Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Author at Center for Action and Contemplation
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Living the Shadow

Shadow Work

Living the Shadow
Tuesday, June 15, 2021

All God appears to want from us is honesty and humility. There is no other way to read Jesus’ stories of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) or the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9–14). In each story, the one who did wrong ends up being right—simply because he is honest and humble about it. The one who is formally right ends up being terribly wrong because he is proud about his own performance. How have we been able to miss that important point? I suspect it is because the ego wants to think well of itself and deny any shadow material. Only the soul knows we grow best in the shadowlands.

Western civilization has failed to learn how to carry the shadow side. We did not teach our people how to carry the paschal mystery—with its suffering, death, and resurrection—within ourselves, and it is now coming back to haunt us. Christians have little ability to carry the shadow side of themselves, of the church, of history, or of reality itself. It is much easier to see things as all-good or all-bad, rather than both crucified and resurrected at the same time, as Christ is.

In many ways, it’s been a constant dilemma of the church. It seems to want to live in perfect light. It does not like the shadowland called Earth. We see in Christian history the Roman Church unable and unwilling to see its own huge shadow, Martin Luther’s abhorrence of his own shadow, the Swiss Reformers trying to outlaw darkness, the Puritans trying to repress shadow, typical believers afraid of their shadow, and fundamentalists preoccupied with Satan “out there.” All of us, it seems, are trying to avoid the mystery in human life, instead of learning how to carry it patiently, as Jesus did.

There are no perfect structures or perfect people. There is only the struggle to get there. It is Christ’s passion (patior in Latin, or the “suffering of reality”) that will save the world, when we are willing to join him in the pattern. “Your patient endurance will win you your lives,” writes Luke (21:19). Redemptive suffering instead of redemptive violence is the Jesus way. Patience comes from our attempts to hold together an always-mixed reality, not from expecting or demanding a perfect reality. That only makes us resentful and judgmental, which is what has characterized much of Christian history. Grateful people emerge in a world rightly defined, where even shadows are no surprise, but, in fact, opportunity for compassion and forgiveness.

The more attached we are to any persona whatsoever, bad or good, the more shadow self we will have. So we need conflicts, relationship difficulties, moral failures, defeats to our grandiosity, even seeming enemies, or we will have no way to ever spot or track our shadow self. They are our necessary mirrors, and even then, we usually catch it out of the corner of our eye—in a graced insight and those gifted moments of inner freedom.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2001, 2020), 183–185; and

Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011), 33–34.

Story from Our Community:
Some years ago I was introduced to Richard Rohr. I was immature in my faith journey, unaware that not knowing is actually a real knowing. After reading “Falling Upward” and “Immortal Diamond” I was filled with a new way of hearing and seeing. I began shadow work, painful and traumatizing at times—it was my own spiritual awakening. Transforming pain has its moments of grace. —Renee M.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?

Embracing Shadow and Light

Shadow Work

Embracing Shadow and Light
Monday, June 14, 2021

We all identify with our persona/mask so strongly when we are young that we become masters of denial and learn to eliminate or hide anything that doesn’t support it. Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not recognize it as such. Our shadow self makes us all into hypocrites on some level. Hypocrite is a Greek word that simply means “actor,” someone playing a role rather than being “real.” We are all in one kind of closet or another and are even encouraged by society to play such roles. Usually everybody else can see our shadow, so it is crucial that we learn what everybody else knows about usexcept us!

Holy or whole individuals, the ones we call “saints,” are precisely the ones who have no “I” to protect or project. Their “I” is in conscious union with the “I AM” of God, and that is more than enough. Divine union overrides any need for self-hatred or self-adoration. Such people do not need to be perfectly right, and they know they cannot be anyway, so they just try to be in right relationship. In other words, they try to be loving—above all else. Love holds us tightly and safely and always. Such people have met the enemy and know that the major enemy is “me” (to borrow from the comic strip character Pogo). But they do not hate the “me” either, they just see through and beyond “me.” Shadow work literally “saves us from ourselves” (our false selves), which is the foundational meaning of salvation to begin with.

I am afraid that the closer we get to the Light, the more of our shadow we see. Thus, truly holy people are always humble people. Christians would have been done a great service if the shadow had been distinguished from sin. Sin and shadow are not the same. We were so encouraged to avoid sin that many of us instead avoided facing our shadow, and then we ended up “sinning” even worse—while unaware besides! As Paul taught, “The angels of darkness must disguise themselves as angels of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The persona does not choose to see evil in itself, so it always disguises it as good. The shadow self invariably presents itself as something like prudence, common sense, and justice. It says, “I am doing this for your good,” when it is actually manifesting fear, control, manipulation, or even vengeance. Isn’t it fascinating that the name Lucifer literally means “light bearer”? The evil one always makes darkness look like light—and makes light look like darkness.

The gift of shadowboxing is in the seeing of the shadow and its games in ourselves, which takes away most of the shadow’s hidden power. No wonder that Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) said that the mansion of true self-knowledge was the necessary first mansion on the spiritual journey. Socrates said the same thing, “Know yourself!”

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 131–133, 134.

Story from Our Community:
Nonviolence starts when we learn how to love ourselves with compassion. Upon beginning shadow work and looking within myself, I was able to heal old wounds, relearn healthy boundaries and thought patterns. Complete love flows through all we say, do, think, and pray after taking steps of transformation. —Susan C.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?

Unveiling the Shadow

Shadow Work

Unveiling the Shadow
Sunday, June 13, 2021

This week’s meditations focus on unveiling the shadow self, an essential concept in my work that comes from Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). It always needs initial clarification and definition.

Let’s begin with the personal shadow. During the first half of our lives (and for many, into the chronological second half of life), we are building up our separate or false self. For the first months of life, human infants feel they are one with their caretaker, usually their mother. But soon the child grows into a sense of separateness, a split between my self and your self that understands “I’m here and you’re over there.” We call this dualistic consciousness.

To put it very simply, as children we learn which behaviors cause approval and disapproval from our family, teachers, and friends. If we want to have some sort of control over our lives and create pleasant outcomes, we tend to develop those things which are acceptable and repress those things which are not. Those things we repress or deny about ourselves become our shadow. The qualities we “place” in our shadow aren’t necessarily or only bad; they simply are the ones that are not rewarded by our family system or culture.

The more we have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work we will need to do. Therefore, we need to be especially careful of clinging to any idealized role or self-image, like that of minister, mother, doctor, nice person, professor, moral believer, or president of this or that. These are huge personas to live up to, and they trap many people in lifelong delusion that the role is who they are or who they are only allowed to be. The more we are attached to and unaware of such a protected self-image, the more shadow self we will likely have. This is especially dangerous for a “spiritual leader” or “professional religious person” because it involves such an ego-inflating self-image. Whenever ministers, or any true believers, are too anti anything, we can be pretty sure there is some shadow material lurking somewhere nearby. Zealotry is a good revelation of one’s overly repressed shadow.

Our self-image is not substantial or lasting; it is simply created out of our own mind, desire, and choice—and everybody else’s preferences for us! It is not objective at all but entirely subjective (which does not mean that it does not have real influence). The movement to second-half-of-life wisdom has much to do with necessary shadow work and the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking, which alone allows us to see beyond our own shadow and disguise and to find who we are, “hidden with Christ in God,” as Paul puts it (Colossians 3:3). The Zen masters call it “the face we had before we were born.” This self cannot die, lives forever and is our True Self. Religion is always in some way about discovering our True Self, which is also to discover God, who is our deepest truth.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CD, MP3 download; and

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 128, 129–130.

Story from Our Community:
Nonviolence starts when we learn how to love ourselves with compassion. Upon beginning shadow work and looking within myself, I was able to heal old wounds, relearn healthy boundaries and thought patterns. Complete love flows through all we say, do, think, and pray after taking steps of transformation. —Susan C.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, dapple (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: Shadows are always influential if not always obvious. Some, in focus in the foreground, are easier to name while others remain hidden in the background. How might we attend to the lessons of our own inner shadow landscapes?

The Holiness of Human Sexuality

The Holiness of Human Sexuality

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Week Twenty-Three Summary and Practice

Sunday, June 6—Friday, June 11, 2021

Sunday
When two loving individuals, two bearers of God’s image, are unified in an erotic embrace, there is space for something holy. What was separate has come together. Two spirits, two bodies, two stories are drawn so close that they are something together that they cannot be alone. There is unity. —Nadia Bolz-Weber

Monday
God’s way of loving is the only licensed teacher of human sexuality. God’s passion created ours. If we are afraid of our sexuality, we are afraid of God.

Tuesday
The Song of Songs remains a testimony to mutuality in love, to the beauty of the human body, to the goodness of sexual desire, and the power of love: “Love is as strong as death,” the Song proclaims, “passion fierce as the grave.” —Stephanie Paulsell

Wednesday
Queer spirituality is truly embodied, and rooted in flesh-and-blood bodies, bodies that are surprising and show up as icons and words. It is also rooted in the body of Christ, in God-with-Us, in the continuous blurring of transcendence and immanence. —Mihee Kim-Kort

Thursday
What Paul said about gender in Galatians 3:26–28 was revolutionary in that it confirmed that there was no patriarchy or misogyny in God’s new kingdom; it broke down the barriers between genders and between people of different genders and God. —Austen Hartke

Friday
The goal of our sexual longing is universal love, which is to say union with God, ourselves, and What Is. We came from union and all of our longing is a movement back toward union. The experiences of sexuality can help us glimpse and taste this unity and bring us to what I call the “Gate of the Temple,” but they do not by themselves carry us through the doors.

 

Prayer of Thanks for Our Bodies

When we remember to pray for our physical bodies, it is usually because something has gone wrong. We are reminded of our human frailty by an ache, an accident, or a diagnosis. But I hope this week has stirred within us a greater sense of gratitude for our bodies and for the desires that hum through them. This poem and prayer is a psalm of praise for the miraculous nature of our physical existence, in relationship with ourselves, others, and the cosmos.

Thank you for the body that loves me.

My own body:
it tingles me with pleasure
and sends me pain as a warning;
it takes in food and air
and transforms them to life;
it reaches orgasmic bliss
and reveals depths of peace.

Thank you for the body that loves me.

My lover’s body:
it surrounds me with safe arms,
and senses my needs and joys;
it allows me vulnerability,
and enables my ecstasy;
it teaches me how to love
and touches me with love.

Thank you for the body that loves me.

My spiritual community’s body:
it embodies your presence
by embracing mine;
it incarnates your hope
by empowering prophets;
it inspires me with stories
and enchants me with mystery.

Thank you for the body that loves me.

The cosmic and mystical body:
it calls me to communion
with creatures and creation;
it manifests your glory
and mine as its child;
it upholds my feet
and heals my body.

Thank you for the body that loves me.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
From Coming Out to God: Prayers for Lesbians and Gay Men, Their Families and Friends. ©1991 Chris R. Glaser. Used by permission of Westminster John Knox Press. All rights reserved.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Impressions (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: In its rainbow of colors, human sexuality can be many things: delicate, powerful, mysterious, beautiful. How might we foster a healthy relationship with the holy gift of sexuality?

The Goal Is Union

The Holiness of Human Sexuality

The Goal Is Union
Friday, June 11, 2021

The goal of our sexual longing is universal love, which is to say union with God, ourselves, and What Is. We came from union and all of our longing is a movement back toward union. The experiences of sexuality can help us glimpse and taste this unity and bring us to what I call the “Gate of the Temple,” but they do not by themselves carry us through the doors. The late gay contemplative writer Michael Bernard Kelly (19542020) understood that our incarnate, finite loves find their source in Infinite Love:

In every era and in every part of life there is a tendency for us to focus on ‘experiences,’ ecstatic ‘thrills’. . . . This tendency is especially marked in sexuality and spirituality, where the tastes are so intoxicating, fleeting and profound. These tastes are essential; they are seeds, glimpses of that fullness to which we are called. However, they are not the Journey itself, not transformation, not mystical union, not enlightenment. They set us on the road—perhaps they are even glimpses of the destination—but we have not yet arrived. Indeed we have hardly set out! If we become addicted to simply seeking more and more ‘experiences,’ whether sexual or spiritual, we never will arrive. We all know this tendency in sexuality, but the seduction in spirituality can be more subtle, more compelling and more soul destroying.

So what is happening? Firstly, some element of this ‘addiction’ is probably inevitable in our yearning and longing, for the taste of ecstasy, however it comes, is so delicious, so overwhelming. Of course we seek it again and again!

‘You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet perfume. I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me and I am inflamed with love of your peace,’ says Saint Augustine [1], and in our different ways we know what he means. However, we must allow the withdrawing to take place. It is the withdrawing that will draw us towards the transformation, to the abiding fulfilment of that which we taste so briefly in our ecstasies. How does this happen?

When we taste the Mystery we long to drink deeply of it, to take it into ourselves, to be possessed by it, to surrender to it, to become it in an abiding way, ‘forever and ever.’ To become that which we taste. . . . This is mirrored very powerfully in the images of spiritual communion, where we eat and drink ‘the body and blood of the Lord,’ our very bodies merging and becoming transformed into the One who is the Beloved of our souls.

This is the heart of our yearning: to become that which we taste and hunger for, not briefly, but fully, totally, permanently, being utterly transformed into that which we desire so deeply. Union. Ecstasy. The ‘Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover,’ [2] the seeker transformed into that which she seeks.

References:
[1] Augustine, Confessions, book 10, chapter 27.

[2] John of the Cross, “The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” stanza 5.

Michael Bernard Kelly, Seduced by Grace: Contemporary Spirituality, Gay Experience, and Christian Faith (Clouds of Magellan: 2007), 10–12.

Story from Our Community:
Richard Rohr’s writings have helped me understand better the mystic I “sensed” in myself. Through Fr. Richard’s writings I have found parts of my religious heritage are worth maintaining, but parts are not. I think we have lingered far too long in excluding others—racism, anti-Semitism, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-anything we don’t understand or like. God does not exclude, ever. “Be still and know….” Listen with open hearts, open minds, and the silence tunes out “noise.” Thank you, CAC.
—Anne T.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Impressions (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: In its rainbow of colors, human sexuality can be many things: delicate, powerful, mysterious, beautiful. How might we foster a healthy relationship with the holy gift of sexuality?

Beyond the Binaries

The Holiness of Human Sexuality

Beyond the Binaries
Thursday, June 10, 2021

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of Godthrough faith,for all of you who were baptized into Christhave clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free,nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26–28)

Regular contemplative practice allows us to maintain some measure of nondualism whenever we are asked to move beyond our comfortable binaries. It seems that everything we put in a neat and tidy package must eventually be allowed to come undone, including our understanding of our bodies, gender, and attraction. This awareness, too, is a part of God’s incarnation in Christ! In this passage, transgender and Christian author Austen Hartke dialogues with Lynn Young, who identifies as non-binary, Native American, and Christian, about the significance of this passage from Galatians.

One of the many ways I’ve tried to explain my gender journey to people who don’t get it is to say that, as I began to really dig into it and explore it and find the meaningful points for me, I felt like I was given this dirty floor and a toothbrush. As I started to scrub this floor I started seeing things, and as things were revealed, it turned out that this floor was an amazing mosaic, even though each piece by itself didn’t seem to be anything in particular. None of those pieces are unimportant because they all have to exist together to create the whole picture. So I’ve arrived at this place of knowing myself as a Two Spirit person, and that Two Spirit [1] is my gender. There’s a feminine part of me, and a masculine part of me, and there are also parts of me that are so intertwined that are both of those and then some, and they don’t have a name that fits within European gender constructs. . . .

We have all these shards of identity in us, whether it’s our sexuality, our gender, our faith, our age, our cultural identity, our personal trauma histories—all of those things that are part of who we are combine to create our whole identity. I’m not just one piece—I’m not just the Christian, or just the Native person, or just Two Spirit, or just the survivor, or just the grandma—that small piece isn’t me; only the whole reflects who I am. I am all of this.

Austen continues:

So what was Paul thinking about these different pieces of our identity when he penned Galatians 3:28? And what does this verse mean for our understanding of gender? Was Paul saying that gender was no longer important—that through our baptism in Christ our gender identities were all erased or irrelevant? I very much doubt it. What Paul said about gender in this verse was revolutionary in that it confirmed that there was no patriarchy or misogyny in God’s new kingdom; it broke down the barriers between genders and between people of different genders and God. . . .

References:
[1] The term “Two Spirit” (also written two-spirit) was first coined by Native Americans and members of the First Nations tribes of Canada back in 1990 to create a cohesive English term for Native sexualities and gender identities that have existed in multiple tribes for centuries. Though it originally served as a Native-specific identifier for gay and lesbian individuals, it soon broadened to include Native transgender people and those with gender expressions that didn’t fit their cultural norms. From Hartke, 162.

Austen Hartke, Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians (Westminster John Knox Press: 2018), 162, 163–164.

Story from Our Community:
Richard Rohr’s writings have helped me understand better the mystic I “sensed” in myself. Through Fr. Richard’s writings I have found parts of my religious heritage are worth maintaining, but parts are not. I think we have lingered far too long in excluding others—racism, anti-Semitism, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-anything we don’t understand or like. God does not exclude, ever. “Be still and know….” Listen with open hearts, open minds, and the silence tunes out “noise.” Thank you, CAC.
—Anne T.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Impressions (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: In its rainbow of colors, human sexuality can be many things: delicate, powerful, mysterious, beautiful. How might we foster a healthy relationship with the holy gift of sexuality?

Incarnational, Queer Love

The Holiness of Human Sexuality

Incarnational, Queer Love
Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Presbyterian minister Mihee Kim-Kort came to identify as queer [1] after she was ordained, married, and a mother. Once considered a pejorative, “queer” has been reclaimed by some LGBTQ people to describe themselves—and it reflects many attributes of a Christian incarnational view of the world! Although challenged by many of her preconceived ideas of what was acceptable to church and society, she has chosen to live and minister authentically as a queer Christian. In this passage describing queerness, she captures the heart of an embodied faith that celebrates love and sexuality.

Christian history is full of stories of love and passion for God. . . .

This kind of passion . . .  is what fuels love and action, where “desire carries that life.” [2] Desire coaxes and draws out, leads and pushes, pulls and compels us to live and love out loud. The cliché slogan Make Love, Not War makes sense. There is something profoundly revolutionary about lovemaking as a way to reject making death. It’s resisting the darkness and destruction of life, of light and love. And while it’s protesting, resisting, and surviving, it’s also creating and making life in response to forces that would take away life. It’s more than surviving; it’s creating, thriving, flourishing.

What I realize I need and want to be a part of is a kind of work that cultivates the expansiveness of love. I dream often of the kind of world we could have for us, for our children, if we weren’t so concerned with regulating, disciplining, and closeting love all the time. If anything, it’s absolutely clear that this world needs more love. Rather than focusing so much energy on categorizing and classifying sexuality and making it conform to narrow representations, I long for our world to encourage lovemaking, to spark in those around me a desire to love ourselves and love each other into more life and love. [Richard here: This is the true sense of the Greek word eros, which describes any movement toward life. Eroticism then is to connect, to make contact, to desire; it’s when there’s that capacity to somehow get out of the self, to give yourself to another, and to receive them.] Because if there’s anything I’ve learned about love, whether experienced among family, friends, or my children, it is that it is contagious and expands exponentially. It overflows the cup. Once released and liberated, it changes everything. . . .

Queerness . . . always tends toward a dynamic generosity, a grace that allows for mistakes and failures, because our lives are richer when we hold all of what is human. . . . A queer spirituality transgresses the boundaries of how we live, move, and breathe through this world. It is truly embodied, and rooted in flesh-and-blood bodies, bodies that are surprising and show up as icons and words. It is also rooted in the body of Christ, in God-with-Us, in the continuous blurring of transcendence and immanence.

References:
[1] “Queer” is an adjective used by some people whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual. Once considered a pejorative, queer has been reclaimed by some LGBTQIA people to describe themselves. The word may also be used by individuals who identify as non-binary. In academia, queer theory is a growing field of study in many departments. See the following site for a glossary of LGBTQ terms: https://www.glaad.org/reference/lgbtq.

[2] Marcella Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology (Routledge: 2000), 125.

Mihee Kim-Kort, Outside the Lines: How Embracing Queerness Will Transform Your Faith (Fortress Press: 2018), 209–210, 4, 211.

Story from Our Community:
My sexuality has always been a great grief to me. The teachings in the Daily Meditations that we are “healed by our wounds” and that the way forward is not power and confrontation, but re-identification with our True Self is bringing about peace and healing. Thank you for these insights, which I wish I had had 40 years ago.
—Andrew W.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Impressions (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: In its rainbow of colors, human sexuality can be many things: delicate, powerful, mysterious, beautiful. How might we foster a healthy relationship with the holy gift of sexuality?

Biblical Erotic Poetry

The Holiness of Human Sexuality

Biblical Erotic Poetry
Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Early Jewish scholars and Christian church fathers each debated whether the Song of Songs should be included in the Scriptures. We can understand why, because by any definition, it’s erotic poetry from beginning to end, while also surely a metaphor for God’s passionate delight in us and pursuit of us. Scholar and author Stephanie Paulsell speaks of the boldly and bodily affirming message (good news!) this biblical book offers us:

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” So opens the most erotic book of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, or, as it is sometimes called, the Canticle of Canticles, the Song of Songs. In this long poem lying at the heart of scripture between the pragmatic Ecclesiastes and the sublime Isaiah, a woman, “black and beautiful,” and a man, “radiant and ruddy,” speak the language of desire, cataloguing every inch of each other’s body, every smell and taste. “Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine,” he says to her (7:2). “His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh,” she tells her friends (5:13). . . .

From the pages of scripture sacred to Jews and Christians alike, the Song of Songs remains a testimony to mutuality in love, to the beauty of the human body, to the goodness of sexual desire, and the power of love: “Love is as strong as death,” the Song proclaims, “passion fierce as the grave.”

Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love all the wealth of his house,
it would be utterly scorned (8:6–7).

In the Song of Songs we find no anxiety about desire’s power to deny us the freedom to be who God intends us to be. In the Song of Songs, desire is portrayed as Mark Doty describes it in his meditation on the death of his lover, Wally Roberts: “the ineradicable force that binds us to the world.” [1] The relationship described in the Song is one of mutuality; the lovers are evenly matched in the force of their desire. They are equally vulnerable in their desire to be desired by the other; they are equally determined to give and receive pleasure. . . .

Through desire, Doty writes, “we are implicated in another being, which is always the beginning of wisdom, isn’t it . . . ?” [2] What a wonderful way to account for why the Song of Solomon appears in the wisdom literature of the Bible and why it ought to matter to us as we construct a Christian practice of honoring the body. Because it shows us a path, through desire, outside the boundaries of our individual selves. Because it offers a way of receiving the world that is motivated by love and speaks of God’s own passionate creativity. Because it teaches that in seeking the pleasure of another we may find our own deepest pleasure and in the commitment to another we may come to know ecstasy.

References: 
[1] Mark Doty, Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir (HarperCollins: 1996), 17.

[2] Doty, 20.

Stephanie Paulsell, Honoring the Body: Meditations on a Christian Practice (Jossey- Bass: 2002), 145, 147, 148.

Story from Our Community:
My sexuality has always been a great grief to me. The teachings in the Daily Meditations that we are “healed by our wounds” and that the way forward is not power and confrontation, but re-identification with our True Self is bringing about peace and healing. Thank you for these insights, which I wish I had had 40 years ago.
—Andrew W.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Impressions (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: In its rainbow of colors, human sexuality can be many things: delicate, powerful, mysterious, beautiful. How might we foster a healthy relationship with the holy gift of sexuality?

A Sexual Morality Based on Love

The Holiness of Human Sexuality

A Sexual Morality Based on Love
Monday, June 7, 2021

In the area of sexuality, we all seem to have our sacrosanct areas that cannot be touched. Liberals will find some way to say that it is always good, and conservatives are determined to enforce rules and regulations. Both seem to be nervous about nuance. Idols with clear shapes and explanations seem to be easier to live with. Our job is to keep working to enjoy, to respect, to reverence, to honor, to love, and to listen to our bodies—before we start controlling or judging our sexuality. We must not picture God sitting up in heaven with a list: “These kinds of things I get really happy about; these kinds of things I get upset about. Uh-oh—you touched that! I’m upset with you now.”

The wisdom from the Christian tradition is that whatever God is doing, it is certainly beyond cultural fears, fads, and social taboos. Open and prayerful people will likely discover a very intuitive and almost common-sense wisdom about what is real and what is unreal in regard to our sexual relatedness and the many ways it allows us to move and discover our true bodily and spiritual selves.

The Catholic Theological Society summarized it well when it stated that our sexual actions must aim to be “self-liberating, other-enriching, honest, faithful, socially responsible, life-serving, and joyous.” [1] That is certainly the task and journey of a lifetime, but it is no more or no less than what Jesus said when he taught the greatest commandment of love of God and love of neighbor. The two loves “resemble one another” (see Matthew 22:37–39). They are each the school of the other. We will learn how to be properly sexual as we understand the properly passionate relationship that God has with us. And we learn how to be properly spiritual as we come to understand the true character of human longing and affection.

Finally, the only biblical mandate that matters is to copy and allow the pattern of God’s love in you. If this sounds too soft, perhaps it means that we have never loved “all the way.” We have never let it carry us through all its stages, all of its internal ecstasies, loneliness, and purifications. To attain a whole and truly passionate sexuality is hard and holy work.

God’s way of loving is the only licensed teacher of human sexuality. God’s passion created ours. Our deep desiring is a relentless returning to that place where all things are one. If we are afraid of our sexuality, we are afraid of God. Nor should we equate sexuality with unadulterated lust, which is far too egocentric to care about anybody else.

My desire in this week’s meditations is to initiate a healthy and holy dialogue within your own spirit and perhaps between lovers and would-be lovers. In such an interchange, I hope that you will catch sight of that one Holy Spirit, who enlightens and assures us that it is from our flesh that we shall look on God (Job 19:26).

References:
[1] Catholic Theological Society of America, Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought (Paulist Press: 1977), 186.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 32–33; and

Gate of the Temple: Spirituality and Sexuality, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1991, 2006, 2009), CD, MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
As a gay man, I believed I was damned and there was nothing I could do about it. Raised in an evangelical denomination I was welcome, but not accepted. I found the United Church of Canada, their affirming ministry, and a wonderful pastor who led me to CAC. I have found the Immortal Diamond and Franciscan Way courses to be life changers. I have learned that God created us all equal in God as one. There is so much more to learn, but now, with joy in my heart. Thank you CAC and Fr. Rohr.
—Richard P.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Impressions (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: In its rainbow of colors, human sexuality can be many things: delicate, powerful, mysterious, beautiful. How might we foster a healthy relationship with the holy gift of sexuality?

Overcoming the Gap

The Holiness of Human Sexuality

Overcoming the Gap
Sunday, June 6, 2021

Incarnation is the overcoming of the gap between God and everything visible and concrete. It is the synthesis of matter and spirit. Without incarnation, God remains separate from us and from creation. Because of incarnation, we can say, “God is with us!” In fact, God is in us, and in everything else that God created. We all have the divine DNA. Everything bears the divine fingerprint including, of course, the mystery of embodiment.

The belief that God is “out there” is the basic dualism that is tearing us all apart. Our view of God as separate and distant has harmed our relationship to food, possessions, and money, to animals, nature, and our own bodies. This loss is foundational to why we live such distraught and divided lives, particularly when it comes to sexuality, the subject of this week’s meditations. Jesus came precisely to put it all together for us and in us. He was saying, in effect, “The material and the physical can be trusted and enjoyed. This world and even this body are the hiding place and the revelation place of God! To be human, to have a body, to be sexual is good!”

The whole movement of Christianity is found in the Incarnation. Jesus was not satisfied to remain Word, he became flesh. Already in the first century, the New Testament speaks of the resurrection and redemption of the body. God did not play a trick on us humans, saying “I’m going to give you sexual desire, but don’t you dare really think, feel, or act sexually!” But that’s what happens with dualism and when we view God as separate. The word sex itself comes from the Latin sectare (to cut), so the original root meaning suggests that reality is cut or divided. We split matter and spirit into two and we are searching for union or our other half.

As the writer and Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it, “When two loving individuals, two bearers of God’s image, are unified in an erotic embrace, there is space for something holy. What was separate has come together. Two spirits, two bodies, two stories are drawn so close that they are something together that they cannot be alone. There is unity.” [1]

Jesus is the great synthesis for us, the icon of the whole mystery—all at once. “In his body lives the fullness of divinity, and in him you too find your fulfillment” (Colossians 2:9–10). We are clearly not very at home in our bodies, and Jesus came to show us that it is our human and this-world experience that we must and can trust. It is our necessary and good beginning point. After the Incarnation, we hopefully realize that the material world has always been the privileged place for divine encounter. What a surprise for most people! Most of us are shooting for the stars instead. We are looking for “higher states of consciousness” and moral perfectionism, while Jesus quite simply comes and “lives among us.”

References:
[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless: A Sexual Reformation (Convergent: 2019), 20.

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, rev. ed. (Crossroad: 1999, 2003), 118, 138, 139; and

Gate of the Temple: Spirituality and Sexuality, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1991, 2006, 2009), CD, MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
As a gay man, I believed I was damned and there was nothing I could do about it. Raised in an evangelical denomination I was welcome, but not accepted. I found the United Church of Canada, their affirming ministry, and a wonderful pastor who led me to CAC. I have found the Immortal Diamond and Franciscan Way courses to be life changers. I have learned that God created us all equal in God as one. There is so much more to learn, but now, with joy in my heart. Thank you CAC and Fr. Rohr.
—Richard P.

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Impressions (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham.
Image inspiration: In its rainbow of colors, human sexuality can be many things: delicate, powerful, mysterious, beautiful. How might we foster a healthy relationship with the holy gift of sexuality?
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