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Theme:
The Universal Pattern

The Universal Pattern

Summary: Sunday, April 12 — Friday, April 17, 2020

Christianity can help us realize that death and resurrection are part of the evolutionary path toward wholeness; letting go of isolated existence for the sake of deeper union. –Ilia Delio (Sunday)

It is largely after the fact that faith is formed—and gloriously transmuted into hope for the future. Only after the fact can you see that you were being held and led during the fact. (Monday)

The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us but, in fact, to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (John 12:24). (Tuesday)

If we understand suffering to be whenever we are not in control, then we see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God and the flow of reality. (Wednesday)

The journey to the wellsprings of hope is really a journey toward the center, toward the innermost ground of our being where we meet and are met by God. –Cynthia Bourgeault (Thursday)

A life of inner union, a contemplative life, is practicing for heaven now. (Friday)

 

Practice: Forest Bathing

“The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician.” –Paracelsus [1]

Recently, in reference to concerns about COVID-19 I said, “Love always means going beyond yourself to otherness.” [2] African American mystic Howard Thurman understood this deeply through a connection with nature which provided him with “a certain overriding immunity against the pains in life.” [3] In his youth he found solace in a relationship with a tree near his home. He writes:

Eventually I discovered that the oak tree and I had a unique relationship. I could sit, my back against its trunk, and feel the same peace that would come to me in my bed at night. I could reach down into the quiet places of my spirit, take out my bruises and joys, unfold them and talk about them. I could talk aloud to the oak tree and know that I was understood. It too, was part of my reality, like the woods . . . giving me space. [4]

During this time of social distancing from other humans, it is still possible for some of us to practice “ecotherapy” or in Japanese, Shinrin-yoku—refreshment and healing by walking or resting where there are trees or forests. For those who don’t have access to nature currently, I hope you will have an opportunity soon. I also have a feeling we will all have a newfound appreciation for the outdoors when this time of “sheltering in” is over. From M. Amos Clifford’s book Your Guide to Forest Bathing:

The invitation is simple: Walk slowly [or sit still], while silently noticing what is in motion in the forest. There is always movement, even when things seem perfectly still. Strands of a web drift in the air, trees move in the breezes, birds fly by, and squirrels scramble in the branches, grasses bend, insects crawl. . . .

Until you become accustomed to it, walking slowly for more than a few minutes is, paradoxically, stressful. . . . Because the mind and body are a single entity, slowing our body will also calm our mind. . . .

The eternal movement of the forest gives our minds something to engage with. Just as with sitting meditation the breath is always there and available for watching, in the forest there are always things in motion. Your mind will drift, and many other thoughts will arise. When they do, gently bring your attention back to noticing what’s in motion.

When you find you have automatically sped up, come to a complete halt for a moment. It’s an opportunity to fully give your attention to one thing, noticing how that thing is in motion. After a brief pause you’ll be ready to continue your slow walk.

I recommend that you walk like this for at least 15 minutes. That’s enough time for your mind to go through several cycles of distraction and calming. [5]

References:
[1] Paracelsus, Selected Writings (Princeton University Press: 1988), 50.

[2] Richard Rohr, “Love Alone Overcomes Fear: A Message from Richard Rohr about COVID-19,” Center for Action and Contemplation (March 19, 2020), https://cac.org/love-alone-overcomes-fear-2020-03-19/

[3] Howard Thurman, With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman (Harcourt Brace: 1979), 8.

[4] Ibid., 9

[5] M. Amos Clifford, Your Guide to Forest Bathing: Experience the Healing Power of Nature (Conari Press: 2018), 34–35.

For Further Study:  
Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cowley Publications: 2001)

Ilia Delio, Franciscan Prayer (Franciscan Media: 2004)

Delio, Ilia, “Hope in a Time of Crisis,” The Omega Center, March 9, 2020, www.omegacenter.info/hope-in-a-time-of-crisis/

Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017)

Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (Franciscan Media: 2001)

Richard Rohr, Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger, eds. (Orbis Books: 2018)

Image credit: Wheat Field With Crows (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us but, in fact, to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (see John 12:24). —Richard Rohr
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The Universal Pattern

Hope and Suffering
Friday, April 17, 2020

When we try to live in solidarity with the pain of the world—and do not spend our lives running from it—we will encounter various forms of “crucifixion.” Pain is physical or emotional discomfort, but suffering often comes from our resistance to that pain.

The soul must walk through such suffering to go higher, further, deeper, or longer. The saints variously called such suffering deaths, nights, darkness, unknowing, spiritual trials, or just doubt itself.

Necessary suffering allows us to grow, but “in secret” (Mark 4:26–29), which is an amazingly common concept, both in the teachings of Jesus and of many of the mystics. Such growth must largely be hidden because God alone can see it and steer it for our good. If we try too hard to understand it, we will stop the process or steer it in the wrong direction.

It seems there is a cruciform shape to reality with cross purposes, paradoxes, and conflicting intentions everywhere. Jesus hangs right there amid them, not even perfectly balancing them, but just holding them (see Ephesians 2:13–22). This deserves a major “Wow!” because mere philosophy or even proper theology would never have come to this conclusion.

The virtue of hope, with great irony, is the fruit of a learned capacity to suffer wisely, calmly, and generously. The ego demands successes to survive; the soul needs only meaning to thrive. Somehow hope provides its own kind of meaning, in a most mysterious way.

The Gospel gives our suffering both personal and cosmic meaning by connecting our pain to the pain of others and, finally, by connecting us to the very pain of God. Did you ever think of God as suffering? Most people don’t—but Jesus came to change all of that.

Any form of contemplation is a gradual sinking into this divine fullness where hope lives. Contemplation is living in a unified field that produces in people a deep, largely non-rational, and yet calmly certain hope, which is always a surprise.

A life of inner union, a contemplative life, is practicing for heaven now. God allows us to bring “on earth what is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) every time we can allow, receive, and forgive the conflicts of the moment. Such acceptance allows us to sit in some degree of contentment—despite all the warring evidence.

God alone, it seems to me, can hold together all the seeming opposites and contradictions of life. In and with God, we can do the same. But we are not the Doer.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 83–85.

Image credit: Wheat Field With Crows (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us but, in fact, to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (see John 12:24). —Richard Rohr
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The Universal Pattern

Mystical Hope
Thursday, April 16, 2020

Hope is the main impulse of life. —Ilia Delio, OSF [1]

Because we are so quickly led to despair, most of us cannot endure suffering for long without some sliver of hope or meaning. However, it is worth asking ourselves about where our hope lies. My friend and colleague Cynthia Bourgeault makes a powerful distinction between what she calls ordinary hope, “tied to outcome . . . . an optimistic feeling . . . because we sense that things will get better in the future” and mystical hope “that is a complete reversal of our usual way of looking at things. Beneath the ‘upbeat’ kind of hope that parts the seas and pulls rabbits out of hats, this other hope weaves its way as a quiet, even ironic counterpoint.” She writes,

We might make the following observations about this other kind of hope, which we will call mystical hope. In contrast to our usual notions of hope:

  1. Mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome, to the future. It lives a life of its own, seemingly without reference to external circumstances and conditions.
  2. It has something to do with presence—not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.
  3. It bears fruit within us at the psychological level in the sensations of strength, joy, and satisfaction: an “unbearable lightness of being.” But mysteriously, rather than deriving these gifts from outward expectations being met, it seems to produce them from within. . .

[It] is all too easy to understate and miss that hope is not intended to be an extraordinary infusion, but an abiding state of being. We lose sight of the invitation—and in fact, our responsibility, as stewards of creation—to develop a conscious and permanent connection to this wellspring. We miss the call to become a vessel, to become a chalice into which this divine energy can pour; a lamp through which it can shine. . . .

We ourselves are not the source of that hope; we do not manufacture it. But the source dwells deeply within us and flows to us with an unstinting abundance, so much so that in fact it might be more accurate to say we dwell within it. . . .

The good news is that this deeper current does exist and you actually can find it. . . . For me the journey to the source of hope is ultimately a theological journey: up and over the mountain to the sources of hope in the headwaters of the Christian Mystery. This journey to the wellsprings of hope is not something that will change your life in the short range, in the externals. Rather, it is something that will change your innermost way of seeing. From there, inevitably, the externals will rearrange. . . .

The journey to the wellsprings of hope is really a journey toward the center, toward the innermost ground of our being where we meet and are met by God.

References:
[1] Delio, Ilia, “Hope in a Time of Crisis,” The Omega Center, March 9, 2020, www.omegacenter.info/hope-in-a-time-of-crisis/

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cowley Publications: 2001), 3, 5, 9-10, 17, 20, 42.

Image credit: Wheat Field With Crows (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us but, in fact, to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (see John 12:24). —Richard Rohr
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The Universal Pattern

The Prayer of Francis and Clare
Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Both St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) and St. Clare (1194–1253) let go of their fear of suffering; any need for power, prestige, and possessions; and any need for their small self to be important. By doing so they came to know who they really were in God—and thus who they objectively were.

Such a profound ability to change is often the fruit of suffering and various forms of poverty. The small self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If we understand suffering to be whenever we are not in control, then we see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God and the flow of reality.

This counterintuitive insight surely explains why these two medieval dropouts—Francis and Clare—tried to invite us all into their happy run downward, to that place of “poverty” and powerlessness where all of humanity finally dwells anyway. They voluntarily leapt into the very fire from which most of us are trying to escape, with total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be the wrong path.

By God’s grace, they believed that they could trust the eventual passing of all things, and where they were passing to. They did not wait for liberation later—after death—but grasped it here and now.

Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio writes:

[Francis’] life indicates to us that if we persevere in prayer we will find God in the center of our lives and the bitter will become sweet [as when Francis kissed the leper]; however, if we stay on the plain of mediocrity then the bitter may remain bitter. To trust in the power of God’s grace through darkness, isolation, bitterness, and rejection is to be on the way to becoming prayer because it is the way to freedom in God. For prayer, that deep relationship of God breathing in us, requires change and conversion. And where there is change, there is the letting go of the old and the giving birth to the new. To pray is to be open to the new, to the future in God. The way to life passes through change and ultimately the change from death to life. Prayer is the way to life because in prayer we are invited to change and to grow in love. [1]

I find myself in prayer much of the time right now, not simply because of the limitations of our current circumstances, but because I want to be a witness to such divine freedom. I believe it is this kind of prayer that may keep us from simply hoping things quickly return to “normal” (though that is a comforting thought to many) and instead praying for the courage to “change and grow in love.” Such courage is surely what we and the world truly need.

References:
[1] Ilia Delio, Franciscan Prayer (Franciscan Media: 2004), 28.

Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 76, 82-83.

Image credit: Wheat Field With Crows (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us but, in fact, to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (see John 12:24). —Richard Rohr
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The Universal Pattern

Why Suffering?
Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Sooner or later, the heart of everybody’s spiritual problem is “What do we do with our pain? Why is there evil? Why is there suffering?” Job begs God for an answer to this mystery, and he can’t get one. He only begins to trust when he no longer feels ignored, when he knows that God is taking him seriously and that he is “part of the conversation” (see Job 42). When Jesus later becomes the answer in his own passion, death, and resurrection, he discovers what Job finally experienced: in the midst of suffering, God can be trusted. The world is still safe, coherent, and even blessed.

We are “saved” by being addressed and included in a cosmic conversation. We do not really need answers; we need only to be taken seriously as part of the dialogue. But we usually only know this in hindsight after the suffering and the struggle. It cannot be known beforehand, not theoretically or theologically. Our knowledge of God is participatory. God refuses to be intellectually “thought,” and is only known in the passion and pain of it all, when the issues become soul-sized and worthy of us.

Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (see Luke 11:29, Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a situation that we can’t fix, can’t control, and can’t explain or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens. That’s when we’re uniquely in the hands of God. Right now, it seems the whole world is in the belly of the beast together. But we are also safely held in the loving hands of God, even if we do not yet fully realize it.

All of us experience the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust, but we do not all experience pain in the same way, so try not to judge others too harshly for their reactions. We don’t know what has brought them to this point. However, if we could see all our wounds as the way through to their transformative effect, as Jesus did, then they would become “sacred wounds” and not something to deny, disguise, or export to others.

The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound or punish us, but to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (see John 12:24). The shell must first crack for the expanded growth to happen. In such a divine economy, everything can be transmuted, everything can be used, and nothing is wasted.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Feister, Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety (Franciscan Media: 2001), 81–82; and

Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 76, 82-83.

Image credit: Wheat Field With Crows (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us but, in fact, to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (see John 12:24). —Richard Rohr

 

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The Universal Pattern

The “Backside” of God
Monday, April 13, 2020

I feel a deep solidarity with individuals throughout the world who are wrestling with health issues. In 2016, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent a complete prostatectomy. The wisdom lessons that God offered me before, during, and after the surgery were pretty much constant. The experiences were initially disempowering, sometimes scary in their immediacy, and only in hindsight were they in any way empowering. Prayer was both constant and impossible for much of this period.

About ten days after the surgery, during my attempt at some spiritual reading, I opened the Bible to an obscure passage in the Book of Exodus. Moses asks YHWH to “Show me your glory” (33:18), and YHWH shows it in a most unusual way: “I shall place you in the cleft of the rock and shield you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I shall take my hand away, and you will see my backside, but my face will not be seen” (33:22–23). In several sermons, I have used that verse to teach that our knowledge of God is indirect at best, and none of our knowledge is fully face-to-face. God is always and forever Mystery. All we see is the “backside” of God.

During that time, it was not the indirectness that hit me in this passage, but the directness! My best spiritual knowing almost always occurs after the fact, in the remembering—not seen “until God has passed by.” I realized that in the moments of diagnosis, doctor’s warnings, waiting, delays, and the surgery itself, I was as fragile, scared, and insecure as anybody would be. If I could stay with the full narrative all the way into and through, only afterward could I invariably see, trust, and enjoy the wonderful works of God (mirabilia Dei).

The foundation of faith is the ability to look at our entire salvation history and then trust that this pattern would never—could never—change! It is largely after the fact that faith is formed—and gloriously transmuted into hope for the future. Only after the fact can you see that you were being held and led during the fact. During the fact, you do not enjoy or trust your own strength at all, in fact, quite the opposite. You just cry out in various ways. Then God, for some wonderful reason, is able to fill the gap.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger, eds. (Orbis Books: 2018), 244–245.

Image credit: Wheat Field With Crows (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us but, in fact, to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (see John 12:24). —Richard Rohr
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The Universal Pattern

Death Transformed
Sunday, April 12, 2020
Easter Sunday

In this short Easter message, Richard Rohr shares how the Universal Christ meets suffering reality through resurrection. Watch the video below or listen to the audio beneath the video.

[Rise up] O sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.
Rise up, work of my hands, for you were created in my image.
Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you.
Together . . . we cannot be separated! [1]

I believe the Christian faith is saying that the pattern of transformation is always death transformed, not death avoided. The universal spiritual pattern is death and resurrection, or loss and renewal, if you prefer. That is always a disappointment to humans, because we want one without the other—transformation without cost or surrender.

We ordinarily learn to submit and surrender to this scary pattern only when reality demands it of us, as it is doing now. Christians are helped by the fact that Jesus literally submitted to it and came out more than okay. Jesus is our guide, the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it (12:2).

Each time we surrender, each time we trust the dying, we are led to a deeper level. We are grounded for a while, like an electric wire, so there is less resistance and more available energy to trust it the next time. Yet it is still invariably a leap of faith, a walk through some degree of darkness.

There is something essential that we only know by dying. We really don’t know what life is until we know what death is. Divine Life is so big, so deep, and so indestructible, that it is able to include death.

In her March Newsletter from The Omega Center, entitled “Hope in a Time of Crisis,” Franciscan sister and scientist Ilia Delio wrote:

Christianity can help us realize that death and resurrection are part of the evolutionary path toward wholeness; letting go of isolated existence for the sake of deeper union. Something dies but something new is born—which is why the chaos of our times is, in a strange way, a sign of hope; something new is being born within. Out of chaos, a star is born. Breakdown can be break through if we recognize a new pattern of life struggling to emerge.

We may find Ilia’s words challenging but I hope we also find them encouraging—reminding us to look for new signs of life and new ways of being, today and in the days to come.

References:
[1] Adapted from an ancient Christian homily, Days of the Lord: Easter Triduum, (Liturgical Press: 1993), 36.

[2] Delio, Ilia. 2020. “Dear God,” The Omega Center, March 16, 2020, https://omegacenter.info/dear-god/

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 79.

Image credit: Wheat Field With Crows (detail), Vincent van Gogh, 1890, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The genius of Jesus’ teaching is that he reveals that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us but, in fact, to bring us to a Larger Identity: “Unless the single grain of wheat loses its shell, it remains just a single grain” (see John 12:24). —Richard Rohr
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