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Made for Infinite Love

Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross

Made for Infinite Love
Thursday, April 23, 2020

Jim Finley, my friend and fellow teacher at the CAC, began studying the mystics at the Abbey of Gethsemani at age eighteen, with Thomas Merton as his novice master. He remembers when he first read this excerpt from the Prologue to the Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross:

A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. Only those who suffer them will know what this experience is like, but they won’t be able to describe it. [1]

Jim describes the effect John’s writing had on him:

Now, I could tell in the first paragraph, I was in deep water, and I could also tell as I kept reading that just a lot of it was going right over my head. But in John’s poetry, and from the very first paragraph of his prose, I sensed that his words were coming from some very deep place inside of him, or really coming from some deep place and [going] through him, and then intimately accessing that deep place in me. There was a certain resonance in realizing he was talking about something that I didn’t understand; but I knew mattered very, very much. And, as I kept reading on in that way, it got clearer and clearer to me. I am now over 76 years old, and I am still reading John of the Cross. He is one of my teachers. . . .

John’s core intuition is that the Infinite Love that is the architect of our hearts has made our hearts in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with Infinite Love will do. It’s the setup in the beginning. For Infinite Love to create us in the image of itself is for Infinite Love to create us as a capacity to receive the forms of Infinite Love as our destiny. That love is our origin, love is our ground. That Infinite Love creates us as a capacity for love, for love’s sake alone. Love is the fabric of the true nature of everything that’s happening. This is the love nature of life.

[Richard again: Throughout these weeks, I have been praying, trying to understand how, as Jim puts it, “love is the fabric of the true nature of everything that’s happening.” How can it be that God’s love is at work and present in the tragedies around the globe right now? But knowing what harrowing circumstances John of the Cross was in when he came to experience the infinite love of God gives me hope and perseverance.]

References:
[1] John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Prologue, 1. See The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, 3rd ed. (ICS Publications: 1991), 114–115.

Adapted from Richard Rohr and James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), disc 1 (CD, MP3 download).

Image credit: A Vision of the Holy Trinity (detail), anonymous Brazilian painter, 17th century, Museu de Arte Sacra da Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: I like to say that Teresa and John were part of the “final supernova” of nondual, mystical consciousness in 16th century Spain, before it all but disappeared in Europe for five hundred years in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the invention of the printing press. Both Teresa and John wrote detailed accounts of their lives and experiences with God, which makes them very accessible teachers. —Richard Rohr

Summary: An Evolving Faith: Weekly Summary

Summary: An Evolving Faith

Summary: Sunday, December 29, 2019—Friday, January 3, 2020

God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever evolving, yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. (Sunday)

For me, a true comprehension of the full Christ Mystery is the key to the foundational reform of the Christian religion. Understanding the expansive reality of Christ will move us beyond any attempts to corral or capture God into our exclusive group. (Monday)

Simply put, any notion of a future church must be a fully practical church that is concerned about getting the job of love done—and done better and better. (Tuesday)

One of the most promising things that has come out of the emerging church has been folks looking back and reclaiming the best of their traditions, seeing that it is not an either/or but a both/and—God is doing something ancient and something new. —Shane Claiborne (Wednesday)

This new kind of Christianity can only emerge as a trans-denominational movement of contemplative spiritual activism. —Brian McLaren (Thursday)

The most important aspect of this [new] form of Christianity in the future is simple, obvious, and yet radical: it is about love, as Jesus taught and embodied. —Brian McLaren (Friday)

 

Practice: Love and Compassion

As we begin a new year, I am delighted to share this beautiful practice from my friend and fellow CAC faculty member James Finley, who invites us to awaken to our oneness with love and compassion.

Meditation allows us to see the world through the eyes of compassion. This compassionate vision of the world impels us to live in ways in which our words and behavior toward others embody compassion. Compassion forms the essential bond between seeking God in meditation and all forms of social justice. For the more we are transformed in compassion, the more we are impelled to act with compassion toward others. [1]

When you sit in meditation, your breathing naturally slows. Quietly focusing your attention on your breathing is a way of slowing down and settling into a deep meditative awareness of oneness with God. Breathing out, be quietly aware of breathing out. Breathing in, be quietly aware of breathing in. Each time you realize you have drifted off into thoughts, memories, sensations, and other ego-based modes of being, simply return to your breathing as your anchoring place in present-moment attentiveness.

Your efforts in following the path of breath awareness might be enhanced by repeating a word or phrase with each breath. A practice I have found particularly helpful is to pair breath awareness with the phrase “I love you.”

As you inhale, listen to the incoming breath so intently that you can hear in it God’s silent “I love you.” In this moment, God is flowing into you as the source and reality of your very being. As you exhale, breathe out a silent “I love you” back to God. As you inhale, be aware of the air as being God flowing into you, as the divine gift of your very being. As you exhale, allow your silent “I love you” to be your very being, flowing back into the depths of God.

Simply sit, open to God breathing divine love into the depths of your being, as you breathe your whole being, as a gift of love, back into God.

This one practice alone, engaged in with heartfelt sincerity and devotion, can awaken you to God’s total and complete oneness with you as the giver, the sustainer, and the reality of the sheer miracle of your very being. As this realization of God’s oneness with you grows, you will begin to realize how foolish it is to imagine that God is, in any way, distant from you. You discover how foolish it is to imagine that you could in any way, hide from God, who is wholly one with all that is within your mind and heart, your very being. [2]

References:
[1] Adapted from James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (HarperSanFrancisco: 2004), 286.

[2] Ibid., 30, 242-244.

For Further Study:
“The Future of Christianity,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019)

Image credit: Healing of a Bleeding Woman (detail), Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus was about love first and foremost, in word and deed. Jesus began with love for God, but inseparably linked that love with love for neighbor, with the understanding that neighbor includes the other, the outsider, the outcast, the last, the least, the lost, the disgraced, the dispossessed, and the enemy. Brian McLaren

The Gate of Heaven

Heaven Now

The Gate of Heaven
Thursday, May 2, 2019

James Finley, one of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s core faculty members, was a spiritual directee of Thomas Merton (19151968) at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Drawing from this experience and his own insights as a student of the mystics and a clinical psychologist, Finley helps us get a glimpse of heaven.

When Merton told me that “one thing for sure about heaven is that there is not going to be much of you there,” he was, I think, referring to the mystery that even now we are in God’s kingdom. And that even now we can begin to realize it if we but die to egocentric self-seeking and seek God’s will with a pure heart.

Because God is everywhere God is likewise no-where, meaning there is no “where” in which we can see God “out there.” Closer to us than we are to ourselves, God is too close to see. God is the heart of our heart, the hope of our hopes, the love of our love, the ground of our being.

Where must we go to see God? Nowhere! What can we do to have God? Nothing! All we can do, at least for a moment (an eternal moment) is to abandon all doing and be who we are in God and open ourselves to God’s life within us. It is then that we will at once see God and ourselves in a unity of divine love.

In fidelity to silent prayer there is unveiled the possibility of infinite growth in union with God. We can be so transformed through this unveiling that we existentially realize within us that “for me to live is Christ” [Philippians 1:21]. We realize obscurely in our being, that our simple, concrete acts are open to a transformation through which they are “not only Godlike, but they become God’s own acts.” [1]

There is nowhere to go. There is nothing to do. God is upon and within us. In the midst of our humble duties, our poor, weak selves, our simple being who we are, we can say with Jacob with overwhelming gratitude: “Truly this is the house of God and the gate of heaven and I knew it not” [see Genesis 28:16-17]. [2]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, What Are These Wounds? The Life of a Cistercian Mystic, Saint Lutgarde of Aywières (Bruce: 1950), 14.

[2] James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God Through Awareness of the True Self (Ave Maria Press:1978, 1983), 112-113. Learn more from James Finley at jamesfinley.org.

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr

Dying to Ego’s Delusions

Dying Before You Die

Dying to Ego’s Delusions
Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Dying to the false self before our physical death allows us to be reborn as our more authentic and soulful selves. Today James Finley, one of CAC’s core faculty members, reflects on how hard it is for our ego to surrender to the path of descent, to the transformative process:

In meditation, our customary, ego-based ways of experiencing ourselves yield and give way to more interior, meditative ways of being, ways that transcend all that ego can attain. While we may wish for transformation, realizing it to be the way we awaken to our eternal oneness with God, the process is at times immensely difficult.

It is amazing how a caterpillar spins about itself a hiding place from which it emerges and takes flight as a butterfly with delicate, iridescent wings. Similarly, Christ lived as a human being who freely entered into the hiding place of death to emerge, deathless, filled with light and life, utterly transformed. Our faith proclaims that in following Christ we experience the same thing: “Therefore if any person is in Christ, they are a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

We sit in meditation so that the last traces of our tendency to identify with egoic consciousness might finally dissolve as our habitual base of operations. We come face-to-face with how deeply entrenched our tendencies to remain identified with ego consciousness are. The truth is, our own ego-based sense of ourselves is afraid to open to unknown depths, transcending its circle of influence and control. We will go halfway, in a willingness to become a caterpillar with wings. This leaves our ego intact, an ego which has now attained spiritual gifts or mystical states of oneness with God. Surrendering ourselves to something as radical as a complete metamorphosis of consciousness itself is too great a risk. The possibility of realizing a life that is at once God’s and our own is beyond what we can comprehend.

When we sit in meditation, we take the little child of our ego self off to school, where we must learn to die to our illusions about being dualistically other than God. We must also die to any grandiose delusions that we are God. In meditation, we learn to wait with compassion and patience until we are ready to take our next faltering step into a deeper realization of oneness with God. This tender point of encounter is Christ, understood as God in our midst, listening, loving, and helping God’s children across the threshold into eternal oneness with God.

This, then, is one way of understanding how to deal with the ongoing loss of our old familiar ways of understanding ourselves. And this is how we can, with Christ-like compassion, be present to the self-metamorphosing process in which, little by little, breath by breath, love dissolves the illusions and fears born of our estrangement from the infinite love that is our very life.

Reference:
Adapted from James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (HarperSanFrancisco: 2004), 141-145.

Image credit: The Gulf Stream (detail), Winslow Homer, 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Those who follow life to where it resides in the heart live life fully. —Stephen Levine

Searching for Love

Love: Week 1

Searching for Love
Friday, November 2, 2018
All Souls’ Day

John of the Cross (1542-1591) is one of many Christian mystics who writes about being loved by God in an intimate way. My friend and fellow CAC faculty member James Finley reflects on John’s Dark Night of the Soul as a journey deeper into love:

John of the Cross says we get all tangled up in suffering, and we get all tangled up in searching for love. The root of suffering is the deprivation of love. Now in reality, there’s no such thing as the deprivation of love, because the infinite love of God invincibly pervades and gives itself endlessly to everyone and to all things everywhere. There is no such thing as a deprivation of love, but there is the deprivation of the capacity to experience the love that is never missing. Therefore, my spiritual practice is to look within for the places that are blocking my ability to experience the flow of an immense tenderness that is endlessly giving itself to me in all situations.

The Dark Night of the Soul as described by John of the Cross is actually a tender, merciful art form of love. It very mysteriously dislodges us from whatever is keeping us in the stuck places. Sometimes it is disarmingly joyful and sometimes it is disarmingly painful; but if we lean into it and move with its rhythm, love charts its own course and brings us to a deep understanding of God’s love.

Thomas Merton once said we spend most of our lives under water. Every so often our head clears the surface and we look around and get our bearings. Then blik, we go back under again. In the moments when we get our bearings, we realize, “Oh my God! Look how endlessly trustworthy life is! Look at the God-given, godly nature of simple things!”

John of the Cross says these touches of love go on and on until pretty soon there begins to grow in us a kind of homesickness or longing for a more daily abiding experience of the depths of love we have so fleetingly glimpsed.

What lovers would be content with chance passing encounters in the street? The more in love with each other they are, the more one with each other they want to be all the time. Likewise, there begins to grow in us a holy discontent for spending so many of our waking hours trapped on the outer circumference of the inner richness of the life that we are living. We long to stabilize ourselves in love throughout the rhythmic dance of life.

The more deeply we experience God’s love, the more elusive its consummation seems. There are flares of love, as we momentarily melt into God and God melts into us. Then, like glowing embers, we live in an underlying habitual state of love’s glow. And, in love’s glow, we come to an extraordinary realization: The absence of the Beloved is the Beloved, giving himself or herself to me as the experience of the Beloved.

Building on Finley’s insights, the Dark Night purifies us of our attachment to feelings of union and comfort. Christ lying in the tomb is still Christ—preparing for a resurrection that cannot even be imagined. Today, on All Souls’ Day, may we choose to live in union with all who are still in the dark tomb, faithfully waiting for a certain resurrection.

Reference:
James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Man praying on sidewalk with food, Sergio Omassi.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Every act of complete self-giving in the name of the fullness, even though you feel like you are isolated, ignored, unconnected, and meaningless, connects you immediately and becomes a sacrament of the manifestation of that dance of perichoresis [the circle dance of the Trinity], the fullness of love. —Cynthia Bourgeault

Freedom from Fear

Suffering: Week 2

Freedom from Fear
Thursday, October 25, 2018

Man suffers most through his fears of suffering. —Etty Hillesum [1]

Over the next couple days, James Finley shares insights on suffering drawn from Jesus’ example and teaching.

I would like to reflect on the role of Jesus as the one whose very presence is incarnational testimony of how to approach our life and the ways we suffer. In the Christian tradition, the cross is right at the center of this great mystery. Jesus is the archetypal master teacher, who reveals his teaching through the very concreteness of his life. What is it that allows Jesus to face all kinds of suffering, including his own, and how can we follow him?

We might start this way: In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus sweat blood because he was afraid (Luke 22:44). It is possible that he was infinitely more afraid than we could ever be. But the difference is: Jesus was not afraid of being afraid, because he knew it was just fear. So why are we so afraid of fear? We are afraid of fear because we believe that it has the power to name who we are, and it fills us with shame. We feel ashamed that we’re going around as a fearful person, and so we pretend that we’re not afraid. We try our best to find our own way out of feeling afraid, but this is our dilemma, our stuck place, that Jesus wants us to be liberated from. But we cannot do it on our own.

When we start on our path, our hope is that we will be liberated from fear in light of the mystery of Christ. Certainly, this includes doing our best to be as safe as we can be and to help others do the same. And when scary things are happening, it always includes doing our best to find our way to safer places and to help others do the same. But as for the fear that remains, Jesus invites us to discover that our fear is woven into God’s own life, whose life is mysteriously woven into all the scary things that can and do happen to us as human beings together on this earth. This is liberation from fear in the midst of a fearful situation.

As we long for and work toward this kind of liberation, it is important not to romanticize a person’s fear and painful experience by speaking in spiritual terms that can leave the person who is hurting feeling unseen and unmet. At a very basic level, any real response to suffering must always include letting the hurting person know sincerely, “I am so sorry you are having to go through this painful experience. What can I do that might possibly be helpful?”

Here we might also turn to our teacher Jesus who was not one who had risen above human frailty; to the contrary, he discovered directly through his presence that inexhaustible compassion and love flow through human frailty. Our practice is to become present to that infinite flow of compassion and love and bring it to bear in a tender-hearted and sincere manner in our very presence to the painful situation. We do this knowing that God is sustaining and guiding us all in unexplainable ways that are not dependent on how the painful situation might turn out.

References:
[1] Etty Hillesum, Diary entry (September 30, 1942). See An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 19411943 and Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 220.

Adapted from James Finley, Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere, disc 5 (Sounds True: 2004), CD.

Image Credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), by Pieter Lastman, 1621. Kunstpalast Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. —Richard Rohr

Invincible Preciousness

Suffering: Week 2

Invincible Preciousness
Wednesday, October 24, 2018

My colleague James Finley is someone who incarnates the truth that the suffering we carry is our solidarity with the one, universal longing of all humanity, and thus it can teach us great compassion and patience with both ourselves and others. Here he shares the intimate truth of his own suffering. I invite you to witness Jim’s experience (and perhaps your own trauma) with tenderness and love:

Mysticism doesn’t really come into its own and isn’t really incarnational unless it becomes integrated into the sometimes-painful realities of our daily lives. I think I relate so deeply to Christian mystic John of the Cross who wrote soulfully about a kind of dark night of faith because I was raised in a home with a lot of trauma—physical, sexual, and emotional abuse—and I was very fragmented by all of it. I graduated from high school, ran away from home, became a monk, and joined a monastery.

When I entered the monastery, I thought I had left the trauma behind me. I was in this silent cloister, with Thomas Merton for my spiritual director. I was walking around reading John of the Cross, and I felt like I had it made, really. And then I was sexually abused by one of the monks, my confessor. It completely shattered me. I never thought it was possible. I didn’t see it coming. I decompensated and became extremely dissociative. All the stuff that I lived with growing up came out as feelings of fear and confusion over which I seemed to have no control. There was no refuge for me. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened. I just left. I started a new life as a way to bury all the pain and move on.

Years later, I found myself in therapy and all hell broke loose. But with prayer and gentle pacing, I learned to see, feel, accept, and find my way through the long-term internalized effects of the trauma I had to endure in my childhood and adolescence. It was in this process that I came upon what I call the axial moment in which our most intimate experience of who we are turns, as on a hidden axis of love, down through the pain into a qualitatively richer, more vulnerable place. It is in the midst of this turning that we discover the qualitatively richer, more vulnerable place is actually the abyss-like, loving presence of God, welling up and giving itself in and as the intimate interiority of our healing journey. When we risk sharing what hurts the most in the presence of someone who will not invade us or abandon us, we unexpectedly come upon within ourselves what Jesus called the pearl of great price: the invincible preciousness of our self in our fragility.

In the act of admitting what we are so afraid to admit—especially if admitting means admitting it in our body, where we feel it in painful waves—in that scary moment of feeling and sharing what we thought would destroy us, we unexpectedly come upon within ourselves this invincible love that sustains us unexplainably in the midst of the painful situation we are in.

As we learn to trust in this paradoxical way God sustains us in our suffering, we are learning to sink the taproot of our heart in God, who protects us from nothing even as God so unexplainably sustains us in all things. As this transformative process continues, we find within and beyond ourselves resources of courage, patience, and tenderness to touch the hurting places with love, so they might dissolve in love until only love is left. This for me is a very deep, contemplative way to understand that Christ’s presence in the world is being bodied forth in and as the gift and miracle of our very presence in the world.

References:
Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download; and

Transforming Trauma: A Seven-Step Process for Spiritual Healing, with Caroline Myss (Sounds True: 2009), CD, MP3 download.

Image Credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), by Pieter Lastman, 1621. Kunstpalast Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. —Richard Rohr

Traumatization of Spirituality

Suffering: Week 2

Traumatization of Spirituality
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

James Finley, one of my fellow faculty members at the Center for Action and Contemplation, is a clinical psychologist. He speaks expertly—from a professional, personal, and mystical perspective—on suffering and healing. Here Jim explains how Spanish mystic John of the Cross (15421591) allowed trauma to transform him.

John of the Cross was invited by Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) to join her in reforming the Carmelite Order by returning to a renewed fidelity to prayer, simplicity, and poverty. The priests of the order did not take kindly to the suggestion that they needed reform and demanded that John stop his involvement. John said that he would not stop because he discerned in his heart that God was calling him to continue with this work. The priests responded in a very harsh manner, capturing him and putting him in a small dark prison cell with little protection from the elements. John was imprisoned for nine months. During that time, on a number of occasions, he would be taken out of his cell, stripped to the waist, and whipped.

John felt lost. It wasn’t just because of the severity of his imprisonment. This was the Church! The priests who were mistreating him were people he had emulated. John went through what we could call the traumatization of spirituality, which can be described as a kind of dark night of faith in which we lose experiential access to God’s sustaining presence in the midst of our struggles. [I, Richard, imagine many are going through a similar experience as we learn about the Catholic Church’s extensive cover-up of sexual abuse.]

Trauma is the experience of being powerless to establish a boundary between our self and that which is about to inflict, or is already inflicting, serious harm or even death. It is one of the most acute forms of suffering that a human being can know. It is the experience of imminent annihilation. And so, when your faith in God has been placed in the people who represent God’s presence in your life and those people betray you, you can feel that God has betrayed you. And it is in this dark night that we can learn from God how to find our way to a deeper experience and understanding of God’s sustaining presence, deeper than institutional structures and authority figures.

For John of the Cross, his suffering opened up onto something unexpected.  John discovered that although it was true that he could not find refuge from suffering when he was in his prison cell, he also discovered that the suffering he had to endure had no refuge from God’s love that could take the suffering away, but rather permeated the suffering through and through and through and through and through. Love protects us from nothing, even as it unexplainably sustains us in all things. Access to this love is not limited by our finite ideas of what it is or what it should be. Rather, this love overwhelms our abilities to comprehend it, as it so unexplainably sustains us and continues to draw us to itself in all that life might send our way.

This is why John of the Cross encourages us not to lose heart when we are passing through our own hardships, but rather to have faith in knowing and trusting that no matter what might be happening and no matter how painful it might be, God is sustaining us in ways we cannot and do not need to understand. John encourages us that in learning to be patiently transformed in this dark night we come to discover within ourselves, just when everything seems to be lost, that we are being unexplainably sustained by the presence of God that will never lose us. As this painful yet transformative process continues to play itself out in our lives, we can and will discover we are finding our way to the peace of God that surpasses understanding.

Reference:
Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image Credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), by Pieter Lastman, 1621. Kunstpalast Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. —Richard Rohr

Finding Peace in a Troubled World

Finding Peace in a Troubled World
A faculty reflection by James Finley

James Finley reflects on how the mystics can help us keep from growing cynical during disheartening times. Watch the video or read the transcript.

The Buddha

Taoism and Buddhism

The Buddha
Monday, August 20, 2018

My colleague and CAC core teacher James Finley, a student of Buddhism, briefly shares the story of the Buddha’s life to provide some context for Buddhist teachings.

The Buddha was born in India about the year 560 BCE and given the name Siddhartha. His father, the king, kept him sequestered on the palace grounds. Siddhartha grew up, married, and had a son. Around the time of his son’s birth, he finally went into town.

On his first visit, he saw an old person; on his second visit, he saw an ill person; and on his third visit, he saw a dead person. He asked his guide if these things happen to everyone. Told that they did, Siddhartha became disillusioned and disheartened. He said to himself, “How can I live in these conditions conducive to happiness knowing that so many of my fellow human beings do not live in these privileged conditions? How can I be happy knowing they are out there? And how can I myself be happy, knowing that all these possessions and all this wealth cannot protect me from illness, old age, and death?”

Siddhartha went into town for a fourth visit and he saw a sadhu (a wandering ascetic monk). The monk, although dressed in rags, radiated an inner peace not dependent upon conditions conducive to happiness. Siddhartha felt a call in his heart for a quest to come to the understanding of the liberation from suffering, and to come to true and abiding happiness, for himself and others. So, around age 29, he left the palace and his family to begin a six-year inner journey.

First, he joined a yoga community that practiced deep, meditative states. But Siddhartha came to see this as a rarified version of a life based upon conditioned states. So, he joined a wandering group of ascetics who practiced severe fasting. But he became so emaciated and weak that he was in danger of dying. He realized that since his goal was to discover freedom from suffering and to learn the nature of true happiness, things weren’t going well! So, he started to take food. The other ascetics were scandalized and left him.

Then Siddhartha, utterly alone, stopped and calmed himself and looked deeply into his situation. Stripped of all superficiality and adornment of the extremes of wealth and poverty, his situation is our situation. He reveals us to ourselves. He is the human being who has discovered the bankruptcy of the ego’s agenda to come to abiding happiness. He made a vow to sit there under a Bodhi tree until he resolved the human dilemma of suffering and the search for inner peace and fulfillment in the midst of life as it is. Through the night, he was tempted by the demon Mara, but he was unshaken in his resolve.

At first light, Siddhartha turned and looked at the day star with awakened eyes, as the Buddha—meaning “the one who is awake”—seeing life the way it really is, free from all projections, all distortions, all delusions, all belief systems. He saw, we might say, the boundary-less, trustworthy nature of what is. He sat in the bliss of his enlightenment for some days.

Finally, he realized that although many would not be ready to hear his teachings, some would. The Buddha’s first words to someone after his enlightenment were, “In this blind world, I beat the drum of deathlessness.”

 

Reference:
James Finley, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), CDDVDMP3 download.

Image Credit: Woman Sitting in Front of Monk
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Buddhism can help Christians to be mystical Christians . . . to realize and enter into the non-dualistic, or unitive, heart of Christian experience—a way to be one with the Father, to live Christ’s life, to be not just a container of the Spirit but an embodiment and expression of the Spirit, to live by and with and in the Spirit, to live and move and have our being in God. —Paul Knitter

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