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Life as Participation

Life as Participation

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Week Thirty-Six Summary and Practice

Sunday, September 5—Friday, September 10, 2021

Sunday
After transformation, God is not out there and we don’t look at reality. We look from reality. We’re in the middle of it now; we’re a part of it. This whole thing is a mystery of participation.

Monday
Our lives have meaning and purpose. We either help build this world up in love or tear it apart. —Ilia Delio

Tuesday
For Paul, love is not something we do. It is something that is done to us, and that we participate in.

Wednesday
Paul teaches that we are both saints and sinners on a corporate level. Our holiness lies in participating in the wholeness of the Body of Christ.

Thursday
The good news of an incarnational religion, a Spirit-based morality, is that you are not motivated by any outside reward or punishment but by participating in the Mystery itself.

Friday
Religion as participation constantly recognizes that we are a part of something more than we are observing something or “believing” in something.

 

Finding the Life Underneath Your Life Situation

Earlier this week I shared that we only “fall into” the bigger Life and Love in which we all participate by releasing our attachment to our smaller selves. Here is a practice from Eckhart Tolle that may help us to experience this freedom to “fall.” In this passage, Tolle responds to a reader who has shared how unhappy they are with their “life”:

What you refer to as your “life” should more accurately be called your “life situation.” It is psychological time: past and future. Certain things in the past didn’t go the way you wanted them to go. You are still resisting what happened in the past, and now you are resisting what is. Hope is what keeps you going, but hope keeps you focused on the future, and this continued focus perpetuates your denial of the Now and therefore your unhappiness.

It is true that my present life situation is the result of things that happened in the past, but it is still my present situation, and being stuck in it is what makes me unhappy.

Forget about your life situation for a while and pay attention to your life.

What is the difference?

Your life situation exists in time.

Your life is now.

Your life situation is mind-stuff.

Your life is real.

Find the “narrow gate that leads to life.” It is called the Now. Narrow your life down to this moment. Your life situation may be full of problems—most life situations are—but find out if you have any problem at this moment. Not tomorrow or in ten minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now?

When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you can find the life underneath your life situation.

Use your senses fully. Be where you are. Look around. Just look, don’t interpret. See the light, shapes, colors, textures. Be aware of the silent presence of each thing. Be aware of the space that allows everything to be. Listen to the sounds; don’t judge them. Listen to the silence underneath the sounds. Touch something—anything—and feel and acknowledge its Being. Observe the rhythm of your breathing; feel the air flowing in and out, feel the life energy inside your body. Allow everything to be, within and without. Allow the “isness” of all things. Move deeply into the Now.

Richard again: I realize how counter-intuitive this sitting and being and noticing is for most of us, yet it is only in the “naked now” that we can participate in the fullness of life.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (New World Library: 1999), 51–52.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
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Life as Participation

Participation Is the Only Way
Friday, September 10, 2021

Some of the most exciting and fruitful thought in recent theology can be described as the “turn toward participation.” [1] Religion as participation is a rediscovery of the Perennial Tradition that so many saints and mystics have spoken of in their own ways. It constantly recognizes that we are a part of something more than we are observing something or “believing” in something.

Both the work of the German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) and the English scholar Owen Barfield have given me a schema for understanding this “turn.” We moved away from deep participatory experience into nonparticipation, the ‘wilderness’ or “null point between original and final participation,” in Barfield’s words. [2] Today each autonomous individual is on his or her own, especially those with economic privilege.

Roughly before 800 BCE, it seems, most people connected with God and reality through myth, poetry, dance, music, fertility, and nature. Although it was a violent world focused on survival, people still knew that they belonged to something cosmic and meaningful. They inherently participated in what was still an utterly enchanted universe where the “supernatural” was everywhere. Barfield calls this state of mind “original participation.” [3]

What Jaspers calls Axial Consciousness emerged worldwide with the Eastern sages, the Jewish prophets, and the Greek philosophers, coalescing around 500 BCE. [4] It laid the foundations of all the world’s religions and major philosophies. It was the birth of systematic and conceptual thought. In the East, it often took the form of the holistic thinking that is found in Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism, which allowed people to experience forms of participation with reality, themselves, and the divine. In the West, the Greek genius gave us a kind of mediated participation through thought, reason, and philosophy. At the same time, many mystics seemed to enjoy real participation, even though it was usually seen as a very narrow gate available to only a few.

Among the people called Israel there was a dramatic realization of intimate union and group participation with God. They recognized the individually enlightened person like Moses or Isaiah, but they did something more. The notion of participation was widened to the Jewish group and beyond, at least for many of the Hebrew prophets. God was saving the people as a whole. Participation was historical and social, and not just individual. It is amazing that we have forgotten or ignored this, making salvation all about private persons going to heaven or hell, which is surely a regression from the historical, collective, and even cosmic notion of salvation taught in the Bible.  Remember, God was always saving Israel and not just Abraham.

Both the Hebrew Scriptures and experience itself created a matrix into which a new realization could be communicated. Jesus offered the world full and final participation in his own very holistic teaching. This allowed Jesus to speak of true union at all levels: with oneself, with neighbors, with outsiders, with enemies, with nature, and—through all of these—with the Divine. The net and sweep of participation was total. What else could truly “good news” be?

References:
[1] Jorge N. Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman, eds., The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, and Religious Studies (SUNY Press: 2008).

[2] Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, 2nd ed.(Wesleyan University Press: 1988, 1957), 178.

[3] Barfield, 40.

[4] Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (Yale University Press: 1953), 1–6.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey Bass: 2013), 108, 112–114.

Story from Our Community:
I believe in an evolutionary God, so I often relate to what Fr. Richard is saying in his meditation. I often say that vulnerability is another word for incarnation, and we are all called to be incarnate. —Carol C.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
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Life as Participation

Participatory Morality
Thursday, September 9, 2021

Jesus’ message of “full and final participation” was periodically enjoyed and taught by many unknown saints and mystics. It must be admitted, though, that the vast majority of Christians made Christianity into a set of morals and rituals instead of an all-embracing mysticism of the present moment. Moralism—as opposed to healthy morality—is the reliance on largely arbitrary purity codes, needed rituals, and dutiful “requirements” that are framed as prerequisites for enlightenment. Every group and individual usually begins this way. I guess it is understandable. People look for something visible, seemingly demanding, and socially affirming todo or not do rather than undergo a radical transformation to the mind and heart of God. It is no wonder that Jesus so strongly warns against public prayer, public acts of generosity, and visible fasting in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1–18). Yet that is what we still do!

Any external behavior that puts us on moral high ground is always attractive to the ego because, as Jesus says, “you have already received your reward” (Matthew 6:2). Moralism and ritualism allow us to think we are independently “good” without the love and mercy of God and without being of service to, or engaging deeply with, anybody else. That’s a far cry from the full and final participation we see Jesus offering or any outpouring love of the Trinity.

Our carrot-and-stick approach to religion is revealed by the fact that one is never quite pure enough, holy enough, or loyal enough for the presiding group. Obedience is normally a higher virtue than love in religious circles. This process of “sin management” has kept us clergy in business. Hiding around the edges of this search for moral purity are evils that we have readily overlooked: slavery, sexism, racism, wholesale classism, greed, pedophilia, national conquest, LGBTQIA+ exclusion, and the destruction of Native cultures. Almost all wars were fought with the full blessing of Christians. We have, as a result, what some cynically call “churchianity” or “civil religion” rather than deep or transformative Christianity.

The good news of an incarnational religion, a Spirit-based morality, is that you are not motivated by any outside reward or punishment but by participating in the Mystery itself. Carrots are neither needed nor helpful. “It is God, who for God’s own loving purpose, puts both the will and the action into you” (Philippians 2:13). It is not mere rule-following behavior; rather, it is our actual identity in God that is radically changing us. Henceforth, we do things because they are true and loving, not because we have to do them or because we are afraid of punishment. Now we are not so much driven from without (the false self method) but we are drawn from within (the True Self method). The generating motor is inside us now instead of either a lure or a threat from outside us. This alone is a converted Christian, or converted anything.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 102‒106.

Story from Our Community:
I believe in an evolutionary God, so I often relate to what Fr. Richard is saying in his meditation. I often say that vulnerability is another word for incarnation, and we are all called to be incarnate. —Carol C.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
Read Full Entry

Life as Participation

Collective Responsibility
Wednesday, September 8, 2021

In my talks on Paul, I tried to show how Paul teaches that we are both saints and sinners on a corporate level—and at the same time. Our holiness lies in participating in the wholeness of the Body of Christ. As I said in my Great Themes of Paul talks:

Individually and personally, our private egos—which we’ve all been trained to take absolutely seriously—are too small and temporary to really believe Paul’s words about us. He says: “You are God’s work of art” (Ephesians 2:10), “You are God’s temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16), “You are the sweet aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15), “You are saints” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2). What is he talking about? On our own, we have so much evidence to the contrary. We simply can’t bear that much goodness. If we hear his teaching on an individual moral level, we’ll never believe it—nor should we. We almost have to dismiss it as pious nonsense.

On the other, more negative side, Paul says, “You’re all sinners” (Romans 3:23), “You’re slaves to the flesh” (Romans 6:20), and “Your sinful passions bring death,” (Romans 7:5). We stand guilty and shame-based under these words if we hear them as individuals. Or we rebel against Paul’s words, thinking, “I’m not going to sit here and be told I’m terrible and unworthy.” Of course, the little psyche, the little ego, is just too little to carry this great big theater piece of drama and shame on its own.

Paul knew, I believe, that these proclamations were far too huge to be carried by the individual person. He is trying to find words and categories, searching for ever-new language to describe the corporate, historical, larger-than-life body and participative phenomenon we’re all caught up in, which he calls “the Body of Christ.”

Fortunately, we now live in an age where we have a language to describe this. The evidence from science is that the foundational reality of this world is consciousness or what we call spirit, not materiality.

We cannot easily be told that we, on our own, are evil, bad, sinful, or responsible. We’ll block it or deny it. But we cannot deny that we are a part of a species that has killed one hundred million people in wars within the last century. We don’t find ourselves resisting that quite as much because, somehow, we’re carrying this together. There is a level of acceptance as we move toward social accountability and social responsibility. We’re all participating in the evil of unjust systems and it’s at that level that we can and must carry the pain and hear that we are sinners. More positively, we must carry what seems like the complete opposite, that we are saints. Both are true at the same time, and believe it or not, “in Christ” they don’t cancel one another out! They include one another.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Paul’s Corporate Understanding of Everything,” in Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 7 (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2002), CD.

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations are a reflection and a confirmation of my psychological and pathological making. Thanks to Father Richard, I’m able to pinpoint and fix my spiritual understanding so that I have a new mindset. Like Saint Paul said in his letter to the Romans, nothing… “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Elias M.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
Read Full Entry

Life as Participation

Participating in Love
Tuesday, September 7, 2021

I want to share again from the series of talks I gave years ago on the Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation:

For Paul, love is clearly the word by which he describes this participatory life. It’s what he calls the greatest of the gifts. For Paul, love is not something we do. It is something that is done to us, and that we participate in. It’s something we fall into. Our telling English phrase is wonderful. We say, “I’ve fallen in love.” We recognize love not as something we can achieve by willpower. As Eckhart Tolle teaches, you fall through your life situation into your real life. Everything here is simply a lesson—all your life situation, all your life events are used by God. They often are not consciously religious.

Paul uses several different words for love, but for the Great Love we fall into, the Great Self with the big S, the God Self, he uses the word “agape.” We translate it as unconditional love or divine love. It’s a love we receive as a gift. We do not manufacture it by willpower. It’s a love we can only participate in. It’s a life bigger than our own.

Paul does not speak of doing the deeds of the Spirit, but instead he speaks of the fruits of the Spirit, and love as the greatest gift of the Spirit. Love is something we abide in, something we fall into—usually when we’re out of control, when we’re failing and faltering and we can’t do it right. When we reach the end of our resources—and we have to start relying on a power greater than ourselves—that’s when we fall into the Great Love that is God. Alcoholics Anonymous discovered this many years ago.

For Paul, love is the realm for perfect seeing. When we’re in love, in agape, we are able to “see” correctly. When we’re reading reality correctly, we will love, we will know how to love, and we will be in love. We will not have a judgmental, negative, or critical stance. We’ll see what’s really happening. From some place we do not completely understand comes this capacity to forgive, to embrace, to compassionately understand, to let go, and to hand over my small self to the Big Self that we call God, or our Higher Power.

Paul writes, “Now we see through a mirror darkly, but one day we shall all see face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect, but one day I shall know as fully as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Paul’s conviction is that he is fully known. He’s been fully seen all the way through, warts and all, and everything has been forgiven, everything has been accepted. The realization is if I could be fully known and loved and seen for what I am, then all I can do is return the compliment to the rest of reality and know back the way I have been known. [Read that twice.]

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Paul’s Corporate Understanding of Everything,” in Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 7 (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2002), CD.

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations are a reflection and a confirmation of my psychological and pathological making. Thanks to Father Richard, I’m able to pinpoint and fix my spiritual understanding so that I have a new mindset. Like Saint Paul said in his letter to the Romans, nothing… “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Elias M.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
Read Full Entry

Life as Participation

Participating in Original Goodness
Monday, September 6, 2021

Everyone and every thing is created in the “image of God.” This is the objective connection or “divine DNA” given by God equally to all creatures at the moment of their conception. The philosopher Owen Barfield (1898–1997) called this phenomenon “original participation.” [1] We could also call it original innocence, unwoundedness, or use Matthew Fox’s brilliant term, “original blessing.” As Genesis 1 clearly and repeatedly states, creation is good. So how do we first see and then practice this original goodness?

Paul gives us an answer. He says, “There are only three things that last: faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In Roman Catholic theology we called these three essential attitudes the “theological virtues,” because they are a “participation in the very life of God.” They are given freely by God, “infused” into us at our conception. In this understanding, faith, hope, and love are far more defining of the human person than the “moral virtues,” which are the various good behaviors we learn as we grow older. For all of their poor formulations, Orthodox and Catholic Christianity still offer humanity a foundationally positive anthropology. We are made out of the faith, hope, and love of God—to increase faith, hope, and love in this world. If you have a negative anthropology, as some Reformers, and many cynical Catholics do, even a good theology cannot really undo it.

From the very beginning, faith, hope, and love are planted deep within our nature—indeed they are our very nature (Romans 5:5; 8:14–17). The Christian life is simply a matter of becoming who we already are (1 John 3:1–2; 2 Peter 1:3–4). But we have to awaken, allow, and advance this core identity by saying a conscious yes to it and drawing upon it as a reliable and Absolute Source. Again, image must become likeness. We must participate in the process!

I offer these words from Ilia Delio who draws her insights from her deep study of the Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881­–1955):

Teilhard held that God is at the heart of cosmological and biological life, the depth and center of everything that exists. . . . Our nature is already endowed with grace, and thus our task is to be attentive to that which is within and that which is without—mind and heart—so that we may contribute to building up the world in love. Every action can be sacred action if [it] is rooted in love, and in this way, both Christians and non-Christians can participate in the emerging body of Christ. . . .

Our lives have meaning and purpose. . . . We either help build this world up in love or tear it apart. Either way, we bear the responsibility for the world’s future, and thus we bear responsibility for God’s life as well. [2]

In other words, we matter. We simply have to choose to trust reality, which is to finally trust both ourselves and God. They must work as one.

References:
[1] Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, 2nd ed. (Wesleyan University Press: 1988, 1957), 40.

[2] Ilia Delio, The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey (Orbis Books: 2021), 41–42, 43.

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 60, 65.

Story from Our Community:
The Perennial Tradition of spirituality helped me imagine how our participation in the missio Dei is found in creation. I’ve experienced the movement of the Spirit using things in our lives that we feel safe with and love so much in order to show us God’s unconditional love. Thank you for your Daily Meditations. They inspire me. —Ashley C.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
Read Full Entry

Life as Participation

Being Instruments of God
Sunday, September 5, 2021

Almost twenty years ago, I gave a series of talks called Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, which I still think is one of the most important sets I ever made. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3–6) was dramatic and utterly life-changing. In my opinion, the resulting insights from this initial experience became central to all he taught for the rest of his life. While most of us experience many smaller transformations throughout our lives, the result should be the same. With only a few updates to my language, this is how I described it:

Before conversion, we tend to think that God is out there. After transformation, God is not out there and we don’t look at reality. We look from reality. We’re in the middle of it now; we’re a part of it. This whole thing is what I call the mystery of participation. Paul is obsessed by the idea that we’re all already participating in something. I’m not writing the story by myself. I’m a character inside of a story that is being written in cooperation with God and the rest of humanity. This changes everything about how we see our lives. If we’re writing the story on our own, we think we’ve got to write it right. We’ve got to be clever, we’ve got to figure it out. If anything goes wrong, we’ve only got ourselves to blame. That’s a terrible way to live, even though a high degree of Christians do. And I would call that bad news.

The good news is a completely different experience of life. A participatory theology says, “I am being used, I am actively being chosen, I am being led.” It is not about joining a new denomination or having an ecstatic moment. After authentic conversion, you know that your life is not about you; you are about life! You’re an instance in this agony and ecstasy of God that is already happening inside you, and all you can do is say yes to it. That’s all. That’s conversion and it changes everything.

This idea of participating in the goodness and continual unfolding of God’s creation reminds me of the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that begins, “Make me a channel (or instrument) of your peace.”  I remember being so delighted when I learned my last name, “Rohr,” is the German word for “conduit” or “pipe”! As I’ve often said, I’m just a mouth in the Body of Christ. That’s my only gift. Before talks I try to pray that God will get me out of the way so God’s message will get through.

Looking back on my life, I can see that God did everything. God even used my mistakes to bring me to God and God’s wisdom to others! I hope this week will inspire you to look at what has happened when you also said yes to participating as God’s instrument in the world.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Overview: Paul’s Life and Letters,” in Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 1 (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2002), CD.

Story from Our Community:
The Perennial Tradition of spirituality helped me imagine how our participation in the missio Dei is found in creation. I’ve experienced the movement of the Spirit using things in our lives that we feel safe with and love so much in order to show us God’s unconditional love. Thank you for your Daily Meditations. They inspire me. —Ashley C.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
Read Full Entry
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