“Our Story” — Center for Action and Contemplation

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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

“Our Story”

The Cosmic Egg

“Our Story”
Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The larger realm of meaning beyond My Story is Our Story. To continue the model of the three domes, this is the dome of our group, community, church, nationality, gender, and ethnicity. We seem to need this for our own identity and security as social beings. It is both good and necessary, but if we try to make it the whole enchilada, we end up with the culture and identity wars we have today. Most of us have to work through multiple memberships: family, neighborhood, religious affiliation, gender, country. These communities are schools for relationship, connection, and almost all virtue as we know it.

The Cosmic Egg image showing The Story on most external, Our Story in the middle, and My Story on the inner most area.

Everyone has access to this level of meaning, consciously or unconsciously, negatively or positively. We are essentially social beings and we live inside of some shared meanings, which become our reference points and our runway. Our Story is the necessary training ground for belonging, attaching, trusting, and loving. If we are raised in a healthy family system, we generally feel positive about our group possibilities, including our religious and cultural rituals and traditions. Unfortunately, some people get stuck here and spend their lives defending the boundaries and glory of “their” group. They make plans for war, and perfect the scapegoating of others. Such group egocentricity is more dangerous than personal egocentricity. It looks like greatness when it is often no more than very well-disguised narcissism. I don’t have much self-knowledge, so I throw all of my cache into being Italian! I live on the surface of my own soul, but I sure play good football. I have no deep identity, so I live through my husband or wife or children or friends.

People try to find identity in a group, an institutional affiliation, a nation, a public cause—or today, like never before, public fame or infamy. Somehow, to be on the news or in social media is to be immortalized. People feel protected inside of the group identity or public fame. We all connect with one group or another—a Catholic, a Harley-Davidson owner, a Chicago Cubs fan—and then we sport proud signs about it. Such group symbols, flags, and patriotism remind us that we are not alone; and such shared meaning gives consolation and security to the small self—and something to talk about! The handy language of “us” versus “them” lifts some real burden from our private striving, and there is true comfort in being among our own. In fact, Our Story feels so sacred that most religion works at this level as a belonging system more than a search for intimacy with God. The second dome becomes an avoidance of the third and most all-inclusive (The Story). I see this in many seminarians, young priests, and bishops, after having given them retreats for many years. They put all their eggs in the Roman Catholic basket, but they have little curiosity about their own shadow or inner life. Their goal is not really love of God, but the love of “my priesthood” as it is often strangely called.

Jesus was not into groupthink or loyalty tests. I’m convinced God could care less about them, but God also seems to know that we need symbols, songs, sacred times and places for communal support and encouragement. However, we will need these boundary markers less and less as we move toward the real Center. Thus, we often see a certain freedom in wise elders and people who have suffered and come through renewed. In the second half of life, we don’t need to be a hero anymore and we may not even need to belong. We just need to be real. Saint Augustine put it most daringly, “Love [God] and do what you will!” [1]

[1] Augustine, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John to the Parthians, tractate 7.8.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern (Franciscan Media: 2020), 106–111.

Story from Our Community:
Decades ago, my late father left my mother, and I had a very rocky relationship with his new wife. A few years before their passing, I helped her sign up for the Daily Meditations—she never missed a single one. Learning that this one simple act of sharing gave her so much peace and happiness healed my heart. I am grateful for Richard Rohr and CAC. This thing with my stepmother taught me that just one small act of kindness, in lieu of holding onto resentments, has the power to heal greatly. — Andrew R.

Image credit: Branches and Leaves (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Image inspiration: A tree with its leaves can only tell the cyclical story of life alongside a tree that is dying. Life and death in creation weave harmonies to share the rich this-ness of The Story.
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