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Theme:
Oneness

Oneness

Summary: Sunday, September 22—Friday, September 27, 2019

When we carry our small suffering in solidarity with humanity’s one universal longing for deep union, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together. (Sunday)

God is the force that is binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming all of humanity and all of creation with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet. (Monday)

The whole thing is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being “part of the body,” humble links in the great chain of history. (Tuesday)

The freeing, good news of the Gospel is that God is saving and redeeming the Whole first and foremost, and we are all caught up in this Cosmic Sweep of Divine Love. (Wednesday)

Oneness is less a goal toward which life is pressing, as it is a return to the truth in which we have always been held. —Catherine T. Nerney (Thursday)

A heart transformed by this realization of oneness knows that only love “in here,” in me, can spot and enjoy love “out there.” (Friday)

 

Practice: Childlike Sincerity

James Finley, one of our core faculty members, writes:

We have each had a taste of nondual consciousness: the face of our beloved, a child at play, the sound of running water, the intimacy of darkness in the middle of a sleepless night. Our lives move in and out of nondual consciousness. In these moments, we intuitively use the word God for the infinity of the primordial preciousness with Whom we realize ourselves to be one. In these moments we realize that nothing is missing anywhere and what fools we are to worry so.

As I reflect on this, it dawns on me that the root of sorrow is my estrangement from the intimately realized oneness and preciousness of all things. I’m skimming over the surface of the depths of my life. Yet, I know in my heart that the God-given, godly nature of every breath and heartbeat is hidden in the ever-present depths over which I am skimming in my preoccupations with the day’s demands.

So, the question becomes: how can I learn not to play the cynic, not to break faith with my awakened heart? In my most childlike hour, I have tasted the presence of God that is perpetually manifesting and giving itself to me as my very life. While the value of my life is not dependent upon the degree to which I realize this unitive mystery that is always there, the experiential quality of my life is profoundly related to the degree to which I am learning to live in habitual awareness of and fidelity to the God-given, godly nature of the life that I’m living.

I cannot make moments of nondual consciousness happen. I can only assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to be overtaken by the grace of nondual consciousness. Two lovers cannot make moments of oceanic oneness happen, but together they can assume the inner stance that allows them to be overtaken by the oceanic oneness that blesses their life.

My spiritual practice is to sit each day in childlike sincerity with an inner stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by the God-given, godly nature of myself just the way I am. This is my sense of what nondual consciousness is and the contemplative way of life in which we, with God’s grace, become ever more habitually grounded. [1]

For today’s contemplative practice, sit in a comfortable position with the simple intention to be in the Presence of God. With playful, childlike sincerity, offer the least resistance to being overtaken by the God-given, godly nature of yourself—just the way you are. Abide for five or ten minutes or more in this state.

You might want to open your sitting session with this prayer:

O God, give me a simple heart, free from duplicity and deceit, a heart which goes to You with childlike simplicity. [2]

References:
[1] Adapted from James Finley, exclusive CAC Living School curriculum, Unit 1.

[2] Adapted from Dan Burke, “Simplicity,” Divine Intimacy (September 3, 2018), https://spiritualdirection.com/2018/09/03/simplicity.

For Further Study:
The Cloud of Unknowing with the Book of Privy Counsel, trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Shambhala: 2009)

Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork (Henry Holt and Company: 1996)

Catherine T. Nerney, The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness (Orbis Books: 2018)

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

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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Oneness

What You Seek Is What You Are
Friday, September 27, 2019

Authentic spirituality emphasizes a real equivalence and mutuality between the one who sees and what can be seen. There is a symbiosis between the heart/mind of the seer and what they will pay attention to. All being (earth and planets, waters, all growing things, animals, humans, angels, and God) can rightly be spoken of with “one voice,” as John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) put it. We Franciscans call it “the Univocity of Being.” What I am you also are, and so is the world. Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy.

To understand this, I must know that I am, at least in part, the very thing I am seeking. In fact, that is what makes me seek it! But most do not know this good news yet. God cannot be found “out there” until God is first found “in here,” within ourselves, as Augustine (354–430) profoundly expressed in many ways in his Confessions. Then we can almost naturally see God in others and in all of creation, too. What you seek is what you are. The search for God and the search for our True Self are finally the same search. St. Francis of Assisi’s all-night prayer, “Who are you, O God, and who am I?” [1] is the most honest prayer we can offer.

A heart transformed by this realization of oneness knows that only love “in here,” in me, can spot and enjoy love “out there.” Fear, constriction, and resentment are seen by spiritual teachers to be inherent obstructions that must be overcome. Those emotions cannot get you anywhere, certainly not anywhere good. Thus, all mystics are positive people—or they are not mystics! Their spiritual warfare is precisely the work of recognizing and then handing over all of their inner negativity and fear to God. The great paradox here is that such a victory is a gift from God and yet somehow you must want it very much (see Philippians 2:12-13).

The central practice in Franciscan mysticism, therefore, is that we must remain in love (John 15:9). Only when we are eager to love can we see love and goodness in the world around us. We must ourselves remain in peace, and then we will find peace over there. Remain in beauty, and we will honor beauty everywhere. This concept of remaining or abiding (John 15:4-5) moves all religion out of esoteric realms of doctrinal outer space where it has been lost for too long. There is no secret moral command for knowing or pleasing God, or what some call “salvation,” beyond becoming a loving person in mind, heart, body, and soul. Then you will see what you need to see. Jesus did not say, “Be right.” Jesus said, “Be in love.”

References:
[1] The Deeds of Blessed Francis and His Companions, IX.37. See Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 3 (New City Press: 2001), 455.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 34-35.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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Oneness

We Are Already One
Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thomas Merton (1915–1968) helped many within and beyond Christianity imagine the oneness at the heart of reality. Catherine Nerney, SSJ, director of the Institute for Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, shares insights she’s gathered from Merton’s writings:

God’s compassion knows no withholding. This God lives in all and all live in God. We belong together; we belong to one another. My personal identification with [Thomas] Merton’s journey to radical oneness is more than a little autobiographical. . . . As a Sister of St. Joseph, the vision of “living and working that all may be one” is in our DNA; it is our mission, the reason we exist.  Something inside me urges me to sniff out this call to unifying love wherever it can be found. In Merton, the scent of the search for oneness is everywhere. . . .

Thomas Merton’s reflective life of contemplation and action found expression in the written word, particularly in his intimate journals, which . . . open up such needed pathways to life in communion, where all are welcomed into God’s compassionate heart, no exceptions, no exclusion. This vision of “the Oneness we already are” was given to Merton, rather than discovered by him. . . .

Many of us have pondered the powerful lines from Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, where he shares his experience . . . on a crowded street corner in the midst of an ordinary day: . . .

In Louisville, at the corner of 4th [now Muhammad Ali Blvd.] and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. . . . This changes nothing in the sense and value of my solitude, for it is, in fact, the function of solitude to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to one completely immersed in other cares. . . . My solitude, however, is not my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not “they” but my own self. There are no strangers. . . . If only we could see each other that way all the time. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift. . . . [1]

By the early 1960s, a spiritually mature Merton knew by a contemplative, intuitive grasp that oneness is less a goal toward which life is pressing, as it is a return to the truth in which we have always been held. In October of 1968, just weeks before his death, Merton told a large audience of Asian monks at a Calcutta conference: “My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” [2]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Doubleday: 1968), 156-158.

[2] Thomas Merton, Address to International Summit of Monks, Calcutta, India (October 19-27, 1968), published in The Asian Journals of Thomas Merton (New Directions: 1975), 51.

Catherine T. Nerney, The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness (Orbis Books: 2018), xix-xx.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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Oneness

One Life, One Death, One Suffering
Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Universal Christ is trying to communicate at the deepest intuitive level that there is only One Life, One Death, and One Suffering on this earth. We are all invited to ride the one wave, which is the only wave there is. Call it Reality, if you wish. But we are all in this together.

Consider how a “one-lump” awareness of reality upends so many of our current obsessions. Our arguments about private worthiness; reward and punishment; gender, race, and class distinctions; private possessions—all the things that make us argue and compete are not essential, ontological traits. Weighing, measuring, counting, listing, labeling, and comparing only gets us so far.

Of course, we must recognize and respect our differences. “Colorblindness” is actually harmful in the face of measurable inequities for people of color. Pride parades and other cultural celebrations of identity are valuable expressions for many groups whose voices have been silenced. People with privilege and power like myself are called to move to the bottom and to destroy the illusion of our supremacy. Those who have been marginalized and deemed inferior are invited to reclaim their inherent value and belonging. As Jesus said, “The last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).

The Gospel is about learning to live and die in and with God—all our warts and wounds included and forgiven by an Infinite Love. The true Gospel democratizes the world. We are all saved in spite of our mistakes, in spite of our suffering, and in spite of ourselves. We are all caught up in the cosmic sweep of Divine grace and mercy. And we all must learn to trust the Psalmist’s prayer: “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to your name be the glory” (Psalm 115:1).

The freeing, good news of the Gospel is that God is saving and redeeming the Whole first and foremost, and we are all caught up in this Cosmic Sweep of Divine Love. The parts—you and me and everybody else—are the blessed beneficiaries, the desperate hangers-on, the partly willing participants in the Whole. Paul wrote that our only task is to trust this reality “until God is all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). What a different idea of faith! “When Christ is revealed,” Paul writes to the Colossians, “and he is your life—you too will be revealed in all your glory with him” (3:4). Unless and until we can enjoy this, so much of what passes for Christianity will amount to little more than well-disguised narcissism and self-referential politics. We see this phenomenon playing out in the de facto values of people who strongly identify as Christian. Often they are more racist, classist, and sexist than non-Christians. “Others can carry the burden and the pain of injustice, but not my group,” they seem to say.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 166-167.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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Oneness

Corporate Love
Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Humans throughout history have often had a strong appreciation for and connection with their ancestors. I think the collective notion of oneness is what Christians were trying to verbalize when they made a late addition to the ancient Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints.” They were offering us the idea that the dead are at one with the living, whether they’re our direct ancestors, the saints in glory, or even the so-called souls in purgatory.

Sister Catherine Nerney, SSJ illustrates this idea in her book The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness:

I, who once found life within my mother, was in turn responsible for my mother’s ongoing life in me.

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells a beautiful story about an experience he had following his mother’s death which makes this point very powerfully:

The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune in my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut of my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk with her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me. [1]

This kind of mutual interdependence I sense to be true. We live in and through one another. We become ourselves only in and through a process of mutual inter-becoming. It all began in God’s own creative, self-giving love. Much deeper than the inevitability of my [physically] resembling my earthly mother is the reality of my core identity, the core identity of all who bear the same family resemblance, a unique but related face of compassion—the same divine Love has birthed us all. God will never be dead as long as we’re alive. [2]

The whole thing is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being “part of the body,” humble links in the great chain of history. This view echoes the biblical concept of a covenant love that was granted to the Jewish people as a whole, and never just to one individual like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Esther, or David. Similarly, the prophets and Jesus spoke both their judgments and their promises to the collective of the House of Jacob, Moab, Bashan, Gilgal, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Jerusalem (and on and on) much more than they ever did to individuals. Many Christians’ failure to recognize this has led to a major misinterpretation of the entire Bible. 

References:
[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life (Riverhead Books: 2002), 5.

[2] Catherine T. Nerney, The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness (Orbis Books: 2018), 12-13.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 163-164.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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Oneness

Love Is Universal
Monday, September 23, 2019

Every rational creature, every person, and every angel has two main strengths: the power to know and the power to love. God made both of these, but [God is] not knowable through the first one. To the power of love, however, [God] is entirely known, because a loving soul is open to receive God’s abundance. . . . [God’s] very nature makes love endless and miraculous. God will never stop loving us. Consider this truth, and, if by grace you can make love your own, do. For the experience is eternal joy; its absence is unending suffering. —The Cloud of Unknowing [1]

In the fourteenth century, the inspired, anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing taught that God in Christ dealt with sin, death, forgiveness, and salvation “all in one lump.” It is a most unusual, even homely, phrase, but for me, this corporate and mystical reading of history contributes to the unitive vision we are seeking, as we try to understand the Universal Christ. Jesus by himself looks like an individual, albeit a divine individual, but the Christ is a compelling image for this “one-lump” view of reality. In the fourteenth century, The Cloud’s author would’ve enjoyed the last remnants of mystical holism before the Reformation and Enlightenment elevated dualistic thinking. The writer reflected the more Eastern church understanding of the resurrection as a universal phenomenon, and not just the lone Jesus rising from the dead and raising his hands as if he just scored a touchdown, as is depicted in most Western art—and even in a giant mosaic that looms over the University of Notre Dame’s football stadium.

I am convinced that the Gospel offers us a holistic, “all in one lump” understanding of things. We also see this idea everywhere in Pauline passages, expressed in different ways: “in that one body he condemned sin” (Romans 8:3); “He experienced death for all humankind” (Hebrews 2:19); he has done suffering and sacrifice “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:28); or the embodiment language of Philippians, where Jesus is said to lead us through the “pattern of sin and death” so we can “take our place in the pattern of resurrection” (3:9-12). And of course, this all emerges from Jesus’ major metaphor of the “Reign of God,” a collective notion which some scholars say is just about all that he talks about. Until we start reading the Jesus story through the collective lens of Christ, I honestly think Christians miss much of his core message and limit its meaning to individual salvation, reward, and punishment. Without a universal and unifying spirituality, society will remain untransformed.

Only surrendering humbly to the radical path of love will result in the discovery that God is not the object of our longing and love, but is the loving itself. As the author of The Cloud teaches, God is the force that is binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming all of humanity and all of creation with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet.

References:
[1] The Cloud of Unknowing with the Book of Privy Counsel, trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Shambhala: 2009), 14.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 162-163.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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Oneness

The Suffering of God
Sunday, September 22, 2019

I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life. —Etty Hillesum [1]

Just days before I began writing my book about the Universal Christ, I learned that I would have to put down my fifteen-year-old black Lab because she was suffering from inoperable cancer. Venus had been giving me a knowing and profoundly accepting look for weeks, but I did not know how to read it. Deep down, I did not want to know. After her diagnosis, every time I looked at her, she gazed up at me with those same soft and fully permissive eyes, as if to say, “It is okay. You can let me go. I know it is my time.” But she patiently waited until I, too, was ready.

In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness.

When we carry our small suffering in solidarity with humanity’s one universal longing for deep union, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together. It is just as hard for everybody else, and our healing is bound up in each other’s. Almost all people are carrying a great and secret hurt, even when they don’t know it. This realization softens the space around our overly defended hearts. It makes it hard to be cruel to anyone. It somehow makes us one—in a way that easy comfort and entertainment never can.

Some mystics go so far as to say that individual suffering doesn’t exist at all and that there is only one suffering. It is all the same, and it is all the suffering of God. The image of Jesus on the cross somehow communicates that to the willing soul. A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us—much more than just for us, as many Christians were trained to think.

If suffering, even unjust suffering (and all suffering is unjust), is part of one Great Mystery, then I am willing to carry my little portion. Etty Hillesum (1914–1943), a young, Dutch, Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, truly believed her suffering was also the suffering of God. She even expressed a deep desire to help God carry some of it:

And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. [2]

Such freedom and generosity of spirit are almost unimaginable to me. What creates such altruistic and loving people?

References:
[1] Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 157.

[2] Ibid., 178.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 160, 161-162.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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