Living Inside God's Great Story Archives — Center for Action and Contemplation
×

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.

Theme:
Living Inside God's Great Story

Living Inside God’s Great Story

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Week Thirty-Five Summary and Practice

Sunday, August 29—Friday, September 3, 2021

Sunday
I would gather my siblings and neighborhood friends and have them sit on a bench in the backyard. I would hold my penny catechism upside down since I couldn’t read yet, and I would pretend to teach “about Jesus.” I must have been a weird little kid, but I was happy too!

Monday
Everyone creates their own definition of perfection that they try to live up to, and then they experience the illusion that they’re either perfectly wonderful or completely inadequate.

Tuesday
Although one could find contemplative nuances in the communal prayers and everyday work of baking biscuits, it is in the legacy of the healers that I found the most overt practices. —Barbara Holmes

Wednesday
The reality of Thomas Merton made God’s unreality impossible to me. That is, his very reality was to me, the presence of God as a transformed person. —James Finley

Thursday
I had this feeling of being seen. Known. Named. Loved. By a Someone bigger than the sky that expanded above me. It was as if the whole sky were an eye, and all space were a heart, and I was being targeted as a focal point for attention and love. —Brian McLaren

Friday
I was also one of the relatively rare few who also had it patterned into me that prayer was listening to God. Not even listening for messages, exactly . . . but just being there, quietly gathered in God’s presence. —Cynthia Bourgeault

 

Fishing with the Divine

The two, fish and God, go together like fish and water. —Brian McLaren

For two of our CAC faculty, Barbara Holmes and Brian McLaren, fishing is a deeply spiritual practice. Brian shares how fly fishing connects him with the force and source of Life.

There’s something about capturing a fish that feels both primal and holy, especially when I’m not fishing to get dinner, but “for sport” or for “catch and release,” as it’s called. When a fish takes my artificial fly, whether it’s a trout in Yellowstone or a tarpon in the Everglades, I feel that the line could be an electric cord, transferring the animal’s aliveness, its vital energy, its élan, like a current through my arm to my body and my soul.

The truth is that I don’t actually fish just “for sport,” as if fishing were a competition that involved me winning over the fish (or over other fishermen, although sometimes, that element is certainly present). Nor do I fish simply to catch and release. No, I fish for this sense of connection—to know the fish by feeling its power, its resistance, its strength, its aliveness. . . .

The old Scottish novelist (and Canadian Governor General) John Buchan (1875—1940) famously said, “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.” [1] For some people, God seems easily attainable, as familiar as a lucky coin in the pocket, as conjurable as steam from a teapot. But for many of us, God is more elusive, and at best, we hope God is there, here, in here, but we can claim no rational certainty. In this way, encountering God is a lot like encountering a cutthroat trout that you can’t see. You can place yourself in a suitable location, prepare yourself, reach out your line, and—wait. And hope. And wait. And hope some more. And wait some more. [2]

A photo of Barbara Holmes fishing off a dock. Barbara Holmes shares: “One of the ways I practice contemplation in my life is through fishing. It’s the place and the space where I find a real connection through the ocean, the waves, the sound of the water, the birds diving, and the struggle with the adversary, which is the fish.” [3]

We invite you to watch this video where Barbara talks about her love of fishing as a practice of contemplation, connection, and community. 

References:
[1] John Buchan, “Lost Monsters,” in Great Hours in Sport, ed. John Buchan (Thomas Nelson and Sons: 1921), 15.

[2] Brian D. McLaren, The Galápagos Islands: A Spiritual Journey (Fortress Press: 2019), 173, 174.

[3] Barbara A. Holmes, “Introduction,” Our Teachers (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2021), faculty presentation, May 5, 2021, video.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.
Read Full Entry

Living Inside God’s Great Story

Simple Trust in God’s Presence
Friday, September 3, 2021

Living School emeritus teacher Cynthia Bourgeault shares how her early exposure to a simple form of quiet prayer impacted her spiritual journey.

“Prayer is talking to God”: with these words nearly all of us receive our first religious instruction. Certainly I did. As a child, I learned the usual first prayers and graces (“Now I lay me down to sleep” and “God is great, God is good. . .”), followed, a bit later, by the Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-Third Psalm. I was also encouraged to speak to God in my own words and instructed that the appropriate topics for this conversation were to give thanks for the blessings of the day and to ask for assistance with particular needs and concerns.

But for all this, I was also one of the relatively rare few who also had it patterned into me that prayer was listening to God. Not even listening for messages, exactly, like the child Samuel in my favorite Old Testament story [1 Samuel 3:3–10], but just being there, quietly gathered in God’s presence. This learning came not from my formal Sunday School training, but through the good fortune of spending my first six school years in a Quaker school, where weekly silent “meeting for worship” was as an invariable part of the rhythm of life as schoolwork or recess. I can still remember trooping together, class by class, into the cavernous two-story meetinghouse and taking our places on the long, narrow benches once occupied by elders of yore. Occasionally, there would be a scriptural verse or thought offered, but for long stretches there was simply silence. And in that silence, as I gazed up at the sunlight sparkling through those high upper windows, or followed a secret tug drawing me down into my own heart, I began to know a prayer much deeper than “talking to God.” Somewhere in those depths of silence I came upon my first experiences of God as a loving presence that was always near, and prayer as a simple trust in that presence.

Almost four decades later, when I was introduced to Centering Prayer through the work of Father Thomas Keating, it did not take me long to recognize where I was. In a deep way I’d come home again to that place I first knew as a child in Quaker meeting.

What I know now, of course, is that the type of prayer I was being exposed to during those meetings for worship was contemplative prayer. In Christian spiritual literature, this term all too often has the aura of being an advanced and somewhat rarified form of prayer, mostly practiced by monks and mystics. But in essence, contemplative prayer is simply a wordless, trusting opening of self to the divine presence. Far from being advanced, it is about the simplest form of prayer there is. Children recognize it instantly—as I did—perhaps because, as the sixteenth-century mystic John of the Cross intimates, “Silence is God’s first language.”

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening (Cowley Publications: 2004), 4‒5.

Story from Our Community:
I begin each day with the joy of these reflections. Full of wisdom and insight, new ways of looking and longing, I share them with friends, family, and grandchildren. I love Fr. Richard’s Franciscan incarnation theology of the “Christ-soaked world.” Nothing is wasted. Everything is sacred. —Liz M.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.
Read Full Entry

Living Inside God’s Great Story

The Cosmos Reveal God’s Great Love
Thursday, September 2, 2021

Brian McLaren grew up, as I did, in a very religious home, where “our story” was defined by strict religious obligations, with clear insiders and outsiders. However, a mystical experience in nature opened Brian up to God’s Great Story. He writes:

I grew up in a religious home. A full-dose, hard-core, shaken-together-and-my-cup-runneth-over, conservative, Bible-believing, Evangelical, fundamentalist Christian home. . . . Holidays and Sundays were just the spiritual appetizers. For the main course, there was also church every Sunday night. And there was a Wednesday night prayer meeting too. . . .

Some neighborhood buddies . . . invited me on a weekend retreat with the youth group from their Southern Baptist church. And that’s where spirituality snuck up and crashed upon me like an unexpected wave at the beach. The retreat leader sent us off on Saturday afternoon for an hour of silence during which we were supposed to pray. I climbed a tree—being a back-to-nature guy—only to discover that my perch was along an ant superhighway and that mosquitoes also liked the shade of that particular tree. But eventually, between swatting and scratching, I actually prayed. My prayer went something like this: “Dear God, before I die, I hope you will let me see the most beautiful sights, hear the most beautiful sounds, and feel the most beautiful feelings that life has to offer.” . . .

In spite of my sincerity, absolutely nothing happened. . . . [After supper,] a few friends and I snuck away to a hillside and found ourselves sitting under one of those sparkling autumn night skies. I walked several paces away from my friends and lay back in the grass, fingers interlocked behind my head, looking up, feeling strangely quiet and at peace. Something began to happen.

I had this feeling of being seen. Known. Named. Loved. By a Someone bigger than the sky that expanded above me. Young science geek that I was, I pictured myself lying on a little hill on a little continent on a little planet in a little solar system on the rim of a modest galaxy in a sea of billions of galaxies, and I felt that the great big Creator of the whole shebang was somehow noticing little, tiny me. It was as if the whole sky were an eye, and all space were a heart, and I was being targeted as a focal point for attention and love. And the oddest thing happened as this realization sank in. I began to laugh. I wasn’t guffawing, but I was laughing, at first gently, but eventually almost uncontrollably. Profound laughter surged from within me.

It wasn’t a reactive laughter, the kind that erupts when you hear a good joke or see somebody do something ridiculous. It was more like an overflowing laughter, as if all that space I had been feeling opening up inside me was gradually filling up with pure happiness, and once it reached the rim, it spilled over in incandescent joy. “God loves me! Me! God! At this moment! I can feel it!”

Reference:
Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words (HarperOne: 2011), 5, 7, 8.

Story from Our Community:
I begin each day with the joy of these reflections. Full of wisdom and insight, new ways of looking and longing, I share them with friends, family, and grandchildren. I love Fr. Richard’s Franciscan incarnation theology of the “Christ-soaked world.” Nothing is wasted. Everything is sacred. —Liz M.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.
Read Full Entry

Living in God’s Great Story

Lost in the Secret of God’s Face
Wednesday, September 1, 2021

In an episode of his podcast Turning to the Mystics, James Finley shares how he first encountered the work of Thomas Merton (1915–1968) and how it changed the course of his life. He says:

When I was at home growing up in Akron, Ohio with a violent, alcoholic father—like ongoing violent abuse—I was in the ninth grade at an all-boys Catholic school. . . . One of the instructors in the religion class mentioned monasteries. I’d never heard of monasteries before. Because of the role prayer played in my life to help me survive what was happening to me at home, I was already starting to get opened up that way. I was very taken by this idea of monasteries, that there were places you could go to, to seek God, and so on. And he talked about Thomas Merton. So, I went to the school library that day and they had one book by Merton, The Sign of Jonas, which is a journal he wrote in the monastery.

On the first page of that journal, he writes, “As for me, I have but one desire, the desire for solitude, to be lost in the secret of God’s face.” At fourteen years old, I didn’t know what it meant, but something in me did. . . . I got my own copy, and I read it over and over and over again. I thought it was so beautiful. I just sensed how true it was. Therefore, in the four years of high school, [while] the violence was still going on, I started writing to the monastery. . . . When I graduated from high school, I entered, and went in there, and then [Thomas] Merton was novice master. That’s how he got to be my spiritual director. I was eighteen years old.

Jim continues to explore how working with Merton allowed him to come to terms with his own story, while staying connected to God’s reality:

The reality of Thomas Merton made God’s unreality impossible to me. That is, [Merton’s] very reality was to me, the presence of God as a transformed person. I saw it in this ancient lineage of the mystics that he was that. I sat at his feet in the classical sense. . . .

I’d knock on his door, and he was always writing a book and he would sit and listen and talk, and it leveled the playing field for me, really, just absolutely in terms of compassion. And then [opened up by] that compassion, I told him about my desire for God. . . . Then he told me, he said, “Once in a while, you’ll find somebody to talk to about this, but they’re hard to find. They’re really hard to find.” And he said, “The purpose of this place is, it is a place meant to protect, to preserve, and cultivate this radical desire, as a charism in the world.” And then he offered me guidance in my own prayer.

Reference:
James Finley with Kirsten Oates, “Turning to Thomas Merton,” February 24, 2020, in Turning to the Mystics, season 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), podcast, MP3 audio.

Story from Our Community:
I am thankful for Brother Richard’s Daily Meditations. As a Franciscan in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, these reflections are so relevant for all—no matter our faith. The word of God continues to be relevant to all we walk with on our journey. I look forward to the reflections, which have become part of my daily rhythm of prayer and meditation. I give thanks to our Divine Love. —Br. Donald D.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.
Read Full Entry

Living Inside God’s Great Story

Nurturing Body and Spirit
Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The countless “me” and “our” stories reveal the infinite ways that God draws us—as individuals, communities, and cultures—to God’s Self. None of our smaller stories are complete until they are joined to God’s Great Story. Today, my friend and colleague Barbara Holmes shares the contemplative practices she learned from her family and ancestors.

On my mother’s side of the family were slaves from the Maryland Eastern Shore. They developed their contemplative practices around meals. I can understand how people who work around crabs and blue fish can develop spiritual practices that marry full stomachs to piety. The informality of kitchen tables took the place of confessionals. Important life decisions were made as salmon cakes were shaped and collard greens were cut. Sunday meals were open to any who wanted to come. Those without families, those down on their luck, would appear for the expected fare. It was almost impossible to tell family from others by the titles attached to their names. Aunts, cousins, and uncles were often unrelated in the genetic sense but embraced and named as family. . . .

Although one could find contemplative nuances in the communal prayers and everyday work of baking biscuits, it is in the legacy of the healers that I found the most overt practices. Aunt Rebecca (on my mother’s side of the family) was a root woman. She cured the community with the herbs she collected in nearby woods. . . . Rebecca was the only one who knew which twigs and plants would fix what ailed you. After an initial diagnosis, a tea was prescribed, and whispered updates were passed after church. . . . It was understood that the tea would only address the physical disorder and that sickness required healing of spiritual disorders as well. Prayers and intercessions took place as the herbal brew was prepared. Everyone knew when someone was sick, and so the healing process became the interest of all members of the community. Since there was no health insurance, no money for medicine or doctors, it was in everyone’s best interest for Aunt Becky to succeed. And so a great deal of attention was lavished on the ailing person. As a consequence, it is impossible to determine whether healings occurred because of the medicinal effects of the herbs or the solicitous concern of the community.

On occasion, there were stories brought back from the “betwixt and between” regions where the ill dwell. These stories of a reality where healing became a tangible activity included their awareness not just of Aunt Becky’s herbal ministrations and the prayers of the community but also of the spirits of the ancestors and divine messengers. Thus, the community received spiritual witness to their beliefs about the multivalent aspects of reality and the multiple conduits to this transcendent space. In these small communities, contemplation was an everyday practice that included nurture of the body and the spirit.

Reference:
Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd ed. (Fortress Press: 2017), xxxi, xxxii.

Story from Our Community:
I am thankful for Brother Richard’s Daily Meditations. As a Franciscan in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, these reflections are so relevant for all—no matter our faith. The word of God continues to be relevant to all we walk with on our journey. I look forward to the reflections, which have become part of my daily rhythm of prayer and meditation. I give thanks to our Divine Love. —Br. Donald D.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.
Read Full Entry

Living Inside God’s Great Story

Absolute Grace and Acceptance
Monday, August 30, 2021

After high school seminary, my [Richard’s] next step toward becoming a Franciscan was a year-long novitiate in Cincinnati, Ohio. In those days we knelt a lot. I had calluses on my knees because we knelt so much. It was not modern spirituality, but it was a wonderful container that kept me in myself, in my inner world, in the silence. Most of the day we had to keep quiet. This was a medieval novitiate still based on asceticism. Before Vatican II, the Catholic Church was still law-based, disconnected from experience, and not incarnational. It all circled around priests and their ministrations.

I was nineteen years old and trying to be the most fervent student possible: on time, clean, reverent, and respectful, like a Boy Scout. “Yes, Father. No, Father. Whatever you want, Father.” I’d had such a good father, and I knew how to be a good son. I didn’t have the usual opposition toward authority figures, but I was still going crazy with trying to be perfect. Fortunately, over time, I discovered it was my definition of perfection, not God’s, so I learned not to take it too seriously. Everyone creates their own definition of perfection that they try to live up to, and then they experience the illusion that they’re either perfectly wonderful or completely inadequate.

Sometime in the middle of that year, I was kneeling in the choir in the Franciscan community’s novitiate house on Colerain Avenue. Suddenly, I felt chains fly in all directions. The Scripture that I had read that day was Philippians 3:7­–9: “What I once considered an asset, now I consider a liability. The law that I thought was going to save me, now is my curse” (my paraphrase). Not coincidentally, I had just read the autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux. She can change anybody.

Suddenly, I knew that God’s love did not depend on me following all these laws and mandates or being worthy. I knew I wasn’t worthy, and yet here I was experiencing absolute grace and absolute acceptance. The whole system I’d grown up with had implied that God will love us if we change. That day I realized God’s love enables and energizes us to change.  

I already had that boyhood secret discovered gratuitously in front of the Christmas tree: where I felt I had been taken over to another world, which was really this world as it truly is. I’d realized, “My God, this is inside of what everybody is living, and they don’t see it!” Now once again, I somehow knew that I was good, God is good, life is good. And I didn’t have to achieve that goodness by any performance whatsoever. At that point, I was—like a good Lutheran—saved by grace. Grace was everything!

In one moment, I got the Gospel! And I knew it had nothing to do with legalism, priestcraft, or punitiveness. I hadn’t studied theology yet, so I had no intellectual foundation by which to justify it, but I just knew that everything was grace. I was very free—inside—after that.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love,  selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 49–51.

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations allow me to reconnect with my Catholic upbringing. I am reminded of the Franciscan sisters that allowed me to visit when I was lost and lonely and the magic I felt in my faith as a youth. As the church became more patriarchal and shame-based, I abandoned it. With Father Rohr’s teaching, I can see the expansiveness of the Bible and faith. I can reconnect with that goodness. —Kirstin G.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.
Read Full Entry

Living Inside God’s Great Story

A Journey toward Greater Love
Sunday, August 29, 2021

At the end of September, the CAC will host the seventh and final CONSPIRE conference. We are calling it Me/Us/The World: Living Inside God’s Great Story. Our own individual stories connect us to the stories of our larger communities and to God’s Great Story—which includes everybody and all of creation. This week in the Daily Meditations, we will be sharing a “Me” story from each of our faculty members. We hope it reveals how, despite our many differences, these stories are all connected: mine, yours, ours, the world’s, and God’s.

It’s probably not hard to believe that I started teaching early, around the age of six or seven. My parents told me this years later. I would gather my siblings and neighborhood friends and have them sit on a bench in the backyard. I would hold my penny catechism upside down since I couldn’t read yet, and I would pretend to teach “about Jesus.” I must have been a weird little kid, but I was happy too! According to my mother, I would run around screaming with excitement and she would admonish me, “If you want to scream, go outside,” so I would. At some point, that spontaneous joy turned into seriousness. I became committed to being the good boy, the nice boy.

I attended Catholic school where the reward/punishment, perfection/achievement system was used to maintained order. The God I was presented with was no unconditional lover, but that was the whole Catholic world in the 1950s. Reality was shaped by a God who is punitive. It made for conformity and very little disruption since we were all agreeing together to abide by the same laws.

I have often been asked, “So, how did you learn how to love in a more unconditional way?” While I’m not sure that I have, any progress I have made has come simply by meeting people who were themselves loving, and then learning the contemplative mind. I was often surrounded by loving people, but I didn’t know how to be like them. By willpower many of us tried to force ourselves to be loving, as if to say: “Obey the law and you will go to heaven.” But when you are forcing yourself to do the loving thing, it doesn’t feel like love to other people. They can sense the difference.

Until I went to seminary, no one had taught me how to clean the lens of my awareness and perception. Studying the philosophy of Franciscan John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) for four years had a profound effect on me. Duns Scotus taught (admittedly in rarefied Latin) that good theology maintains two freedoms: it keeps people free for God and it keeps God free for people. The harder task is actually the second, because what religion tends to do is tell God whom God can love and whom God is not allowed to love. In most church theology and morality, God is very unfree.

I know now that love cannot happen except in the realm of freedom.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 22–23, 66.

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations allow me to reconnect with my Catholic upbringing. I am reminded of the Franciscan sisters that allowed me to visit when I was lost and lonely and the magic I felt in my faith as a youth. As the church became more patriarchal and shame-based, I abandoned it. With Father Rohr’s teaching, I can see the expansiveness of the Bible and faith. I can reconnect with that goodness. —Kirstin G.

Image credit: Raul Diaz, White Sands New Mexico (detail), 2006, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The natural grandeur of this photo reveals the creative and mysterious aspects of the Divine. But it doesn’t capture the dryness of the air, the heat of the sand, the sounds, the smells, and the tastes. That requires us to be there, present inside the landscape and story.
Read Full Entry
Join Our Email Community

Stay up to date on the latest news and happenings from Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation.


HTML spacer