Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Author at Center for Action and Contemplation — Page 2 of 233
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A Sacramental Universe

Francis and the Animals

A Sacramental Universe
Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Richard shares how Francis responded to the rising tide of “consumer” culture, which Francis’ father was fully engaged in as a wealthy merchant.

Francis refused to be a “user” of reality—buying and selling it to personal advantage (the I-it relationship). In fact, that is what he vigorously reacted against, and why he granted personal subjectivity to sun, moon, wind, animals, and even death, by addressing them as brother, sister, friend, and mother. Maybe his seeing, which was both personal and contemplative, is what forced him out and beyond the production-consumption economy where most people find themselves trapped today. Francis grants all of reality, even elements and animals, an intimate I-Thou relationship. This could be a definition of what it means to be a contemplative, which is to look at reality with much wider eyes than mere usability, functionality, or self-interest—with inherent enjoyment for a thing in itself as itself. Remember, as soon as any giving wants or needs a reward in return, we have backed away from love, which is why even our common notion of “heaven” can keep us from the pure love of God or neighbor! A pure act of love is its own reward and needs nothing in return.

Scholars say that the Franciscan movement following St. Francis himself was not really known for any deep connection with the sacramentality of nature, except for some of the stories and sayings surrounding Anthony of Padua (1195–1231) and Giles of Assisi (1190–1262). The first, short-lived generation of Franciscans dwelt in caves (carceri) and hermitages apart from the city, in nature, but we soon became gentrified and proper. I can remember my novice master telling us we should not waste or consume or kill unnecessarily; but such teachings were about private virtue and not presented as a social value or a necessity for the good of others and the planet. This was still 1961. I never heard any direct teaching on sustainability or the sacramentality of nature itself in any of my thirteen years in formation. We were trying to be Franciscans in the most developed, capitalized, and industrialized country in the world. “Sacraments” happened in church buildings, but not in the garden or the woods. Once we lost regular contact with primal creation, I believe the Franciscan enterprise largely started to reflect whatever ethnic culture it inhabited, and that was no longer nature or the universe.

With the exception of Indigenous peoples, the sacramental meaning of the world was largely lost until its more recent rediscovery by seers and seekers like Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry, Wendell Berry, Sallie McFague, Ilia Delio, Bill Plotkin, Mary Oliver, and Brian Swimme, to name a few luminaries. We Catholics ended up limiting “sacramentals” to things like religious medals, blessed candles, and holy water, instead of honoring the inherent holiness of the earth’s ores, beeswax, and H2O that actually formed them.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 242–243, 48–50.

Story from Our Community:
We all share God’s bounty in this wonderful creation we call Earth. Although I have always treated animals as gifts from God, it wasn’t until Father Richard’s course on the Franciscan Way that my eyes were open to seeing the trees and flowers as our brothers and sisters, as well as the pebble I still kick down the street and the slug in my bird fountain. I am truly blessed to be one of God’s children. —Russell C.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 10 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to “Dr. B” as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: The simple scene of a cow grazing is easy to pass by without a thought – but it is also a holy moment. Sacred and mundane are found together in the form of an ordinary creature.

The Emotional Intelligence of Animals

Francis and the Animals

The Emotional Intelligence of Animals
Tuesday, October 5, 2021

I wonder what I ought to tell you about the friendship there was between me and a falcon? —Carlo Carretto, I, Francis

Carlo Carretto (1910–1988) was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of contemplatives inspired by the spirituality of priest and hermit Charles de Foucauld. In this meditation, Carretto speaks in Francis of Assisi’s voice, combining Francis’ biography with what he might say to us today.

I was in a certain hermitage, where I had withdrawn to pray in peace.

I noticed that very nearby there was a falcon, with its nest.

We became friends. . . .

Then the falcon undertook to rouse me from my rest at the hour of prayer—at midnight, and again at dawn for Lauds. . . .

He always performed his duty with precision.

Once he even went beyond the call of duty.

He had noticed that I was not feeling well—and so he did not awaken me in the night, but only in the morning for Lauds.

I think God was guiding me by the falcon.

You can go ahead and smile. . . . But it happened to me, and I took pleasure in it all, even going so far as to hold conversations with all manner of creatures, and preach various sermons to them. . . .

I made an effort to make them understand that I was a friend. At first they were astounded and incredulous. But then they believed.

And they drew near.

And they listened to me. . . .

It was as if the dimensions of the Kingdom had been enlarged for me. . . .

It was as if the number of my sisters and brothers had become measurelessly greater. [1]

Science is beginning to confirm the intuitions of mystics throughout the ages, including Francis—that we share kinship with animals. Consider the insights from the fascinating book When Elephants Weep, which explores the emotional lives of animals. Author Jeffrey Masson considers animal relationships that surely transcend mere survival and can even be called love:

Lionesses baby-sit for one another just as house cats sometimes do. . . . Elephants appear to make allowances for other members of their herd. One African herd always traveled slowly because one of its members had never fully recovered from a broken leg suffered as a calf. A park warden reported coming across a herd with a female carrying a small calf several days dead, which she placed on the ground whenever she ate or drank: she traveled very slowly and the rest of the elephants waited for her. . . . There appears to be so little survival value in the behavior of this herd, that perhaps one has to believe that they behaved this way just because they loved their grieving friend who loved her dead baby, and wanted to support her. [2]

[Richard: I think we know so little about our ensouled universe.]

References:
[1] Carlo Carretto, I, Francis, trans. Robert R. Barr (Orbis Books: 1982), 49–50.

[2] Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals (Delta: 1995), 78.

Story from Our Community:
We all share God’s bounty in this wonderful creation we call Earth. Although I have always treated animals as gifts from God, it wasn’t until Father Richard’s course on the Franciscan Way that my eyes were open to seeing the trees and flowers as our brothers and sisters, as well as the pebble I still kick down the street and the slug in my bird fountain. I am truly blessed to be one of God’s children. —Russell C.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 10 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to “Dr. B” as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: The simple scene of a cow grazing is easy to pass by without a thought – but it is also a holy moment. Sacred and mundane are found together in the form of an ordinary creature.

Seeing Things as They Truly Are

Francis and the Animals

Seeing Things as They Truly Are
Monday, October 4, 2021

Richard continues exploring Francis of Assisi’s insights, pointing us beyond the “bird bath” spirituality for which Francis is too often known.  

Francis of Assisi knew that the finite manifests the infinite, and the physical is the doorway to the spiritual. If we can accept this foundational principle we call “incarnation,” then all we need is right here and right now—in this world. This is the way to that! Heaven includes earth and earth includes heaven. There are not sacred and profane things, places, and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places, and moments—and it is we alone who desecrate them by our lack of insight and reverence. It is one sacred universe, and we are all a part of it. In terms of a spiritual vision, we really cannot get any better or simpler than that.

Franciscan spirituality emphasizes a real equivalence and mutuality between the one who sees and what can be seen. What you see is what you are. There is a symbiosis between the mind and heart of the seer and what they pay attention to. Francis had a unique ability to call others—animals, plants, and elements—“brother” and “sister” because he himself was a little brother. He granted other beings and things mutuality, subjectivity, “personhood,” and dignity because he first honored his own dignity as a son of God. The world of things was a transparent two-way mirror for him, which some of us would call a fully “sacramental” universe.

As Franciscan sister Ilia Delio explains:

Francis came to realize that it is Christ who sanctifies creation and transforms it into the sacrament of God. The intimate link between creation and Incarnation revealed to Francis that the whole of creation is the place to encounter God. As his eyes opened to the holiness of creation, he came to see that there is nothing trivial or worthless. Rather, all created things point beyond themselves to their Creator. . . .

[The Franciscan scholar] Bonaventure [c. 1217‒1274] describes the contemplative vision of Francis as “contuition,” that is, seeing things for what they truly are in God. In his Major Legend, [Bonaventure] writes:

In beautiful things he [Francis] contuited Beauty itself and through the footprints impressed in things he followed his Beloved everywhere, out of them all making for himself a ladder through which he could climb up to lay hold of him who is utterly desirable. . . .  He savored in each and every creature—as in so many rivulets—that fontal Goodness, and . . . sweetly encouraged them to praise the Lord. [1]

These footprints of God impressed on the things of creation enabled Francis to find God wherever he went in the world, and finding God in the things of creation led him to the embrace of Jesus Christ, for Christ is the Word of God made visible in the world. [2]

References:
[1] Bonaventure, The Life of Blessed Francis, chap. 9, in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 2, The Founder, eds. Regis J. Armstrong, J. A. Wayne Hellmann, and William J. Short (New City Press: 2000), 596–597.

[2] Ilia Delio, A Franciscan View of Creation: Learning to Live in a Sacramental World, The Franciscan Heritage Series, vol. 2 (The Franciscan Institute: 2003), 15–16.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 6–8.

Story from Our Community:
In 2015 I was blessed to experience a miracle in Assisi, Italy. I have been a social worker for many years and an advocate of mindfulness—being present in the moment. My journey now is to increasingly gain confidence in incorporating ‘spirit’ into my work. Thank you so much, Fr. Richard and CAC, for giving me the confidence to know I am on the right journey. And of course, thank you Saint Francis for somehow choosing me! May I forever be humble. —Mark L.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 10 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to “Dr. B” as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: The simple scene of a cow grazing is easy to pass by without a thought – but it is also a holy moment. Sacred and mundane are found together in the form of an ordinary creature.

Every Creature Is an Epiphany

Francis and the Animals

Every Creature Is an Epiphany
Sunday, October 3, 2021

A person who knew nothing but creatures would never need to attend to any sermons, for every creature is full of God and is a book. —Meister Eckhart, Sermon on Sirach 50:6–7 [1]

In honor of tomorrow’s feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), this week the Daily Meditations team is sharing reflections on Francis’ affinity for the natural world and the animals who inhabit it. Fr. Richard reflects on the legacy of his spiritual father:  

Each and every creature is a unique word of God, with its own message, its own metaphor, its own energetic style, its own way of showing forth goodness, beauty, and participation in the Great Mystery. Each creature has its own glow and its own unique glory. To be a contemplative is to be able to see each epiphany, to enjoy it, protect it, and draw upon it for the common good.

Living close to nature as he did, Francis could see Christ in every animal he encountered. He is quoted as talking to or about rabbits, bees, larks, falcons, lambs, pigs, fish, cicadas, waterfowl, doves, and the famous wolf of Gubbio, to name just a few. Those of you who love dogs know that each one is uniquely gifted by God and blesses our lives in special ways. Their unconditional love, forgiveness, and loyalty show us what God is like. My successive dogs, Peanut Butter, Gubbio, Venus, and now Opie, have enriched my life in many ways.

I really think human beings need someone to love, someone to awaken us to the flow of love and to keep that flow going. I can understand why so many people have adopted pets to ease their isolation during the pandemic! I often wonder if there doesn’t have to be an object (which then becomes a subject) whose goodness, truth, and beauty draw us out of ourselves. That someone doesn’t even have to be human; it can be an animal to whom we give ourselves and through whom we feel ourselves given back. Remember, our English word animal comes from the Latin word for “soul” or anima. Animals are ensouled ones!

I will never forget Venus’ amazing ability to make eye contact with me. She’d come to my bed around 5:30 in the morning, put her head on the side of the bed, and just look at me. And I’d roll over and try to get my eyes open and look back at her. Humans can’t seem to sustain eye contact for long. But dogs just keep gazing at us with their very “soulful” eyes. And I’d wonder: What did she see? What was she thinking? What was it that she genuinely seemed to like in me? They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I’m convinced these beings that we thought lived at a rudimentary level of consciousness can see the one thing necessary: love! They don’t get lost in labeling and categorizing. Maybe that’s why they can maintain the flow of love—often unconditionally.

References:
[1] This apocryphal book is included in Catholic but not Protestant Bibles.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Every Creature Is a Word of God,” Radical Grace 24, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 3;

Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 46; and

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 229–230.

Story from Our Community:
In 2015 I was blessed to experience a miracle in Assisi, Italy. I have been a social worker for many years and an advocate of mindfulness—being present in the moment. My journey now is to increasingly gain confidence in incorporating ‘spirit’ into my work. Thank you so much, Fr. Richard and CAC, for giving me the confidence to know I am on the right journey. And of course, thank you Saint Francis for somehow choosing me! May I forever be humble. —Mark L.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 10 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to “Dr. B” as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image Inspiration: The simple scene of a cow grazing is easy to pass by without a thought – but it is also a holy moment. Sacred and mundane are found together in the form of an ordinary creature.

Compassion: Weekly Summary

Compassion

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Week Thirty-Nine Summary and Practice

Sunday, September 26—Friday, October 1, 2021

Sunday
Much of the early work of contemplation is discovering a way to observe ourselves from a compassionate and nonjudgmental distance until we can eventually live more and more of our lives from this calm inner awareness and acceptance. —Richard Rohr

Monday
If the heart of divine mystery is turned in compassion toward the world, then devotion to this God draws persons into the shape of divine communion with all others. —Elizabeth Johnson

Tuesday
A spiritual leader who lacks basic human compassion has almost no power to change other people, because people intuitively know he or she does not represent the Whole and Holy One. —Richard Rohr

Wednesday
In choosing to be compassionate, we are yielding to the compassionate nature of God flowing through us, in and as our compassion toward our self as precious in our frailty. —James Finley

Thursday
We already know this law of compassion, because it is written on our hearts. We contradict our own good common sense when we seek ritual purity or any kind of moral superiority instead of loving who and what is right in front of us. —Richard Rohr

Friday
Compassion honors our experience; it allows us to be intimate with the life of this moment as it is. Compassion makes our acceptance wholehearted and complete. —Tara Brach

 

Loving Kindness, Discovering Compassion:

Activist and author Rev. angel Kyodo williams was a presenter at CAC’s 2017 CONSPIRE conference. Raised in a Christian home, Rev. angel ultimately found her calling as a Zen Buddhist priest engaged in the pursuit of radical justice.

Compassion seems like a nice buzzword, and we all want to have it. But compassion isn’t an idea that can be taught. You can’t pick it up at the bookstore. Compassion has to be felt. It’s one of those things that reveals itself without your having realized that it was at your disposal all along. You can’t manufacture what was always there, but you can create the condition in which it is most likely to thrive. [1]

Rev. angel offers these suggestions for ways of developing compassion for self and others:

[Make] a practice of being open. Practicing being intimate, getting close. Not just to the people that you already feel love for and want to be close to, but to everyone. Open to the dentist, the bus driver, the clerk. Little by little you open up more and more. Open to Republicans if you’re a Democrat. To the Liberals if you’re Conservative. Your capacity to appreciate difference deepens. Open to white folks, Asians, Latinos, and East Indians. You accept the whole world with open arms not because you have been told you should, but because you realize in your heart that we are all ultimately deserving of love and compassion. Open to the poor and homeless, the sick and dying.

There’s no magic involved here, and it isn’t nearly as impossible or distant as it may sound. The way to get to this place of openness and compassion is to practice opening more and more to yourself. All of yourself. The rough, unrefined parts as well as the areas you are proud of and like to recognize. The practice of meditation helps us call on the gentle “watcher” inside us who views all the contradictions that make us who we are without judging any of it. When you are sitting there counting your breath and a thought comes up, acknowledge it for just what it is . . . a thought. . . .

There are no good thoughts or bad thoughts. When you name them like that, they all end up just the same. . . . Each [thought] gets a name and is then allowed to move on. . . . Through meditation, every bit of us gets to be seen and acknowledged, rather than forced into a corner. We gain our sense of wholeness from that self-acceptance. . . .

Armed with the open mind and open heart that come from self-intimacy and self-acceptance, you can begin the very possible task of truly accepting others. When you practice accepting yourself in many different forms and moods, you naturally develop an ability to see your own self in other people. As you learn how to accept yourself, you learn how to accept them. That’s the true meaning of compassion.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:
[1] angel Kyodo williams, Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace (Viking Compass: 2000), 152–153.

[2] williams, 146–147, 151–152.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El ensueño (detail), 1931, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: What is she thinking? How do you feel seeing her? If you could, what would you say to her? Would you notice the weight she’s carrying?

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Cultivating Compassion

Compassion

Cultivating Compassion
Friday, October 1, 2021

Sadly, but understandably, the virtue of compassion is more closely associated with Buddhism than Christianity in some people’s minds. If we want to change that, we might learn from Buddhist teachers like Tara Brach who offer us a broad definition of compassion that we can build upon. She writes:

Compassion is our capacity to relate in a tender and sympathetic way to what we perceive. Instead of resisting our feelings of fear or grief, we embrace our pain with the kindness of a mother holding her child. Rather than judging or indulging our desire for attention or chocolate or sex, we regard our grasping with gentleness and care. Compassion honors our experience; it allows us to be intimate with the life of this moment as it is. Compassion makes our acceptance wholehearted and complete. . . .

Compassion means to be with, feel with, suffer with. Classical Buddhist texts describe compassion as the quivering of the heart, a visceral tenderness in the face of suffering. In the Buddhist tradition, one who has realized the fullness of compassion and lives from compassion is called a bodhisattva. The bodhisattva’s path and teaching is that when we allow our hearts to be touched by suffering—our own or another’s—our natural compassion flowers. The bodhisattva’s aspiration is simple and powerful: “May all circumstances serve to awaken compassion.” When we are going through a divorce, afraid for our child, facing disease, facing death—whatever is happening can be a gateway to . . . clear and limitless compassion. . . .

Fr. Richard has often said that we come to God through great love and great suffering, and—if we allow it—this journey leads us to a universal love. [1] From her Buddhist tradition, Tara Brach teaches that suffering offers a pathway to compassion:

To cultivate the tenderness of compassion, we not only stop running from suffering, we deliberately bring our attention to it. Buddhist compassion practices usually begin with being aware of our own pain because once our hearts are tender and open to our own suffering, we can more easily extend compassion to others. Sometimes we most easily connect with tenderness by first focusing our attention on the suffering of others and then bringing attention to our experience. Either way, as we feel suffering and relate to it with care rather than resistance, we awaken the heart of compassion. As we practice responding to our suffering with the kindness of compassion, our hearts can become, as Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzberg says, as wide as the world. [2]

If we’ve injured someone and are embroiled in guilt and self-recrimination, compassion for ourselves allows us to find a wise and healing way to make amends. If we are drowning in grief or sorrow, arousing compassion helps us remember the love and connection in our life. Rather than pushing them away, we free ourselves by holding our hurting places with the unconditional tenderness of compassion.

References:
[1] Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad: 2009), 122–123.

[2] Sharon Salzberg, A Heart as Wide as the World: Living with Mindfulness, Wisdom, and Compassion (Shambhala: 1997).

Adapted from Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha (Bantam Books: 2003) 28, 200–201.

Story from Our Community:
Embracing all of who I am in God has helped me to live a fuller life—and be more present to the moment. I do not run from my small self but try to embrace it with compassion; I do not project my small self onto others but pray for all those struggling with small selves (including my own). Then I am better able to live in the world. —Bridget M.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El ensueño (detail), 1931, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: What is she thinking? How do you feel seeing her? If you could, what would you say to her? Would you notice the weight she’s carrying?

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Common-Sense Compassion

Compassion

Common-Sense Compassion
Thursday, September 30, 2021

In this homily, Fr. Richard reflects on the well-known story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–35), a parable Jesus used to teach us what common-sense compassion looks like in our everyday lives.

This is probably the most well-known of all Jesus’ parables, probably because the lesson of compassion is so obvious. First of all, we have a scholar of the law. This smart man stood up to test Jesus, asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus just asks, “Well, what’s written in the law?” And the answer the man gives is perfect. He puts together the two great commandments, exactly as Jesus himself would do: “Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus says to him, “Do this and you will live.” Then there’s a giveaway line: “Because he wished to justify himself, he then asked, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:25–29).

Jesus tells him this beautiful story that we call the story of the Good Samaritan. I’m sure many of us have been told that the Samaritans were the outright enemies of the Jews, so here Jesus is picking a bad guy in their eyes to be, in fact, the good guy.

In the story, a man who was coming down from Jerusalem fell victim to robbers and was left half-dead. A priest and a Temple assistant were going down the same road but passed him on the other side.  Priests and Levites had to maintain ritual purity. In Judaism at that time touching a dead body made a person ritually impure. That’s perhaps the reason these two walked by the man. They’re not necessarily bad people; they’re just trying to maintain ritual purity so they could enter the Temple. This is part of the point of the story: love is more important than ritual purity. These men want to be pure and to do their priestly works, so they pass up a chance to love an ordinary human being.

The Samaritan who came upon the man was moved with compassion. I might say to the man, “I’ll pray for you,” but the Samaritan really goes out of his way! He bandages his wounds and takes him to an inn. He gives the innkeeper money, and even offers to repay any more that the innkeeper spends in the injured man’s care. He goes to the utmost degree to show compassion. Jesus simply asks the scholar who was trying to justify himself: “Which of these three was neighbor to the wounded man?” (Luke 10:36).

What Jesus is doing in this beautiful story is defining what love of neighbor is: it is the concrete practice of love and caring. We already know this law of compassion, because it is written in our hearts. Our common sense knows what we are supposed to do, and we still don’t do it. We contradict our own good common sense when we seek ritual purity or any kind of moral superiority instead of loving who and what is right in front of us.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “The Good Samaritan,” homily, July 14, 2013.

Story from Our Community:
Embracing all of who I am in God has helped me to live a fuller life—and be more present to the moment. I do not run from my small self but try to embrace it with compassion; I do not project my small self onto others but pray for all those struggling with small selves (including my own). Then I am better able to live in the world. —Bridget M.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El ensueño (detail), 1931, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: What is she thinking? How do you feel seeing her? If you could, what would you say to her? Would you notice the weight she’s carrying?

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Smelling like the Sheep

Compassion

Smelling like the Sheep
Tuesday, September 28, 2021

A compassionate presence is one of the fruits of contemplation. In Richard Rohr’s book Eager to Love, he writes about the great compassion of St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) for others, which is inspired by the great compassion of Jesus.

The most obvious change that results from the holding and allowing that we learn in the practice of contemplative prayer is that we will naturally become much more compassionate and patient toward just about everything. Compassion and patience are the absolutely unique characteristics of true spiritual authority, and without any doubt are the way both St. Francis and St. Clare (1194–1253) led their communities. They led, not from above, and not even from below, but mostly from within, by walking with their brothers and sisters, or “smelling like the sheep,” as Pope Francis puts it. . . .

A spiritual leader who lacks basic human compassion has almost no power to change other people, because people intuitively know he or she does not represent the Whole and Holy One. Such leaders need to rely upon roles, laws, costume, and enforcement powers to effect any change in others. Such change does not go deep, nor does it last. In fact, it is not really change at all. It is mere conformity.

We see this movement toward a shared compassion in all true saints. For example, St. Francis was able to rightly distinguish between institutional evil and the individual who is victimized by it. He still felt compassion for the individual soldiers fighting in the crusades, although he objected to the war itself. He realized the folly and yet the sincerity of their patriotism, which led them, however, to be un-patriotic to the much larger kingdom of God, where he placed his first and final loyalty. What Jesus calls “the Reign of God” we could call the Great Compassion.

Catholic author Judy Cannato, who worked to integrate the Gospels with the new cosmology, believed this Great Compassion was Jesus’ primary objective. She writes:

The realm of God that Jesus preached and died for was one that was known for its kindness and generosity, its compassion and healing. There was no one deemed outside the love of the Holy One whom Jesus called “Father.” No one was excluded from fellowship, not the rich or poor, male or female, slave or free. Jesus went beyond superficial divisions and called for a culture of compassion.

Compassion changes everything. Compassion heals. Compassion mends the broken and restores what has been lost. Compassion draws together those who have been estranged or never even dreamed they were connected. Compassion pulls us out of ourselves and into the heart of another, placing us on holy ground where we instinctively take off our shoes and walk in reverence. Compassion springs out of vulnerability and triumphs in unity. [1]

Only people at home in such a spacious place can take on the social illnesses of their time, and even the betrayal of friends, and not be destroyed by cynicism or bitterness.

References:
[1] Judy Cannato, Field of Compassion: How the New Cosmology Is Transforming Spiritual Life (Sorin Books: 2010), 8.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 28, 157–158.

Story from Our Community:
Father Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations help me relate to others with greater empathy. In our suffering world, this wisdom inspires me with hope in all that transforms us with humility and connects us to greater LOVE. Kindness. Compassion. Peace. Joy. Blessings. Gratitude. —Maria G.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El ensueño (detail), 1931, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: What is she thinking? How do you feel seeing her? If you could, what would you say to her? Would you notice the weight she’s carrying?

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Compassion as Steadfast Love

Compassion

Compassion as Steadfast Love
Monday, September 27, 2021

Quaker author Richard Foster has long written on themes of prayer and spiritual practice. Focusing on the Hebrew word hesed, Foster explores the many ways that compassion shows up in the Hebrew Bible, both in God and in how people relate to one another:

[The Hebrew word] hesed holds before us the great theme of compassion. It is a word so laden with meaning that translators struggle to find an English equivalent, often rendering it “loving kindness” or “steadfast love.” It is a word most frequently used in reference to God’s unwavering compassion for [God’s] people. God’s wonderful hesed love is “from everlasting to everlasting,” declared the Psalmist (Psalm 103:17). It is a “steadfast love” that “endures forever” (Psalm 106:1).

But the great challenge for us is that this covenant love, this durable mercy that is so central to the character of God, is to be reflected in us as well. Through Hosea the prophet, God declares, “I desire steadfast love [hesed] and not sacrifice, / the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

Sprinkled throughout the Hebrew Scriptures are grace-filled laws of compassion, of hesed. The law of gleaning . . . is a prime example. Farmers were to leave some of the crop along the borders and the grain that fell on the ground during harvest so that the poor could gather it (Leviticus 19:9–10). Likewise the vineyards and the olive groves were not to be stripped bare, in order to make provision for the needy. . . . The simple fact of need was sufficient reason to provide for them.

Think of the tender compassion in the old Hebrew laws of giving and taking a pledge. If someone borrowed your oxcart and left his coat in pledge, you had to be sure to give the coat back before sunset even if he hadn’t finished with the oxcart. Why? Because the night air was cold, and he would need his coat for warmth. The rule was doubly binding if the person who made the pledge was poor, for in all likelihood he had no other coat with which to keep warm (Deuteronomy 24:12). . . . Graciousness, courtesy, compassion—this is hesed. [1]

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson understands acting with compassion to others in need as participating in the flow of God’s compassion:

If the heart of divine mystery is turned in compassion toward the world, then devotion to this God draws persons into the shape of divine communion with all others: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). To deny one’s connection with the suffering needs of others is to detach oneself from divine communion.

The praxis of mercy is propelled by this dynamic. So too is committed work on behalf of peace, human rights, economic justice, and the transformation of social structures. . . . Solidarity with those who suffer, being there with commitment to their flourishing, is the locus of encounter with the living God. [2]

References:
[1] Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (HarperSanFrancisco: 1998), 169–170.

[2] Elizabeth A. Johnson, Abounding in Kindness: Writings for the People of God (Orbis Books: 2015), 47–48.

Story from Our Community:
I was utterly lost when I had to exit an interstate due to an accident ahead. I came to a gas station and asked a man outside for directions. He wrote down simple but very concrete directions, and I found myself on the exact road I needed—in fact right to the driveway! As I reflected on this, I felt I had met Jesus and also Christ. This man exhibited kindness, care, and compassion for a lost soul. I had a real living example of how to live, an experience that has changed my life. —Joseph K.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El ensueño (detail), 1931, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: What is she thinking? How do you feel seeing her? If you could, what would you say to her? Would you notice the weight she’s carrying?

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Contemplation Creates Compassion

Compassion

Contemplation Creates Compassion
Sunday, September 26, 2021

A practice of contemplation is one of the surest ways to develop the virtue of compassion—for both ourselves and others. Father Richard speaks to how this loving gaze is developed between ourselves and God.

Much of the early work of contemplation is discovering a way to observe ourselves from a compassionate and nonjudgmental distance until we can eventually live more and more of our lives from this calm inner awareness and acceptance. In a contemplative stance, we find ourselves smiling, sighing, and weeping at ourselves, much more than needing either to hate or to congratulate ourselves—because we are finally looking at ourselves with the eyes of God.

Actually, what is happening is we are letting God gaze at us, in the way only God can gaze—with infinite mercy, love, and compassion. God initiates a positive gaze, which now goes in both directions. Unfortunately, we seldom allow that to happen. Decades ago, Matthew Fox identified what it has cost us and the universe to have lost this mutually loving gaze with God. I believe it is even more true of the world today. Fox writes:

Compassion is everywhere. Compassion is the world’s richest energy source. Now that the world is a global village we need compassion more than ever—not for altruism’s sake, nor for philosophy’s sake or theology’s sake, but for survival’s sake.

And yet, in human history of late, compassion remains an energy source that goes largely unexplored, untapped and unwanted. Compassion appears very far away and almost in exile. Whatever propensities the human cave dweller once had for violence instead of compassion seem to have increased geometrically with the onslaught of industrial society. The exile of compassion is evident everywhere. . . .

In acquiescing in compassion’s exile, we are surrendering the fullness of nature and of human nature, for we, like all creatures in the cosmos, are compassionate creatures. All persons are compassionate at least potentially. What we all share today is that we are victims of compassion’s exile. The difference between persons and groups of persons is not that some are victims and some are not: we are all victims and all dying from lack of compassion; we are all surrendering our humanity together. [1]

As we receive God’s compassionate gaze in contemplation, all negative energy and motivation is slowly exposed and will eventually fall away as counter-productive and useless. There will be no mistrust, fear, or negativity in either direction! If we resort to any form of shaming ourselves, we will slip back into defense, denial, and overcompensation. We will not be able to “know as fully as we are known” (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).

But if we can connect with the Indwelling Presence, where the “Spirit bears common witness with our spirit” (see Romans 8:16), it can and will change our lives! This mutually loving gaze is always initiated by God and grace. Once you learn to rest there, nothing less will ever satisfy you. This is foundational.

References:
[1] Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice (Inner Traditions: 1999), xi, xii.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 58–59.

Story from Our Community:
I was utterly lost when I had to exit an interstate due to an accident ahead. I came to a gas station and asked a man outside for directions. He wrote down simple but very concrete directions, and I found myself on the exact road I needed—in fact right to the driveway! As I reflected on this, I felt I had met Jesus and also Christ. This man exhibited kindness, care, and compassion for a lost soul. I had a real living example of how to live, an experience that has changed my life. —Joseph K.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, El ensueño (detail), 1931, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: What is she thinking? How do you feel seeing her? If you could, what would you say to her? Would you notice the weight she’s carrying?

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

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