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Center for Action and Contemplation

A Return to Devotion

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Feast Day of St. John of the Cross

As we continue in the season of Advent, Father Richard shares why he believes devotion, or heart-centered faith, is essential to the Christian journey. 

I want to encourage the uncovering of what we mean by the word devotion. We have to somehow live a life that’s connected to the heart. Otherwise, we get into head ideology, righteousness, opinionatedness, and insisting on the right or wrong words. All are ways of avoiding the heart and staying in the head!

I have to admit that I’ve learned this kind of devotion from good old-time Catholics and healthy evangelicals. They’re invariably heart-based people who look out at reality with soft eyes. We can usually see it in their calm face or the natural smile on their lips before they even start talking. Trust that first impression, it is seldom wrong.

If our message at the CAC is not heartfelt and creating heartfelt people, I predict it will not last, and it doesn’t deserve to last. It’ll be another head trip that we can argue about. I think it was the gift of the early Franciscans, although I don’t know that we, as the later Franciscan Order, always kept it. Francis and the early friars had a heartfelt quality that made them dear to people. Not everyone always agreed with Francis on things such as not going to war or radical poverty—but authentic, heartfelt, devoted people cannot be dismissed.

Perhaps this is what Jesus was talking about when he taught, “Blessed are the pure of heart” (Matthew 5:8). It’s having achieved a purity of intention, desire, and motivation that isn’t about me—how I look and whether people are going to like me or affirm me. I think we all have to purify our intention several times a day: “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” If we don’t localize our intention in the compassionate space that we call the heart, it all becomes about making an impression that will ultimately benefit ourselves. We are all attracted to those loving people who are concerned about others more than themselves and concerned about us specifically. It’s really quite beautiful. We feel softened, we feel held, we feel more tender around people like that.

We can’t fake devotion but sometimes I do suggest we “fake it till we make it,” as many say. We need to practice some kind of heart-opening prayer and practice being compassionate and kind toward others. Eventually our hearts, as John Wesley said, will surely be “strangely warmed” [1] and no one is more surprised than we are!

This is one of the hardest things in the teaching of spirituality because we cannot manufacture devotion. It is the work of grace, but of course we have to want it and create the conditions that can allow it to happen. Anything that helps us to be less willful, less pushy, less judgmental toward ourselves is a good place to start, because the face we turn toward ourselves is the face we turn toward the world.

[1] The Journal of the Reverend John Wesley, A. M., vol. 1 (Carlton and Phillips: 1855), 74.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, with Brie Stoner and Paul Swanson, “Universal Christ Values (Part 1),” Another Name for Every Thing, season 3, episode 1, February 15, 2020 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), audio podcast.

Story from Our Community:
In the past thirteen years as a pastor’s spouse, I saw the politics and wasted resources of my denomination. My faith slowly ebbed away. I no longer wanted to attend, but I do respect and recognize my husband’s calling. I’m now attending Quaker worship. Fr. Richard’s daily meditations and writings have encouraged me. I know my feelings are legitimate, and that God still loves me as I rebuild my faith. —Lori J.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations editorial team.

Image credit: Nicholas Kramer, Untitled (detail), 2021, photograph, Seattle. Used with permission.
Image inspiration: The pattern of the leaves and colors of this succulent invite us inward to its center. We yield to the call of its presence—so also with God.
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