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Liberation

Liberation

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Week Three Summary and Practice

Sunday, January 17–Friday, January 22, 2021

Sunday
The story of Israel symbolically describes the experience of our own liberation by God, which is both an outer freedom and an inner freedom.

Monday
Liberation requires individuals willing to stand when no one else will, to sit when others are threatening you with harm, to embrace an outsider in full view of an insider, to proclaim the wisdom of the ages. —Barbara Holmes

Tuesday
In contemplative prayer, we are liberated from thinking of ourselves as somehow separate from everyone and everything else, including God.

Wednesday
We all believe that freedom is a divine gift to be preserved at all costs. Let us liberate, in the highest and most profound sense of the word, all the human beings who live round about us. —Dom Hélder Câmara

Thursday
Black people can fight for freedom and justice, because the One who is their future is also the ground of their struggle for liberation. —James Cone

Friday
To use “God’s senses” does not mean simply turning inward but becoming free for a different way of living life: See what God sees! Hear what God hears! Laugh where God laughs! Cry where God cries! —Dorothee Sölle

 

O God of Love, Power and Justice

CAC faculty member Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes calls the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, whose life we honor this week, “a great contemplative, one who used the spiritual essence of nonviolence as a tool for liberating the social order and the spiritual authority of a denigrated people.” [1] We share with you this prayer of gratitude for King’s life and work, which is also of petition—that we might continue God’s work of liberation for all.

O God of Love, Power and Justice, who wills the freedom and fulfillment of all your children. We thank you for the constancy of your loving kindness and tender mercies toward us. Especially on this day as we celebrate the birthday and life of your servant and prophet, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are reminded that in every age you raise up seers and sayers and doers of justice. We marvel at the way by which you shaped a young black boy from Georgia into a towering figure of his time—to awaken the conscience of the nations, to rekindle a passion for freedom, equality, and peace; to redirect the traffic of human affairs from the back alley of bigotry toward the grand concourse of courage and compassion.

We stand in awe at the marvelous networking by which you built a movement around a man of vision. It included blacks and whites, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, conservatives and progressives, rich and poor, business and labor. This “coalition of conscience” dedicated itself to the proposition that the American dream of freedom and equality could be made real through courageous action in a spirit of love, in pursuit of human dignity for all. This dignity includes all who suffer from homelessness, joblessness, purposelessness, carelessness, hopelessness.

Because our needs are so great today, and your care so constant, we know that you are rebuilding the network of compassion around new visionaries who you have assembled for this hour. Surprise us with the discovery of how much power we have to make a difference in our day:

—A difference in the way citizens meet, greet, respect, and protect the rights of each other.

—A difference in the breadth of our vision of what is possible in humanization, reconciliation, and equalization of results in our great city.

—A difference in the way government, business, and labor can work together, for justice and social enrichment.

—A difference in our response to the needy, and a difference in our appreciation for those who give of themselves for the surviving and thriving of our beautiful people.

Use this season of celebration to spark new hope and stir up our passion for new possibilities. Make compassion and the spirit of sacrifice to be the new mark of affluence of character. Strengthen us to face reality and to withstand the rigor of tough times in the anticipation of a bright side beyond the struggle. Inspire, empower, and sustain us until we reach the mountaintop, and see that future for which our hearts yearn.

This is our fervent and sincere prayer. Amen. [2]

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:
[1] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), 129.

[2] James Alexander Forbes, Jr., “O God of Love, Power and Justice,” Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans, ed. James Melvin Washington(HarperPerennial: 1994), 260‒261.

To learn more about Thomas Merton’s photography see: Pearson, Paul M, ed., Beholding Paradise: The Photographs of Thomas Merton (Paulist Press: 2020).

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

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Liberation

Free to Serve Others
Friday, January 22, 2021

German theologian Dorothee Sölle (1929–2003) describes how seeing with God’s eyes, hearing with God’s ears, and acting with God’s passion for justice is a truly liberating experience that benefits the entire community. Sölle writes:

In the sense of theology that liberates, the soul that is united with God sees the world with God’s eyes. That soul, like God, sees what otherwise is rendered invisible and irrelevant. It hears the whimpering of starving children and does not let itself be diverted from real misery, becoming one with God in perceiving and understanding as well as in acting. For people in the slums, redemption does not consist of some great and far removed actor ending the misery of the oppressed. Rather, in coming so very close, that far-near one acts in and through those who have become one with that actor. In liberating movements, the mystical eye sees God at work: seeing, hearing, acting, even in forms that are utterly secular. In the contingency of literacy programs, or collaboration in building a school, God’s action is manifest. It is a mysticism of wide-open eyes. . . .

What happens really in the soul’s union with God in terms of liberation and of healing? It is an exercise in seeing how God sees, the perception of what is little and unimportant; it is listening to the cry of God’s children who are in slavery in Egypt. God calls upon the soul to give away its own ears and eyes and to let itself be given those of God. Only they who hear with other ears can speak with the mouth of God. God sees what elsewhere is rendered invisible and is of no relevance. Who other than God sees the poor and hears their cry? To use “God’s senses” does not mean simply turning inward but becoming free for a different way of living life: See what God sees! Hear what God hears! Laugh where God laughs! Cry where God cries!

Allowing God to fully inhabit our senses does not mean we close ourselves off from the world but open ourselves more fully to it. We are free to be fully ourselves but not to exist only for ourselves. We are free to become Christ in the world to the same extent that we recognize the Christ in others, especially the last and the least.

Reference:
Dorothee Sölle, The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance, trans. Barbara and Martin Rumscheidt (Fortress Press: 2001), 283–284, 293.

Story from Our Community:
I grew up in a quiet little idyllic Midwestern town. In my mid-40s I began to experience disorder through burnout in ministry, only I didn’t know what it was. I was afraid I was losing my faith completely. After first coming in contact with Fr. Richard through “Falling Upward” I eventually ended up finding the “Another Name for Everything” podcast as well as these daily meditations. Each of these interactions is such a tremendous aid in my own continually unfolding pilgrimage. Richard often gives words to the unspeakable wrestlings of disorder and a vision of a reality re-ordered that keep resonating in me. —Don R.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.
Read Full Entry

Liberation

A Liberating Spirit
Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Holy Spirit is a liberating Spirit. Even when we experience lack of freedom in our daily lives, time in prayer can be an experience of full freedom in God’s presence. I sometimes miss the exuberance of the charismatic movement of which I was a part in the 1970s and the freedom we felt to worship God with our whole selves. Theologian James Cone (1938–2018) writes about the deep sense of freedom experienced in the communal worship of the Black church in the United States:

Black worship itself is a liberating event for those who share the experience of the people that bears witness to God’s presence in their midst. Through prayer, testimony, song, and sermon the people transcend the limitations of their immediate history and encounter the divine power, thereby creating a moment of ecstasy and joy wherein they recognize that the pain of oppression is not the last word about black life. It is not unusual for the people to get “carried away” with their feelings, making it difficult for an observer to know what is actually happening. But the meaning of this event, according to the people, is found in their liberating encounter with the divine Spirit. In this encounter, they are set free as children of God. To understand what this means for black people, we need only to remember that they have not known freedom in white America. Therefore, to be told, “You are free, my children” is to create indescribable joy and excitement in the people. They sing because they are free. Black worship is a celebration of freedom. It is a black happening, the time when the people gather together in the name of the One who promised not to leave the little ones alone in trouble. The people shout, moan, and cry as a testimony to the experience of God’s liberating presence in their lives. . . . [1]

Black people can fight for freedom and justice, because the One who is their future is also the ground of their struggle for liberation. It does not matter what oppressors say or do or what they try to make us out to be. We know that we have a freedom not made with human hands. . . . For black people’s singing, praying, and preaching are not grounded in any human potentiality but in the actuality of God’s freedom to be with the oppressed as disclosed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is their freedom. [2]

The early church surely knew the liberating effect of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the apostle Paul’s teachings had so much impact because he restored human dignity in another time of widespread oppression, slavery, and injustice. Into the corrupt and corrupting Roman Empire, Paul shouts, “One and the same Spirit was given to us all to drink!” (1 Corinthians 12:13). He utterly levels the playing field: “You, all of you, are sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26). In Paul’s estimation, the old world was forever gone and a new world was born in which everyone is free.

References:
[1] James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, rev. ed. (Orbis Books: 1997), 132–133.

[2] Cone, 129.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis: 2018), 91.

Story from Our Community:
I grew up in a quiet little idyllic Midwestern town. In my mid-40s I began to experience disorder through burnout in ministry, only I didn’t know what it was. I was afraid I was losing my faith completely. After first coming in contact with Fr. Richard through “Falling Upward” I eventually ended up finding the “Another Name for Everything” podcast as well as these daily meditations. Each of these interactions is such a tremendous aid in my own continually unfolding pilgrimage. Richard often gives words to the unspeakable wrestlings of disorder and a vision of a reality re-ordered that keep resonating in me. —Don R.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.

A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.

Read Full Entry

Liberation

A Liberating Theology
Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Brazilian Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara (19091999) was a truly saintly man and one of my heroes for the Gospel. Although many are not familiar with him today, he was well-known in his lifetime for his love for the poor and his embrace of nonviolence. His teachings have shaped many of my thoughts on the nature of evil and our freedom to choose how we respond to the suffering and injustice present in the world. He wrote me on the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination, so I have a personal gratitude toward him. Here he writes:

When you look at our continent [of South America], where more than two-thirds of the people live in sub-human conditions as a result of injustices, and when you see that the same situation is repeated all over the world, how can you help wanting to work towards human liberation? Just as the Father, the Creator, wants us to be co-creators, so the Son, the Redeemer, wants us to be co-redeemers. So it is up to us to continue the work of liberation begun by the Son: the liberation from sin and the consequences of sin, the liberation from egoism and the consequences of egoism. That is what the theology of liberation means to us, and I see no reason why anyone should be afraid of a true, authentic theology of liberation. [1]

The people already understand that we have no right to blame God for the problems that we have created ourselves. As if the Lord were responsible for the floods or the droughts [Richard Rohr: or the pandemic]! No! It would have been very easy for our Father to create a universe that was already perfect. But it would have been terribly boring for us to come into a world where everything had already been done, and done well, where everything was complete. So the Lord merely began the creative process and entrusted [humans] with the task of completing it. It is up to us to control the rivers. It’s a question of intelligence and integrity. If we had shown sufficient intelligence and integrity in the past the droughts and the floods would already have been controlled. Nowadays deserts are being watered and rivers diverted. It’s our own problem, not the Lord’s. [2]

Liberation theology as Dom Hélder Câmara describes it is applicable to many of the problems we face. For good or for ill, our choices as individuals have a collective impact on others and future generations. How we treat each other is a marker of our freedom in God. Câmara reminds us:

We all believe that all human beings are children of the same heavenly Father. Those who have the same father are brothers and sisters. Let us really treat each other as brothers and sisters! . . .  We all believe that freedom is a divine gift to be preserved at all costs. Let us liberate, in the highest and most profound sense of the word, all the human beings who live round about us. [3]

References:
[1] Hélder Câmara, The Conversions of a Bishop: An Interview with José de Broucker, trans. Hilary Davies (Collins: 1979), 170–171.

[2] Câmara, Conversions, 124.

[3] First address as Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, April 12, 1964. See Dom Hélder Câmara: Essential Writings, ed. Francis McDonagh (Orbis Books: 2009), 41.

Story from Our Community:
When I entered my fifth rehab for addiction and alcoholism, I remember sitting at meetings wondering silently: Who am I? and What am I to do now? I was introduced to Richard Rohr, began to support CAC, and my sobriety led me to contemplate while awake. I have learned that I do not change my life, so much as I cooperate with Providence in allowing my life to be directed and changed. I have momentary breakthroughs. Today I am sober, and sober-minded, and am learning to ‘grow-up.’ I did not, nor will I get back, all that I have lost. In the end, it is rubbish. It is passing, as am I. But God remains. —Michael G.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.
Read Full Entry

Liberation

Authentic Freedom
Tuesday, January 19, 2021

In his newest book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis points out that we need both personal liberation and liberation from unjust and harmful systems. Unfortunately, many people have been taught that salvation is merely an individual escape plan for the next world, which has not produced many liberated people or healthy systems. He writes:

In every personal “Covid,” so to speak, in every “stoppage,” what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected. [1]

We all think we are freely and consciously making our own choices when, in my experience, most people live most of their lives unconsciously! Before transformation, we are basically sleepwalking, going through the motions on the surface of life, which is why spiritual teachers like Jesus and Buddha tell us to “wake up.” When our ego or small self is in charge, we are not free; we are being ordered about by our preferences, our likes and dislikes. Is it really liberating to believe the world revolves around us or conversely, that we must hold it all together?

As we engage in contemplative prayer and allow God to transform us through great love and great suffering, we are reminded of our inherent connectedness. We are liberated from thinking of ourselves as somehow separate from everyone and everything else, including God.

After an authentic God encounter, everything else is relativized. There is only one Absolute and it is God, not us or our culture. Both are de-centered. Through prayer we find God both deep within us and all around us. We know our True Self is part of God and lives in God. We are no longer limited by our culturally conditioned reactions but have access to a greater Source of love and ultimate freedom.

Pope Francis recognizes this freedom in the healthcare professionals who have risked their lives and worked so hard for so many months:

[Healthcare workers] are the saints next door, who have awoken something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching.

They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves: not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service. [2]

There is no authentic freedom if we do not also consider the rights and well-being of others. As Pope Francis reflects:

Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate. . . . [3]

The transformed person finds freedom in the service of Life and Love.  Your life is not about you. You are about life!

References:
[1] Pope Francis, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future (Simon & Schuster: 2020), 36.

[2] Pope Francis, 13.

[3] Pope Francis, 27.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Scripture as Liberation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
When I entered my fifth rehab for addiction and alcoholism, I remember sitting at meetings wondering silently: Who am I? and What am I to do now? I was introduced to Richard Rohr, began to support CAC, and my sobriety led me to contemplate while awake. I have learned that I do not change my life, so much as I cooperate with Providence in allowing my life to be directed and changed. I have momentary breakthroughs. Today I am sober, and sober-minded, and am learning to ‘grow-up.’ I did not, nor will I get back, all that I have lost. In the end, it is rubbish. It is passing, as am I. But God remains. —Michael G.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.
Read Full Entry

Liberation

True Liberation in God
Monday, January 18, 2021
Martin Luther King Jr. Day

There can be no outer freedom without some level of inner liberation. This is a universal truth, but a lesson that each of us must learn for ourselves. If we pursue freedom from a reactionary position, out of our own fear or anger, we are working on too small a scale. The path to full liberation always has its source in an Infinite God. My colleague Barbara Holmes puts it this way:

Although justice must be enacted in concrete ways, I agree with Václav Havel (1936–2011) [who] . . .  suggested that liberation is an awareness of connections to a reality “beyond our reach, a higher intention that is the source of all things, a higher memory recording everything, a higher authority to which we are all accountable in one way or another.” [1]

Barbara Holmes continues to explore this idea of God as the source of true and transcendent liberation through a creative, imagined conversation between civil rights icon Rosa Parks (1913–2005) and the Black mystic and theologian Howard Thurman (1899–1981). 

Parks First, don’t we have to redefine liberation? When I refused to get up from the bus seat, when Martin marched and Malcolm railed against the artificial constraints of segregation, it was not to grant a small sliver of freedom to earthbound people. It was the spiritual launch of a liberation too vast to be circumscribed by a single life. This is a liberation worth dying for, worth risking everything for. . . .

Thurman The power that is meaningful for future generations comes through the human spirit but emanates from a divine source. . . .

Parks Liberation requires individuals willing to stand when no one else will, to sit when others are threatening you with harm, to embrace an outsider in full view of an insider, to proclaim the wisdom of the ages and the already/not yet justice of God in the midst of horrific circumstances. We do this although we don’t know what the end will be, and we do this because liberation is the responsibility of each and every person. I know that the sacred heart of the liberation story lies in ordinary acts of obedience and resistance by ordinary people.

Thurman Thank you for that, Rosa. Liberation is not a goal or an event to be enjoyed. It is a series of events that draw us closer to true liberation in God. Liberation comes in the moment that we hear the leading of the Divine and follow. It is the freedom to unbind the shackled and to reunite with God and neighbor. Until we achieve that reunion, we move from liberation to liberation gathering seekers as we go, celebrating only long enough to encourage our spirits and then moving on to new struggles around old issues in different contexts. [2]

Barbara Holmes’ ability to “listen in” to these conversations between “the ancestors” is a sign of her own spiritual freedom, which she shares so generously with the world.

References:
[1] Václav Havel, to the National Press Club, Canberra, Australia, March 29, 1995, The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice (Knopf: 1997), 196. Quoted in Holmes, Race and the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020), 83.

[2] Barbara A. Holmes, Liberation and the Cosmos: Conversations with the Elders (Fortress Press: 2008), 68, 70–71.

Story from Our Community:
Millions of us pray daily, ‘let go and let God.’ I think and pray this is a big part of the transformation we need. We’ve let go of so much during the lockdowns, and continue to let go, but with hope . . . — Michelle J.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.
Read Full Entry

Liberation

A Journey to Freedom
Sunday, January 17, 2021

In the Book of Exodus, Egypt is the place of slavery and the promised land is the place of freedom. The journey from Egypt to the promised land is a standing paradigm for the universal struggle from slavery to freedom—and thus for the spiritual journey as well. The story of Israel symbolically describes the experience of our own liberation by God, which is both an outer freedom and an inner freedom or it is not real liberation.

The word exodus means “the way out,” as scholar Allen Dwight Callahan explains:

A loanword from the Greek, exodus signifies the road of escape. The biblical drama of Exodus recounts the story of the escape of the ancient Israelites from Egypt and their formation as a new people in Canaan. The Lord had commanded that the Egyptians “let my son [Israel] go” (Exodus 4:23), and the imperative phrase “Let my people go” is repeated seven times in the drama that climaxes in the Israelites’ flight across the Red Sea. [1]

The liberation that Moses leads is first cemented in a “face to face” encounter with God. According to the book of Exodus, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend” (33:11). God gradually answers Moses’ many objections as to why he should not lead his people: 1) “Who am I?” 2) “Who are you?” 3) “What if they do not believe me?” 4) “I stutter” and 5) “Why not send someone else?” In each case, God patiently stays in the dialogue, answering Moses respectfully and even intimately, offering a promise of personal Presence and an ever-sustaining glimpse into who God is. God is Being Itself, Existence Itself, a nameless God beyond all names, a formless God previous to all forms, a liberator God who is utterly liberated from the limits culture and religion put on any Divinity. God asserts God’s ultimate freedom from human attempts to capture God in concepts and words by saying, “I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Over the course of his story, we see that Moses slowly absorbs this same daring freedom. Despite the failings and limitations Moses perceived in himself, he is liberated by God’s faith in him.

It is this same daring and unequivocal freedom that inspired many Black Americans when they read this text. Callahan again: “African Americans heard, read, and retold the story of the Exodus more than any other biblical narrative. In it they saw their own aspirations for liberation from bondage in the story of the ancient Hebrew slaves. . . . The Exodus signified God’s will that African Americans too would no longer be sold as bondspeople, that they too would go free.” [2]

In working for outer freedom, peace, and justice in the world, we discover the even deeper inner freedom of our True Self in God.

References:
[1] Allen Dwight Callahan, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible (Yale University Press: 2006), 83.

[2] Callahan, 83.

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 158‒159.

Story from Our Community:
Millions of us pray daily, ‘let go and let God.’ I think and pray this is a big part of the transformation we need. We’ve let go of so much during the lockdowns, and continue to let go, but with hope . . . — Michelle J.

Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.
Read Full Entry
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