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Acting In Conscious Love

A few years ago, Father Richard was invited by Carmelite priest Bob Colaresi on a pilgrimage to Thérèse’s community in France. Richard shares:

Our small group of five visited the infirmary where Thérèse died. I stood nearest the window. I could see the black hole in the bushes that Thérèse likened to her own soul when she was in pain, dying of tuberculosis, and trying to believe that Jesus still loved her. The sister guiding our tour was telling us the story of Thérèse’s death when she suddenly paused and said, “We have a visitor!” The way she said it, we all got goose bumps!

We followed the sister’s gaze and saw by the window a beautiful orange and yellow butterfly. It was only April 3, way too early for butterflies in northern France. She said, “Let it out, let it out!” Since I was closest to the window, I tried to open the latch, but I didn’t understand how it worked and just kept struggling with it. All of a sudden, I felt as though I were levitating. I had to look down at my feet to make sure I was still on the ground. I was definitely standing there, but I felt such ecstatic feelings of presence, joy, love, and power. All the blood seemed to flow out of my head.

The sister could only see me from behind. She asked, “What’s wrong? Open the window. The butterfly wants out! The butterfly wants out!” I finally got the window open, and the butterfly flew away. I turned around and the others said my face was white. “What just happened?” I asked, even though I knew I had just been visited. I don’t know how else to say it: Thérèse was there.

Before she died, Thérèse promised to spend her heaven doing good on earth. [1] Whether we believe in miracles of the saints or not, it seems like everybody who loves Thérèse has some miraculous story. She gets involved in our lives. I think she is present in millions of lives. There is something beautiful happening through this woman who said she wanted to perfect “the science of love.” [2]

My own experience in her convent felt like an affirmation of what I truly believe and what has been a lot of my message. The little way is the spirituality of imperfection; we come to God not by doing it right, but by doing it wrong. It’s not a matter of doing great things. Whenever we act in conscious love, this is the little way. And I think whatever we do in conscious union and love is prayer. So many of our Catholic saints are examples of heroic martyrdom; the message they give is, “If I am perfect, then God will love me.” Because I was so programmed to think that way, I really needed to be released from that pursuit of perfection. Thank God both Thérèse and Francis of Assisi did that for me!  

References:

[1] Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, trans. John Clarke, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1976), 263.

[2] Story of a Soul, 187.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 233–236.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditations 9 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Frost (detail), 1972, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: We pause to appreciate the seemingly insignificant and experience the awe of the simple and unexpected.

Story from Our Community:

When I make a mistake, I get angry at myself and then get frozen in my fear of making another mistake. I will reread this message daily to get past the perfection idea for myself and others. I treasure CAC every day as I read and reread the message. Blessings to the staff. You are my friends. —Diane L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

Accepting Our Imperfections

Richard shares how the teachings of Thérèse of Lisieux have supported his own spiritual journey: 

French Catholicism in Thérèse’s time emphasized an ideal of human perfection, but Thérèse humbly trusted her own experience and taught the spirituality of imperfection instead. Thérèse is one of my favorite saints, perhaps because I’m an Enneagram Type One. The trap for the One is self-created perfectionism, which makes us dissatisfied and disappointed by nearly everything, starting with ourselves. 

Thérèse has helped me to embrace imperfection—my own and others. When her sister Céline was upset with her own faults, Thérèse instructed, “If you want to bear in peace the trial of not pleasing yourself, you will give [the Virgin Mary] a sweet home.” [1] If we pay attention even for an hour, we observe how hard it is to be “displeasing” to ourselves! Often, this is the emotional snag that sends us into terribly bad moods without even realizing the origins of these moods. To resolve this problem, Thérèse teaches us to let go of the very need to “think well of yourself” to begin with! That’s our ego talking, not God.

Worthiness is not the issue; the issue is trust and surrender. As Thérèse understood, “Jesus does not demand great actions from us but simply surrender and gratitude.” [2] Let’s resolve this once and for all: You’re not worthy! None of us are. Don’t even go down that worthiness road. It’s a game of denial and pretend. We’re all saved by grace. We’re all being loved in spite of ourselves. That’s why I can also say, “You’re all worthy! But your worthiness has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the goodness of God.

Brené Brown, a contemporary teacher who extols the gifts of imperfection, writes:

It is in the process of embracing our imperfections that we find our truest gifts: courage, compassion, and connection. . . .

When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness—the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. . . .

There is a line from Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” that serves as a reminder to me when . . . I’m trying to control everything and make it perfect. The line is, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” [3] . . . This line helps me remember the beauty of the cracks (and the messy house and the imperfect manuscript and the too-tight jeans). It reminds me that our imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together. Imperfectly, but together. [4]

References:

[1] Thérèse to Sister Geneviève (Céline), December 24, 1896, in Thérèse of Lisieux: General Correspondence, vol. 2, 1890–1897, trans. John Clarke (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1988), 1038. Note: Thérèse imagined this note as written by the Virgin Mary, and wrote “Message from the Blessed Virgin” on the envelope.

[2] Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, trans. John Clarke, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1976), 188.

[3] Leonard Cohen, “Anthem,” The Future (New York: Columbia, 1992).

[4] Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 2010), 57–58, 23, 61.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi(Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 111–112; and

The Authority of Those Who Have Suffered (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2005). Available as MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditations 9 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Frost (detail), 1972, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: We pause to appreciate the seemingly insignificant and experience the awe of the simple and unexpected.

Story from Our Community:

When I make a mistake, I get angry at myself and then get frozen in my fear of making another mistake. I will reread this message daily to get past the perfection idea for myself and others. I treasure CAC every day as I read and reread the message. Blessings to the staff. You are my friends. —Diane L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

Tiny Opportunities to Love

Memoirist Heather King spent a year praying with Thérèse of Lisieux’s insights, and describes how Thérèse practiced her “little way” through relationships:

Some of the best-known anecdotes about Thérèse concern her saintlike, though seemingly small efforts with respect to her fellow nuns:

  1. She overcame her instinctive dislike of a particular nun, and . . . [exhibited] such charity that the sister actually thought Thérèse felt a special fondness for her.
  2. She stifled her almost compulsive desire to turn around and glare at the nun behind her in choir who made a clicking noise (apparently by tapping her rosary against her teeth), realizing that the more charitable act would be to pretend that the sound was music to Christ’s ears and endure the annoyance in silence.
  3. Every evening at dinnertime Thérèse took it upon herself to usher a particularly vexatious elderly nun from chapel to her place at table in the refectory, even going the extra mile to lovingly cut the crabapple’s bread.

Saints do not live in some other world. . . . They live in the same world we do, and they show us that spirituality is intensely down-to-earth. We learn to love through frustration, disappointment, and failure. We learn through the seemingly trivial incidents of our daily lives.

“When I am feeling nothing . . . then is the moment for seeking opportunities, nothings, which please Jesus. . . . For example, a smile, a friendly word, when I would want to say nothing, or put on a look of annoyance,” [1] Thérèse wrote, and “I have no desire to go to Lourdes to have ecstasies. I prefer (the monotony of sacrifice)!” [2]

King applies the spirit of Thérèse’s small, loving acts to her own life:

I began to see the almost superhuman strength required to refrain from, say, repeating a juicy bit of gossip, or rolling my eyes, or allowing my voice to get harsh when I was upset. I began to sense as well that, just because they’re so difficult, such acts perhaps do far more good than we can ever know. Standing patiently in line helped the other people in line to be patient as well. Blessing the other person in traffic, even though nobody heard or saw, somehow encouraged someone else to bless the next person. When the neighborhood noise bothered me, I sometimes took to starting with one corner of my apartment complex, visualizing the person or people who lived there, and working my way around, praying for the inhabitants of each. (Other times I took to tearing out my hair and cursing.) . . .

We can try, at great personal sacrifice, to be perfectly righteous, a perfect friend, perfectly responsive, perfectly available, perfectly forgiving. But at the heart of our efforts must lie the knowledge that, by ourselves, we can do, heal, or correct nothing. The point is not to be perfect, but to “perfectly” leave Christ to do, heal, and correct in us what he wills.

References:

[1] Therese to Céline, July 18, 1893, in Thérèse of Lisieux: General Correspondence, vol. 2, 1890–1897, trans. John Clarke (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1988), 801.

[2] Thérèse to Agnes of Jesus, May 10, 1890, in Thérèse of Lisieux: General Correspondence, vol. 1, 1877–1890, trans. John Clarke (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1982), 620.

Heather King, Shirt of Flame: A Year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2011), 71–73, 76.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditations 9 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Frost (detail), 1972, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: We pause to appreciate the seemingly insignificant and experience the awe of the simple and unexpected.

Story from Our Community:

For years I thought that being a good mom was trying to be perfect. I had so very many imperfect moments in my past, and so many of those were of my own doing. So, I imagined that the best gift I could give my kids was to show them how much I’d changed, and how “perfect” I had become. . . I thought because I am “the mom” I was required to suck it up, to hide my feelings, and to act nice, to keep myself worthy of their love… But that day is over. I am ready to come clean and allow myself to be seen [as] a human being, and a mother who feels deeply and loves with pure abandon. My heart deserves to breathe…and I will no longer hide my humanity. —Holly K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

Strength in Weakness

In this homily, Father Richard reflects on the paradoxical relationship between weakness and strength:

I must be up front with you. I don’t really understand why God created the world in this upside-down way. I do not know why “power is at its best in weakness,” as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9. I cannot pretend to understand God, but this is what I see: People who have moved from one seeming success to another seldom understand success at all—except for their own very limited version. People who fail to do something right, by even their own definition of right, are those who often break through to enlightenment and compassion.

Paul can talk in this paradoxical way about power and weakness because he meditated on the mystery of the cross. The one who was a failure became the redeemer. The one who looked naked and weak and like a loser became the ultimate winner. And so Paul sums it up in his beautiful philosophy, ending with the line, “It is when I am weak that I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). 

Let’s honestly admit almost none of us believe that. We think it’s when we’re strong that we’re strong. But no, it’s when we’re weak that we’re strong. It doesn’t make a bit of sense to the rational, logical mind. Only people of the Spirit understand how true it is. The Twelve Step Program made it the first step: We have to experience our powerlessness before we can experience our power.  

Paul says he experienced God telling him, “My grace is sufficient for you. Power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). But the philosophy of the United States of America is that power is made perfect in more power. Just try to get powerful: more guns, more weapons, more wars, more influence, more billionaires. Everybody’s trying to get higher, trying to get up, up, up. While Jesus, surprise of surprises, is going down.

The experience of powerlessness is where we all must begin, and Alcoholics Anonymous is honest and humble enough to state this, just as Jesus himself always went where the pain was. Wherever there was human suffering, Jesus was concerned about it and sought to heal it in the very moment of encounter. It is both rather amazing and very sad that we pushed it all off into a future reward system for those who were “worthy”—as if any of us are.

Is it this human pain that we fear? Powerlessness, the state of being shipwrecked, is an experience we all share anyway, if we are sincere, but Bill Wilson (1895–1971), co-founder of AA, discovered we are not very good at that either. He called it “denial.” It seems we are not that free to be honest, or even aware, because most of our wounds are buried in the unconscious. So, it is absolutely essential that we find a spirituality that reaches to that hidden level. If not, nothing really changes.

References:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Our Weakness Is What Refines the Soul,” homily, July 15, 2015; and

Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2011, 2021), 3, xxiv.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditations 9 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Frost (detail), 1972, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: We pause to appreciate the seemingly insignificant and experience the awe of the simple and unexpected.

Story from Our Community:

For years I thought that being a good mom was trying to be perfect. I had so very many imperfect moments in my past, and so many of those were of my own doing. So, I imagined that the best gift I could give my kids was to show them how much I’d changed, and how “perfect” I had become. . . I thought because I am “the mom” I was required to suck it up, to hide my feelings, and to act nice, to keep myself worthy of their love… But that day is over. I am ready to come clean and allow myself to be seen [as] a human being, and a mother who feels deeply and loves with pure abandon. My heart deserves to breathe…and I will no longer hide my humanity. —Holly K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

A Gospel of Humility

In this talk, Richard unpacks the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9–14), showing how Jesus affirmed a spirituality of imperfection:

With this parable, Jesus invites us to struggle with the contrast between a spirituality of perfection and what I’m calling a spirituality of imperfection. Notice the beginning lines: “Then he spoke this parable, to some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous and therefore despised others. ‘Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector’” (Luke 18:9–10). Jesus, a consummate Jew, uses examples from his own culture and time. According to common definitions of the day, the Pharisees are the good guys and tax collectors are the bad guys. The tax collectors are those who have totally aligned with the Roman Empire, charging money to their own Jewish people, and giving it to the Empire. No one likes the tax collectors, and everyone looks up to the Pharisees. The Pharisees are simply religious people trying to obey the law, just like faithful Catholics or Bible-reading Protestants today. And as always, Jesus, with his nondual way of thinking, turns it all on its head.

“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people. Extortioners, adulterers, or even this poor tax collector here. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I possess’” (18:11–12). None of us would be so foolish as to state our spiritual credit so forthrightly, but we do feel it inside. We think: “I’m a good person. I don’t steal; I don’t cheat.” We’ve all fashioned our positive, superior self-images on why we’re right and why we’re good. In contrast, “The tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven. Instead, he beat his breast, saying ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.’” Jesus said, “This man went down to his house justified—rather than the other” (18:13–14).

This repositions the whole role of religion. Didn’t most of us think that it’s all a meritocracy? I certainly did! Many religious people think that it’s all a merit badge system—all achievement, accomplishment, performance, and perfection. The good people win and the bad people lose. Of course, once we cast anything as a win-lose scenario, the irony is that everybody loses. Why can’t people see that competitive games are not the way to go?

I’m convinced that Jesus’ good news is that God’s choice is always for the excluded one. Jesus learned this from his Jewish tradition: God always chooses the rejected son, the barren woman, the people enslaved in Egypt or exiled in Babylon. It’s not a winner’s script in the Bible—it’s a loser’s script. It’s a loser’s script where, ironically, everybody wins.

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Little Way: A Spirituality of Imperfection (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2007). Available as MP3 audio download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditations 9 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Frost (detail), 1972, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: We pause to appreciate the seemingly insignificant and experience the awe of the simple and unexpected.

Story from Our Community:

In a way, we are perfect if we allow ourselves to accept that we are not perfect. Perfect in the eyes of God with great potential, but imperfect in that we are not going to get it right all the time. We will make mistakes. —J.E.B. K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

Discovering the Little Way

During Richard Rohr’s novitiate year of becoming a Franciscan, he discovered the writings of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873­–1897). Father Richard describes Thérèse’s teaching as “a spirituality of imperfection”:

I have often mentioned my love for Thérèse of Lisieux, a French Carmelite nun with minimal formal education, who in her short, hidden life of only twenty-four years captured the essence of Jesus’ core teachings on love. Thérèse was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997 [1], which means her teaching is seen as thoroughly reliable and trustworthy. She “‘democratized’ holiness,” as Brother Joseph Schmidt (1934–2022) said, “making it clear that holiness is within the reach of anyone willing to do God’s will in love at each successive moment as life unfolds.” [2] 

Thérèse came into a nineteenth-century Catholic Church that often believed in an angry, punitive God, perfectionism, and validation by personal good behavior—which is a very unstable and illusory path. In the midst of this rigid environment, Thérèse was convinced that her message, taught to her by Jesus himself, was “totally new.” [3] The gospel of radical grace had been forgotten by many Christians, so much so that Thérèse had to call it “new.”

Thérèse called this simple, childlike path her “little way.” It is a spirituality of imperfection. In a letter to priest Adolphe Roulland (1870–1934), she writes: “Perfection seems simple to me, I see it is sufficient to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child into God’s arms.” [4] Any Christian “perfection” is, in fact, our ability to include, forgive, and accept our imperfection. As I’ve often said, we grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central lesson of how spiritual growth happens, yet nothing in us wants to believe it.

If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely from how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially in ourselves. What a clever place for God to hide holiness, so that only the humble, “little,” and earnest will find it! A “perfect” person ends up being one who can consciously forgive and include imperfection rather than the ones who think they are totally above and beyond imperfection. It becomes rather obvious once we say it out loud.

Near the end of her life, Thérèse explained her little way to her sister, and this became part of her autobiography Story of a Soul. In contrast to the “big way” of heroic perfectionism, she teaches, in essence, that as a little one “with all [her] imperfections,” God’s love is drawn toward her. God has to love her and help her because she is “too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection.” [5] With utter confidence, she “believed herself infinitely loved by Infinite Love.”

References:

[1] Pope John Paul II, “Proclamation of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face as a ‘Doctor of the Church,’” homily, October 19, 1997.

[2] Joseph F. Schmidt, Walking the Little Way of Thérèse of Lisieux: Discovering the Path of Love (Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 2012), 22.

[3] Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, trans. John Clarke, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1976), 207.

[4] Thérèse to Adolphe Roulland, May 9, 1987, in Thérèse of Lisieux: General Correspondence, vol. 2, 1890–1897, trans. John Clarke (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1988), 1094.

[5] Story of a Soul, 207.

[6] Louis Liagre, A Retreat with St. Thérèse, trans. P. J. Owen (London: Douglas Organ, 1947), 22. Note: This is the book that Father Richard read during his novitiate year.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), xxii; and

The Little Way: A Spirituality of Imperfection (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2007). Available as MP3 audio download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Arthur Allen, Daily Meditations 9 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 8 (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Belinda Rain, Frost (detail), 1972, California, public domain. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: We pause to appreciate the seemingly insignificant and experience the awe of the simple and unexpected.

Story from Our Community:

In a way, we are perfect if we allow ourselves to accept that we are not perfect. Perfect in the eyes of God with great potential, but imperfect in that we are not going to get it right all the time. We will make mistakes. —J.E.B. K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

Ripening with Age: Weekly Summary

Sunday
Old age, as such, is almost a complete changing of gears and engines from the first half of our lives, and does not happen without many slow realizations, inner calmings, lots of inner resistance and denials, and eventual surrenders. All of them by God’s grace work with our ever-deepening sense of what we really desire and who we really are.
—Richard Rohr

Monday
What looks like falling can largely be experienced as falling upward and onward, into a broader and deeper world, where the soul finds its fullness, is finally connected to the whole, and lives inside the Big Picture.
—Richard Rohr

Tuesday
Now, this period, this aging process, is the last time we’re given to be more than all the small things we have allowed ourselves to be over the years. But first, we must face what the smallness is, and rejoice in the time we have left to turn sweet instead of more sour than ever.
—Joan Chittister

Wednesday
There is no more noble way to spend these years than to become an elder, to bear witness to the world as placeholders for peace, love, wisdom, and fearlessness.
—Kathleen Dowling Singh

Thursday
As we grow old we realize that, in all we have been through, Love has been using us for its own purposes. And for this we feel immensely grateful.
—James Finley

Friday
The soul of the “grand” parent is large enough to embrace the death of the ego and to affirm the life of God in itself and others, despite all imperfections. Its spaciousness accepts all the opposites in life.
—Richard Rohr

I Will Sing a New Song

We invite readers to join theologian and mystic Howard Thurman (1900–1981) as he prays for the courage and ability to stay renewed over the course of his life:

The old song of my spirit has wearied itself out. It has long ago been learned by heart so that now it repeats itself over and over, bringing no added joy to my days or lift to my spirit. It is a good song, measured to a rhythm to which I am bound by ties of habit and timidity of mind. The words belong to old experiences which once sprang fresh as water from a mountain crevice fed by melting snows. But my life has passed beyond to other levels where the old song is meaningless. I demand of the old song that it meet the need of present urgencies. Also, I know that the work of the old song, perfect in its place, is not for the new demand!

I will sing a new song. As difficult as it is, I must learn the new song that is capable of meeting the new need. I must fashion new words born of all the new growth of my life, my mind and my spirit. I must prepare for new melodies that have never been mine before, that all that is within me may lift my voice unto God. How I love the old familiarity of the wearied melody—how I shrink from the harsh discords of the new untried harmonies.

Teach me, my Father, that I might learn with the abandonment and enthusiasm of Jesus, the fresh new accent, the untried melody, to meet the need of the untried morrow. Thus, I may rejoice with each new day and delight my spirit in each fresh unfolding.

I will sing, this day, a new song unto Thee, O God.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1953, 1994), 206–207.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 12, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Trinity Tree (detail), 2022, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 7, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: Aging and transformation: the natural cycle of life, learning, growing, sharing. We flower, we leaf, we shed, we become.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

Becoming a Grand Parent

Richard Rohr draws on the archetype of the wise ruler to describe what it means to be a “grand” parent, someone who has become a mature elder:

The final stage of the wisdom journey in mythology is symbolized by the ruling image of the king or queen or what I like to call the grand father or grand mother.

When we can let go of our own need for everything to be as we want it, and our own need to succeed, we can then encourage the independent journey and the success of others. The grand parent is able to relinquish center stage and to stand on the sidelines, and thus be in solidarity with those who need their support. Children can feel secure in the presence of their grandparents because, while their parents are still rushing to find their way through life’s journey, grandpa and grandma have hopefully become spacious. They can contain problems, inconsistencies, inconveniences, and contradictions—after a lifetime of practicing and learning.

Grand parents can trust life because they have seen more of it than younger people have, and they can trust death because they are closer to it. Something has told them along the way that who they are now is never the final stage, and this one isn’t either. We need to be close enough to our own death to see it coming and to recognize that death and life are united in an eternal embrace, and one is not the end of the other. Death is what it is. I am a grand father when I am ready to let go. To the grand mother, death is no longer an enemy, but as Saint Francis called it, a “welcome sister.”

The soul of the grand parent is large enough to embrace the death of the ego and to affirm the life of God in itself and others, despite all imperfections. Its spaciousness accepts all the opposites in life—masculine and feminine, unity and difference, victory and defeat, us and them and so on—because it has accepted the opposition of death itself. Grand parents know that their beliefs have less to do with unarguable conclusions than scary encounters with life and the living God. They have come to realize that spiritual growth is not so much learning as it is unlearning, a radical openness to the truth no matter what the consequences or where it leads. They understand that they do not so much grasp the truth as let go of their egos, which are usually nothing more than obstacles to the truth.

I cannot imagine a true grand father or grand mother who is not a contemplative in some form. And contemplatives are individuals who live in and return to the center within themselves, and yet they know that they are not the Center. They are only a part, but a gracious and grateful part at that.

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr with Joseph Martos, From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1990, 1996, 2005), 169, 171, 173, 174–175.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 12, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Trinity Tree (detail), 2022, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 7, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: Aging and transformation: the natural cycle of life, learning, growing, sharing. We flower, we leaf, we shed, we become.

Story from Our Community:

Several years ago I made a conscious decision to shift my life to a contemplative state of solitude. . . I decided that despite the challenges of illness, I wanted to spend the final years of my life mostly on my own. Still, I have found a way to be of service to those I love. As friends and family struggle with the “what is” of today, I am there for them with a calm heart and words of consolation, reassurance, and hope. Although I am speaking from my own heart, I truly believe my words flow from all the wisdom teachers quoted in the Daily Meditations and other CAC publications. I have finally found the faith community I have been searching for my whole life. I feel so blessed! —Kathy S.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

A Noble Task

Known for her deep wisdom around death and dying, Kathleen Dowling Singh (1946–2017) also wrote about the awakening that can occur when we consciously address aging:

Opening deeply to the truth of our own aging is wise. Opening deeply to the truth of our own impermanence is wise. Although such opening may not come easily at first—we all know how the ego tends to resist vulnerability—it is important to do so if we wish to mindfully use the time remaining to us. . . .

To live a life of an elder is to ripen into being that is more than simply elderly, more than just old. It involves ripening into clear-eyed acceptance of the way things actually exist. That ripening involves, for each of us, many difficult reckonings in the multifaceted, multidimensional understanding that everything that can be lost will be lost. . . .

Grey hair and sagginess notwithstanding, many of us still cling childishly to so much that is unreal and inessential. Many of us still cling to reputation, to imagined security, to unexamined habits of attitude and behavior, and to self-image. We have deep aversion to having all of our cherished illusions stripped away by life-in-form’s seeming indifference.

We all have reservoirs of fear, some large and some small and subtle, around entering this new terrain of unknown and mystery: our last years. What will aging to do me? To my body? To my mind? . . . Will I matter to anyone? Will I be a burden? How will I die?

We do not know. We have no clue what these years will hold for us. We have no clue what will happen tomorrow. The “moment that changed everything” usually arrives unannounced.

The only person who can answer the questions posed by the often painful challenges of aging is the person we will be in the moment we confront those circumstances. The shaping of that person into someone with greater wisdom and equanimity can begin in this moment.

For Singh, when we choose to ripen, to awaken as we age, we offer a gift to the world and future generations:

If we are to claim the last years of life as years that hold the possibility of awakening into equanimity and lightness, into the very embodiment of grace, we need to bear witness to the ripening of that possibility. Not only would it be a blessing for each of us, it would be a blessing for a world starving for such witnessing. . . .

Mindful of impermanence, the breath-by-breath arising and abiding and falling of each moment, we can remain in remembrance of our longing to exist in wisdom and love and compassion. We can remain in our intention to ripen into the spiritual maturity that is our birthright to cultivate. There is no more noble way to spend these years than to become an elder, to bear witness to the world as placeholders for peace, love, wisdom, and fearlessness.

Reference:

Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Aging: Awaken as You Grow Older (Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2014), 12, 16–17, 17–18, 21, 24.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 12, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Trinity Tree (detail), 2022, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 7, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: Aging and transformation: the natural cycle of life, learning, growing, sharing. We flower, we leaf, we shed, we become.

Story from Our Community:

I’m writing to say thank you so very much for walking with me in my journey towards greater discernment. At age 72, I have built a very successful “container,” as Fr. Richard would say, to house my False Self. But I admit that I am struggling to find direction in my “second act.” —Jim K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

What Kind of Person Are We Becoming?

Contemplative elder and Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister writes of the humility we must cultivate if we hope to grow in love and compassion as we age:  

If we learn anything at all as time goes by and the changing seasons become fewer and fewer, it is that there are some things in life that cannot be fixed. It is more than possible that we will go to our graves with a great deal of personal concerns, of life agendas, left unresolved. . . . So has life been wasted? Has it all been for nothing?

Only if we mistake the meaning of the last period of life. This time of life is not meant to solidify us in our inadequacies. It is meant to free us to mature even more. . . .

This is the period of life when we must begin to look inside our own hearts and souls rather than outside ourselves for the answers to our problems, for the fixing of the problems. This is the time for facing ourselves, for bringing ourselves into the light.

Chittister invites us to consider aging as an opportunity to grow into our true and larger selves:

Now is the time to ask ourselves what kind of person we have been becoming all these years. And do we like that person? Did we become more honest, more decent, more caring, more merciful as we went along because of all these things? And if not, what must we be doing about it now? . . .  

Can we begin to see ourselves as only part of the universe, just a fragment of it, not its center? Can we give ourselves to accepting the heat and the rain, the pain and the limitations, the inconveniences and discomforts of life, without setting out to passively punish the rest of the human race for the daily exigencies that come with being human?

Can we smile at what we have not smiled at for years? Can we give ourselves away to those who need us? Can we speak our truth without needing to be right and accept the vagaries of life now—without needing the entire rest of the world to swaddle us beyond any human justification for expecting it? Can we talk to people decently and allow them to talk to us? . . .

Now, this period, this aging process, is the last time we’re given to be more than all the small things we have allowed ourselves to be over the years. But first, we must face what the smallness is, and rejoice in the time we have left to turn sweet instead of more sour than ever.

A burden of these years is the danger of giving in to our most selfish selves.

A blessing of these years is the opportunity to face what it is in us that has been enslaving us, and to let our spirit fly free of whatever has been tying it to the Earth all these years.

Reference:

Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully (New York: BlueBridge, 2008), 179–180, 181, 182, 183.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 12, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Trinity Tree (detail), 2022, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 7, (detail), 2022, photograph, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: Aging and transformation: the natural cycle of life, learning, growing, sharing. We flower, we leaf, we shed, we become.

Story from Our Community:

I’m writing to say thank you so very much for walking with me in my journey towards greater discernment. At age 72, I have built a very successful “container,” as Fr. Richard would say, to house my False Self. But I admit that I am struggling to find direction in my “second act.” —Jim K.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

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

Listen to the prayer.

 

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