Living Inside God’s Great Story
A Journey toward Greater Love
Sunday, August 29, 2021
At the end of September, the CAC will host the seventh and final CONSPIRE conference. We are calling it Me/Us/The World: Living Inside God’s Great Story. Our own individual stories connect us to the stories of our larger communities and to God’s Great Story—which includes everybody and all of creation. This week in the Daily Meditations, we will be sharing a “Me” story from each of our faculty members. We hope it reveals how, despite our many differences, these stories are all connected: mine, yours, ours, the world’s, and God’s.
It’s probably not hard to believe that I started teaching early, around the age of six or seven. My parents told me this years later. I would gather my siblings and neighborhood friends and have them sit on a bench in the backyard. I would hold my penny catechism upside down since I couldn’t read yet, and I would pretend to teach “about Jesus.” I must have been a weird little kid, but I was happy too! According to my mother, I would run around screaming with excitement and she would admonish me, “If you want to scream, go outside,” so I would. At some point, that spontaneous joy turned into seriousness. I became committed to being the good boy, the nice boy.
I attended Catholic school where the reward/punishment, perfection/achievement system was used to maintained order. The God I was presented with was no unconditional lover, but that was the whole Catholic world in the 1950s. Reality was shaped by a God who is punitive. It made for conformity and very little disruption since we were all agreeing together to abide by the same laws.
I have often been asked, “So, how did you learn how to love in a more unconditional way?” While I’m not sure that I have, any progress I have made has come simply by meeting people who were themselves loving, and then learning the contemplative mind. I was often surrounded by loving people, but I didn’t know how to be like them. By willpower many of us tried to force ourselves to be loving, as if to say: “Obey the law and you will go to heaven.” But when you are forcing yourself to do the loving thing, it doesn’t feel like love to other people. They can sense the difference.
Until I went to seminary, no one had taught me how to clean the lens of my awareness and perception. Studying the philosophy of Franciscan John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) for four years had a profound effect on me. Duns Scotus taught (admittedly in rarefied Latin) that good theology maintains two freedoms: it keeps people free for God and it keeps God free for people. The harder task is actually the second, because what religion tends to do is tell God whom God can love and whom God is not allowed to love. In most church theology and morality, God is very unfree.
I know now that love cannot happen except in the realm of freedom.
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 22–23, 66.
Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations allow me to reconnect with my Catholic upbringing. I am reminded of the Franciscan sisters that allowed me to visit when I was lost and lonely and the magic I felt in my faith as a youth. As the church became more patriarchal and shame-based, I abandoned it. With Father Rohr’s teaching, I can see the expansiveness of the Bible and faith. I can reconnect with that goodness. —Kirstin G.