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Theme:
An Evolving Faith

An Evolving Faith

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Week Twenty-Two Summary and Practice

Sunday, May 30—Friday, June 4, 2021

Sunday
Anybody who has paid attention to their inner life of prayer or read history books surely recognizes that life and love are always cumulative, growing, and going somewhere that is always new and always more.

Monday
The tipping point of faith is the threshold of spiritual energy, where what we believe becomes what we do. When that power is released, there is no stopping it, for love is a force that cannot be contained. —Steven Charleston

Tuesday
An evolutionary faith understands that nothing is static. The universe unfolds, our understanding of God evolves and deepens, and our moral development surely evolves as well.

Wednesday
Doubt need not be the death of faith. It can be, instead, the birth of a new kind of faith, a faith beyond beliefs, a faith that expresses itself in love, a deepening and expanding faith that can save your life and save the world. —Brian McLaren

Thursday
We could acknowledge the unraveling, breaking, and cracking of our nation and churches as a bearer of truth and even a gift. —Stephanie Spellers

Friday
Evolution requires trust in the process of life itself. There is a power at the heart of life that is divine and lovable. In a sense we are challenged to lean into life’s changing patterns and attend to the new patterns that are emerging in our midst. —Ilia Delio

 

An Evolutionary Examen

Louis M. Savary was a Jesuit for thirty years and has been studying, writing, and teaching on his fellow Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin for over fifty years. He has a knack for making Teilhard’s writings, which are almost exclusively about evolution, accessible. Here he introduces a version of the Ignatian Examen that emphasizes our participation with God’s desire for evolution by increasing our awareness of goodness, gratitude, possibility, and love.

Throughout his life Teilhard remained an optimist, despite the rejection he suffered from his religious order and from the official church because of his evolutionary ideas. In his prayer, instead of putting his attention on his failures and disappointments, he focused much more on praise, reverence, and gratitude when he related to God.

In recent years, psychologists have discovered a basic law of psychological and spiritual life. We might call it the first law of spiritual energy. It is simply this: Energy follows attention. In other words, wherever you focus your attention is where the energy of your body, mind, and spirit goes.

In terms of this first law of spiritual energy, Teilhard preferred to focus, with God’s grace, on his own resilience, his capacity to adapt and to restore his enthusiasm for his work and relationships. . . . If he was blocked from pursuing one avenue, he found another way. . . .

Teilhard’s life suggests a nightly review of your day focusing on what went right instead of what went wrong. If you focus on giving and receiving love, your thinking will change for the better. If you focus on thinking good thoughts, your heart will grow more loving. The heart and mind are always interacting in concert.

This process is known as the Thanksgiving Examen. . . .

1. To give thanks in general to God our Lord for the benefits received in your life, in others, and in the world today.

2. To ask for grace to recognize all those particular things that happened to you and others that you should personally be grateful for.

3. To take account of your day from the hour that you arose up to the present time, hour by hour, or period by period: first your good thoughts, ideas, and intentions; then your good words spoken and heard; and then good acts, your actions and those of others, small or large, that positively touched your life or the life of someone else. Record these in your journal.

4. To praise and thank God our Lord for all the opportunities you had to make a difference in the world today and to inspire you to recognize more and more such opportunities in the future.

5. To thank God for all God has done for you, and to ask yourself: What can I envision doing that would lead me to be even more deeply grateful? Close with the Our Father [or another prayer with deep significance for you].

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Louis M. Savary, The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Paulist Press: 2010), 49–50.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, bamboo 天竹子 (detail), 2015, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The capacity of bamboo to grow mirrors our own potential for inner unfolding. As long as there is life, there is evolution. As long as we have breath, our faith can continue to grow.
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An Evolving Faith

Accepting Evolution as Our Story
Friday, June 4, 2021

There are few writers that I find more hopeful or exciting about the process of evolution than Franciscan Ilia Delio. She examines evolution through the lens of science, theology, technology, and personal development and reminds us that while evolving can be painful, God is always with us and for us, in and through it all.

We have not accepted evolution as our story. We treat evolution as a conversational theory or something that belongs to science, as if science is something separate from us and outside our range of experience. Politically, we have fiefdoms and kingdoms; socially, we have tribes and cults; religiously, we have hierarchy and patriarchy. There is nothing [structurally] that sustains, supports, or nurtures human evolution.

By evolution, I mean simply that change is integral to life. We are becoming something that is not yet known. To live in evolution is to let go of structures that prevent convergence and deepening of consciousness and assume new structures that are consonant with creativity, inspiration, and development.

Evolution requires trust in the process of life itself. There is a power at the heart of life that is divine and lovable. In a sense we are challenged to lean into life’s changing patterns and attend to the new patterns that are emerging in our midst. To live in openness to the future is to live with a sense of creativity and participation, to use our gifts for the sake of the whole by sharing them with others.

There is something about this word evolution that frightens people, as if evolution renders us less human or less special as human. We do not talk in terms of evolution; nor do we think in terms of evolution. Our everyday lives are conceived as static and fixed, as if it has always been this way and should always remain this way. But this type of thinking is completely erroneous. . . .

We need to get on board with evolution. If we get nothing else straight about our present moment, it should be this: stability is an illusion. The ancient wisdom of Heraclitus reminds us of life’s endless activity: The only thing that is permanent is impermanence. No one steps in the same river twice. If there is no permanence in the present, then the only real stability is the future. The Buddha intuitively grasped the notion of evolution by advocating detachment, not necessarily the act of giving up the things of this world, but rather accepting and being consciously aware that nothing is permanent. So too, Francis of Assisi taught his disciples the principle of dispossession, not living without things but without possessing things. . . .

It is time to come together to work for what we share together, the future, into which we are being fearfully but irresistibly drawn. This is the true test of our faith, what we really believe in, because God is the power of the future.

Reference:
Ilia Delio, The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey (Orbis Books: 2021), 220–221, 223–225.

Story from Our Community:
I joined a Christian meditation group about a year and a half ago. I had just suffered a painful split from my husband and I was lost. Since that time my spiritual experience has continued to deepen and evolve, and I see the value of endarkenment. I look forward to the lessons learned from it. —Marlene W.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, bamboo 天竹子 (detail), 2015, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The capacity of bamboo to grow mirrors our own potential for inner unfolding. As long as there is life, there is evolution. As long as we have breath, our faith can continue to grow.
Read Full Entry

An Evolving Faith

Letting Go of What Used to Be
Thursday, June 3, 2021

God is doing new things, Jesus proclaimed, but only those with new minds and hearts can see a new world breaking through the cracks of the old. —Ilia Delio, The Hours of the Universe

If evolution is the language of growth and change, then an evolving faith is one that accepts and even embraces change. While the word change normally refers to new beginnings, real transformation happens more often when something falls apart. The pain of something old cracking apart or unraveling invites us to evolve instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Episcopal priest Stephanie Spellers is a leading thinker on change and growth in the church, and sees the current challenges of church and society as way of God “cracking open” people for greater possibility:

Institutions and cultures are durable partly because they obey the law of inertia. [1] Even if you think you’ve exerted a strong external push and knocked a moving object or an entire institution off its set course, wait. Just wait. With barely a nudge, the object will drift right back to its original path.

Think of your own experience. When you see a crack, what’s your first instinct? Push the pieces back together and patch it over. Eventually a contractor comes with the bad news: there is deep damage here, and if you don’t address it, before long the whole structure will be fundamentally compromised. You sigh and negotiate. I don’t know about you, but I have a surprising capacity to delude myself about how broken the structure is. With enough duct tape and rope, I will get back to normal. [I call this “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!”]

So it is for a nation and a church. In the midst of displacement, destabilization, and decentering, Americans and church folks have been tempted to replace, restabilize, and recenter. Let’s return to the building. Let’s encourage the protesters to come off the streets. . . . Let’s move past division. Let’s reestablish majority American Christianity in its former, privileged cultural post.

Or we could acknowledge the unraveling, breaking, and cracking [Richard: what we are calling “unveiling” in this year’s meditations] as a bearer of truth and even a gift. Perhaps, as [Alan] Roxburgh suggested, the Holy Spirit has been nudging and calling Christians “to embrace a new imagination, but the other one had to unravel for us to see it for what it was. In this sense the malaise of our churches has been the work of God.” [2] . . . A church that has been humbled by disruption and decline may be a less arrogant and presumptuous church. It may have fewer illusions about its own power and centrality. It may become curious. It may be less willing to ally with the empires and powers that have long defined it. It may finally admit how much it needs the true power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. That’s a church God can work with.

References:
[1] Inertia is the law of physics that says matter will always continue in its current state of rest or motion in a particular direction, unless that state is changed by some outside force.

[2] Alan J. Roxburgh, Joining God, Remaking Church, and Changing the World: The New Shape of the Church in Our Time (Morehouse Publishing: 2015), 7.

Stephanie Spellers, The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for Beloved Community (Church Publishing: 2021), 22–23.

Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love (Orbis Books: 2018), 132.

Story from Our Community:
I joined a Christian meditation group about a year and a half ago. I had just suffered a painful split from my husband and I was lost. Since that time my spiritual experience has continued to deepen and evolve, and I see the value of endarkenment. I look forward to the lessons learned from it. —Marlene W.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, bamboo 天竹子 (detail), 2015, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The capacity of bamboo to grow mirrors our own potential for inner unfolding. As long as there is life, there is evolution. As long as we have breath, our faith can continue to grow.
Read Full Entry

An Evolving Faith

An Evolving Faith Includes Doubt
Wednesday, June 2, 2021

In my mind, one of the markers of an evolving faith is an ability to integrate doubt—to hold the tension between what we’ve been taught and what we’ve come to know as true. When grounded in an experience of Love, doubt does not represent a step backwards, but is a necessary condition for any movement forward. CAC teacher Brian McLaren speaks of his personal journey with doubt as the essential ingredient in the evolution of his faith from “orthodoxy” or right belief to “orthopraxy” or right way of life.

Before doubt, I thought that faith was a matter of correct beliefs. My religious teachers taught me so: that if I didn’t hold the right beliefs, or at least say that I held them, I would be excommunicated from my community, and perhaps, after death, from God’s presence. They taught me this not to be cruel but because they themselves had been taught the same thing, and they were working hard, sometimes desperately, to be faithful to the rules as they understood them. I tried to do the same, and I would still be doing so today if not for doubt.

Doubt chipped away at those beliefs, one agonizing blow at a time, revealing that what actually mattered wasn’t the point of beliefs but the clear window of faith, faith as a life orientation, faith as a framework of values and spirituality, faith as a commitment to live into a deep vision of what life can be, faith as a way of life, faith expressing itself in love.

For all those years, when I said, “I believe,” I thought I understood what I was doing. But more was going on, so much more. . . .

Looking back, I now see that underneath arguments about what I believed to be true factually, something deeper and truer was happening actually.

For example, whether or not the creation story happened factually as described in Genesis, I was committing myself to live in the world as if it actually were a precious, beautiful, meaningful creation, and as if I were too. . . .

What mattered most was not that I believed the stories in a factual sense, but that I believed in the meaning they carried so I could act upon that meaning and embody it in my life, to let that meaning breathe in me, animate me, fill me. . . . Whether I considered the stories factually accurate was never the point; what actually mattered all along was whether I lived a life pregnant with the meaning those stories contained. To my surprise, when I was given permission to doubt the factuality of my beliefs, I discovered their actual life-giving purpose. . . .

Doubt need not be the death of faith. It can be, instead, the birth of a new kind of faith, a faith beyond beliefs, a faith that expresses itself in love, a deepening and expanding faith that can save your life and save the world.

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Faith after Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do about It (St. Martins: 2021), 206, 207, 212.

Story from Our Community:
These have been extremely challenging times and, though difficult and often dangerous, inside each of them lay opportunity. I can enmesh myself in ego (my own and of others), yet I do my best to awaken to Christ consciousness. Everything is for the sake of spiritual evolution. It’s all about love for the sake of more love. Each of us has been Divinely granted yet another day to recognize the only real force—LOVE. —Robert L.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, bamboo 天竹子 (detail), 2015, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The capacity of bamboo to grow mirrors our own potential for inner unfolding. As long as there is life, there is evolution. As long as we have breath, our faith can continue to grow.
Read Full Entry

An Evolving Faith

Four Shapes of Transformation
Tuesday, June 1, 2021

An evolutionary faith understands that nothing is static. The universe unfolds, our understanding of God evolves and deepens, and our moral development surely evolves as well. We simply cannot, as adults, live by the same overly simplistic rules that governed our morality as children. St. Paul seems to be intuiting the same wisdom—as we love more deeply, we will behave differently (see 1 Corinthians 13:11–13). I have built upon the very helpful and clarifying language of Ken Wilber in describing the evolution of moral and spiritual development. He offers four major stages: Cleaning Up, Growing Up, Waking Up, and Showing Up.

We ministers talked, wrote, and preached about Cleaning Up the most, but actually did this very poorly. We largely reflected the moral preoccupations of the dominant culture in every age and every denomination. Our mostly external understanding of morality was very superficial and reflected our not-so-grown-up culture’s values of various “purity codes.” These were bound to our time in history and seldom driven by the brilliance of Jesus’ moral ideals, which have to do, first of all, with our inner attitudes (see Matthew 6–7). In other words, Jesus teaches and embodies a change in consciousness itself. Mature morality is largely a series of religious encounters leading to a deep transformation of consciousness. Any preoccupation with our private moral perfection keeps our eyes on ourselves and not on God or grace or love. Cleaning up is mostly about the need for early impulse control and creating necessary ego boundaries—so you can actually show up in the real and much bigger world.

Growing up refers to the process of psychological and emotional maturity that persons commonly undergo, both personally and culturally. We all grow up, even if inside our own bubbles. The social structures that surround us highly color, strengthen, and also limit how much we can grow up and how much of our own shadow self we will be able to face and integrate.

Waking Up refers to any spiritual experience which overcomes our experience of the self as separate from Being in general. It should be the goal of all spiritual work, including prayer, sacraments, Bible study, and religious services of any type. The purpose of waking up is not personal or private perfection, but surrender, love, and union with God. This is the Christian meaning of salvation or enlightenment.

For me, Showing Up means bringing our heart and mind into the actual suffering and problems of the world. It means engagement, social presence, and a sincere concern for justice and peace for others beyond ourselves. If we do not have a lot of people showing up in the suffering trenches of the world, it is probably because those of us in the world of religion have merely focused on either cleaning up, growing up, or waking up. Showing up is the full and final result of the prior three stages—God’s fully transformed “work of art” (see Ephesians 2:10).

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Four Stages,” homily, May 26, 2019; and

“Four Shapes to Transformation,” “Transformation,” Oneing, vol. 5, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2017), 39–45.

Story from Our Community:
These have been extremely challenging times and, though difficult and often dangerous, inside each of them lay opportunity. I can enmesh myself in ego (my own and of others), yet I do my best to awaken to Christ consciousness. Everything is for the sake of spiritual evolution. It’s all about love for the sake of more love. Each of us has been Divinely granted yet another day to recognize the only real force—LOVE. —Robert L.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, bamboo 天竹子 (detail), 2015, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The capacity of bamboo to grow mirrors our own potential for inner unfolding. As long as there is life, there is evolution. As long as we have breath, our faith can continue to grow.
Read Full Entry

An Evolving Faith

Foundational Hope
Monday, May 31, 2021
Memorial Day in US

The Jesuit scientist Teilhard de Chardin wrote that “Love is the physical structure of the universe.” [1] Our theological way of saying the same thing is “Let us create in our image” (Genesis 1:26), in the image of the triune God, who is love, who is a dynamic cycling of infinite outpouring and infinite receiving.

If our God is both incarnate and implanted, both Christ and Holy Spirit, then an unfolding inner dynamism in all creation is not only certain, but also moving in a positive direction. A divine goal is always before us, waiting to be unveiled. The strong death wishes, mass shootings, suicides, and the high amount of emotional struggle we experience in our world today is surely, in part, a result of our major failure to provide Western civilization with a positive and hopeful understanding of our own “good news.” And the good news must be social and cosmic, and not just about “me.”

Foundational hope demands a foundational belief in a world that is still and always unfolding to something better. This is the virtue of hope. Personally, I have found that it is almost impossible to heal individuals over the long haul, if the whole cosmic arc is not also a trajectory toward the good.

Admittedly, sometimes the suffering and injustices of our time make it hard to believe in the arc of love. Indigenous Choctaw elder and Episcopal Bishop Steven Charleston describes in practical terms how this love and foundational hope surround us at all times:

The signs are all around us. We can see them springing up like wildflowers after the prairie rain. People who had fallen asleep are waking up. People who had been content to watch are wanting to join. People who never said a word are speaking out. The tipping point of faith is the threshold of spiritual energy, where what we believe becomes what we do. When that power is released, there is no stopping it, for love is a force that cannot be contained. Look and see the thousands of new faces gathering from every direction. There is the sign of hope for which you have been waiting. . . .

Hope lets us literally see the presence and action of the holy in our everyday lives. This is not an imaginary desire viewed through rose-colored glasses. It is the solid evidence of the power of love made visible in abundance.

Sometimes, in this troubled world of ours, we forget that love is all around us. We imagine the worst of other people and withdraw into our own shells. But try this simple test: Stand still in any crowded place and watch the people around you. Within a very short time, you will begin to see love, and you will see it over and over and over. A young mother talking to her child, a couple laughing together as they walk by, an older man holding the door for a stranger—small signs of love are everywhere. The more you look, the more you will see. Love is literally everywhere. We are surrounded by love. [2]

This is such a powerful reminder to use a contemplative gaze to look at the world around us. Signs of love abound, reminding us of God’s essential nature.

References:
[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, trans. J. M. Cohen (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1969), 72.

[2] Steven Charleston, Ladder to the Light: An Indigenous Elder’s Meditations on Hope and Courage (Broadleaf: 2021), 60–61, 67.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, with Brie Stoner and Paul Swanson, “Love Evolves,” Another Name for Every Thing, season 1, episode 4, March 9, 2019, audio podcast.

Story from Our Community:
I became a Christian in 1977 and joined a charismatic community with great zeal about evangelizing. I have had times of doubt and struggles, but it wasn’t until my 60s that I started to question everything, even the blessings I was so sure of before. This has been alarming to my wife, family, and friends, and scary and quite lonely for me. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know my way must evolve and mature or it will surely die. The meditations on doubt as a key player in growth have given me hope. It shows me I’m not unusual or lost, but actually in good company. —Stephen R.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, bamboo 天竹子 (detail), 2015, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The capacity of bamboo to grow mirrors our own potential for inner unfolding. As long as there is life, there is evolution. As long as we have breath, our faith can continue to grow.
Read Full Entry

An Evolving Faith

Divine Love Leads to Growth and Change
Sunday, May 30, 2021

The whole creation is eagerly waiting for the full revelation of the children of God. . . . From the beginning until now, the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth. —Romans 8:19, 22

Evolution is just the language of growth and change. In the classic quote above, St. Paul does not actively teach what we now call evolution. Rather, I think he fully assumes it when he says parenthetically “as we know.”

It has always seemed completely strange to me that there should be any resistance whatsoever to evolution or evolutionary thinking in Christian theology or practice. Instead, Christians should have been the first in line to recognize and cooperate with such a dynamic notion of God. But maybe many do not enjoy such a relational God—with all that that implies—and only recognize a “substance” (that which “stands under”) they call God. A static notion of God makes everything else static too, including our very notions of spirituality, history, and religion.

I can only assume that this resistance reflects a very limited inner experience of God.  Anyone with a sense of soul knows this to be true: God is never static within us. Only when God is held without can we continue to think of God as inert, static, and merely imposing laws. Anybody who has paid attention to their inner life or read history books surely recognizes that life and love are cumulative, growing, and going somewhere that is always new and always more. Perhaps it is this newness and non-familiarity of which we are afraid? For some reason, we think that admitting such love dynamism and cooperating with it (see Romans 8:28) is going to compromise our eternal, unchanging notion of God. Yet the Bible is not afraid of a dynamic and unfolding understanding of God. The notion of “The Lord” clearly evolves with many other iterations in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the New Testament writers, these images inspire the Christian notion of Jesus and lead to the utterly relational and totally interactive doctrine of the Trinity. A dynamic understanding of God is not only rather obvious in the Bible, but also necessary—and surely exciting. Remember, the only language available to religion is metaphor. God is always like something else we have experienced visibly and directly.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Evolutionary Thinking,” Oneing, vol. 4, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2016), 13–14.

Story from Our Community:
I became a Christian in 1977 and joined a charismatic community with great zeal about evangelizing. I have had times of doubt and struggles, but it wasn’t until my 60s that I started to question everything, even the blessings I was so sure of before. This has been alarming to my wife, family, and friends, and scary and quite lonely for me. I don’t know what it will look like, but I know my way must evolve and mature or it will surely die. The meditations on doubt as a key player in growth have given me hope. It shows me I’m not unusual or lost, but actually in good company. —Stephen R.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, bamboo 天竹子 (detail), 2015, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The capacity of bamboo to grow mirrors our own potential for inner unfolding. As long as there is life, there is evolution. As long as we have breath, our faith can continue to grow.
Read Full Entry
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