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Theme:
Inner and Outer Freedom

Inner and Outer Freedom

Saturday, June 20, 2020
Summary: Sunday, June 14—Friday, June 19, 2020

The wise ones recognize that without a certain degree of inner freedom, you cannot and will not truly love. Spirituality is about finding that freedom. (Sunday)

Our deepest freedom rests not in our freedom to do what we want to do but rather in our freedom to become who God wills us to be. —James Finley (Monday)

There is a love which has the power to free the human heart. —Paula D’Arcy (Tuesday)

Let’s use the word emancipation to describe a deeper, bigger, and scarier level of freedom: inner, outer, personal, economic, structural, and spiritual—all at once. Surely this is the task of our entire lifetime. (Wednesday)

Francis and Clare of Assisi found both their inner and outer freedom by structurally living on the edge of the inside of church and society. (Thursday)

May I exercise the precious gift of choice and the power to change as that which makes me uniquely human and is the only true path to liberation. —Rev. angel Kyodo williams (Friday)

 

Practice: Deepening Our Freedom

Dr. Joan Borysenko, PhD, is a cancer cell biologist, licensed psychologist, and author living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She offers us practices that support our contemplative journey to deepen inner and outer freedom in her book 7 Paths to God: The Ways of the Mystic. I invite you to spend some time with these precepts over the next few days. Which one seems most able to lead you to greater freedom and perhaps even emancipation?

1. Reflect on love. When you are feeling zealous or righteous about anything, reflect on whether you are doing God’s Will, your own, or someone else’s. Ask the question “Is my belief or action respectful and kind, or is it based on anger or judgement?” If the latter is true, pursue the personal healing required to give up the childish things that St. Paul spoke about.

2. Act with integrity. Integrity means “wholeness.” Actions are whole when they conform to inner beliefs. . . . The tension that results when actions and beliefs are out of accord leads to anxiety, depression, and loss of will.

3. Study the Ten Commandments as well as the remainder of the Book of Exodus. Do you, in fact, keep the commandments? [Exodus 20:1–17] Go through each carefully, writing down your reflections on each one. What would it personally mean to you to keep them wholeheartedly?

4. Study the precepts of a religion with which you are not familiar. . . . Write down the precepts that relate to, and reinforce, the Ten Commandments. Write down other precepts you find valuable. If you are so moved, form the intention to follow these precepts in your life. [1]

5. Do not judge other people’s path or lack of a path. The zealous outlook . . . can easily degenerate into the belief that your way is the only way to God. . . . So what if the disciplines you practice have changed your life and brought you closer to God, but others seem uninterested in following your advice that they do likewise. . . . Preaching and proselytizing in order to save others is disrespectful unless they have asked. The slogan “Live and let live” is a wise one.

6. When you are wrong, promptly admit it. This is part of the tenth step of Alcoholics Anonymous and the other Twelve Step programs. Since self-righteousness is a pitfall . . . you can minimize it by staying scrupulously aware of your actions and words.

7. Do an active, fun activity daily. Your wonderful capacity for discipline can also breed rigidity and compulsiveness. Refresh yourself on a regular basis by doing something active that is fun, if your physical condition allows it.

References:
[1] Books on comparative religion such as Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions (HarperOne: 2009, ©1991) or Kristin Johnston Largen’s Finding God Among Our Neighbors: An Interfaith Systematic Theology (Fortress Press: 2013) could offer good starting points.

Joan Borysenko, 7 Paths to God: The Ways of the Mystic (Hay House, Inc.: 1997), 83–86.

For Further Study:
“Emancipation,” Oneing, vol. 3, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2015)

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

Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis, disc 1 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, (Jossey-Bass: 2011)

Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens with Jasmine Syedullah, PhD, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation (North Atlantic Books: 2016),

Image credit: Sun in an Empty Room (detail), Edward Hopper, 1963, private collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. —Thomas Merton
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Inner and Outer Freedom

Love and Justice Are Not Two
Friday, June 19, 2020
Juneteenth

Love and Justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters. —Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Sensei

I enjoyed getting to know Rev. angel Kyodo williams when she presented at the CONSPIRE conference in 2017. She is one of very few black women Zen Senseis (teachers). Through her Buddhist practice, she seeks to liberate both the oppressed and the oppressors, which is appropriate as we celebrate Juneteenth in the United States today, to recognize the final day of emancipation from slavery in our nation. In this passage she shares her path to becoming an agent of transformative, peaceful social change.

Not long after finding my place as an activist for social justice, I came up against the need for not just reacting to what was happening in the world, which gave me a sense of purpose, but developing a way to look at what was happening, which provided a sense of meaning. I found a second home in cultivating a spiritual life. . . . My formal Zen practice and training were teaching me to find a more restful place that I could abide in within myself despite the chaos and calamity [of] living in an unjust society. . . . It also gave me a way to be in response to sometimes overwhelming situations that could just lead me to a downward spiral of anger and negativity. . . .

The Zen community I eventually became engaged with [the Zen Peacemaker Order] . . . [was] explicitly committed to social action.

I was captivated by the bodhisattva ideal. . . . In their infinite wisdom and boundless compassion, they responded to the cries [of the world]. Even though liberation is available to them, they hold it off until every person can be awakened, too. . . .

I advocated for [a] more balanced approach to fiercely address injustice from a place of empowerment as a warrior—but one that was ultimately committed to peace rather than aggression. This path recognized the clarity and resilience brought about by cultivating one’s inner life. . . . I saw this as a more sustainable path, especially for Black people, whose road to victory in the external landscape would likely be a long one given the deep entrenchment of the forces of oppression set against us.

In response to the events of September 11th, I wrote what became known as the Warrior-Spirit Prayer of Awakening. . . .

May all beings be granted with the strength, determination and wisdom to extinguish anger and reject violence as a way.

May all suffering cease and may I seek, find, and fully realize the love and compassion that already lives within me and allow them to inspire and permeate my every action.

May I exercise the precious gift of choice and the power to change [as] that which makes me uniquely human and is the only true path to liberation.

May I swiftly reach complete, effortless freedom so that my fearless, unhindered action be of benefit to all.

May I lead the life of a warrior.

References:
[1] Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens with Jasmine Syedullah, PhD, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation (North Atlantic Books: 2016), 90–94.

Epigraph: Radical Dharma, 209.

Image credit: Sun in an Empty Room (detail), Edward Hopper, 1963, private collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. —Thomas Merton
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Inner and Outer Freedom

Structural and Personal Freedom
Thursday, June 18, 2020

Francis and Clare of Assisi were not so much prophets by what they said as in the radical, system-critiquing way that they lived their lives. They found both their inner and outer freedom by structurally living on the edge of the inside of church and society. Too often people seek either inner freedom or mere outer freedom, but seldom—in my opinion—do people seek and find both. Francis and Clare did.

Their agenda for justice was the most foundational and undercutting of all others: a very simple lifestyle outside the system of production and consumption (the real meaning of the vow of poverty), plus a conscious identification with the marginalized of society (the communion of saints pushed to its outer edge). In this position, you do not “do” acts of peace and justice as much as your life is itself peace and justice. You take your small and sufficient place in the great and grand scheme of God.

By “living on the edge of the inside” I mean building on the solid Tradition (“from the inside”) from a new and creative stance where you cannot be co-opted for purposes of security, possessions, or the illusions of power (“on the edge”). Francis and Clare placed themselves outside the social and ecclesiastical system. Francis was not a priest, nor were Franciscan men to pursue priesthood in the early years of the order. Theirs was not a spirituality of earning or seeking worthiness, career, church status, moral one-upmanship, or divine favor (which they knew they already had).

Within their chosen structural freedom, Francis and Clare also found personal, mental, and emotional freedom. They were free from negativity and ego. Such liberation is full Gospel freedom.

Today, most of us try to find personal and individual freedom even as we remain inside of structural boxes and a system of consumption that we are then unable or unwilling to critique. Our mortgages, luxuries, and privileged lifestyles control our whole future. Whoever is paying our bills and giving us security and status determines what we can and cannot say or even think. Self-serving institutions that give us our security, status, or identity are considered “too big to fail” and are invariably beyond judgment from the vast majority of people. Evil can hide in systems much more readily than in individuals. [1]

When Jesus and John’s Gospel used the term “the world,” they did not mean the earth, creation, or civilization, which Jesus clearly came to love and save (see John 12:47). They were referring to idolatrous systems and institutions that are invariably self-referential and “always passing away” (see 1 Corinthians 7:31). Francis and Clare showed us it is possible to change the system not by negative attacks (which tend to inflate the ego), but simply by quietly moving to the side and doing it better!

References:
[1] See Richard Rohr, Spiral of Violence: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (CAC: 2008), CD and MP3 download.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 33-36.

Image credit: Sun in an Empty Room (detail), Edward Hopper, 1963, private collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. —Thomas Merton
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Inner and Outer Freedom

Emancipation
Wednesday, June 17, 2020

For the kinds of freedom and liberation that are needed today, I am going to use the word “emancipation.” Instead of focusing on the mere personal freedoms enjoyed by individual people, emancipation directs our attention to a systemic level of freedom. With the exception of those who are fully emancipated (which are very few indeed), we each live inside of our own smaller security systems of culture, era, political opinion, and even some quiet, subtle agreements of which we may not even be aware.

In the United States, we rightly revel in the fact that we enjoy certain rights and freedoms from restraints (free markets, free speech, the freedom to be secure and to defend ourselves). However, we pay little attention to the fact that these liberties can ultimately only offer us as much freedom as we ourselves have earned from the inside. If we haven’t achieved the inner freedom to love, we are totally dependent on the outer systems which, paradoxically, can never fully guarantee or deliver the very freedoms they promise. Our inability to recognize this has made our so-called freedoms very selective, class-based, often dishonest, and open to bias.

For example, are we really free to imagine that there could be better alternatives to our free-market system? We are likely to be called dangerous or un-American if we dare broach the topic. We believe in free speech, but we know better than to claim that money actually controls our elections, rather than “one person, one vote.” Does our freedom to protect ourselves with gun rights and limitless military spending give us the freedom to use the vast majority of the economic resources of our country for our protection? Even if it means not providing food, healthcare, or education for the same people we say we are securing?

When we place all of our identity in our one country, security system, religion, or ethnic group, we are unable to imagine another way of thinking. Only citizenship in a much larger “Realm of God” can emancipate us from the confinement of certain well-hidden, yet agreed-upon, boxes we have labeled “Freedom.” In fact, because these are foundational and necessary cultural agreements, we do not even recognize them as boxes.

To be fair, such boxes are good, helpful, and even necessary sometimes! These silent agreements allow cultures to function and people to work together. But my job, and the job of Christian wisdom, is to tell you that “We are fellow citizens with the saints and part of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19), and thus “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). We have been called to live in the biggest box of all, while still working and living practically inside of the smaller boxes of society. That is a necessarily creative and difficult tension, yet it is really the only way we can enjoy all levels of freedom. “In the world, but not of the world” was the historic phrase commonly used by many Christians, whereas today most of us tend to be in the system, of the system, and for the system—without even realizing it!

So, let’s use the word emancipation to describe a deeper, bigger, and scarier level of freedom: inner, outer, personal, economic, structural, and spiritual. Surely this is the task of our entire lifetime.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Emancipation,” Oneing, vol. 3, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2015), 11–12.

Image credit: Sun in an Empty Room (detail), Edward Hopper, 1963, private collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. —Thomas Merton
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Inner and Outer Freedom

Freedom to Love
Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Everything is a manifestation of divine radiance. Love rushes everywhere, in everyone, in everything.  —Paula D’Arcy

My friend Paula D’Arcy leads and attends retreats where people from many different backgrounds come to face their deepest grief, insecurities, and anger to find the freedom that lies on the other side. She shares one of her own experiences here:  

There is a love which itself has the power to free the human heart. Many remarkable people live in testament to this love, even though they are held in jail cells and prisons, or suffer the harsh conditions imposed by poverty, [racism,] adversity, war, and occupation. The truth of this love is that, if we can be uprooted from our daily preoccupations and taken by direct experience into its presence, then a profound transformation is possible. Whoever arrives at this place looks at the world differently. The distinctions on the surface no longer exist. Here it is possible to suspend our certainties and touch something greater: the Spirit within us.

In January 2014, I met the fire of that inner heart. The outer circumstances were the ten days I spent at a retreat center in California with thirty other men and women. . . . We were Americans, Mexicans, Israelis, Bedouins, and Palestinians. . . . We all expressed a longing for freedom, while having little idea what that meant, or might demand. We were about to touch the fire of Spirit, embedded not only deep within our own [bodies], but in all life. I recorded our journey through those days, and this telling is excerpted from my journal. . . .

I don’t want to see that how I participate in the world is often less than love, and that the environment in which we all live is the result of our sense of entitlement and greed. I don’t want to know what freedom demands and what dedication to love and peace may require. Words from the poet Rumi haunt my thoughts: his saying that, in order to live in this world, you have to be truly and completely in love. . . .  

Love does not come as theory. It moves in bodies, in nature, in the ground beneath us and the space between. True Love is not emotional. It is a different nature, waiting in us like a secret seed. The illusion is thinking that, by changing a system, an ideology, or our external circumstances, things will change. No; freedom is . . . realizing that this Love is not a symbol or an ideal; it is a living power. . . .

And I understood what it could mean if we met the outer world with our inner world. . . .

There is a living love that exceeds our circumstances and our conditioning. That’s the truth we all must find. The profound problems of hatred, judgment, [racism,] and revenge, our jealousies and our violence, will be solved by love, and love alone.

References:
Paula D’Arcy, “The Freedom of the Greater Heart,” “Emancipation,” Oneing, vol. 3, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2015), 53–54, 56, 57, 58.

Epigraph: “The Freedom of the Greater Heart,” 57.

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Inner and Outer Freedom

Freedom: An Infinite Possibility of Growth
Monday, June 15, 2020

The spirituality of CAC faculty member James Finley has been deeply influenced by the writings of Thomas Merton (1915–1968). In this passage, Jim explores the paradoxical wisdom that true freedom does not come from following our own will but in knowing and surrendering to God’s will for us.

Merton quotes Meister Eckhart [1260–1328] as saying, “For God to be is to give being, and for [humanity] to be is to receive being.” [1] Our true self is a received self. At each moment, we exist to the extent we receive existence from God who is existence. . . .

Our deepest freedom rests not in our freedom to do what we want to do but rather in our freedom to become who God wills us to be. This person, this ultimate self God wills us to be, is not a predetermined, static mold to which we must conform. Rather, it is an infinite possibility of growth. It is our true self; that is, a secret self hidden in and one with the divine freedom. In obeying God, in turning to do [God’s] will, we find God willing us to be free. God created us for freedom; that is to say, God created us for [God’s] self.

Phrased differently, we can say that God cannot hear the prayer of someone who does not exist. The [false] self constructed of ideologies and social principles, the self that defines itself and proclaims its own worthiness is most unworthy of the claim to reality before God. Our freedom from the prison of our own illusions comes in realizing that in the end everything is a gift. Above all, we ourselves are gifts that we must first accept before we can become who we are by returning who we are to the Father. This is accomplished in a daily death to self, in a compassionate reaching out to those in need, and in a detached desire for the silent, ineffable surrender of contemplative prayer. It is accomplished in making Jesus’ prayer our own: “Father . . . not my will but yours be done” [Luke 22:42]. . . .

[Thomas Merton identifies] that freedom from the futility of . . . laying hold of God as a possession.

Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste, and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. [2]

This letting-go in the moral order is the living out of the Beatitudes. In the order of prayer it is in-depth kenosis, an emptying out of the contents of awareness so that one becomes oneself an empty vessel, a broken vessel, a void that lies open before God and finds itself filled with God’s own life. This gift of God is revealed to be the ground and root of our very existence. It is our own true self.

References:

[1] Thomas Merton, “Obstacles to Union with God,” audiotape. See Meister Eckhart, Quasi Vas Aureum Solidum, Sermon on Sirach 50.10.

[2] Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (Image Books: 1996, ©1969), 67.

James Finley, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God through Awareness of the True Self (Ave Maria Press: 1978), 72, 73, 78. Note: Minor edits made for more inclusive language.

Image credit: Sun in an Empty Room (detail), Edward Hopper, 1963, private collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. —Thomas Merton
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