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Theme:
Giving Birth to Christ

Giving Birth to Christ

Saturday, December 12, 2020
Summary: Sunday, December 6—Friday, December 11, 2020

If we try to “manage” God, or manufacture our own worthiness by any performance principle whatsoever, we will never bring forth the Christ, but only more of ourselves. (Sunday)

We are a part of this movement of an ever-growing Universal Christ that is coming to be in this “one great act of giving birth.” (Monday)

When the mystery of God’s love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it? Or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say something new, a “yes” that will change me forever? —Kathleen Norris (Tuesday)

Christmas isn’t automatic, it can’t be taken for granted. It began with Mary, but each of us is asked to make our own contribution to giving flesh to faith in the world. —Ronald Rolheiser (Wednesday)

It is not mystical experience we are after but radical interior transformation, so that others may experience Christ more fully in us. —Vincent Pizzuto (Thursday)

We are called to incarnate Christ in our lives, to clothe our lives with him, so that people can see him in us, touch him in us, recognize him in us. —Catherine de Hueck Doherty (Friday)

 

Practice: O God, I Need Thee

The virtue of hope, with great irony, is the fruit of a learned capacity to suffer wisely, calmly, and generously. Any form of contemplation is a gradual sinking into this divine fullness where hope lives. Contemplation is living in a unified field that produces in people a deep, largely non-rational, and yet calmly certain hope, which is always a surprise. A life of inner union, a contemplative life, is practicing for heaven now.

This week’s practice is from the remarkably hope-filled book Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans. Howard Thurman contributed the following prayer-practice:

“O God, I Need Thee”

I Need Thy Sense of Time
Always I have an underlying anxiety about things.
Sometimes I am in a hurry to achieve my ends
And am completely without patience. It is hard for me
To realize that some growth is slow,
That all processes are not swift. I cannot always discriminate
Between what takes time to develop and what can be rushed,
Because my sense of time is dulled.
I measure things in terms of happenings.
O to understand the meaning of perspective
That I may do all things with a profound sense of leisure—of
time.

I Need Thy Sense of Order
The confusion of the details of living
Is sometimes overwhelming. The little things
Keep getting in my way providing ready-made
Excuses for failure to do and be
What I know I ought to do and be.
Much time is spent on things that are not very important
While significant things are put into an insignificant place
In my scheme of order. I must unscramble my affairs
So that my life will become order. O God, I need
Thy sense of order.

I Need Thy Sense of the Future
Teach me to know that life is ever
On the side of the future.
Keep alive in me the forward look, the high hope,
The onward surge. Let me not be frozen

Either by the past or the present.
Grant me, O patient Father, Thy sense of the future
Without which all life would sicken and die.

Reference:
Howard Thurman, “O God, I Need Thee,” (1951), in Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans, ed. James Melvin Washington (Harper Collins: 1994), 183.

For Further Study:
Catherine de Hueck Doherty: Essential Writings, ed. David Meconi (Orbis Books: 2009).

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Living the Gospel without Compromise (Madonna House Publications: 2002).

Beverly Lanzetta, The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life (Blue Sapphire Books: 2018).

Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Riverhead Books: 1999).

Vincent Pizzuto, Contemplating Christ: The Gospels and the Interior Life (Liturgical Press: 2018).

Richard Rohr, Christ, Cosmology, & Consciousness: A Reframing of How We See (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), MP3 download.

Richard Rohr, The Cosmic Christ (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), CD, MP3 download.

Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent (Franciscan Media: 2008).

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019).

Ron Rolheiser, Daybreaks: Daily Reflections for Advent and Christmas (Liguori Publications: 2019).

“The Universal Christ,” Oneing, vol. 7, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2019), especially the essays “Becoming Christ” by Brie Stoner and “Christ, the Future” by Ilia Delio.

Image Credit: Abiding Love (detail of triptych), Janet McKenzie, copyright ©2019.www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary could trustingly carry Jesus, because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts, in fact the spiritual gift. She offers a profound image of how generativity and fruitfulness break into this world. We have much to learn from her. —Richard Rohr
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Giving Birth to Christ

Becoming Icons of Christ
Friday, December 11, 2020

What is it that grasps and impels these men and women to push beyond conventional boundaries and so delight us, ultimately, with new creative spaces? Wisdom—God’s Playmate, the Feminine Principle of the Godhead—is at work, ever delighting in birthing new possibilities and inviting open hearts to rise up and respond to visions and dreams by enfleshing them. —Edwina Gateley

Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896–1985) was a Russian baroness who lived the Gospel “without compromise.” She gave up all she had and began Friendship House in Toronto, “a storefront center for the works of mercy, where the hungry were fed and the homeless were welcomed.” [1] Robert Ellsberg writes that Catherine’s formation of the Friendship House in Harlem, New York in 1937 emerged out of a deep conviction of the sins of racism and segregation. In 1947 she also established Madonna House, “which became a place of prayer and retreat. . . . Through Madonna House and the communities it inspired around the world, Catherine promoted the two principles by which she lived—a commitment to the social apostolate in the world and the need to root such a commitment in a life of prayer and the spirit of Christ [i.e., action and contemplation]. [2]

In her own words, Catherine describes how we give birth to Christ:

Christians are called to become icons of Christ, to reflect him. But we are called to even more than that. Ikon is the Greek word for “image of God.” We are called to incarnate Christ in our lives, to clothe our lives with him, so that people can see him in us, touch him in us, recognize him in us. . . . [3]

We have to begin to love one another in the fullest sense of Christ’s teaching. But to do so we must pray. . . . The immense problems of war, of social injustice, of the thousand and one ills that beset our world, these can be solved only if we begin to love one another. When people begin to see, love, respect, and reverence Christ in the eyes of another, then they will change, and society will change also. [4]

Richard here: To paraphrase the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart (1260–1327), “We are all meant to give birth to God.” [5] As a man who has taken a vow of celibacy, I will never know what it is like to physically give birth, nor have I ever held the hand of a woman I love in labor—neither sister nor friend. However, I have experienced the birth of Christ in the world many times throughout my life—in big ways and small, sometimes through grand gestures, but more often through simple acts of patience, love, and mercy. To incarnate the Christ is to live out the Gospel with our lives, as faithfully and fearlessly as a woman in labor who holds nothing back in order to bring new life into the world.

References:
[1] Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 2008), 77.

[2] Ibid., 77–78.

[3] Catherine de Hueck Doherty, The Gospel without Compromise (Madonna House Publications: 1989), 71.

[4] Ibid., 75. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

[5] Meister Eckhart, Dum Medium Silentium, Sermon on Wisdom 18:14. See The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, trans. and ed. Maurice O’C. Walshe (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 29.

Epigraph: Edwina Gateley, “Reflection,” Christ in the Margins, art by Robert Lentz (Orbis Books: 2003), 23.

Image Credit: Abiding Love (detail of triptych), Janet McKenzie, copyright ©2019.www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary could trustingly carry Jesus, because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts, in fact the spiritual gift. She offers a profound image of how generativity and fruitfulness break into this world. We have much to learn from her. —Richard Rohr
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Giving Birth to Christ

Fruit of Our Labor
Thursday, December 10, 2020

When we are engaged in some form of contemplative practice, we are more able to bring Christ into the world. By emptying ourselves, we are more able to embody God’s presence for others. Professor and Episcopal priest Vincent Pizzuto writes about how contemplation enables this to happen:

The contemplative disciple is one who is clothed with love. . . . One meditates, then, not in order to produce a successful meditation but in order to be transformed into an ever more compassionate person. We pray not that we might become mystics but that we might become ever more authentic Christians who embody the love of Christ in the world.

John of the Cross [1542–1591] takes up the analogy of a smudgy window to make the connection between deification [becoming more like God] and contemplative discipleship. A smudgy window, he says, is less able to transmit the sunlight shining through it. The more cleaned and polished the window, the more identical it appears with the rays of sunshine. While the nature of the window is distinct from the sun’s ray, a clean window better participates in the ray of sunlight that passes through it. As one progresses in the spiritual life it is as if the window all but disappears, allowing the Christ light to shine through it without hindrance. [1] . . .

It is not mystical experience we are after but radical interior transformation, so that others may experience Christ more fully in us. [2]

The contemplative mystic John of the Cross frequently wrote about the via negativa, or the path of darkness as a way to greater union with God. Spiritual teacher Beverly Lanzetta explores the darkness as a pregnant place from which one “gives birth” to the Divine in the world. She calls it “a theology of gestation.” She writes:

From darkness and uncertainty, it waits for the Divine to be born in its own time. The process doesn’t try to contain new revelation in the dry, crusty soil of old forms, but germinates each seed in the moist openness of heart, fertile and hollow like the womb, receptive and waiting. It is the qualities of Wisdom, the Mother of all—merciful, gentle, humble, nondual, holistic, benevolent—that we tenderly bear. Verdant, womb-like theology welcomes new seeds to take root. Round and hollow in imitation of divine fecundity, gestation cannot be forced; new life cannot be prescribed. We cannot change the color of the eyes, or the shape of the nose. Similarly, we cannot fashion divine self-disclosure to our own liking. Impregnated with its seed, we simply support it and watch it grow. [3]

Richard again: Regardless of our gender, the fruit of our labor is a gift from God for the world. What else could we want this time of year?

References:
[1] St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 5.6. See The Collected Works of Saint John of the Cross, ed. and trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, 3rd ed. (ICS Publications: 1991), 164–165.

[2] Vincent Pizzuto, Contemplating Christ: The Gospels and the Interior Life (Liturgical Press: 2018), 152–153.

[3] Beverly Lanzetta, The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life (Blue Sapphire Books: 2018), 96.

Image Credit: Abiding Love (detail of triptych), Janet McKenzie, copyright ©2019.www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary could trustingly carry Jesus, because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts, in fact the spiritual gift. She offers a profound image of how generativity and fruitfulness break into this world. We have much to learn from her. —Richard Rohr
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Giving Birth to Christ

A Lifetime Commitment
Wednesday, December 9, 2020

My dear friend Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I. reminds us that giving birth spiritually is a dynamic and creative process. To bring Christ into the world involves an ongoing commitment to growth, to discomfort, to love, and to surrender. It is not for the faint of heart, but it is God’s invitation to all of us.

Looking at how Mary gave birth to Christ, we see that it’s not something that’s done in an instant. Faith, like biology, also relies on a process that has a number of distinct, organic moments. What are these moments? What is the process by which we give birth to faith in the world?

First, like Mary, we need to get pregnant by the Holy Spirit. We need to let the word take such root in us that it begins to become part of our actual flesh.

Then, like any woman who’s pregnant, we have to lovingly gestate, nurture, and protect what is growing inside us until it’s sufficiently strong so that it can live on its own, outside us. . . .

Eventually, of course, we must give birth. . . .

Birth, however, is only the beginnings of motherhood. Mary gave birth to a baby, but she had to spend years nurturing, coaxing, and cajoling that infant into adulthood. The infant in the crib at Bethlehem is not yet the Christ who preaches, heals, and dies for us. . . .

Finally, motherhood has still one more phase. As her child grows, matures, and takes on a personality and destiny of its own, the mother, at a point, must ponder (as Mary did). She must let herself be painfully stretched in understanding, in not knowing, in carrying tension, in letting go. She must set free to be itself something that was once so fiercely hers. The pains of childbirth are often gentle compared to this second wrenching.

All of this is what Mary went through to give Christ to the world: Pregnancy by the Holy Spirit; gestation of that into a child inside of her; excruciating pain in birthing that to the outside; nurturing that new life into adulthood; and pondering, painfully letting go so that this new life can be its own, not hers. . . .

Our task too is to give birth to Christ. Mary is the paradigm for doing that. From her we get the pattern: Let the word of God take root and make you pregnant; gestate that by giving it the nourishing sustenance of your own life; submit to the pain that is demanded for it to be born to the outside; then spend years coaxing it from infancy to adulthood; and finally, during and after all of this, do some pondering, accept the pain of not understanding and of letting go.

Christmas isn’t automatic, it can’t be taken for granted. It began with Mary, but each of us is asked to make our own contribution to giving flesh to faith in the world.

Reference:
Ronald Rolheiser, “Mary as a Model of Faith,” reflection on Luke 11:27–28 (December 7, 2003).

Image Credit: Abiding Love (detail of triptych), Janet McKenzie, copyright ©2019.www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary could trustingly carry Jesus, because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts, in fact the spiritual gift. She offers a profound image of how generativity and fruitfulness break into this world. We have much to learn from her. —Richard Rohr
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Giving Birth to Christ

Receiving the Gift
Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Why, from the earliest centuries, have Christian people been so excited about Mary? What’s happening in the depths of our soul when we hear her story? Surely it must be about more than the miracle of the virgin birth. As Benedictine oblate, author, and poet Kathleen Norris shares, Mary’s “virginity” has less to do with biology than with her stance towards God and life itself.

It’s in the monastic world that I find a broader and also more relevant grasp of what it could mean to be virgin. Thomas Merton, in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, describes the true identity that he seeks in contemplative prayer as a “point vierge” [virgin point] at the center of his being, “a point untouched [by sin and] by illusion, a point of pure truth . . . which belongs entirely to God. . . .” [1]

It is only when we stop idolizing the illusion of our control over the events of life and recognize our poverty that we become virgin in the sense that Merton means. . . . We all need to be told that God loves us, and the mystery of the Annunciation reveals an aspect of that love. But it also suggests that our response to this love is critical. A few verses before the angel appears to Mary in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, another annunciation occurs; an angel announces to an old man, Zechariah, that his equally aged wife is to bear a son who will “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” The couple are to name him John; he is known to us as John the Baptist [Luke 1:11–18]. Zechariah says to the angel, “How will I know that this is so?” which is a radically different response from the one Mary makes. She says, “How can this be?”

I interpret this to mean that while Zechariah is seeking knowledge and information, Mary contents herself with wisdom. . . . Mary’s “How can this be?” is a simpler response than Zechariah’s, and also more profound. She does not lose her voice but finds it. Like any of the prophets, she asserts herself before God, saying, “Here am I.” . . . Mary proceeds—as we must do in life—making her commitment without knowing much about what it will entail or where it will lead. I treasure the story because it forces me to ask: When the mystery of God’s love breaks through into my consciousness, do I run from it? . . . Or am I virgin enough to respond from my deepest, truest self, and say something new, a “yes” that will change me forever? [2]

If Jesus is the representative of the total givenness of God to creation, then perhaps Mary is the representative of humanity, showing us how the gift is received. And I believe that is why we love Mary. She’s a stand in for all of us. When we can say, like her, “Let it be,” then we’re truly ready for Christmas.

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Image Books: 1968), 158.

[2] Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Riverhead Books: 1999), 74, 75, 76–77.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Mary is Our ‘Let It Be!’,” homily (December 21,2014).

Image Credit: Abiding Love (detail of triptych), Janet McKenzie, copyright ©2019.www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary could trustingly carry Jesus, because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts, in fact the spiritual gift. She offers a profound image of how generativity and fruitfulness break into this world. We have much to learn from her. —Richard Rohr
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Giving Birth to Christ

Christ Is Born in Creation
Monday, December 7, 2020

Humanity too is God’s creation. But humanity alone is called to co-operate with God in the creation. —Hildegard of Bingen

For of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. —John 1:16

The Greek word for “fullness” in this gospel passage is pleroma, which Paul also uses in his writings to describe a historical unfolding (see Ephesians 1:23, 3:19; Colossians 2:9–10). It is an early hint of what we now call evolutionary development, the idea that history, humanity and, yes, even God are somehow growing and coming to a divine fullness. What hope and meaning this gives to all life!

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul writes: “From the beginning until now, the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22). Creation did not happen at once by a flick of the divine hand, and it is not slowly winding down toward Armageddon or tragic Apocalypse. Creation is in fact a life-generating process that’s still happening and winding up! We now know the universe is still expanding—and at an ever-faster rate, which means that we are a part of creating God’s future.

As Sister Ilia Delio says so well,

We can read the history of our 13.7-billion-year-old universe as the rising up of Divine Love incarnate, which bursts forth in the person of Jesus, who reveals love’s urge toward wholeness through reconciliation, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. Jesus is the love of God incarnate, the wholemaker who shows the way of evolution toward unity in love. In Jesus, God breaks through and points us in a new direction; not one of chance or blindness but one of ever-deepening wholeness in love. In Jesus, God comes to us from the future to be our future. Those who follow Jesus are to become wholemakers, uniting what is scattered, creating a deeper unity in love. Christian life is a commitment to love, to give birth to God in one’s own life and to become midwives of divinity in this evolving cosmos. We are to be wholemakers of love in a world of change. [1]

The common Christian understanding that Jesus came to save us by a cosmic evacuation plan is really very individualistic, petty, and even egocentric. It demands no solidarity with anything except oneself. We whittled the great Good News down into what Jesus could do for us personally and privately, rather than celebrating God’s invitation to participate in God’s universal creative work.

Instead of believing that Jesus came to fulfill us separately, how about trusting that we are here to fulfill Christ? We take our small but wonderful part in what Thomas Merton calls “The General Dance.” [2] We are a part of this movement of an ever-growing Universal Christ that is coming to be in this “one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22).

References:
[1] Ilia Delio, “Love at the Heart of the Universe,” “The Perennial Tradition,” Oneing, vol. 1, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), 22. Note: This edition of Oneing is out of print.

[2] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (Shambhala: 2003), chapter 39.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Christ, Cosmology, & Consciousness: A Reframing of How We See (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), MP3 download.

Epigraph: Vita Sanctae Hildegardis (The Life of the Holy Hildegard), II, 35. See Hildegard of Bingen: Mystical Writings, ed. Fiona Bowie and Oliver Davies (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1990), 28.

Image Credit: Abiding Love (detail of triptych), Janet McKenzie, copyright ©2019.www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary could trustingly carry Jesus, because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts, in fact the spiritual gift. She offers a profound image of how generativity and fruitfulness break into this world. We have much to learn from her. —Richard Rohr
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Giving Birth to Christ

The DNA of Creation
Sunday, December 6, 2020
Second Sunday of Advent

We Franciscans believe that the first coming of “the Christ” is in creation itself. The Franciscan philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus (1266‒1308), whom I studied for four years, wrote that “God first wills Christ as his supreme work.” [1] Creation could not have been empty of Christ for billions of years. In other words, God’s “first idea” and priority was to make the Godself both visible and shareable. The word used in the Bible for this idea was Logos (from Greek philosophy), which I would translate as the “Blueprint” or Primordial Pattern for reality. The whole of creation is the beloved community, the partner in the divine dance. Everything is the “child of God”—not only Jesus. There are no exceptions. When you think of it, what else could anything be? All creation must in some way carry the divine DNA of the Creator.

At Christmastime, most people think about the birth of the baby Jesus as the “coming” of Christ. Yet Advent reveals more; it is about preparing ourselves for the Christ to come in personal, contracted, and visible form. Only a perfect, trusting individual could allow such greatness to focus and communicate through a human body. Modeling the entire divine pattern of incarnation, Mary had to trust littleness or, better said, bigness becoming littleness! Go imagine.

Mary could trustingly carry Jesus, because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts—in fact, the spiritual gift. She offers a profound image of how generativity and fruitfulness break into this world. We have much to learn from her.

First, we learn that we can’t manage, maneuver, or manipulate spiritual energy. It is a matter of letting go and receiving what is given freely. It is the gradual emptying of our attachment to our small “separate” self so that there is room for new conception and new birth. There must be some displacement before there can be any new “replacement”! Mary is the archetype of such self-displacement and surrender.

There is no mention of any moral worthiness, achievement, or preparedness in Mary, only humble trust and surrender. She gives us all, therefore, a bottomless hope in our own little state. If we ourselves try to “manage” God or manufacture our own worthiness by any performance principle whatsoever, we will never give birth to the Christ, but only more of ourselves.

Whenever the material and the spiritual coincide, there is the Christ. Jesus fully accepted that human-divine identity and walked it into history. Henceforth, the Christ “comes again” whenever we are able to see the spiritual and the material coexisting, in any moment, in any event, and in any person. All matter reveals Spirit, and Spirit needs matter to “show itself”! What I like to call the “Forever Coming of Christ” happens whenever and wherever we allow this to be utterly true for us. This is how God continually breaks into history.

References:
[1] See Carlo Balić, “Scotism,” Encyclopedia of Theology: A Concise Sacramentum Mundi, ed. Karl Rahner (Burns and Oates, Ltd.: 1975), 1548.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 22;

Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent (Franciscan Media: 2008), 31–32; and

The Cosmic Christ, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), CD, MP3 download.

Image Credit: Abiding Love (detail of triptych), Janet McKenzie, copyright ©2019.www.janetmckenzie.com
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Mary could trustingly carry Jesus, because she knew how to receive spiritual gifts, in fact the spiritual gift. She offers a profound image of how generativity and fruitfulness break into this world. We have much to learn from her. —Richard Rohr
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