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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Five Ms
The Five Ms

Opening Up the Machine

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

For centuries the Church has operated like a well-oiled machine, but the oil is running low and the machine is running down. —Ilia Delio

Franciscan writer Ilia Delio asks whether the Church is stuck in a “machine” stage of change. (To learn more about these stages, read Father Richard’s description of the “Five M’s”—human, movement, machine, monument, and memory—in Sunday’s meditation.)

With the rise of modern science, the world machine became the dominant metaphor of the modern era, and the Church adapted its medieval cosmology to the new mechanistic paradigm. . . . Has the Church become mechanistic like so many other world systems? Is it “stuck in a rut,” and if so, can it find its way out of the rut into a new future? Jesus lived with imagination, and he preached with imagination: “Imagine a small mustard seed,” he said. “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you” (Luke 17:6). He aimed to instill imagination in his disciples so they could think the unthinkable and do the incredible. Similarly, it is helpful to imagine the Church in a new way that enkindles us to think the unthinkable and do the incredible. [1]

Delio writes about open systems, like those found in the natural world, as a model for the Church to reconnect with the dynamism of the gospel. Here she writes about her own call as a religious sister to follow where God was leading:

I had come to a point of inner freedom where I knew God was calling me to do new things; thus, I was impelled to step out of the comforts of institutional life and, with another Sister, take the risk of living religious life in a new way. I think the term open system best describes our way of life. We live in a working-class neighborhood in DC and financially support ourselves (we pay taxes); if we don’t work, we don’t eat. We discuss the aims of the community together; we try to share responsibilities for the community as much as possible; we pray and play as community, but we respect the autonomy of each person and the work of the Spirit in each life. . . . An open-systems way of life works best on shared vision and dialogue and least on control and lack of communication. Trust is an essential factor, but trust requires kenosis, emptying oneself of control and power, and making space for the other to enter in. . . . An open-systems community, like the physical world itself, is based on relationships, not roles or duties but bonds of friendship, sisterhood (or brotherhood), respect, charity, forgiveness, and justice. Where these values are active and alive, life evolves toward richer, more creative forms, never losing sight that wholeness—catholicity—is at the heart of it. [2]

[1] Ilia Delio, Making All Things New: Catholicity, Cosmology, Consciousness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015), 117, 118,119.

[2] Delio, Making All Things New, 124–125.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled Church I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Toni Frissell, Minnie Burden, barefoot, riding a horse (detail), 1964, photograph, Library of Congress, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Untitled Window (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: The left and right photos are of stone monuments: solid and unmoving. Between them the fresh energy and movement of a horse and rider breathe life into this trio of images. How can we stay connected to the energetic, movement origins of our religions?

Story from Our Community:

A relative was recently diagnosed with aggressive cancer. It is inoperable and terminal. This person’s faith and love allow him to be vulnerable enough to share this with family and friends. A pattern of communication is set up in a way we can support him, learn from him, and practice vulnerability in all our lives. What a sacred gift.
—Barb F.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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