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Original Goodness: Weekly Summary

Original Goodness

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Week Forty-Three Summary and Practice

Sunday, October 24—Friday, October 29, 2021

Sunday
Our core is original blessing, not original sin. —Richard Rohr

Monday
The Christian story line must start with a positive, over-arching vision for humanity and for history, or it will never get beyond the primitive, exclusionary, and fear-based stages of most early human development. —Richard Rohr

Tuesday
Both from an ecological perspective and from Genesis’ point of view, goodness resides in the community, the web of life, in the relations of the whole biosphere. —Rabbi Ellen Bernstein

Wednesday
The essential work of religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in ourselves and in everything. Whatever we call it, this “image of God” is absolute and unchanging. There is nothing we can do to increase it or decrease it.
Richard Rohr

Thursday
In his baptism, Jesus was dipped in the unifying mystery of life and death and love. That’s where it all begins—even for him! —Richard Rohr

Friday
It is impossible to know in the moment, how a small act of goodness will reverberate through time. The notion is empowering and it is frightening—because it means that we’re all capable of changing the world, and responsible for finding those opportunities to protect, feed, grow, and guide love. —Bishop Michael Curry

 

Blessing the Body

Because of the way most Christians have understood the doctrine of original sin, the physical body has borne the brunt of our guilt and shame. Its needs, desires, and frailties were often labeled “sinful,” and therefore were repressed instead of affirmed and channeled in healthy and life-giving ways. In honor of the Original Goodness of our bodies, we invite you to spend time with this blessing by Jan Richardson, a writer, poet, artist, and ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.

BLESSING THE BODY

This blessing takes
one look at you
and all it can say is
holy.

Holy hands.
Holy face.
Holy feet.
Holy everything
in between.

Holy even in pain.
Holy even when weary.
In brokenness, holy.
In shame, holy still.

Holy in delight.
Holy in distress.
Holy when being born.
Holy when we lay it down
at the hour of our death.

So, friend,
open your eyes
(holy eyes).
For one moment
see what this blessing sees,
this blessing that knows
how you have been formed
and knit together
in wonder and
in love.

Welcome this blessing
that folds its hands
in prayer
when it meets you;
receive this blessing
that wants to kneel
in reverence
before you—
you who are
temple,
sanctuary,
home for God
in this world.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
“Blessing the Body” © Jan Richardson from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Used by permission.  janrichardson.com.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image inspiration: The blues and greens of this tranquil sky speak to us of harmony, wholeness and the invitation to rest. Beginning with goodness and beauty invites our contemplation of the same.

Being “God’s Somebody”

Original Goodness

Being “God’s Somebody”
Friday, October 29, 2021

Everybody is God’s somebody. —Bishop Michael Curry, Love Is the Way

Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry, with whom Fr. Richard has worked on several occasions, shares how knowing we are “God’s somebody” allows us to love ourselves and others.

I’ve come to see that the call of God, the love that bids us welcome, is always a call to become the true you. . . . Not an imitation of someone else. The true you: someone made in the image of God, deserving of and receiving love.

There is a Jewish proverb, “Before every person there marches an angel proclaiming, ‘Behold, the image of God.’” Unselfish, sacrificial living isn’t about ignoring or denying or destroying yourself. It’s about discovering your true self—the self that looks like God—and living life from that grounding. Many people are familiar with a part of Jesus’s summary of the law of Moses: You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. Yourself. Loving the self is a required balance. If we fail in that, we fail our neighbor, too. To love your neighbor is to relate to them as someone made in the image of the God. And it is to relate to yourself as someone made in the image of the God. It’s God, up, down, and all around, and God is love.

The ability to love yourself is intimately related to your capacity to love others. The challenge is creating a life that allows you to fulfill both needs. I often speak of the loving, liberating, life-giving God. Sharing godly love liberates the true self, so that we can more fully live and discover that place where “your deep gladness and the world’s great hunger meet,” as Frederick Buechner put it in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.

I don’t know exactly why it works that way, other than to channel my grandma: “We’ve got a good God and a good Gospel.” . . .

All I know is that I have seen the wonderful personal transformations that happen when people start navigating with God’s GPS. I’ve experienced it myself. . . .

My job is to plant seeds of love, and to keep on planting, even—or especially—when bad weather comes. It’s folly to think I can know the grand plan, how my small action fits into the larger whole. All I can do is check myself, again and again: Do my actions look like love?

If they are truly loving, then they are part of the grand movement of love in the world, which is the movement of God in the world. . . .

It is impossible to know, in the moment, how a small act of goodness will reverberate through time. The notion is empowering and it is frightening—because it means that we’re all capable of changing the world, and responsible for finding those opportunities to protect, feed, grow, and guide love.

Reference:
Michael Curry with Sara Grace, Love Is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times (Avery: 2020), 95–96, 97, 134, 139.

Story from Our Community:
My son’s death in the destruction of 9/11 seemed an unbearable loss, and could not have been borne without the abundance of God’s grace. A friend introduced me to Richard Rohr and I was nourished into new understanding, new faith, new hope—and most especially into a new way of loving others. I also found a new way of falling in love with the Caring Creator and Cosmic Christ. I listen for our God now in the peace of knowing I’m guided and loved however I might stray—especially when I feel I have strayed. —Anne M.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image inspiration: The blues and greens of this tranquil sky speak to us of harmony, wholeness and the invitation to rest. Beginning with goodness and beauty invites our contemplation of the same.

Beginning as “Beloved”

Original Goodness

Beginning as “Beloved”
Thursday, October 28, 2021

And a voice came out of the heavens: “You are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.” —Mark 1:11

In a homily on the Feast of Jesus’ Baptism, Fr. Richard Rohr describes the powerful nature of being named a beloved child of God.

We can’t start a spiritual journey on a negative foundation. If we just seek God out of fear or guilt or shame (which is often the legacy of original sin), we won’t go very far. If we start negative, we stay negative. We have to begin positive—by a wonderful experience, by something that’s larger than life, by something that dips us into the depths of our own being. That’s what the word baptism means, “to be dipped into.”

Jesus is thirty years old when his baptism happens. According to Mark’s Gospel, he hasn’t said a single thing up to now. Until we know we’re a beloved son or beloved daughter or even just beloved, we don’t have anything to say. We’re so filled with self-doubt that we have no good news for the world. In his baptism, Jesus was dipped in the unifying mystery of life and death and love. That’s where it all begins—even for him! The unique Son of God had to hear it with his own ears and then he couldn’t be stopped. Then he has plenty to say for the next three years, because he has finally found his own soul, his own identity, and his own life’s purpose.

After fourteen years as a chaplain in the Albuquerque jails, I am convinced that the reason people make great mistakes is because they have never heard what Jesus heard on the day of his baptism. They never heard another human voice, much less a voice from heaven, say to them, “You are a beloved son. You are a beloved daughter and in you I am well pleased.” If we’ve never had anyone believe in us, take delight in us, affirm us, call us beloved, we don’t have anywhere to begin. There’s nothing exciting and wonderful to start with, so we spend our whole lives trying to say those words to ourselves: “I’m okay, I’m wonderful, I’m great.” But we don’t really believe it. The word has to come from someone greater than us. That’s really a parent’s primary job—to communicate to their child that they are a beloved, eternally-existing child of God. Our jails are filled to over-flowing with people who never heard this foundational message—and sadly, so is much of our world.

The only purpose of the gospel, and even religion, is to communicate that one and eternal truth. Once we have that straight, nothing can stop us and no one can take it away from us, because it is given only, always, and everywhere by God—for those who will accept it freely. My only job and any preacher’s job is to try to replicate and resound that eternal message of God that initiates everything good on this earth—You are beloved children of God!

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “You Must Start with Something Positive,” homily, January 11, 2015.

Story from Our Community:
My son’s death in the destruction of 9/11 seemed an unbearable loss, and could not have been borne without the abundance of God’s grace. A friend introduced me to Richard Rohr and I was nourished into new understanding, new faith, new hope—and most especially into a new way of loving others. I also found a new way of falling in love with the Caring Creator and Cosmic Christ. I listen for our God now in the peace of knowing I’m guided and loved however I might stray—especially when I feel I have strayed. —Anne M.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image inspiration: The blues and greens of this tranquil sky speak to us of harmony, wholeness and the invitation to rest. Beginning with goodness and beauty invites our contemplation of the same.

Made in the Divine Image

Original Goodness

Made in the Divine Image
Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Father Richard views religion’s purpose as reminding us of who we truly are:

The essential work of religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in ourselves and everything else too. Whatever we call it, this ‘image of God’ is absolute and unchanging. There is nothing we can do to increase or decrease it. It is not ours to decide who has it or does not have it. It is pure and total gift, given equally to all. [1]

It is often the mystics who understand that “My deepest me is God!” to paraphrase St. Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510). [2] In these passages, contemplative writer Ursula King presents three mystics who saw God’s divine image as more fundamental in the human soul than sin. The fourth century theologian and mystic Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335–c. 394) held that:

In each human soul there exists a divine element, a kind of inner eye capable of glimpsing something of God, for there exists a deep relationship, an affinity between human and divine nature. [3]

The medieval mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg (c. 1212–c. 1282) yearned for the soul’s original intimacy with God:

Mechtild’s work is motivated by the deep desire that the soul return to its original being in God. It is her true nature to live in the flowing light of the Godhead, just as it is a bird’s nature to fly in the air and a fish’s nature to swim in water. She has emanated from the heart of God, where she must return, but she discovers her utter nakedness before and in God: “Lord, now I am a naked soul!” Yet her intense love pours out in praise of God:

O God! so generous in the outpouring of Thy gifts!
So flowing in Thy Love!
So burning in Thy desire!
So fervent in union!
O Thou who doest rest on my heart
Without whom I could no longer live! [4]

In the early seventeenth century, Francis de Sales (1567–1622) became Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland. In a time of deep religious division, he was known for his belief in “original goodness.” Ursula King continues:   

Whereas many other spiritual writers in seventeenth-century France held a pessimistic view of the human being, stressing sin and abnegation, Francis de Sales believed in the inherent goodness of human nature. Human beings have a natural inclination to love God, due to the correspondence between divine goodness and human souls, which bear some kind of divine imprint or spark. God holds us by this goodness as in some way linked to himself “as little birds by a string, by which He can draw us when it pleases His Compassion.” Francis does not speak about the “ground” of the soul like the Rhenish [or Rhineland] mystics, but refers to the “mountain top” of the soul, the utmost summit where self ends and God begins, a no-place which is yet a place, a dwelling place that can only be reached by an all-transforming movement of love. [5]

References:
[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 59, 60–61.

[2] Catherine of Genoa, Vita, chapter 15. Her text is “In Dio è il mio essere, il mio Me.”

[3] Ursula King, Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages (HiddenSpring: 2001), 48.

[4] King, 93, quoting Mechthild, The Flowing Light of the Godhead, 1.17.

[5] King, 162–163, quoting Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, 1.18.

Story from Our Community:
I remember going to confession as a young boy trembling that I had stolen 6 pennies from my father’s shop. I was told how lucky I was to receive absolution and what would have happened had I died before I got to confess. That was the One Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church we grew up in here in Ireland in the 1940s. Thank you, Fr. Richard, and your amazing ecumenical team in CAC for changing my perception of God. I am not scared of God anymore. —Brian M.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image inspiration: The blues and greens of this tranquil sky speak to us of harmony, wholeness and the invitation to rest. Beginning with goodness and beauty invites our contemplation of the same.

Creation Is Very Good

Original Goodness

Creation Is Very Good
Tuesday, October 26, 2021

God saw all God had made, and indeed it was very good. —Genesis 1:31

In Judaism, there is no concept of “original sin.” Instead of believing humans are born in sin, Judaism affirms our place in a “very good” creation. Rabbi Ellen Bernstein is a leading thinker about spirituality and the environment. Commenting on Genesis 1, she writes of humanity’s responsibility to manifest the “goodness” that is our birthright.

On the sixth day, God designs the land creatures, creates the first human couple, and completes the entire creation. In and of itself, an individual creation may be good, but when it can contribute to a larger interdependent ecosystem, it is very good. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

The goodness of this day is further emphasized through the language used to describe it. While all the other days are referred to as “a” day, the sixth day is referred to as “the” day. This day is distinguished among all the rest: it is whole. Wholeness rests in the complete web of life.

Both from an ecological perspective and from Genesis’ point of view, goodness resides in the community, the web of life, in the relations of the whole biosphere. All organisms interact constantly with their surroundings, in an endless cycle of giving and receiving. No creature, human or otherwise, can live in isolation. “No matter how sophisticated and complex and powerful our institutions,” said Wendell Berry, “we are still exactly as dependent on the earth as the earthworms.” [1] Ultimately our individual happiness rests on the health and well-being of the larger earth ecosystem and the common good. [2]

Author Danielle Shroyer understands the goodness of creation as its and our capacity to grow in potential toward further goodness. The Garden of Eden is not a place of perfection so much a place of wholeness and unfolding life itself. 

Creation is the result not of destruction, but of God’s goodness overflowing. . . . God looks upon creation and says, “It is very good.” It’s . . . a declaration, over and over, of creation’s goodness. . . . If we imagine creation to be something as simplistic as a utopian happy-go-lucky place where nothing ever will go wrong, we disparage the beauty and harmony illustrated in the Genesis stories. God’s goodness is not that shallow and neither is God’s creation. I wonder if there is not something immature about our desire for the garden to be perfect. . . .

A more appropriate view of creation would be not perfection but potential. God designed the world to develop and function in a certain way, while allowing for creation to live freely into its potential. Sometimes creation will live up to and into its potential, while other times it will renounce it. . . . Potential reminds us once again that goodness is both an origin and a goal. It is given to us as a gift, but it is also given to us as a calling. [3]

References:
[1] Wendell Berry, The Long-Legged House (Counterpoint: 2012), 90.

[2] Ellen Bernstein, The Splendor of Creation: A Biblical Ecology (The Pilgrim Press: 2005), 119–120.

[3] Danielle Shroyer, Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place (Fortress: 2016), 66–67.

Story from Our Community:
I remember going to confession as a young boy trembling that I had stolen 6 pennies from my father’s shop. I was told how lucky I was to receive absolution and what would have happened had I died before I got to confess. That was the One Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church we grew up in here in Ireland in the 1940s. Thank you, Fr. Richard, and your amazing ecumenical team in CAC for changing my perception of God. I am not scared of God anymore. —Brian M.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image inspiration: The blues and greens of this tranquil sky speak to us of harmony, wholeness and the invitation to rest. Beginning with goodness and beauty invites our contemplation of the same.

The Shadow of Original Sin

Original Goodness

The Shadow of Original Sin
Monday, October 25, 2021

Fr. Richard reflects on the negative consequences of Christianity’s emphasis on “original sin.”

The truth of our Original Goodness was sadly complicated when the concept of original sin entered the Christian mind.

This idea was put forth by Augustine in the fifth century but never mentioned in the Bible. We usually taught that human beings were born into “sin” because Adam and Eve “offended God” by eating from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” As punishment, God cast them out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22–23). We typically think of sin as a matter of personal responsibility and culpability, yet original sin wasn’t something we did at all. It was something that was done to us (“passed down from Adam and Eve”). Evil was a social concept much more than an individual act.

In one way, the doctrine of “original sin” was good and helpful in that it taught us not to be surprised at the frailty and woundedness that we all carry. Just as goodness is inherent and shared, so it seems with evil. And this is, in fact, a very merciful teaching. Knowledge of our shared wound ought to help us to be forgiving and compassionate with ourselves and with one another.

I truly believe that Augustine meant the idea of original sin to be a compassionate one. Yet historically, the teaching of original sin started us off on the wrong foot—with a no instead of a yes, with mistrust instead of trust. We have spent centuries trying to solve the “problem” that we’re told is at the heart of our humanity. But when we start with a problem, we tend never to get beyond that very mind-set.

Over thirty years after the publication of Matthew Fox’s book Original Blessing, author Danielle Shroyer explores the theme further. She writes:

Sin is not the primary thing that is true about us. Before we are anything else, we are made in God’s image, and we are made to reflect that image in the way we live. Before scripture tells us anything else about ourselves, it tells us we are good. I think that’s because that’s the way God intended it. When we ground ourselves in the fact that God created us good, we are capable of confronting all the other things that are true about us, even the difficult things. Love is tremendously healing. [1]

To begin climbing out of the hole of original sin, we must start with a positive and generous cosmic vision. Generosity tends to feed on itself. I have never met a truly compassionate or loving human being who did not have a foundational and even deep trust in the inherent goodness of nature and humanity.

The Christian story line must start with a positive, over-arching vision for humanity and for history, or it will never get beyond the primitive, exclusionary, and fear-based stages of most early human development. By and large, that is where we still are.

References:
[1] Danielle Shroyer, Original Blessing: Putting Sin in Its Rightful Place (Fortress: 2016), 32.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 61–63.

Story from Our Community:
God’s creation of the cosmos may continue to always unfold toward something better, but the human race might not be part of that due to its choice to live with cunning (like the serpent in the creation story) rather than love as its foundational element. The power of love can transform the world if we truly embrace it and live it. The power lies in love as a verb—to be lived. —Jason O.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image inspiration: The blues and greens of this tranquil sky speak to us of harmony, wholeness and the invitation to rest. Beginning with goodness and beauty invites our contemplation of the same.

A Hopeful Foundation

Original Goodness

A Hopeful Foundation
Sunday, October 24, 2021

We are not loved because we are so beautiful and good. We are beautiful and good because we are loved. —Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Joy (video interview, 2014)

There is plenty of evidence in the world to conclude that there is something fundamentally flawed with humanity. However, Fr. Richard Rohr believes that we have overlooked another and more helpful “origin story”—that of Original Goodness.

Our creation story says that we were created in the very “image and likeness” of God, and out of generative love (Genesis 1:27; 9:6). This starts us out on an absolutely positive and hopeful foundation, which cannot be overstated.

We have heard this phrase so often that we don’t get the existential shock of what “created in the image and likeness of God” is saying about us! It’s the best therapeutic affirmation we could hope for! If this is true, it says that our family of origin is divine. Our core is original blessing, not original sin. This says that our starting point is totally positive. As the first chapter of the Bible says, it is “very good” (1:31). We do have someplace good to go home to. When the beginning is right, the rest is made considerably easier.

The Bible will build on this foundational goodness, a true identity “hidden in the love and mercy of God,” [1] as Thomas Merton said. That goodness is the place to which we are always trying to get back. There are many detours along the way, and many “devils” planting the same doubt suggested to Jesus, “If you are a son (or daughter) of God” (Matthew 4:3, 6). All of the Bible is trying to illustrate through various stories humanity’s objective unity with God. This is so important to know and believe.

Due to this lack of mysticism and the contemplative mind, I find that many, if not most, Christians still have no knowledge of the soul’s objective union with God (see 2 Peter 1:4). They often actually fight me on it, quoting to me that “all things human are evil and depraved,” or “humans are like piles of manure, covered over by Christ.” Such a negative starting point will have a very hard time creating loving, dignified, or responsive people.

To preach and know the gospel we must get the “who” right! What is the self we are working with? Who are we? Where do we objectively abide? Where did we come from? Is our DNA divine or is it depraved?

The great illusion that we must all overcome is the illusion of separateness. It is almost the only task of religion—to communicate not worthiness but union, to reconnect people to their original identity “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). The Bible calls that state of separateness “sin,” and its total undoing is stated frequently as God’s clear job description: “My dear people, we are already the children of God; it is only what is in the future that has not yet been revealed, and then all we know is that we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2).

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New Directions: 1972), 35.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 27–29.

Story from Our Community:
God’s creation of the cosmos may continue to always unfold toward something better, but the human race might not be part of that due to its choice to live with cunning (like the serpent in the creation story) rather than love as its foundational element. The power of love can transform the world if we truly embrace it and live it. The power lies in love as a verb—to be lived. —Jason O.

Learn more about the Daily Meditations Editorial Team.

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Dr. B as part of an exploration into contemplative photography and she returned this wonderful photo.
Image inspiration: The blues and greens of this tranquil sky speak to us of harmony, wholeness and the invitation to rest. Beginning with goodness and beauty invites our contemplation of the same.
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