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A Time of Unveiling

A Time of Unveiling

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Week One Summary and Practice

Sunday, January 3—Friday, January 9, 2021

Sunday
The beginning of the new year seems like a good time to pause, “pull back the veil” and ask, “Where is this all going? What is the end goal for all of us, and—for that matter—for the cosmos in its entirety?”

Monday
Contemplative prayer is a form of unveiling, because it reveals what is going on beneath the polished and busy surfaces of our minds, our hearts, and our bodies.

Tuesday
Only in “the cave of the heart,” as the mystics are fond of calling it—does a person come in contact with his or her own direct knowingness. And only out of this direct knowingness is sovereignty born, one’s own inner authority. —
Cynthia Bourgeault

Wednesday
While in the midst of an epiphany, the more accurate statement would be, “Eureka! I have just awakened to a long-standing reality that an inner unveiling has finally allowed me to see.”
—Barbara Holmes

Thursday
The universe is God’s creative project, filled with beauty, opportunity, challenge, and meaning. It runs on the meaning or pattern we see embodied in the life of Jesus. Newness multiplies. Freedom grows. Meaning expands. Wisdom flows. Healing happens. Goodness runs wild.
 —Brian McLaren

Friday
If we trust the universal pattern, the wisdom of all times and all places, including the creation and evolution of the cosmos itself, we know that an ending is also the place for a new beginning.

 

Practice: Tonglen

When the veil is lifted and we see things as they truly are, we might experience sadness or anxiety. Tonglen is a method for facing our fear of suffering and for dissolving the tightness in our hearts. Today I share a version of this meditation from Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. I encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you try this practice. As we tell our Living School students when we practice this together, we are not holding or healing the pain of the world ourselves; we are simply breathing in and out with the one breath of our loving God. As Chödrön describes:

Tonglen practice, also known as “taking and sending,” reverses our usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In tonglen practice, we visualize taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. In the process, we become liberated from age-old patterns of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others. . . . Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. [1]

When you do tonglen as a formal meditation practice, it has four stages:

  1. First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness or stillness. This stage is traditionally called . . . opening to basic spaciousness and clarity.
  2. Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy . . . and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light—a sense of freshness. . . . Do this until it feels synchronized with your in- and out-breaths.
  3. Third, work with a personal situation—any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help. . . . If you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering. For instance, if you are feeling inadequate, you breathe that in for yourself and all the others in the same boat, and you send out confidence and adequacy or relief in any form you wish.
  4. Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to those who are in the same situation. . . . Make it bigger than just that one person. . . . You could do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies—those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself. Breathe in their pain and send them relief. [2]

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Pema Chödrön and other teachers often close their practice times with the traditional words of the Buddhist Metta (Lovingkindness) Prayer: May all beings be filled with lovingkindness. May all be well. May all be peaceful and at ease. May all be happy.

References:
[1] Pema Chödrön, “How to Practice Tonglen,” Lion’s Roar: Buddhist Wisdom for Our Time (August 26, 2020). Available at https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-tonglen/

[2] Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, 20th anniversary ed. (Shambhala: 2016), 95–96.

Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020)

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003)

Pearson, Paul M, ed., Beholding Paradise: The Photographs of Thomas Merton (Paulist Press: 2020).

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
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A Time of Unveiling

When Things Are Unveiling
Friday, January 8, 2021

I have read the scriptures since childhood and preached on them continually over the last fifty years in my role as a priest; but over the last year, I’ve found myself drawn to them in a different way. I have been looking, if not for answers, then for wisdom, solidarity, and always for needed inspiration. Perhaps it’s not surprising that this past year I have frequently returned to what we might call the “apocalyptic” readings found in the synoptic gospels (Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13) and also in the entire Book of Revelation. Don’t be nervous! I’m not looking for signs of the “end times” or trying to predict anything. I’m simply trying to understand what is being “revealed” in all that is happening. Remember, the word “apocalyptic” simply means to “unveil.”  It was never meant to be a synonym for bad news!

Apocalyptic literature “pulls back the curtain” to reveal what is real, what is true, and what is lasting. It’s never what we think it is! That is the gift of this literature and a time like the one we’re living through. It shocks us out of what we take for granted as normal so that we can redefine normal. It uses hyperbolic language and images, such as stars falling from the sky and the metaphor of the moon turning to blood to help us recognize that we’re not in my home state of Kansas anymore. It’s not that it’s the end of the world, but it helps us imagine the end of “our world” as we know it. That doesn’t mean life doesn’t go on, but that our lives won’t go on the way we thought they would, could, and even should. It allows us to see that what we thought was necessary and inevitable, simply isn’t, and that everything is eventually “Gone, gone, utterly gone!” as many Buddhists chant daily in the Diamond Sutra (scripture).

When things are “unveiled,” we stop taking things for granted. That’s what major events like the COVID-19 pandemic do for us. They reframe reality in a radical way and offer us an invitation to greater depth and breadth. If we trust the universal pattern, the wisdom of all times and all places, including the creation and evolution of the cosmos itself, we know that an ending is also the place for a new beginning. Death is followed by a new kind of life.

I invite you to continue practicing some form of contemplative prayer this year. Our problems begin when we fight reality, push it away, or insist that the way I “see” reality, from my own limited perspective, is the only valid reality. Any contemplative practice that serves to welcome life as it is will change us. We will dive into this “unveiled”—and even unpleasant—reality positively and preemptively, saying, “Come God, and teach me your good lessons.” We need such a practice to lessen our resistance to change and our tight grasp around things. Let us seek to pray this way for as long as it takes us to arrive at a full “Yes” to Reality. Only then can its lessons come through to us.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr with Brie Stoner, “United in Spirit,” The Call to Unite, reflection (May 2, 2020), YouTube video. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSp7LQHYn8k

Story from Our Community:
Six years ago, I walked away from the conservative faith I had always known. I was devastated, but did not know how to reconcile all my thoughts, feelings, and knowing with the God the church seemed to praise. When my dad tragically passed away in April (during COVID-19), I was left reeling. I did not know where to turn. Father Rohr’s book and daily meditations seem to be written just for me; they speak to the deep knowing of my soul and have given me a voice to once again believe, pray, hope, and even wrestle with the eternal. I miss my dad tremendously, yet am finding my second knowing in a much more loving and lovable God. —Kelly H.

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
Read Full Entry

A Time of Unveiling

The True Patterns of the Universe
Thursday, January 7, 2021

Truth is One. If something is spiritually true, then all disciplines and religions will somehow be looking at this “one truth” from different angles, goals, assumptions, and vocabulary. If it is the truth, it is true all the time and everywhere, and sincere lovers of truth will receive it from wherever it comes. CAC teacher Brian McLaren suggests how we might find truth revealed in the patterns of the universe. He writes:

It becomes more obvious the longer you live that all life is full of patterns. Reality is trying to tell us something. Life is speaking to us. There’s lots of mystery out there, to be sure, and no shortage of chaos and unpredictability. But there’s also lots of meaning . . . messages trying to find expression, music inviting us to listen and sing, patterns attracting our attention and interpretation. The chaos becomes a backdrop for the patterns, and the mysteries seem to beckon us to try to understand. . . .

But above and behind and beyond the sometimes confusing randomness of life, something is going on here. From a single molecule to a strand of DNA, from a bird in flight to an ocean current to a dancing galaxy, there’s a logic, a meaning, an unfolding pattern to it all.

Like wood, reality has a grain. Like a river, it has a current. Like a story, it has characters and setting and conflict and resolution. . . . Creation reveals wisdom through its patterns. It reveals wisdom about its source and purpose and about our quest to be alive . . . if we are paying attention.

Of course, we often struggle to know how to interpret those patterns. For example, if a tornado destroys our house, an enemy army drops bombs on our village, a disease takes away someone we love, we lose our job, someone we love breaks our heart, or our best friends betray us, what does that mean? Is the logic of the universe chaos or cruelty? Does might make right? Do violence and chaos rule? Is the Creator capricious, heartless, and evil? If we had only our worst experiences in life to guide us, that might be our conclusion.

We must honestly admit that we don’t always understand the seemingly random forces at play, but if we believe that the Risen Jesus is the full and trustworthy unveiling of the nature of God, then we live in a safe and love-filled universe. Brian continues:

[Genesis and the Gospel of John] dare us to believe that the universe runs by the logic of creativity, goodness, and love. The universe is God’s creative project, filled with beauty, opportunity, challenge, and meaning. It runs on the meaning or pattern we see embodied in the life of Jesus. In this story, pregnancy abounds. Newness multiplies. Freedom grows. Meaning expands. Wisdom flows. Healing happens. Goodness runs wild.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation (Jericho: 2015), 11, 12, 14.

Story from Our Community:
Six years ago, I walked away from the conservative faith I had always known. I was devastated, but did not know how to reconcile all my thoughts, feelings, and knowing with the God the church seemed to praise. When my dad tragically passed away in April (during COVID-19), I was left reeling. I did not know where to turn. Father Rohr’s book and daily meditations seem to be written just for me; they speak to the deep knowing of my soul and have given me a voice to once again believe, pray, hope, and even wrestle with the eternal. I miss my dad tremendously, yet am finding my second knowing in a much more loving and lovable God. —Kelly H.

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
Read Full Entry

A Time of Unveiling

A Foundational Sense of Awe
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
Feast of Epiphany

Abandon hidden things, / Take up what is revealed! —Ephrem the Syrian, Hymn 81

Healthy religion gives us a foundational sense of awe. It re-enchants an otherwise empty universe. It gives people a universal reverence toward all things. Only with such reverence do we find confidence and coherence. Only then does the world become a safe home. Then we can see the reflection of the divine image in the human, in the animal, in the entire natural world—which has now become inherently “supernatural.” CAC teacher Barbara Holmes describes this awakening so well and poetically:

When we are fully alert in spirit, mind, and body, we are more than we imagine and can accomplish more than we suppose. Moments of awareness occur as a dawning of meaning, when the familiar suddenly becomes infused with new insights or unfamiliar ideas merge with the wellspring of experiences and beliefs that pervade human consciousness. Such occasions feel like personal discoveries. While in the midst of an epiphany, folks inevitably apply the term “discovery” to lands, people, and ideas that have always been present. We use the language of strange and alien sightings when the more accurate statement would be, “Eureka! I have just awakened to a long-standing reality that an inner unveiling has finally allowed me to see.” . . .

An awakening is necessary to reconnect us to our origins and one another. [1]

Instead of nurturing awe, reconnection, and awakening, I’m sorry to say that today we have a lot of ideological hysteria and junk religion—on both the left and the right. Junk religion is similar to junk food because it only satisfies enough to gratify the momentary desire but does not really feed the intellect or the heart. Junk religion is usually characterized by fear of the present and fear of the future. What we experience when people have really met God is that there is no fear of the present because it is always full. There’s no fear of the future because a loving God is in charge. There’s no fear of the past because it has been healed and forgiven. Then people do not use God to avoid reality or to fabricate a private, self-serving reality. They let God lead them into the fullness of Reality; not away from dilemmas and paradoxes, but right onto the horns of the human dilemma!

Whatever reconstruction we’re going to do cannot be based on fear or on reaction. It has to be based on a positive and fully human experience of God as a loving Presence. True religion is ready to let God be God, and to let God lead us into a new future that we do not yet understand—and no longer even need to understand.

References:
[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Race and the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020), 45.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Franciscan Media: 2020), 65, 74.

Story from Our Community:
Recently my 47-year-old son died by suicide. The true cause of death was mental illness, substance abuse and the inability to feel worth in simply existing. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations have been part of my morning routine for a few years, as I struggle to rebuild a bridge to belief. Now, these daily messages are my lifeline. If not to faith, then to hope and, most especially, to love. I can’t say that I understand how suffering provides the pathway to being one with all things in love, but they help me to stop trying to understand and start laying the paver stones. I am grateful. —Mary S.

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
Read Full Entry

A Time of Unveiling

Unveiling Christianity
Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Another way to look at “unveiling” is as a sort of “recognition event,” where something we thought we knew reveals itself to be radically different than our long-held assumptions. Our friend and CAC teacher Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault explores how this is a gospel phenomenon, one that takes place repeatedly, especially for Jesus. When people are attuned and awake, reality is often “unveiled” for them. Cynthia suggests that this might be a necessary step for all Christians in the twenty-first century. We’ve become so used to the “story” of our faith that a veil has been pulled over our eyes and we no longer experience its power to change our lives. She writes:

Perhaps the most deadening aspect of our Christianity . . . is that we live it with twenty-twenty hindsight. We know the story. We know how the plot comes out. We know who the winners are. . . . The Bible contains the complete and divinely authorized biography of Jesus and furnishes the complete guide to what [we] should do to become his disciple. Everything needed for [our] personal salvation is right there. . . .

We’re living in an era right now which some would call a major paradigm shift, where there’s an opportunity as perhaps there hasn’t been before to really open up the core questions again and ask, “What is it that we mean by ‘Christianity’? What is this filter [or veil] that we’re looking through? Who is this Master that we profess and confess in our life as we call ourselves Christian?” . . .

When we approach the [Jesus] story with the attitude, “I’ve heard that already, I know what that means,” we fall asleep rather than allowing ourselves to be shocked awake. . . . For all such spiritual sleepwalking bypasses that crucial first step, that moment when the heart has to find its way not though external conditioning but through a raw immediacy of presence. Only there—in “the cave of the heart,” as the mystics are fond of calling it—does a person come in contact with his or her own direct knowingness. And only out of this direct knowingness is sovereignty born, one’s own inner authority.

Richard here: This is what Jesus offers people through his ministry—an experience of inner authority, powerful enough to heal them and set them free from whatever was keeping them trapped. Often it seems as if Jesus is simply “parting the veil” between them and God. Cynthia offers this quote from Father Bruno Barnhart:

As we accompany Jesus through the gospels, we are present at one dramatic meeting after another. One person after another experiences a mysterious power in Jesus that, from this moment, changes the course of his or her life. If we are fully present at the moment when we read such a narrative, we ourselves experience the liberating power of this awakening. [1]

References:
[1] Bruno BarnhartSecond Simplicity: The Inner Shape of Christianity (Paulist Press: 1999), 48. Bourgeault, 8–9.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 2, 3–4, 7.

Story from Our Community:
Recently my 47-year-old son died by suicide. The true cause of death was mental illness, substance abuse and the inability to feel worth in simply existing. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations have been part of my morning routine for a few years, as I struggle to rebuild a bridge to belief. Now, these daily messages are my lifeline. If not to faith, then to hope and, most especially, to love. I can’t say that I understand how suffering provides the pathway to being one with all things in love, but they help me to stop trying to understand and start laying the paver stones. I am grateful. —Mary S.

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
Read Full Entry

A Time of Unveiling

The Prayer of Unveiling
Monday, January 4, 2021

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. —1 Corinthians 13:12

When we celebrate the beginning of a new year, we celebrate the rebirth of time. We wait for God to do new things. We wait for who we are. We wait for the coming of grace, for the revelation of God. We wait for the truth. We wait for the vision of the whole. But we cannot just wait. We must pray. We say that prayer is not primarily words. Yet prayer can be words, and if the words come out of that empty contemplative place, then we can trust that we really mean them.

Contemplative prayer is a form of unveiling, because it reveals what is going on beneath the polished and busy surfaces of our minds, our hearts, and our bodies. When we finally get still enough, contemplation can live within us in pure, open moments of right here, right now. This is enough, this is fullness. If it is not right here, right now, it doesn’t exist. If we don’t know God now, how would we know God later? The mystics say we won’t. We will not recognize God later if we cannot recognize God now. It is a matter of seeing God now through the shadow and the disguise.

Contemplative prayer lives in a spacious place, free of personal needs or meanings or even interpretations. Life does not care what I like or don’t like. It doesn’t matter a bit. If we stay in the world of preference, we keep ourselves as the reference point. Does it really matter what color I like best or what my current favorite movie is? It changes from moment to moment. No wonder people have identity crises. No wonder people have a fragile self-image; they have nothing solid to build on beyond changing opinions and feelings. If formerly we said, “I think therefore I am,” now it might be “I choose therefore I am.” That’s not a solid foundation to build on.

The real question is “What does this have to say to me?” Those who are totally converted come to every experience and ask not whether or not they liked it, but what does it have to teach them. “What’s the message or gift in this for me? How is God in this event? Where is God in this suffering?” This is a prayer of unveiling, asking that the cruciform shape of reality be revealed to us within the very shape and circumstances of our own lives.

Reference:
Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 90–91, 154.

Story from Our Community:
It was a hot summer day in New York City. As I stood clinging to a pole in the midst of a packed, noisy subway car, I longed to be anywhere else. But as I looked around, I became aware of the incredibly diverse array of humanity. No two were alike: each one was dressed differently, with different accents, hair styles, body types, skin color, and faces. Yet each one was aglow with Life. I realized that the whole subway car was full of the presence of God. If that’s true of a subway, it’s true of everything, everywhere. —Carol F. J.

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
Read Full Entry

A Time of Unveiling

Pulling Back the Veil
Sunday, January 3, 2021

The future, however, is finer than any past.Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind

If you are anything like me, there is some part of you that was relieved to turn the calendar over to 2021. The new year puts at least some symbolic distance between ourselves and 2020, a year that brought so much chaos, heartbreak, and uncertainty to so many people throughout the world. I dare say that no one lived through the past year without experiencing some level of disruption and loss of freedom, of health, of loved ones, and especially our cherished notions of how things “ought” to be.

The Daily Meditations theme for 2021 is “A Time of Unveiling.” I’m convinced we are living in such a time—when reality is being revealed as it is. Systems of evil have become both more brazen and banal, our sense of “normal” has been upended, and yet in the midst of it, God continues to invite us to deeper transformation. A few weeks into the pandemic, some people even began to use the word “apocalyptic” to describe what was taking place. Often, this word is used to scare people into some kind of fearful, exclusive, or reactionary behavior, all in expectation of the “end times.” But the word “apocalyptic,” from the Greek apokálupsis, really just means “unveiling.”

The beginning of the new year seems like a good time to pause, “pull back the veil,” and ask, “Where is this all going? What is the end goal for all of us, and—for that matter—for the cosmos itself?” Is our “late, great planet Earth” really headed toward Armageddon? In these fractious, unmoored, and disillusioned times, I can hardly think of more relevant concerns.

No matter what is going on around us, it’s important to remember that God keeps transforming creation into something both good and new. Instead of hurtling us towards catastrophe, God always wants to bring us somewhere even better. A helpful word here is “evolution.” God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. That might be hard to see sometimes in the moment, but it’s nevertheless true.

While more and more people seem to believe that that the universe has no form, direction, or final purpose, as Christians, we can be confident that the final goal does have shape and meaning. The biblical symbol of the Universal and Eternal Christ (Alpha and Omega) stands at both ends of cosmic time. This assures us that the clear and full trajectory of the world we know is an unfolding of consciousness with “all creation groaning in this one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22). Why do I think this is such an important image to remember? Frankly, because without it we become very impatient with ourselves and others, particularly when we encounter setbacks (both personal and communal). Humans and history both grow slowly.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 91, 95–96.

Story from Our Community:
It was a hot summer day in New York City. As I stood clinging to a pole in the midst of a packed, noisy subway car, I longed to be anywhere else. But as I looked around, I became aware of the incredibly diverse array of humanity. No two were alike: each one was dressed differently, with different accents, hair styles, body types, skin color, and faces. Yet each one was aglow with Life. I realized that the whole subway car was full of the presence of God. If that’s true of a subway, it’s true of everything, everywhere. —Carol F. J.

Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
Read Full Entry
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