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Engaging with a World on Fire
Engaging with a World on Fire

Engaging with a World on Fire

Sunday, January 7, 2024

In each quarter of 2024, we will explore a different aspect of Radical Resilience. In this video, CAC teacher Brian McLaren reflects upon the first theme: Engaging with a World on Fire.

Way back in 2007, I wrote a book called Everything Must Change. I wanted to understand what our greatest challenges and threats and problems were here on Earth as a global civilization. I spent a year researching the literature of global crises, and I came away with an understanding of four deep problems that we face.

First, we face a crisis with our planet. We are literally destroying our life support system, disrupting our climate, destroying our oceans, depleting our soil, polluting everything, committing ecocide against the whole web of life.

Second, we have a crisis of poverty and unequal distribution of wealth and power, concentrating more and more wealth and power among a tiny minority of people.

That leads to a third problem: the crisis of peace. We know we’re in trouble, so what do we do? We disseminate more and more weapons of increasing kill power. We set on fire all of our divisions: racial, economic, religious, social, gender related, and more.

We have the crises of the planet, poverty, peace; the fourth crisis is religion because all too often our religious communities are remaining on the sidelines. As Thomas Merton said, they’re “guilty bystanders.” I think much religion has been selling people an evacuation plan rather than helping them participate in a transformation plan.

McLaren points to people who integrated spirituality and action in service of the world’s healing:

The great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn came of age in Vietnam right as his nation was descending into civil war. He didn’t want to be part of a religious community that was disengaged from his culture at a time of great need. He began to articulate what he called a form of engaged Buddhism.

It was the same with Thomas Merton. He became a Trappist monk. We might think of Trappists as people who are withdrawn from all the events and affairs of the world. But Merton, who wrote New Seeds of Contemplation, also wrote a book called Seeds of Destruction because he said he wanted a form of engaged contemplative Christian faith.

When Richard Rohr started the CAC, he wanted it to be the Center for Action and Contemplation: engaged contemplation rooted in a Christian tradition. And of course, this just draws from the example of Jesus, who withdrew for a period of contemplative silence at the beginning of his ministry, a period of forty days, the story says. But then of course, he engaged with the struggles and challenges of his people in his time.

Every day Jesus would follow that same rhythm: withdraw for solitude, but then come back to engage by healing, feeding, caring, welcoming, binding up the wounds of this world, and implanting in people a vision of resilience, engaging with a world on fire.

Adapted from Brian McLaren, introduction to the 2024 Daily Meditations Theme: Radical Resilience: Engaging with a World on Fire, Center for Action and Contemplation, video, 6:32.

Image credit: Evgeniy Alyoshin, Firefighters putting out a fire (detail), Ukraine, 2022, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

What does it look like to engage with the catastrophic fires that sweep through our world without becoming frenzied or frozen?

Story from Our Community:  

Recently, I have been on a long “pause” from the Catholic parish I had been part of for many years. My children were raised there and I had many good friendships, and a deep sense of service to my faith community. But for years, I had been growing uncomfortable with the increasingly conservative, nationalistic, and exclusive extremes of our parish. I also found that my community wasn’t meeting my expanding spiritual needs. The pause gave me much time to deepen my contemplative prayer life and develop a daily mantra: “guide me.” I haven’t found a new local spiritual community yet, but my heart is open to find one. Meanwhile, CAC and other contemplative resources have become my community in a very real way. Thank you, for giving such rich and blessed hope. I’m inspired by the idea that our faith is an organic one—ever growing and expanding. —Lauri P.

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This year’s theme

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Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

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Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? 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.