Theme:
Heaven Now

Heaven Now

Summary: Sunday, April 28—Friday, May 3, 2019

You’re choosing your destiny right now. Do you want to live in love and communion? Or do you want to live in constant opposition to others and life itself? (Sunday)

Union is not a place we go to later—if we are good; union is the place from which we come, the place from which we’re called to live now. (Monday)

The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. (Tuesday)

If authentic God-experience first makes you overcome the primary split between yourself and the Divine, then it should also overcome the split between yourself and the rest of creation. (Wednesday)

In fidelity to silent prayer there is unveiled the possibility of infinite growth in union with God. We can be so transformed through this unveiling that we existentially realize within us that “for me to live is Christ.” —James Finley (Thursday)

The death of our physical form is not the death of our individual personhood. Our personhood remains alive and well, “hidden with Christ in God” (to use Paul’s beautiful phrase in Colossians 3:3) and here and now we can draw strength from it (and [Christ]) to live our temporal lives with all the fullness of eternity. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Friday)

 

Practice: Praying Always
I don’t believe hell or heaven to be post-life destinations. I believe they are states of consciousness largely visible here and now. A world of objects is a kind of hell. A world of subjects—divine beings honoring the divinity in the other—is surely heaven. —Josh Radnor [1]

Prayer is not a transaction that somehow pleases God but a transformation of the consciousness of the one doing the praying. Prayer is the awakening of an inner dialogue that, from God’s side, has never ceased. This is why Paul could write of praying “always” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is not changing God’s mind about us or about anything else, but allowing God to change our mind about the reality right in front of us (which we usually avoid or distort).

When we put on a different mind, heaven takes care of itself. In fact, it begins now. If we resort too exclusively to verbal, wordy prayers, we’ll remain stuck in our rational, dualistic minds and will not experience deep change at the level of consciousness. Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise.

Jesus tells his disciples, “Be awake. Be alert. . . . You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, at cock crow, or in the morning” (see Mark 13:33-35). Jesus is not threatening, “You’d better do it right, or I’m going to get you.” He’s talking about the forever, eternal coming of Christ now . . . and now . . . and now. God’s judgment is always redemption. Christ is always coming. God is always present. It’s we who fall asleep.

Be ready. Be present to God in the here and now, the ordinary, the interruptions. Being fully present to the soul of all things will allow you to say, “This is good. This is enough. In fact, this is all I need.” You are now situated in the One Loving Gaze that unites all things in universal attraction and appreciation. We are practicing for heaven. Why wait for heaven when you can enjoy the Divine Flow in every moment, in everyone?

References:
[1] Josh Radnor, “Saluting the Divinity in You,” “Anger,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2018), 47, 50.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 16, 18, 37-38.

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008)

James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God Through Awareness of the True Self (Ave Maria Press: 1978, 1983)

Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016)

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018)

Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017)

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr
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Heaven Now

The Mystical Body of Christ
Friday, May 3, 2019

A cosmic notion of Christ takes mysticism beyond the mere individual level to the transpersonal, social, and collective levels. Cynthia Bourgeault, another of our core faculty members and an Episcopal priest, explores Jesus’ resurrection from a universal, mystical perspective:

What Jesus so profoundly demonstrates to us in his passage from death to life is that the walls between the realms are paper thin. Along the entire ray of creation, the “mansions” are interpenetrating and mutually permeable by love. The death of our physical form is not the death of our individual personhood. Our personhood remains alive and well, “hidden with Christ in God” (to use Paul’s beautiful phrase in Colossians 3:3) and here and now we can draw strength from it (and [Christ]) to live our temporal lives with all the fullness of eternity. If we can simply keep our hearts wrapped around this core point, the rest of the Christian path begins to fall into place.

Yes, [Jesus’] physical form no longer walks the planet. But if we take him at his word, that poses no disruption to intimacy if we merely learn to recognize him at that other level, just as he has modeled for his disciples during those first forty days of Eastertide.

Nor has that intimacy subsided in two thousand years—at least according to the testimony of a long lineage of Christian mystics, who in a single voice proclaim that our whole universe is profoundly permeated with the presence of Christ. He surrounds, fills, holds together from top to bottom this human sphere in which we dwell. The entire cosmos has become his body, so to speak, and the blood flowing through it is his love. These are not statements that can be scientifically corroborated, but they do seem to ring true to the mystically attuned heart. . . .

Without in any way denying or overriding the conditions of this earth plane, he has interpenetrated them fully, infused them with his own interior spaciousness, and invited us all into this invisible but profoundly coherent energetic field so that we may live as one body—the “Mystical Body of Christ,” as it’s known in Christian tradition—manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. Jesus in his ascended state is not farther removed from human beings but more intimately connected with them. He is the integral ground, the ambient wholeness within which our contingent human lives are always rooted and from which we are always receiving the help we need to keep moving ahead on the difficult walk we have to walk here. When the eye of our own heart is open and aligned within this field of perception, we recognize whom we’re walking with.

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 133-135. Learn more from Cynthia Bourgeault at cynthiabourgeault.org.

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr
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Heaven Now

The Gate of Heaven
Thursday, May 2, 2019

James Finley, one of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s core faculty members, was a spiritual directee of Thomas Merton (19151968) at the Abbey of Gethsemani. Drawing from this experience and his own insights as a student of the mystics and a clinical psychologist, Finley helps us get a glimpse of heaven.

When Merton told me that “one thing for sure about heaven is that there is not going to be much of you there,” he was, I think, referring to the mystery that even now we are in God’s kingdom. And that even now we can begin to realize it if we but die to egocentric self-seeking and seek God’s will with a pure heart.

Because God is everywhere God is likewise no-where, meaning there is no “where” in which we can see God “out there.” Closer to us than we are to ourselves, God is too close to see. God is the heart of our heart, the hope of our hopes, the love of our love, the ground of our being.

Where must we go to see God? Nowhere! What can we do to have God? Nothing! All we can do, at least for a moment (an eternal moment) is to abandon all doing and be who we are in God and open ourselves to God’s life within us. It is then that we will at once see God and ourselves in a unity of divine love.

In fidelity to silent prayer there is unveiled the possibility of infinite growth in union with God. We can be so transformed through this unveiling that we existentially realize within us that “for me to live is Christ” [Philippians 1:21]. We realize obscurely in our being, that our simple, concrete acts are open to a transformation through which they are “not only Godlike, but they become God’s own acts.” [1]

There is nowhere to go. There is nothing to do. God is upon and within us. In the midst of our humble duties, our poor, weak selves, our simple being who we are, we can say with Jacob with overwhelming gratitude: “Truly this is the house of God and the gate of heaven and I knew it not” [see Genesis 28:16-17]. [2]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, What Are These Wounds? The Life of a Cistercian Mystic, Saint Lutgarde of Aywières (Bruce: 1950), 14.

[2] James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God Through Awareness of the True Self (Ave Maria Press:1978, 1983), 112-113. Learn more from James Finley at jamesfinley.org.

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr
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Heaven Now

Finding Our Life
Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Anyone who wants to save his life must lose it. Anyone who loses her life will find it. —Matthew 16:25

This passage from Matthew is a very strong, almost brutal statement from Jesus. It has perhaps been discussed, dismissed, misunderstood, and conveniently forgotten more than almost anything he said. It is just too counter-intuitive.

I believe Jesus says this in such a strong and absolute way because he knows that the human ego fixes upon roles, titles, status symbols, and concocted self-images;       and he wants us to know that these are passing creations of our own minds and culture. They are not, in that sense, objectively “real.” Nor are they our true and deepest self. All of these images must die if we want the Real, but they do not die easily because we have mistaken them for elements of our real self for most of our life. We all suffer from a tragic case of mistaken identity.

The Real is that to which all the world religions point when they speak of heaven, nirvana, bliss, eternity, or enlightenment. Our mistake was that most Christians delayed this inner state until after death. This distorted and misshaped the spiritual search, making it into a cheap reward and punishment system—for later. Honestly, it too often attracted fear-based or self-interested people, not really lovers.

The human ego wants two things: It wants to be separate and it wants to be superior! This is why Jesus says this self must “die” for something much better to be “found.” As long as the ego is in control, not much new will ever happen.

Sit with this mystery as you read the following poem by David Whyte:

After the good earth
where the body knows itself to be real
and the mad flight
where it gives itself to the world,
we give ourselves to the rhythm of love
leaving the breath
to know its way home.

And after the first pure fall,
the last letting go, and the calm
breath where we go to rest,
we’ll return again to find it
and feel again the body welcomed,
the body held,
the strong arms of the world,
the water, the waking at dawn
and the thankful, almost forgotten,
curling to sleep with the dark. 

The old wild place beyond all shame. [1]

If authentic God-experience first inspires you to overcome the primary split between yourself and the Divine, then it should also inspire you to overcome the split between yourself and the rest of creation. For many people, union with the Divine is experienced in nature, with animals, through a sense of awe, in moments of pure love, silence, inner or outer music, or some kind of Franciscan “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” experience.

Mystical experience connects us and just keeps connecting at ever-wider levels, breadths, and depths, “until God can be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28) or, as Paul also says, “The world, life and death, the present and the future are all your servants, for you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:22-23). Full salvation is finally universal belonging and universal connecting. Our common word for that is some kind of “heaven.”

References:
[1] David Whyte, “The Old Wild Place,” Fire in the Earth (Many Rivers Press: 2002), 55. Used with permission.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 90-91; and

A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 225-226.

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr
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Heaven Now

The Eternal Now
Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Jesus’ primary metaphors for the Eternal Now are “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven.” He is not talking about a far-off celestial heaven. “Look around you, look at the fields; already they are ready for harvest! Already the reaper is being paid his wages, already he is bringing in the grain for eternal life, and thus sower and reaper rejoice together” (John 4:35-36, Jerusalem Bible). Notice that Jesus says already three times. He is trying to tell us that there is a way that we can live connected to the Real and to the Eternal in this world. That path is surrendering to the here-and-now, whatever it offers us. We might just call this “the will of God,” yet it feels like nothing, like nowhere (now-here), and still it is where everything always happens to us. So be sure to be here now—and not somewhere else! If our minds or hearts are elsewhere, nothing really happens to us that matters or lasts.

Nondual knowing is learning how to live satisfied in the naked now, which some called “the sacrament of the present moment.” This consciousness will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves divide and judge the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is.

As long as we deal with life as a set of universal abstractions, we can pretend that our binary coordinates are true. But once we touch concrete reality—ourselves, someone we love, actual moments—we find that reality is almost always a mixture of good and bad, dark and light, life and death. “God alone is good,” Jesus tells the rich young man (Mark 10:18). To touch upon Reality requires a both/and synthesis rather than an either/or differentiation where we throw part of reality out (the part we don’t like). The nondual mind is open to everything that comes its way. It does not even deny sin or evil. It is capable of listening to the other, to the body, to the heart, to all the senses. It begins with a radical yes to each moment and to all other people.

When we can be present in this way, we will know the Real Presence. We will still need and use our dualistic mind to get started, but now it is in service to the greater whole rather than just the small self. Start with dualistic clarity, if you can, and then move toward nondual compassion for your response.

John Duns Scotus (1266–1308), one of our great Franciscan teachers, said that God did not create genus and species; God only created what Duns Scotus called “this-ness,” in Latin haecceity. He said that until we can experience each thing in its specific “thisness,” we will not easily experience the joy and ubiquity of Divine Presence. In other words, I can’t be present to all women in general. I’ve got to be present to this woman, right here, right now, in her specificity and particularity.

The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. Please trust me on that and don’t dare dismiss it until and unless you have tried it. One completely loved thing is all it takes.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 314-315; and

The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 12, 56; and

A New Way of Seeing . . . A New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2007), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr
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Heaven Now

Divinization
Monday, April 29, 2019

If we could glimpse the panoramic view of the biblical revelation and the Big Picture of which we’re a part, we’d see how God is forever evolving human consciousness, making us collectively ever more ready for God. The Hebrew prophets and many Catholic and Sufi mystics used words like espousal or marriage to describe this divine-human love affair. That’s what the prophet Isaiah (61:10; 62:5), many of the Psalms, the school of Paul (Ephesians 5:25-32), and the Book of Revelation (19:7-8; 21:2) mean by “preparing a bride to be ready for her husband.”

The human soul is being gradually readied so that actual intimacy and partnership with the Divine are the result. It’s all moving toward a final marriage between God and creation. Note that such salvation is a social and cosmic concept, not just about isolated individuals “going to heaven.” The Church was meant to bring this corporate salvation to conscious and visible possibility.

But how could divine espousal really be God’s plan? Isn’t this just poetic exaggeration? If this is the agenda, why were most of us presented with an angry deity who needed to be placated and controlled? Why would God even want to “marry” God’s creation? If you think I am stretching it here, look for all the times Jesus uses a wedding banquet as his image for eternity, and both he and John the Baptist call Jesus “the bridegroom” (Mark 2:19-20; John 3:29). Think how strange that is! Jesus is not marrying anyone, is he? The very daring, seemingly impossible idea of union with God is still something we’re so afraid of that most of us won’t allow ourselves to think of an actual intimate relationship with God. Only God in you, “the Holy Spirit planted in your heart,” can imagine such a possibility (Romans 8:11 and throughout Paul’s letters).

The Eastern Fathers of the Church were much less afraid of this realization; they called it the real process of human “divinization” (theosis). In fact, they saw it as the whole point of the Incarnation and the very meaning of salvation. The much more practical and rational church in the West seldom used the word, despite Peter’s teaching (1 Peter 1:4-5 and 2 Peter 1:4). John also was quite clear about divine union being the final goal in much of his Gospel: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21). It is important not to confuse divine union with human perfection. The choice for union is always from God’s side; our response is always and forever partial and feeble.

Jesus came to give us the courage to trust and allow our inherent union with God, and he modeled it for us in this world. Union is not a place we go to later—if we are good; union is the place from which we come, the place from which we’re called to live now. We wasted centuries confusing union with personal perfection. Union is God’s choice for us in our very imperfect world. Divine Love has no trouble loving imperfect things! That is just our human problem. If God could only love perfect things, God would have nothing to do.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 251-252.

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr
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Heaven Now

Heaven and Hell
Sunday, April 28, 2019

Lord, will only a few people be saved? —Luke 13:23

But remember, some who are now last will be first. And some who think they are first will be last. —Luke 13:30

Many of the saints said that no one is going to hell unless they want to. God condemns no one to hell, unless they themselves choose to live in hatred, evil, and disharmony. Then they are already living in hell here and now. God just gives them what their lives show they want.

Most of the world religions have some concept of heaven and hell. Why? Because human freedom matters. We have to be given the freedom to say no to love and life, and one word for that is hell.

Pope John Paul II, who certainly was not a liberal, reminded listeners that heaven and hell are not physical places at all; they’re states of being in a living relationship with God or choosing separation from the source of all life and joy. [1] And, if that’s true, there are plenty of people on earth who are in hell now. They often choose to be miserable, hateful, negative, and oppositional. They love to exclude people who are different from them.

St. Catherine of Siena (1347–1380), whose feast we will celebrate tomorrow, received a vision of Jesus Christ as a bridge reaching from heaven to earth, forever joining “humanity with the greatness of the Godhead.” [2] Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day (1897–1980) was fond of citing Catherine’s inspiration in her own reflections, often writing “All the way to heaven is heaven.” [3] I’d also add “It’s hell all the way to hell.” You’re choosing your destiny right now. You are responsible, not God. Do you want to live in love and communion? Or do you want to live in constant opposition to others and life itself?

As we observe our politics, antagonism appears to be the primary style of communication today—how to fight and win, how to be suspicious, how to be hateful, how to tell lies. Who can we exclude now? Which race, religion, or group is unworthy? (All in the name of God, remember!) That’s simply hell right now. And an awful lot of people, even those who call themselves Christian, appear to be living in a hell of their own construction. That’s why Jesus can say, “I do not know you” even to those who “ate and drank in his company” (see Luke 13:25–27)!

Heaven is not about belonging to the right group; it’s not about following the correct rituals. It’s about having the right attitude. There are just as many Muslims, Hindus, and Jews who are in love—serving their neighbor and the poor—as there are Christians. Jesus says there will be deep regret—“wailing and grinding of teeth” (Luke 13:28)—when we realize how wrong we were, how thoroughly we missed the point. Be prepared to be surprised about who is living a life of love and service and who isn’t. This should keep us all humble and searching and recognizing it’s not even any of our business who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. What makes us think that our little minds and hearts could discern the mind and heart of anyone else?

References:
[1] Pope John Paul II, General Audiences on the topics of heaven (July 21, 1999) and hell (July 28, 1999). Full texts of these addresses can be found at https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1999.index.html.

[2] Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, trans. Suzanne Noffke (Paulist Press: 1980), 59.

[3] Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker (May 1970). This article (and many others that include this phrase) can be found by browsing online archives at https://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/browse/.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 250-251.

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr
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