Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Author at Center for Action and Contemplation
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The Three Domes

The Cosmic Egg

The Three Domes
Sunday, January 24, 2021

Just as the body needs food, so the soul needs meaning, and the spirit needs ultimate meaning. Often that meaning is communicated through story. The function of all mythologies, religion, and even family lore is to help us situate ourselves inside of a safe and meaningful universe. This week’s meditations focus on a “Cosmic Egg of Meaning” inside of which people can find their rest and happiness. The image I’ve used in numerous books, and first learned from Joseph Chilton Pearce (1926‒2016), to describe this “Cosmic Egg” is that of three overlapping domes.

The Cosmic Egg image showing The Story on most external, Our Story in the middle, and My Story on the inner most area.

The smallest dome of meaning is my private world of interests. We can call it “My Story,” where we proudly proclaim, “This is me!” No people in history, up until the last forty years or so (particularly in the United States), have had the language or the freedom for this level of personal meaning. My Story is full of subjective, interpersonal, psychological, and self-help language. It’s the vernacular of talk shows, blogs, and social media. I’m not criticizing it; in fact, it has its origins in Christian history with Augustine’s sophisticated Confessions (4th century). This language does answer a lot of questions, so it’s understandable that we revel in it. It is very good, as far as it goes. The trouble is that it is so rich it can become a substitute for true transcendence. My Story is not yet totally The Story.

There is a second and larger dome of meaning that encloses the first. I call this “Our Story,” where we declare, “This is us!” This is where most people in all of human history have lived their lives: identifying completely with their ethnicity, their gender, their group, their religion, and their occupations. The biblical tradition honors both of these domes of meaning and takes each of them seriously. Though it doesn’t name them as such, My Story and Our Story are both part of the narrative. The life of the individual and the life of the nation of Israel are both arenas for God’s action, but religious traditions affirm that they are connected to something Infinite, too.

The third dome of meaning that encloses the two smaller ones is “The Story.” By this, we are referring to the patterns that are always true—beyond anecdote and my cultural history. The biblical tradition takes all three levels seriously: My Story, Our Story, and The Story. Biblical revelation says that the only way we can move to The Story and understand it with any depth is to walk through and take responsibility for both our personal story and our group story. Anything less we now call “spiritual bypassing.” This is quite common among many fundamentalist groups—jumping to spiritual answers or theology without any honest self-knowledge or knowledge of history. We’ve got to listen to our own experience, to our own failures, to our own sin, to our own gifts and calls. Plus, we have to recognize that we’re a part of history, a part of a culture, a religious group, a nationality, a gender, for good and for bad. When all three domes of meaning are deemed worthy of love and attention, we probably have a rather mature spiritual person.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 22, 24.

Story from Our Community:
One morning I prayed and received the words “be a gift to the Church and to the world.” I realized that, like St. Therese of Lisieux, I can do little things with great love. I made “being a gift” my life mission. Most of the things I do take minutes and occur during the daily rhythm of life. I have come to view myself as a conduit of God’s love. Every morning, I look forward to giving gifts to those around me. If even a small portion of the adults in the US can be transformed the way I have been and start being a gift to those around us, we will change the world through love and God’s grace. —John P.

Image credit: Branches and Leaves (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Image inspiration: A tree with its leaves can only tell the cyclical story of life alongside a tree that is dying. Life and death in creation weave harmonies to share the rich this-ness of The Story.

Liberation: Weekly Summary

Liberation

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Week Three Summary and Practice

Sunday, January 17–Friday, January 22, 2021

Sunday
The story of Israel symbolically describes the experience of our own liberation by God, which is both an outer freedom and an inner freedom.

Monday
Liberation requires individuals willing to stand when no one else will, to sit when others are threatening you with harm, to embrace an outsider in full view of an insider, to proclaim the wisdom of the ages. —Barbara Holmes

Tuesday
In contemplative prayer, we are liberated from thinking of ourselves as somehow separate from everyone and everything else, including God.

Wednesday
We all believe that freedom is a divine gift to be preserved at all costs. Let us liberate, in the highest and most profound sense of the word, all the human beings who live round about us. —Dom Hélder Câmara

Thursday
Black people can fight for freedom and justice, because the One who is their future is also the ground of their struggle for liberation. —James Cone

Friday
To use “God’s senses” does not mean simply turning inward but becoming free for a different way of living life: See what God sees! Hear what God hears! Laugh where God laughs! Cry where God cries! —Dorothee Sölle

 

O God of Love, Power and Justice

CAC faculty member Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes calls the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose life we honor this week, “a great contemplative, one who used the spiritual essence of nonviolence as a tool for liberating the social order and the spiritual authority of a denigrated people.” [1] We share with you this prayer of gratitude for King’s life and work, which is also of petition—that we might continue God’s work of liberation for all.

O God of Love, Power and Justice, who wills the freedom and fulfillment of all your children. We thank you for the constancy of your loving kindness and tender mercies toward us. Especially on this day as we celebrate the birthday and life of your servant and prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are reminded that in every age you raise up seers and sayers and doers of justice. We marvel at the way by which you shaped a young black boy from Georgia into a towering figure of his time—to awaken the conscience of the nations, to rekindle a passion for freedom, equality, and peace; to redirect the traffic of human affairs from the back alley of bigotry toward the grand concourse of courage and compassion.

We stand in awe at the marvelous networking by which you built a movement around a man of vision. It included blacks and whites, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, conservatives and progressives, rich and poor, business and labor. This “coalition of conscience” dedicated itself to the proposition that the American dream of freedom and equality could be made real through courageous action in a spirit of love, in pursuit of human dignity for all. This dignity includes all who suffer from homelessness, joblessness, purposelessness, carelessness, hopelessness.

Because our needs are so great today, and your care so constant, we know that you are rebuilding the network of compassion around new visionaries who you have assembled for this hour. Surprise us with the discovery of how much power we have to make a difference in our day:

—A difference in the way citizens meet, greet, respect, and protect the rights of each other.

—A difference in the breadth of our vision of what is possible in humanization, reconciliation, and equalization of results in our great city.

—A difference in the way government, business, and labor can work together, for justice and social enrichment.

—A difference in our response to the needy, and a difference in our appreciation for those who give of themselves for the surviving and thriving of our beautiful people.

Use this season of celebration to spark new hope and stir up our passion for new possibilities. Make compassion and the spirit of sacrifice to be the new mark of affluence of character. Strengthen us to face reality and to withstand the rigor of tough times in the anticipation of a bright side beyond the struggle. Inspire, empower, and sustain us until we reach the mountaintop, and see that future for which our hearts yearn.

This is our fervent and sincere prayer. Amen. [2]

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:
[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 129.

[2] James Alexander Forbes, Jr., “O God of Love, Power and Justice,” Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans, ed. James Melvin Washington(HarperPerennial: 1994), 260‒261.

To learn more about Thomas Merton’s photography see: Pearson, Paul M, ed., Beholding Paradise: The Photographs of Thomas Merton (Paulist Press: 2020).

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

Free to Serve Others

Liberation

Free to Serve Others
Friday, January 22, 2021

German theologian Dorothee Sölle (1929–2003) describes how seeing with God’s eyes, hearing with God’s ears, and acting with God’s passion for justice is a truly liberating experience that benefits the entire community. Sölle writes:

In the sense of theology that liberates, the soul that is united with God sees the world with God’s eyes. That soul, like God, sees what otherwise is rendered invisible and irrelevant. It hears the whimpering of starving children and does not let itself be diverted from real misery, becoming one with God in perceiving and understanding as well as in acting. For people in the slums, redemption does not consist of some great and far removed actor ending the misery of the oppressed. Rather, in coming so very close, that far-near one acts in and through those who have become one with that actor. In liberating movements, the mystical eye sees God at work: seeing, hearing, acting, even in forms that are utterly secular. In the contingency of literacy programs, or collaboration in building a school, God’s action is manifest. It is a mysticism of wide-open eyes. . . .

What happens really in the soul’s union with God in terms of liberation and of healing? It is an exercise in seeing how God sees, the perception of what is little and unimportant; it is listening to the cry of God’s children who are in slavery in Egypt. God calls upon the soul to give away its own ears and eyes and to let itself be given those of God. Only they who hear with other ears can speak with the mouth of God. God sees what elsewhere is rendered invisible and is of no relevance. Who other than God sees the poor and hears their cry? To use “God’s senses” does not mean simply turning inward but becoming free for a different way of living life: See what God sees! Hear what God hears! Laugh where God laughs! Cry where God cries!

Allowing God to fully inhabit our senses does not mean we close ourselves off from the world but open ourselves more fully to it. We are free to be fully ourselves but not to exist only for ourselves. We are free to become Christ in the world to the same extent that we recognize the Christ in others, especially the last and the least.

Reference:
Dorothee Sölle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, trans. Barbara and Martin Rumscheidt (Fortress Press: 2001), 283–284, 293.

Story from Our Community:
I grew up in a quiet little idyllic Midwestern town. In my mid-40s I began to experience disorder through burnout in ministry, only I didn’t know what it was. I was afraid I was losing my faith completely. After first coming in contact with Fr. Richard through “Falling Upward” I eventually ended up finding the “Another Name for Everything” podcast as well as these daily meditations. Each of these interactions is such a tremendous aid in my own continually unfolding pilgrimage. Richard often gives words to the unspeakable wrestlings of disorder and a vision of a reality re-ordered that keep resonating in me. —Don R.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

A Liberating Spirit

Liberation

A Liberating Spirit
Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Holy Spirit is a liberating Spirit. Even when we experience lack of freedom in our daily lives, time in prayer can be an experience of full freedom in God’s presence. I sometimes miss the exuberance of the charismatic movement of which I was a part in the 1970s and the freedom we felt to worship God with our whole selves. Theologian James Cone (1938–2018) writes about the deep sense of freedom experienced in the communal worship of the Black church in the United States:

Black worship itself is a liberating event for those who share the experience of the people that bears witness to God’s presence in their midst. Through prayer, testimony, song, and sermon the people transcend the limitations of their immediate history and encounter the divine power, thereby creating a moment of ecstasy and joy wherein they recognize that the pain of oppression is not the last word about black life. It is not unusual for the people to get “carried away” with their feelings, making it difficult for an observer to know what is actually happening. But the meaning of this event, according to the people, is found in their liberating encounter with the divine Spirit. In this encounter, they are set free as children of God. To understand what this means for black people, we need only to remember that they have not known freedom in white America. Therefore, to be told, “You are free, my children” is to create indescribable joy and excitement in the people. They sing because they are free. Black worship is a celebration of freedom. It is a black happening, the time when the people gather together in the name of the One who promised not to leave the little ones alone in trouble. The people shout, moan, and cry as a testimony to the experience of God’s liberating presence in their lives. . . . [1]

Black people can fight for freedom and justice, because the One who is their future is also the ground of their struggle for liberation. It does not matter what oppressors say or do or what they try to make us out to be. We know that we have a freedom not made with human hands. . . . For black people’s singing, praying, and preaching are not grounded in any human potentiality but in the actuality of God’s freedom to be with the oppressed as disclosed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is their freedom. [2]

The early church surely knew the liberating effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the apostle Paul’s teachings had so much impact because he restored human dignity in another time of widespread oppression, slavery, and injustice. Into the corrupt and corrupting Roman Empire, Paul shouts, “One and the same Spirit was given to us all to drink!” (1 Corinthians 12:13). He utterly levels the playing field: “You, all of you, are sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). In Paul’s estimation, the old world was forever gone and a new world was born in which everyone is free.

References:
[1] James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, rev. ed. (Orbis Books: 1997), 132–133.

[2] Cone, 129.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis: 2018), 91.

Story from Our Community:
I grew up in a quiet little idyllic Midwestern town. In my mid-40s I began to experience disorder through burnout in ministry, only I didn’t know what it was. I was afraid I was losing my faith completely. After first coming in contact with Fr. Richard through “Falling Upward” I eventually ended up finding the “Another Name for Everything” podcast as well as these daily meditations. Each of these interactions is such a tremendous aid in my own continually unfolding pilgrimage. Richard often gives words to the unspeakable wrestlings of disorder and a vision of a reality re-ordered that keep resonating in me. —Don R.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.

A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

A Liberating Theology

Liberation

A Liberating Theology
Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Brazilian Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara (19091999) was a truly saintly man and one of my heroes for the Gospel. Although many are not familiar with him today, he was well-known in his lifetime for his love for the poor and his embrace of nonviolence. His teachings have shaped many of my thoughts on the nature of evil and our freedom to choose how we respond to the suffering and injustice present in the world. He wrote me on the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination, so I have a personal gratitude toward him. Here he writes:

When you look at our continent [of South America], where more than two-thirds of the people live in sub-human conditions as a result of injustices, and when you see that the same situation is repeated all over the world, how can you help wanting to work towards human liberation? Just as the Father, the Creator, wants us to be co-creators, so the Son, the Redeemer, wants us to be co-redeemers. So it is up to us to continue the work of liberation begun by the Son: the liberation from sin and the consequences of sin, the liberation from egoism and the consequences of egoism. That is what the theology of liberation means to us, and I see no reason why anyone should be afraid of a true, authentic theology of liberation. [1]

The people already understand that we have no right to blame God for the problems that we have created ourselves. As if the Lord were responsible for the floods or the droughts [Richard Rohr: or the pandemic]! No! It would have been very easy for our Father to create a universe that was already perfect. But it would have been terribly boring for us to come into a world where everything had already been done, and done well, where everything was complete. So the Lord merely began the creative process and entrusted [humans] with the task of completing it. It is up to us to control the rivers. It’s a question of intelligence and integrity. If we had shown sufficient intelligence and integrity in the past the droughts and the floods would already have been controlled. Nowadays deserts are being watered and rivers diverted. It’s our own problem, not the Lord’s. [2]

Liberation theology as Dom Hélder Câmara describes it is applicable to many of the problems we face. For good or for ill, our choices as individuals have a collective impact on others and future generations. How we treat each other is a marker of our freedom in God. Câmara reminds us:

We all believe that all human beings are children of the same heavenly Father. Those who have the same father are brothers and sisters. Let us really treat each other as brothers and sisters! . . .  We all believe that freedom is a divine gift to be preserved at all costs. Let us liberate, in the highest and most profound sense of the word, all the human beings who live round about us. [3]

References:
[1] Hélder Câmara, The Conversions of a Bishop: An Interview with José de Broucker, trans. Hilary Davies (Collins: 1979), 170–171.

[2] Câmara, Conversions, 124.

[3] First address as Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, April 12, 1964. See Dom Hélder Câmara: Essential Writings, ed. Francis McDonagh (Orbis Books: 2009), 41.

Story from Our Community:
When I entered my fifth rehab for addiction and alcoholism, I remember sitting at meetings wondering silently: Who am I? and What am I to do now? I was introduced to Richard Rohr, began to support CAC, and my sobriety led me to contemplate while awake. I have learned that I do not change my life, so much as I cooperate with Providence in allowing my life to be directed and changed. I have momentary breakthroughs. Today I am sober, and sober-minded, and am learning to ‘grow-up.’ I did not, nor will I get back, all that I have lost. In the end, it is rubbish. It is passing, as am I. But God remains. —Michael G.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

Authentic Freedom

Liberation

Authentic Freedom
Tuesday, January 19, 2021

In his newest book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis points out that we need both personal liberation and liberation from unjust and harmful systems. Unfortunately, many people have been taught that salvation is merely an individual escape plan for the next world, which has not produced many liberated people or healthy systems. He writes:

In every personal “Covid,” so to speak, in every “stoppage,” what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected. [1]

We all think we are freely and consciously making our own choices when, in my experience, most people live most of their lives unconsciously! Before transformation, we are basically sleepwalking, going through the motions on the surface of life, which is why spiritual teachers like Jesus and Buddha tell us to “wake up.” When our ego or small self is in charge, we are not free; we are being ordered about by our preferences, our likes and dislikes. Is it really liberating to believe the world revolves around us or conversely, that we must hold it all together?

As we engage in contemplative prayer and allow God to transform us through great love and great suffering, we are reminded of our inherent connectedness. We are liberated from thinking of ourselves as somehow separate from everyone and everything else, including God.

After an authentic God encounter, everything else is relativized. There is only one Absolute and it is God, not us or our culture. Both are de-centered. Through prayer we find God both deep within us and all around us. We know our True Self is part of God and lives in God. We are no longer limited by our culturally conditioned reactions but have access to a greater Source of love and ultimate freedom.

Pope Francis recognizes this freedom in the healthcare professionals who have risked their lives and worked so hard for so many months:

[Healthcare workers] are the saints next door, who have awoken something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching.

They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves: not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service. [2]

There is no authentic freedom if we do not also consider the rights and well-being of others. As Pope Francis reflects:

Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate. . . . [3]

The transformed person finds freedom in the service of Life and Love.  Your life is not about you. You are about life!

References:
[1] Pope Francis, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future (Simon & Schuster: 2020), 36.

[2] Pope Francis, 13.

[3] Pope Francis, 27.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Scripture as Liberation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
When I entered my fifth rehab for addiction and alcoholism, I remember sitting at meetings wondering silently: Who am I? and What am I to do now? I was introduced to Richard Rohr, began to support CAC, and my sobriety led me to contemplate while awake. I have learned that I do not change my life, so much as I cooperate with Providence in allowing my life to be directed and changed. I have momentary breakthroughs. Today I am sober, and sober-minded, and am learning to ‘grow-up.’ I did not, nor will I get back, all that I have lost. In the end, it is rubbish. It is passing, as am I. But God remains. —Michael G.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

A Journey to Freedom

Liberation

A Journey to Freedom
Sunday, January 17, 2021

In the Book of Exodus, Egypt is the place of slavery and the promised land is the place of freedom. The journey from Egypt to the promised land is a standing paradigm for the universal struggle from slavery to freedom—and thus for the spiritual journey as well. The story of Israel symbolically describes the experience of our own liberation by God, which is both an outer freedom and an inner freedom or it is not real liberation.

The word exodus means “the way out,” as scholar Allen Dwight Callahan explains:

A loanword from the Greek, exodus signifies the road of escape. The biblical drama of Exodus recounts the story of the escape of the ancient Israelites from Egypt and their formation as a new people in Canaan. The Lord had commanded that the Egyptians “let my son [Israel] go” (Exodus 4:23), and the imperative phrase “Let my people go” is repeated seven times in the drama that climaxes in the Israelites’ flight across the Red Sea. [1]

The liberation that Moses leads is first cemented in a “face to face” encounter with God. According to the book of Exodus, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend” (33:11). God gradually answers Moses’ many objections as to why he should not lead his people: 1) “Who am I?” 2) “Who are you?” 3) “What if they do not believe me?” 4) “I stutter” and 5) “Why not send someone else?” In each case, God patiently stays in the dialogue, answering Moses respectfully and even intimately, offering a promise of personal Presence and an ever-sustaining glimpse into who God is. God is Being Itself, Existence Itself, a nameless God beyond all names, a formless God previous to all forms, a liberator God who is utterly liberated from the limits culture and religion put on any Divinity. God asserts God’s ultimate freedom from human attempts to capture God in concepts and words by saying, “I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Over the course of his story, we see that Moses slowly absorbs this same daring freedom. Despite the failings and limitations Moses perceived in himself, he is liberated by God’s faith in him.

It is this same daring and unequivocal freedom that inspired many Black Americans when they read this text. Callahan again: “African Americans heard, read, and retold the story of the Exodus more than any other biblical narrative. In it they saw their own aspirations for liberation from bondage in the story of the ancient Hebrew slaves. . . . The Exodus signified God’s will that African Americans too would no longer be sold as bondspeople, that they too would go free.” [2]

In working for outer freedom, peace, and justice in the world, we discover the even deeper inner freedom of our True Self in God.

References:
[1] Allen Dwight Callahan, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible (Yale University Press: 2006), 83.

[2] Callahan, 83.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 158‒159.

Story from Our Community:
Millions of us pray daily, ‘let go and let God.’ I think and pray this is a big part of the transformation we need. We’ve let go of so much during the lockdowns, and continue to let go, but with hope . . . — Michelle J.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

Telling a New Story

A New Story

Telling a New Story
Friday, January 15, 2021

In their book Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy and her co-author Chris Johnstone talk about the “Three Stories of Our Time.”

In the first of these [stories], Business as Usual, the defining assumption is that there is little need to change the way we live. Economic growth is regarded as essential for prosperity, and the central plot is about getting ahead. The second story, the Great Unraveling, draws attention to the disasters that Business as Usual is taking us toward, as well as those it has already brought about. It is an account, backed by evidence, of the collapse of ecological and social systems, the disturbance of climate, the depletion of resources, and the mass extinction of species.

The third story is held and embodied by those who know the first story is leading us to catastrophe and who refuse to let the second story have the last word. Involving the emergence of new and creative human responses, it is about the epochal transition from an industrial society committed to economic growth to a life-sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world. We call this story the Great Turning. The central plot is finding and offering our gift of Active Hope. [1]

This is where we begin—by acknowledging that our times confront us with realities that are painful to face, difficult to take in, and confusing to live with. Our approach is to see this as the starting point of an amazing journey that strengthens us and deepens our aliveness. The purpose of this journey is to find, offer, and receive the gift of Active Hope. [2]

What Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone call “Active Hope” reminds me of what Beatrice Bruteau, the contemplative Christian scholar, calls “radical optimism.” In her book by that title, she writes:

The deepest truth is our union with the Absolute, Infinite Being, with God. That’s the root of our reality. And it is from that root that my optimism is derived. . . . I believe this radical optimism is the good news of the gospel and I propose that we take it seriously. . . . Optimism, like pessimism, tends to be a self-justifying outlook. The more pessimistic you are, the more you are likely to fail and thus justify your pessimism. And similarly, the more optimistic you are, the more apt you are to succeed and justify your optimism. However, my optimism is not merely pragmatic. I also believe that it is ultimately, metaphysically, true because of its being radical optimism, coming from the root of our being, securely held in the Absolute Being. [3]

I believe that “radical optimism” and “Active Hope” are the keys to the flourishing of a new story. This new story honors the Good Story of our good God and the goodness of all creation, but also gives us the faith and courage to face the difficult realities that are being unveiled in our times.  

References:
[1] Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy (New World Library: 2012), 4–5.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Beatrice Bruteau, Radical Optimism: Rooting Ourselves in Reality (Crossroad: 1993), 10, 11, 12.

Story from Our Community:
2020 is a year that I will not forget. I am an African American woman with a daughter the same age as Breonna Taylor. I have a son who could have been Ahmaud Arbery or Trayvon Martin or any of the others who lost their lives because of the color of their skin. I work in social services and daily I see those in need suffer more and more. I struggle with how to truly help. With all of that said, my faith in God has not wavered. Thank you for being a light in this time, bringing me comfort and direction. I will never be able to express my deep gratitude for Richard Rohr and the CAC. —Lora C.

Image credit: Tree Trunks near Hermitage, Gethsemani (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
We can’t always see the ways trees are in relationship because their complex world of roots lives underground. We, the human family, are also inextricably interconnected.

A New Story to Replace the Old

A New Story

A New Story to Replace the Old
Thursday, January 14, 2021

In this time of unveiling, new stories need to be told about everything from ecology and faith to money and power, and they need to be told from many different perspectives. Only as we contemplate and engage new paradigms and visions can we discern where and how God is calling us to act. Author and educator Michael Nagler shares his version of a new story based on his decades-long commitment to the practice of nonviolence. He writes:

The new story [is] the term we use today for the new—to us—model of a universe of consciousness and purpose, of unity and sufficiency. . . .

The currently prevailing story—the old story [Richard: which is really only as old as the Enlightenment], that we live in a material, random universe, so that we, too, are primarily physical objects that need material things to be fulfilled—has led us to a permanent state of competition, not excluding violence. Whether you look at the story itself or its practical consequences, many—myself included—feel it’s radically wrong. We are body, mind, and spirit, and we’re embraced in what Martin Luther King famously called a single garment of destiny. [1] Life is not random, and we are not helpless to change it.

And right now the key change will be the change of the story itself.

Within the emerging new story . . . just about every social change that thoughtful people have long been yearning for—including the change to a sustainable planet—becomes more thinkable, and doable.

Take, for example, the acute inequality that has polarized our society (and, to a lesser extent, societies in other lands). What drives it is greed. The same greed that drives some to profit from war and armaments—the greed that is a nearly ubiquitous source of suffering for the many (and even for the few who seem to benefit financially). Is not greed, in turn, a function of the belief that we are primarily physical entities in competition with others? . . .

Greed is behind so many destructive processes; greed that’s reached unheard-of proportions today, creating an inequality that makes meaningful democracy impossible. But what is behind greed itself? It could not exist without the idea that a human being is material and separate from others, including the environment we live in.

Violence, inequality, war, the environment, and almost any aspect of society we can think of are rooted in the old story. . . .

In contrast to the old story—which held that the universe is primarily made of matter, has no discernable purpose, and scarcity, competition, and violence are inevitable—the new story sees the universe as primarily consciousness and the human being as body, mind, and spirit, able to locate and carry out their life’s purpose in a meaningful—indeed, fundamentally benevolent—universe.

Richard again: This new story is, of course, as old as incarnation itself! Somewhere along the line, we lost the thread of the true story of union, of wholeness, of God-with-us and us-for-each other.

References:
[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963).

Michael N. Nagler, The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.: 2020), 10, 13–14, 15, 17.

Story from Our Community:
2020 is a year that I will not forget. I am an African American woman with a daughter the same age as Breonna Taylor. I have a son who could have been Ahmaud Arbery or Trayvon Martin or any of the others who lost their lives because of the color of their skin. I work in social services and daily I see those in need suffer more and more. I struggle with how to truly help. With all of that said, my faith in God has not wavered. Thank you for being a light in this time, bringing me comfort and direction. I will never be able to express my deep gratitude for Richard Rohr and the CAC. —Lora C.

Image credit: Tree Trunks near Hermitage, Gethsemani (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
We can’t always see the ways trees are in relationship because their complex world of roots lives underground. We, the human family, are also inextricably interconnected.

A New Framing Story

A New Story

A New Framing Story
Monday, January 11, 2021

Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions popularized the term “paradigm shift.” [1] A paradigm is a set of beliefs, images, concepts, and structures that govern the way we think about something. Kuhn (1922–1996) said that paradigm change becomes necessary when the previous paradigm becomes so full of holes and patchwork “fixes” that a complete overhaul is necessary. The shift in thinking which might have felt threatening at one time now appears as the only way forward and as a real lifeline. I hope we are at one of these critical junctures again. Might we be willing to adopt a new set of beliefs, values, and systems that could change (and maybe even save) humanity and our world?

My colleague Brian McLaren is a former English teacher and has much to teach us about the power of stories. He uses the language of a “framing story” to describe the same phenomenon Kuhn observed. Brian says a framing story “gives people direction, values, vision, and inspiration by providing a framework for their lives. It tells them who they are, where they come from, where they are, what’s going on, where things are going, and what they should do.” [2] While we all have stories that answer those questions on a personal level, a “framing story” dictates the general beliefs of a culture, nation, religion, and even humanity as a whole.

Brian writes convincingly that “our growing list of global crises [Richard: even before the COVID-19 pandemic], together with our inability to address them effectively, gives us strong evidence that our world’s dominant framing story is failing.” [3] He reflects:

If it [our framing story] tells us that the purpose of life is for individuals or nations to accumulate an abundance of possessions and to experience the maximum amount of pleasure during the maximum number of minutes of our short lives, then we will have little reason to manage our consumption. If our framing story tells us that we are in life-and-death competition with each other . . . then we will have little reason to seek reconciliation and collaboration and nonviolent resolutions to our conflicts. . . .

But if our framing story tells us that we are free and responsible creatures in a creation made by a good, wise, and loving God, and that our Creator wants us to pursue virtue, collaboration, peace, and mutual care for one another and all living creatures, and that our lives can have profound meaning if we align ourselves with God’s wisdom, character, and dreams for us . . . then our society will take a radically different direction, and our world will become a very different place. [4]

As Christians, we have the opportunity to live the story that was given to us at the very beginning (Genesis 1), that creation is “good,” even “very good,” and that it is our vocation to nurture and grow such goodness wherever we can.

References:
[1] Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4th ed. (University of Chicago Press: 2012, ©1962).

[2] Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: 2007), 5–6.

[3] Ibid., 68.

[4] Ibid., 67.

Story from Our Community:
In Colombia, we have been struggling to implement peace for the last six years, after 50 years of armed conflict. The CAC has taught me that this is a time for different answers to the old problems of greed, ambition, hatred and ideological polarization. It is a time for a different spiritual paradigm born out of the mystics (Christians and non-Christians) who have shown us a way to relate to the poor and vulnerable as a sure way to meet the God of all. I have discovered that by making myself go to the frontiers where the poor and vulnerable abide, I am able to meet the God of all humanity. —Louis A.

Image credit: Tree Trunks near Hermitage, Gethsemani (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
We can’t always see the ways trees are in relationship because their complex world of roots lives underground. We, the human family, are also inextricably interconnected.
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