .

Mystical hope would simply be what happens when we touch this innermost ground [within our own selves] and it floods forth into our being as strength and joy. Hope would be the Mercy—divine love itself—coursing through our being like lightning finding a clear path to the ground. . . .

In this new positioning, the underlying sense of corporateness [oneness] is physically real, for that “electromagnetic field of love” is the Mercy—and the Mercy is the body of Christ. Through this body hope circulates as a lifeblood. It warms, it fills, it connects, it directs. It is the heart of our own life and the heart of all that lives.

Hope’s home is at the innermost point in us, and in all things. It is a quality of aliveness. It does not come at the end, as the feeling that results from a happy outcome. Rather, it lies at the beginning, as a pulse of truth that sends us forth. When our innermost being is attuned to this pulse it will send us forth in hope, regardless of the physical circumstances of our lives. 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 is entered always and only through surrender; that is, through the willingness to let go of everything we are presently clinging to. And yet when we enter it, it enters us and fills us with its own life—a quiet strength beyond anything we have ever known.

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cowley Publications: 2001), 20–21, 25, 34, 86–87.

Story from Our Community:
I grew up never hearing about a God of love, only a God who had his (and God could only be a male) thumb ready to pounce on the merest of transgressions. I grew up with a very real fear of God. When a friend introduced me to Fr. Richard’s daily offerings, my worldview and perception of God opened up even more and does so continually. Many, many thanks for your gifts of hope and love and possibilities I never dreamed of. —Diane M.

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

Simple Trust in God’s Presence

Living Inside God’s Great Story

Simple Trust in God’s Presence
Friday, September 3, 2021

Living School emeritus teacher Cynthia Bourgeault shares how her early exposure to a simple form of quiet prayer impacted her spiritual journey.

“Prayer is talking to God”: with these words nearly all of us receive our first religious instruction. Certainly I did. As a child, I learned the usual first prayers and graces (“Now I lay me down to sleep” and “God is great, God is good. . .”), followed, a bit later, by the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-Third Psalm. I was also encouraged to speak to God in my own words and instructed that the appropriate topics for this conversation were to give thanks for the blessings of the day and to ask for assistance with particular needs and concerns.

But for all this, 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, like the child Samuel in my favorite Old Testament story [1 Samuel 3:3–10], but just being there, quietly gathered in God’s presence. This learning came not from my formal Sunday School training, but through the good fortune of spending my first six school years in a Quaker school, where weekly silent “meeting for worship” was as an invariable part of the rhythm of life as schoolwork or recess. I can still remember trooping together, class by class, into the cavernous two-story meetinghouse and taking our places on the long, narrow benches once occupied by elders of yore. Occasionally, there would be a scriptural verse or thought offered, but for long stretches there was simply silence. And in that silence, as I gazed up at the sunlight sparkling through those high upper windows, or followed a secret tug drawing me down into my own heart, I began to know a prayer much deeper than “talking to God.” Somewhere in those depths of silence I came upon my first experiences of God as a loving presence that was always near, and prayer as a simple trust in that presence.

Almost four decades later, when I was introduced to Centering Prayer through the work of Father Thomas Keating, it did not take me long to recognize where I was. In a deep way I’d come home again to that place I first knew as a child in Quaker meeting.

What I know now, of course, is that the type of prayer I was being exposed to during those meetings for worship was contemplative prayer. In Christian spiritual literature, this term all too often has the aura of being an advanced and somewhat rarified form of prayer, mostly practiced by monks and mystics. But in essence, contemplative prayer is simply a wordless, trusting opening of self to the divine presence. Far from being advanced, it is about the simplest form of prayer there is. Children recognize it instantly—as I did—perhaps because, as the sixteenth-century mystic John of the Cross intimates, “Silence is God’s first language.”

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening (Cowley Publications: 2004), 4‒5.

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.

Good and Bad Power: Weekly Summary

Good and Bad Power

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Week Thirty-Two Summary and Practice

Sunday, August 8—Friday, August 13, 2021

Sunday
Once we come into contact with the Holy Spirit, our Inner Source, we become living icons of true, humble, and confident power.

Monday
When we haven’t experienced or don’t trust our God-given “power within,” we are either afraid of power or we exert too much of it over others. Enduring structures of “power-over,” like patriarchy, white supremacy, and rigid capitalism, have limited most individuals’ power for so long that it is difficult to imagine another way.

Tuesday
The theme that I believe is basic to many of our political ills is domination. . . . Domination is a relation that does not work the same in both directions. One commands, the other obeys. One shows respect, the other accepts it but does not return it. One gains privileges from which the other is excluded. —Beatrice Bruteau

Wednesday
God does not play favorites. God loves all equally. Children of God are supremely safe in this love (but not protected in the world), and children of God are themselves capable of this kind of loving. —Beatrice Bruteau

Thursday
When you take something you possess—your bread and power, your abilities and identities, your comfort and control, your treasured structures and even life itself—and release your attachment to it and make it useful to God’s movement, you are practicing kenosis. —Stephanie Spellers

Friday
What if we actually surrendered to the inner Trinitarian flow and let it be our primary teacher? Our notion of society, politics, and authority—which is still top-down and outside-in—would utterly change.

 

Learning to Let Go

Centering Prayer is a devotional practice, placing ourselves in God’s presence and quieting our minds and hearts, but as Cynthia Bourgeault explains, it doesn’t only work on that level. What the desert abbas and ammas, the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, and even Thomas Keating could not have known when he formally started teaching the practice five decades ago, was that it works on a physiological level as well, strengthening neural pathways, and making “letting go” that much easier. When it comes to releasing our strong preferences, especially our desire for power and control, it seems safe to say that some practice of kenosis is necessary for any movement forward.

The theological basis for Centering Prayer lies in the principle of kenosis, Jesus’s self-emptying love that forms the core of his own self-understanding and life practice. . . .

The gospels themselves make clear that [Jesus] is specifically inviting us to this journey and modeling how to do it. Once you see this, it’s the touchstone throughout all his teaching: Let go! Don’t cling! Don’t hoard! Don’t assert your importance! Don’t fret. “Do not be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” (Luke 12:32). And it’s this same core gesture we practice in Centering Prayer: thought by thought by thought. You could really summarize Centering Prayer as kenosis in meditation form. . . .

Fascinating confirmation that kenosis is indeed an evolutionary human pathway is emerging from—of all places—recent discoveries in neuroscience. From fMRI data collected primarily by the California-based HeartMath Institute, you can now verify chapter and verse that how you respond to a stimulus in the outer world determines which neural pathways will be activated in your brain, and between your brain and your heart. If you respond with any form of initial negativity (which translates physiologically as constriction)—freezing, bracing, clinging, clenching, and so on—the pathway illumined leads to your amygdala (or “reptilian brain,” as it’s familiarly known) . . . which controls a repertory of highly energized fight-or-flight responses. If you can relax into a stimulus—opening, softening, yielding, releasing—the neural pathway leads through the more evolutionarily advanced parts of your forebrain and, surprisingly, brings brain and heart rhythms into entrainment. . . .

Every time we manage to let go of a thought in Centering Prayer, “consenting to the presence and action of God within,” the gesture is actually physically embodied. It’s not just an attitude; something actually “drops and releases” in the solar plexus region of your body, a subtle but distinct form of interior relaxation. . . . And in time, this gentle and persistent “inner aerobics,” undertaken under the specific banner of Centering Prayer and in solidarity with Jesus’s own kenotic path, will gradually establish that “mind of Christ” within you as your own authentic self.

We invite you to spend some time today practicing “letting go” through Centering Prayer or another practice of kenosis.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Shambhala: 2016), 33, 34, 35–36.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.

Finding Presence

Doorways to Christian Contemplation

Finding Presence
Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Chanting is one of the most traditional methods of contemplation. While some traditions repeat a single word or sound, Benedictine and Gregorian chant within the Christian tradition draw their inspiration from the Psalms. Cynthia Bourgeault describes how chant works as a contemplative method. She is one of the best teachers in this regard:

Chanting is at the heart of all sacred traditions worldwide, and for very good reason: it is fundamentally a deep-immersion experience in the creative power of the universe itself. Because to make music, you must engage those three core elements out of which the earth was fashioned and through which all spiritual transformation happens.

The first element, of course, is breath. Many of the great world religions picture the earth as being created and sustained by the steady, rhythmic “breathing” of God. Virtually every tradition starts you off on a spiritual practice by bringing attention to your breath and teaching you to breathe fully and consciously. [Benedictine monk] Father Theophane . . . liked to remind his retreatants, “Every breath you take is the breath of God.”

The second element is tone, or vibration, the sound you make when you add voice to that breath. Again, many of the world’s sacred traditions tell us that creation came into existence through the power of vibration. . . . [including] the ancient Christian insight, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1)—for what else is “word” but vibration combined with intentionality? Mythologically, the world was “spoken” into existence. And when we add our tone, we join this speaking.

The third element, which I just mentioned above, is intentionality. . . . When you chant, the quality of your intention and attention is what makes the difference between boredom and beauty. As you give yourself to the words you are chanting, their spiritual power comes alive in you. . . .

Not even melodies and choir books are required. In traditional Sufi prayer, for example, a single word is chanted over and over—one of ninety-nine names (spiritual attributes) of God: “mercy,” “truth,” “life,” “peace,” and so forth. With nothing but a single word, sometimes an accompanying drumbeat, and the conscious attention of the participants, a chant of enormous power and beauty rises in remembrance of God.

Perhaps no community has done more to reclaim the sacred Christian practice of chanting than Taizé, the small ecumenical community in France founded in the late 1940s. They remind us that “through [the songs], little by little, our being finds an inner unity in God. They can continue in the silence of our hearts when we are at work, speaking with others or resting. In this way prayer and daily life are united. They allow us to keep on praying even when we are unaware of it, in the silence of our hearts.” [1]

References:
[1] “Meditative Singing,” article from Taizé website.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 161–162, 169.

Story from Our Community:
Three years ago I finished 7 months of chemotherapy; the treatment was very powerful and I had to stay home from my job. Though I often felt physically miserable, the time alone was peaceful and rich. I watched the sun sweep across my room, listened to the Canada geese fly overhead, lost myself in a book, and listened to the breathing of my three dogs sleeping near me. I am not a formal churchgoer and don’t attach to one belief. But this experience and others I have had are not different from those of the religious I admire. The path is wide. —Laura C.

Image credit: Oliver, Magnolia (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The quick blooming colors of the saucer magnolia invite us to move beyond the pressures of time. Whether we are surrounded by the constant motion of the city, or in the midst of a bare branch season, we still have the choice to pause and be here, in this moment, with these blooms.

The Wisdom of the Passion

Scapegoating and the Cross

The Wisdom of the Passion
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Holy Thursday

CAC teacher Cynthia Bourgeault invites us to consider the meaning of the passion from a wisdom perspective, not as a spectator watching what Jesus did, but understanding what each of us is called to do:

The passion is really the mystery of all mysteries, the heart of the Christian faith experience. By the word “passion” here we mean the events which end Jesus’s earthly life: his betrayal, trial, execution on a cross, and death. . . .

The spectacle of an innocent and good man destroyed by the powers of this world is an archetypal human experience. It elicits our deepest feelings of remorse and empathy (and if we’re honest, our own deepest shadows as well). . . . It’s been used to stir anger and scapegoating. It’s been used to fuel anti-Semitism, to induce personal guilt—“Christ died for your sins”—and to arouse devotion in a sentimental and even fanatical way.

From a wisdom point of view, what can we say about the passion? . . .  The key lies in . . .  reading Jesus’s life as a sacrament: a sacred mystery whose real purpose is not to arouse empathy but to create empowerment. In other words, Jesus is not particularly interested in increasing either your guilt or your devotion, but rather, in deepening your personal capacity to make the passage into unitive life. If you’re willing to work with that wager, the passion begins to make sense in a whole new way. . . .

The path [Jesus] did walk is precisely the one that would most fully unleash the transformative power of his teaching. It both modeled and consecrated the eye of the needle that each one of us must personally pass through in order to accomplish the “one thing necessary” here, according to his teaching: to die to self. I am not talking about literal crucifixion, of course, but I am talking about the literal laying down of our “life,” at least as we usually recognize it. Our only truly essential human task here, Jesus teaches, is to grow beyond the survival instincts of the animal brain and egoic operating system into the kenotic joy and generosity of full human personhood. . . .

What is the meaning of the passion? First of all, God wasn’t angry. Again: God wasn’t angry! Particularly in fundamentalist theology, you’ll often hear it said that God got so fed up with the sins and transgressions of Israel that he demanded a human sacrifice in atonement. But of course, this interpretation would turn God into a monster. How can Jesus, who is love, radiate and reflect a God who is primarily a monster? And how can Christians theoretically progressing on a path of love consent to live under such a reign of terror? No, we need to bury once and for all those fear-and-punishment scenarios that got programmed into so many of us during our childhood. There is no monster out there; only love waiting to set us free.

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 104, 105–106, 107. Emphasis in original.

Story from Our Community:
When I read these daily meditations God speaks directly to my heart in a language beyond words. After the sudden and unexpected death of my husband, little provides comfort like these meditations, which we enjoyed together before he died. It is right to ask, what will I do with this pain? It really does seem so much easier to deny it, blame others, or run. But I am aware now, so I can choose to give it to God. On a deeply spiritual level, I can feel Fr. Richard’s words coming from my husband as well—“death is not final and it takes the form of love.” — Melissa S.

Image credit: Dorothea Lange, Village dwelling. Escalante, Utah (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Closed and shuttered, this house offers no welcome to a passerby. The sharp shadows of an unseen tree evoke the shadow of our often unacknowledged biases about who is “in” and who is “out.”

The Benedictine Wisdom of “Ora et Labora”

Wisdom

The Benedictine Wisdom of “Ora et Labora”
Tuesday, February 23, 2021

If Jesus was a wisdom master who sought to transform the consciousness of his disciples through a way of life, the desert communities that sprung up in the fourth century may have been an attempt to carry on that traditional way of teaching. Cynthia Bourgeault, an accomplished wisdom teacher in her own right, traces the movement of Wisdom from the desert to the monasteries and into the present moment, honoring it as one of the foundations of her own wisdom schools:

One of the streams of Wisdom comes from very, very deep in the Christian tradition—the Wisdom of Benedictine Monasticism. Saint Benedict, in the fifth century, drew from an already well-established stream of transformational Wisdom that came out of the deserts of Egypt and Syria via a first generation of people who really wanted to practice what it means to put on the mind of Christ. Saint Benedict became heir to this and shaped it into a massive, stable container, which has been the foundation of Christian monasticism and monastic transformational practice in the West for 1,500 years. Its brilliant and stable legacy of “Ora et Labora”: “Prayer and Work,” offers a fundamental rhythm for the balancing and ordering of human life, and for the growing of that beautiful rose of Wisdom.

Joan Chittister, a vowed religious sister of the Order of Saint Benedict, explains how the Rule of Benedict provides an opportunity for transformation for everyone who chooses to follow its wisdom:

All in all, the Rule of Benedict is designed for ordinary people who live ordinary lives. It was not written for priests or mystics or hermits or ascetics; it was written by a layman for laymen. It was written to provide a model of spiritual development for the average person who intends to live life beyond the superficial or the uncaring. [1] . . .

Benedict was quite precise about it all. Time was to be spent in prayer, in sacred reading, in work, and in community participation. In other words, it was to be spent on listening to the Word, on study, on making life better for others, and on community building. It was public as well as private; it was private as well as public. It was balanced. No one thing consumed the monastic’s life. No one thing got exaggerated out of all proportion to the other dimensions of life. No one thing absorbed the human spirit to the exclusion of every other. Life was made up of many facets and only together did they form a whole. Physical labor and mental prayer and social life and study and community concerns were all pieces of the puzzle of life. Life flowed through time, with time as its guardian. [2]

References:
[1] Joan D. Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today (HarperSanFrancisco: 1991), 4.

[2] Chittister, 74­–75.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, An Introductory Wisdom School: Course Transcript and Companion Guide (Wisdom Way of Knowing: 2017), 4. Learn about and register for Cynthia’s online Introductory Wisdom School.

Story from Our Community:
My transformation story has sudden, short bursts of enlightenment and long, slow, gentle awakenings. During my journey I have discovered Thomas Keating, Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault. I am eternally grateful to these spiritual giants who continue to guide and inspire me. —Jude M.

Image credit: Mark Kauffman, Howard Thurman (detail), photograph, copyright gettyimages.com, used with permission.
Image inspiration: Pictured here are the hands of the Howard Thurman, revered theologian and inspiration for civil rights in the 20th century. We see a profound gentleness in the way Thurman holds his glasses; the same timeless and human gentleness that permeates his writings and teachings. 

Unveiling Christianity

A Time of Unveiling

Unveiling Christianity
Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Another way to look at “unveiling” is as a sort of “recognition event,” where something we thought we knew reveals itself to be radically different than our long-held assumptions. Our friend and CAC teacher Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault explores how this is a gospel phenomenon, one that takes place repeatedly, especially for Jesus. When people are attuned and awake, reality is often “unveiled” for them. Cynthia suggests that this might be a necessary step for all Christians in the twenty-first century. We’ve become so used to the “story” of our faith that a veil has been pulled over our eyes and we no longer experience its power to change our lives. She writes:

Perhaps the most deadening aspect of our Christianity . . . is that we live it with twenty-twenty hindsight. We know the story. We know how the plot comes out. We know who the winners are. . . . The Bible contains the complete and divinely authorized biography of Jesus and furnishes the complete guide to what [we] should do to become his disciple. Everything needed for [our] personal salvation is right there. . . .

We’re living in an era right now which some would call a major paradigm shift, where there’s an opportunity as perhaps there hasn’t been before to really open up the core questions again and ask, “What is it that we mean by ‘Christianity’? What is this filter [or veil] that we’re looking through? Who is this Master that we profess and confess in our life as we call ourselves Christian?” . . .

When we approach the [Jesus] story with the attitude, “I’ve heard that already, I know what that means,” we fall asleep rather than allowing ourselves to be shocked awake. . . . For all such spiritual sleepwalking bypasses that crucial first step, that moment when the heart has to find its way not though external conditioning but through a raw immediacy of presence. Only there—in “the cave of the heart,” as the mystics are fond of calling it—does a person come in contact with his or her own direct knowingness. And only out of this direct knowingness is sovereignty born, one’s own inner authority.

Richard here: This is what Jesus offers people through his ministry—an experience of inner authority, powerful enough to heal them and set them free from whatever was keeping them trapped. Often it seems as if Jesus is simply “parting the veil” between them and God. Cynthia offers this quote from Father Bruno Barnhart:

As we accompany Jesus through the gospels, we are present at one dramatic meeting after another. One person after another experiences a mysterious power in Jesus that, from this moment, changes the course of his or her life. If we are fully present at the moment when we read such a narrative, we ourselves experience the liberating power of this awakening. [1]

References:
[1] Bruno BarnhartSecond Simplicity: The Inner Shape of Christianity (Paulist Press: 1999), 48. Bourgeault, 8–9.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 2, 3–4, 7.

Story from Our Community:
Recently my 47-year-old son died by suicide. The true cause of death was mental illness, substance abuse and the inability to feel worth in simply existing. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations have been part of my morning routine for a few years, as I struggle to rebuild a bridge to belief. Now, these daily messages are my lifeline. If not to faith, then to hope and, most especially, to love. I can’t say that I understand how suffering provides the pathway to being one with all things in love, but they help me to stop trying to understand and start laying the paver stones. I am grateful. —Mary S.

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.

Giving Away Every Gift

Self-Emptying

Giving Away Every Gift
Monday, December 14, 2020

A focus on self-emptying or “letting go” might seem like a call to self-denial or “making do with less,” but as Cynthia Bourgeault points out in her description of Jesus’ teaching, it can also lead to radical generosity and abundance. When we cling to less—of our possessions and even our lives—we are free to give it away for the sake of others.

[Jesus] certainly called us to dying to self, but his idea of dying to self was not through inner renunciation or guarding the purity of his being but through radically squandering everything he had and was. John the Baptist’s disciples were horrified because he banqueted, drank, and danced. The Pharisees were horrified because he healed on the Sabbath and kept company with women and disreputables, people known to be impure. . . .

What seemed disconcerting to nearly everybody was the messy, freewheeling largeness of his spirit. Abundance and a generosity bordering on extravagant seemed to be the signatures of both his teaching and his personal style. . . . When he feeds the multitudes at the Sea of Galilee, there is not merely enough to go around; the leftovers fill twelve baskets [John 6:13]. When a woman anoints him with expensive ointment and the disciples grumble about the waste, he affirms, “Truly, I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Matthew 26:13). He seems not to count the cost; in fact, he specifically forbids counting the cost. “Do not store up treasures on earth,” he teaches; do not strive or be afraid— “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). All will come of its own accord in good time and with abundant fullness, so long as one does not attempt to hoard or cling.

It is a path he himself walked to the very end. In the garden of Gethsemane, with his betrayers and accusers massing at the gates, he struggled and anguished but remained true to his course. Do not hoard, do not cling—not even to life itself. Let it go, let it be— “Not my will but yours be done, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my spirit.” [1]

Richard again: Jesus came into the world and gave himself fully into a poor life and a humiliating death. As Cynthia writes, he was “squandering himself” [2], which is really what the entire Trinity does: each self-emptying into the other! He revealed the poverty of God, who gives everything away. Yet most of us would probably not think of God as poor at all.

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambala: 2008), 69–70.

[2] Ibid., 70.

Image credit: Ajanta Caves (detail mural of the Buddha), Aurangabad, Maharashtra State, India.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we meditate consistently, a sense of our autonomy and private self-importance—what we think of as our “self”—falls away. Little by little, it becomes unnecessary, unimportant, and even unhelpful. The imperial “I,” the self that we likely think of as our only self, reveals itself as largely a creation of our mind. —Richard Rohr
Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.


Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
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.