Daily Meditations

Over the course of this year’s Daily Meditations, Richard Rohr explores how we can incarnate love in our unique context by unveiling the image and likeness of God in all that we see and do. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time! Watch a short intro (5-minute video) and explore past reflections. Scroll down to read the most recent post.

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Western Christianity

Summary: Sunday, September 16-Friday, September 21, 2018

To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter. —Archbishop Rowan Williams (Sunday)

Meditation [was] not a newfangled innovation, let alone the grafting onto Christianity of an Eastern practice, but rather . . . something that had originally been at the very center of Christian practice and had become lost. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Monday)

God is not just with us, not just beside us, not just under us, not just over us, but within us, at the deepest level, and, in our inmost being, a step beyond the true Self. —Thomas Keating (Tuesday)

Sin is primarily living outside of union; it is a state of separation—when the part poses as the Whole. It’s the loss of any inner experience of who you are in God. (Wednesday)

Addiction can be a metaphor for what the biblical tradition called sin. It is quite helpful to see sin, like addiction, as a destructive disease. . . . If sin indeed makes God unhappy, it is because God loves us, desires nothing more than our happiness, and wills the healing of our disease. (Thursday)

The word contemplation must press beyond the constraints of religious expectations to reach the potential for spiritual centering in the midst of danger. . . . During slavery, . . . crisis contemplation became a refuge, a wellspring of discernment in a suddenly disordered life space, and a geo-spiritual anvil for forging a new identity. —Barbara Holmes (Friday)

 

Practice: Communal Contemplation

Black or Africana church brings communal and embodied contemplative practice to Western Christianity. Barbara Holmes stretches the narrow Eurocentric definition of contemplation beyond solitude and silence:

The African American church developed rituals and practices that nurtured and encouraged congregational encounters with the mysteries of God. Always, the focus was on piercing the veil between secular and spiritual realms through shared experiences. . . .

In Africana traditions, the desert mothers and fathers offer one model of contemplative practice; the songs of Alabama chain gangs at the turn of the century, the rhythmic chants amid cotton rows in Mississippi during slavery, and the murmured hymns of domestic workers offer yet another. Those of us who grew up and worshipped in historically black church congregations wonder how a religious tradition that values bodily spirit possessions and performative vocal entreaties to a personal God can be considered contemplative.

The answer is hidden in plain view and is ensconced in historical presumptions about the boundaries and practices of contemplative worship. If the model for contemplation is Eurocentric, then the religious experiences of indigenous people and their progeny will never fit the mold. But if contemplation is an accessible and vibrant response to life and to a God who unleashes life toward its most diverse potentials [and if all are created in God’s image], then practices that turn the human spirit inward may or may not be solitary or silent. Instead, contemplation becomes an attentiveness of spirit that shifts the seeker from an ordinary reality to the basileia of God. . . .

I have not always been able to predict when these abiding times would arise. The places differ significantly and are only connected by my presence in the midst of faithful and expectant people. I have found myself in the midst of a transformative contemplative moment while worshiping with the Turkana in northern Kenya, watching the procession of clergy and locals and hearing the sounds of drums and hymns. Perhaps it was the heat or incongruity of regal African men in Scottish liturgical garb in the middle of the desert that created the sense of spiritual displacement; perhaps not.

I experienced similar moments on a hilltop in Sonora, Nogales, Mexico, as we sojourned with a family in their cardboard and corrugated tin home. Time seemed to stand still as we ate dinner together in the darkened room. Outside, another “temporary” refuge caught fire and burned. There was no way to save the dwelling, so we stood and silently prayed. Similar moments occurred while singing “Amazing Grace” in a Japanese Christian church in Onjuku and while giving birth to my sons surrounded by strangers and loved ones. The times and places are less important than the shared experiences of holy abiding.

To experience a taste of communal and vocal contemplative practice, listen to this moving song “Oh, Jesus.” Join your own voice—in moan and ecstatic cry—with this choir from Trinity United Church of Christ. [1]

References:
[1] “Oh, Jesus,” Sanctuary Choir, Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago, Illinois.

Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, second edition (Fortress Press: 2017), xxxiii, 18-19.

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening (Cowley Publications: 2004)

Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, second edition (Fortress Press: 2017)

Thomas Keating, That We May Be One: Christian Non-Duality Reflection Booklet (Contemplative Outreach Ltd.: 2017), contemplativeoutreach.org

Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (Franciscan Media: 2011)

Richard Rohr, Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation (Franciscan Media: 2014)

Image credit: Country Gate at Dawn (detail), Anton Goncharov.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The word contemplation must press beyond the constraints of religious expectations to reach the potential for spiritual centering in the midst of danger. . . . During slavery, . . . crisis contemplation became a refuge, a wellspring of discernment in a suddenly disordered life space, and a geo-spiritual anvil for forging a new identity. —Barbara Holmes

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