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Unveiling the Universal Christ

Unveiling the Universal Christ

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Week Thirty-Four Summary and Practice

Sunday, August 22—Friday, August 27, 2021

Sunday
The Christ Mystery that Paul speaks of in Colossians 1 is the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything.

Monday
If we can believe that we are loved just as we are and that everything else is equally loved, we unveil a cosmic reality that is life-giving and a Christ-like reality that affirms the goodness of all creation. —Barbara Holmes

Tuesday
The true and essential work of all religion is to help us recognize the divine image in everyone and every thing. It is to mirror things correctly, deeply, and fully until all things know who they are.

Wednesday
When Christ calls himself the “Light of the World” (John 8:12), he is not telling us to look just at him, but to look out at life with his all-merciful eyes. We see him so we can see like him, and with the same infinite compassion.

Thursday
The Universal Christ helps us to see that we can follow the embodied Jesus, accept the suffering fact that “in this life, you will have trouble” [John 16:33], while also knowing that all creation is moving and evolving toward more diversity, creativity, and wholeness. —Barbara Holmes

Friday
Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them. —Pelagius

 

Encountering Christ in Nature

Without a sense of the inherent sacredness of the world—of every tiny bit of life and death—we struggle to see God in our own reality, let alone to respect reality, protect it, or love it. The consequences of this ignorance are all around us, seen in the way we have exploited and damaged our fellow human beings, the dear animals, the web of growing things, the land, the waters, and the very air. My good friend and co-author Patrick Boland invites us to experience Christ in nature:

What difference would it make to the quality of our lives, I wonder, if we spent a little more time in nature? Would paying attention to the life cycles of animals or the annual changes of landscapes give us an increased sense of respect for the environment? How would eating seasonal local food affect our patterns of consumption and our health and well-being? Ordinary experiences of nature can renew our sense of reverence and remind us of how deeply interconnected we all are.

Spend some time in nature, ideally somewhere you can encounter at least one animal. This could be any of the following places:

  • In a garden
  • In a field
  • In a forest
  • By the coast

Go anywhere that feels wild and alive. (If this is difficult for you to do, watch a video clip of your favorite landscapes or some wildlife footage.)

  1. At some point during your time in nature, quiet your body and pay attention to the beauty, the complexity, and the sacredness of this landscape and any animals with which you share this space.
  2. Reflect on how God is revealed to you through this first incarnation [of the natural world]. By writing, drawing, or another creative way, express what this evokes within you.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 18; and

Richard Rohr and Patrick Boland, Every Thing Is Sacred: 40 Practices and Reflections on the Universal Christ (Convergent: 2021), 37–39.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Each blade of dew-graced grass is part of a larger braided design, just as each person is part of a larger whole. The extraordinary glistens in the most ordinary.
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Unveiling the Universal Christ

Universal Christ Mystics
Friday, August 27, 2021

Perhaps because the Romans never occupied Ireland and parts of Scotland, the Celtic Christianity that developed there retained its connection to the natural world. The writer John Philip Newell explains how Pelagius (c. 354–418), an early and frequently misunderstood Celtic Christian theologian, saw creation as good and a revelation of God’s very being. Much of Christian history wrongly interpreted this as Pelagius saying we did not need grace to be saved, whereas he was simply saying that nature was precisely created to receive grace! It is all grace from beginning to end! Newell comments:

The most typical mark of the spirituality of the Celtic tradition apparent in Pelagius’ writings is his strong sense of the goodness of creation, in which the life of God can be glimpsed. Everywhere, he says, ‘narrow shafts of divine light pierce the veil that separates heaven from earth.’ [1] To a friend he wrote:

Look at the animals roaming the forest: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the birds flying across the sky: God’s spirit dwells within them. Look at the tiny insects crawling in the grass: God’s spirit dwells within them. . . . Look too at the great trees of the forest; look at the wild flowers and the grass in the fields; look even at your crops. God’s spirit is present within all plants as well. The presence of God’s spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly. [2]

Because Pelagius saw God as present within all that has life, he understood Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourself to mean loving not only our human neighbor but all the life forms that surround us. ‘So when our love is directed towards an animal or even a tree,’ he wrote, ‘we are participating in the fullness of God’s love.’ [3] [4]

Thomas Berry (1914–2009), a modern mystic who shares similar insights, was a Catholic priest of the Passionist order as well as a cultural historian and eco-theologian. I have been very impressed with his writings and his call to participate in what he calls “The Great Work” of our time, which “is to carry out the transition from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.” [5] Berry writes:

In reality there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human. In this community every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its inner spontaneity. Every being has its own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe. Every being enters into communion with other beings. This capacity for relatedness, for presence to other beings, for spontaneity in action, is a capacity possessed by every mode of being throughout the entire universe. [6]

References:
[1] The Letters of Pelagius: Celtic Soul Friend, ed. Robert Van de Weyer (Arthur James: 1995), 36.

[2] Pelagius, 71.

[3] Pelagius, 72.

[4] J. Philip Newell, Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality (Paulist Press: 1997), 10–11.

[5] Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (Bell Tower: 1999), 3.

[6] Berry, 4.

Story from Our Community:
My book club and I have studied The Universal Christ this past year. Listening to Fr. Richard explain how he communes with the Lord has been very encouraging. As a 70-year-old I love to sit on my porch and listen to the owls. They sound like God’s voice saying I love you. I said thank you out loud and my daughter said who are you talking to? I sheepishly said God. Thank you, Richard and the CAC for the hope you give us. —Fran H.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Each blade of dew-graced grass is part of a larger braided design, just as each person is part of a larger whole. The extraordinary glistens in the most ordinary.
Read Full Entry

Unveiling the Universal Christ

Jesus and the Universal Christ
Thursday, August 26, 2021

Today Barbara Holmes shares the benefits of believing in a God who is both personal (Jesus) and universal (Christ).

[As an African American woman,] I grew up with a preference for the flesh and blood divinity of Jesus because of the suffering, rejection, [and] redemption of my own people and kindred spirits oppressed around the world. Other theologians have pointed out that enslaved or marginalized people need a flesh and blood and suffering Jesus. The Christ, as depicted by dominant culture, was too polite to intervene on our behalf and too far from reach to help us.

What this meant during slavery was that the master’s wife could ground her faith in a God far, far away without any concern about attending a lynching with a picnic basket. If we take seriously the notion of a faraway, unconcerned God, there are terrible consequences. What this means today is that unarmed Black and brown children could be shot by the police, [at the southern border, immigrant and migrant] babies can be caged, and African American Bible studies, Muslim mosques, and Jewish temples can be attacked with assault rifles while the majority of folks remain largely silent. . . .

The trouble for me was making the transition from suffering Savior to cosmic Christ. Before reading The Universal Christ, I had a hard time translating the personal Jesus upon whom I depend with the everythingness of Christ.

Sure, I accepted it by faith, but curious-minded people like me always want to connect as many dots as possible. . . . After reading The Universal Christ, I understand that the tropes of overcoming that we clung to during the Civil Rights movement are being fulfilled through the embodiment and rise of the Universal Christ in us. Father Rohr says we find God simultaneously in ourselves and in the outer world beyond ourselves.

After I read The Universal Christ, the first dot that I connected was that the particularity of Jesus does not obliterate the universality or the everythingness of Christ. Moreover, the cosmic scope of the Christ is not light-years away, but in every cell of our star-born bodies. The Universal Christ offers the reality that I carry the same divine spark in me that is in every living thing. This spark is seen in the resurrecting power that transformed Jesus into the Universal Christ. That same force can resurrect and transform me and every living person and thing in creation. Father Rohr reminds us that while Jesus is described as the light of world in John 8:12, Jesus also describes us as having that same light. He says, “You are the light of the world” in Matthew 5:14. . . .

Father Rohr agrees that light is not something you necessarily see; it is something that allows you to see other things. The Universal Christ helps us to see that we can follow the embodied Jesus, accept the suffering fact that “in this life, you will have trouble” [John 16:33], [while also] knowing that all creation is moving and evolving toward more diversity, creativity, and wholeness.

Reference:
“Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes on The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation, April 10, 2020, YouTube video.

Story from Our Community:
My book club and I have studied The Universal Christ this past year. Listening to Fr. Richard explain how he communes with the Lord has been very encouraging. As a 70-year-old I love to sit on my porch and listen to the owls. They sound like God’s voice saying I love you. I said thank you out loud and my daughter said who are you talking to? I sheepishly said God. Thank you, Richard and the CAC for the hope you give us. —Fran H.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Each blade of dew-graced grass is part of a larger braided design, just as each person is part of a larger whole. The extraordinary glistens in the most ordinary.
Read Full Entry

Unveiling the Universal Christ

Expanding Our Capacity to Love
Wednesday, August 25, 2021

To be loved by Jesus enlarges our heart capacity. To be loved by the Christ enlarges our mental capacity. We need both a Jesus and a Christ, in my opinion, to get the full picture. A truly transformative God—for both the individual and history—needs to be experienced as both personal and universal. Nothing less will fully work. If the overly personal (even sentimental) Jesus has shown itself to have severe limitations and problems, it is because this Jesus was not also universal. We lost the cosmic when we made him cozy. History has clearly shown that worship of Jesus without worship of Christ invariably becomes a time-and culture-bound religion, often ethnic or even, in the West, implicitly racist, which excludes much of humanity from God’s embrace.

I fully believe, however, that there has never been a single soul who was not possessed by the Christ, even in the ages before Jesus. Why would we want our religion, or our God, to be any smaller?

For those of us who have felt angered or wounded or excluded by the message of Jesus or Christ as we have heard it, I hope we sense an opening here—an affirmation, a welcome that we may have despaired of ever hearing. You are a child of God, and always will be, even when you don’t believe it.

I opened my book The Universal Christ with a lengthy quote from Catholic mystic and artist Caryll Houselander [1901–1954]. She describes riding the subway and seeing Christ permeating and radiating from all her fellow passengers:

Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them—but because He was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too . . . all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come.

I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side, in every passer-by, everywhere—Christ. [1]

This is why I can see Christ in my dog Opie, the sky, and all creatures, and it’s why we can experience God’s unadulterated care for us in our garden or kitchen, our husband or wife or child, an ordinary beetle, a fish in the darkest sea that no human eye will ever observe, and even in those who do not like us, and those who are not like us.

This is the illuminating light that enlightens all things, making it possible for us to see things in their fullness. When Christ calls himself the “Light of the World” (John 8:12), he is not telling us to look just at him, but to look out at life with his all-merciful eyes. We see him so we can see like him, and with the same infinite compassion.

References:
[1] Caryll Houselander, A Rocking-Horse Catholic (Sheed & Ward: 1955), 137–138.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 36–37.

Story from Our Community:
I am a physician who works in a hospital. This last year has been difficult and I felt that my faith was slipping. Then I read The Universal Christ and found this site. Now I get into my day rather than through it. I am inspired each day to listen more deeply, connect more intimately and love more generously. These daily readings have saved me. —Mahsheed K.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Each blade of dew-graced grass is part of a larger braided design, just as each person is part of a larger whole. The extraordinary glistens in the most ordinary.
Read Full Entry

Unveiling the Universal Christ

Mirroring the Mind of Christ
Tuesday, August 24, 2021

For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, everything visible and everything invisible . . . —Colossians 1:16

The true and essential work of all religion is to help us recognize the divine image in everyone and every thing. It is to mirror things correctly, deeply, and fully until all things know who they are. A mirror by its nature reflects impartially, equally, effortlessly, spontaneously, and endlessly. It does not produce the image, nor does it filter the image according to its perceptions or preferences. Authentic mirroring can only call forth what is already there.

We can enlarge this idea of mirroring to give us another way of understanding the Universal Christ. For example, there is a divine mirror that might be called the very “Mind of Christ.” The Christ mirror fully knows and loves us from all eternity and reflects that image back to us. I cannot logically prove this to you, but I do know that people who live inside this resonance are both happy and healthy. Here’s how the Franciscan mystic Bonaventure (c. 1217–1274) described this mirroring: “We can contemplate God not only outside us and within us but also above us: outside through his vestiges [creations], within through his image and above through the light which shines upon our minds, which is the light of Eternal Truth.” [1]

Can we then also see the lovely significance of John’s statement, “It is not because you do not know the truth that I write to you, but because you know it already” (1 John 2:21)? He is talking about an implanted knowing in each of us—an inner mirror, if you will. Today, many would just call it “consciousness,” and poets and musicians might call it the “soul.” The prophet Jeremiah would call it “the Law written in your heart” (31:33), while Christians would call it the “Indwelling Holy Spirit.” For me, these terms are largely interchangeable, approaching the same theme from different backgrounds and expectations. In that same letter, John puts it quite directly: “My dear people, we are already the children of God” and in the future “all we will know is that we are like God, for we shall finally see God as God really is!” (1 John 3:2).

The “image of God” is absolute and unchanging; it is pure and total gift, given equally to all. There is nothing we humans can do to increase or decrease it. It is not ours to decide who has it or does not have it, which has been most of our problem up to now—deciding who is in and who is out, who is up and who is down, who is “going to heaven” and who is not. Only the tiny mind would want such a strange and horrible “comfort.” The great mind hands such questions back where they belong, to the only mind where everything belongs, which is of course the Mind of Christ.

References:
[1] Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God, 5.1, in Bonaventure, trans. Ewert Cousins (Paulist Press: 1978), 94.

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

How Do We Get Everything to Belong?, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CD, MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
I am a physician who works in a hospital. This last year has been difficult and I felt that my faith was slipping. Then I read The Universal Christ and found this site. Now I get into my day rather than through it. I am inspired each day to listen more deeply, connect more intimately and love more generously. These daily readings have saved me. —Mahsheed K.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Each blade of dew-graced grass is part of a larger braided design, just as each person is part of a larger whole. The extraordinary glistens in the most ordinary.
Read Full Entry

Unveiling the Universal Christ

Included from the Beginning
Monday, August 23, 2021

Our Living School faculty member, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes, understands the Universal Christ as a grand revelation of love at the foundation of the Universe. She says:

There is so much to be gained if we allow the life space to unveil its mysteries that are often hidden in plain view. The Universal Christ is such an unveiling. . . .

[Love is] the greatest mystery of all. Not love as a warm and fuzzy feeling, but love as the animating force that holds us together. If we can believe that we are loved just as we are and that everything else is equally loved, we unveil a cosmic reality that is life-giving and a Christ-like reality that affirms the goodness of all creation. . . .

I encounter the Universal Christ from the cultural viewpoint of my embodiment as an African American woman, and I want to briefly share what that means to me, although categories of race, ethnicity, origin, or tribe have very little meaning in a cosmos based on original goodness and universally shared dignity. I’ve spent a lifetime working with like-minded people helping to unclog racism, sexism, gender, sexual identity bias. We struggle with the -isms so that justice might finally flow like waters. Our intentions are always good, but often our efforts include the subliminal presumption that if dominant culture would just include others and their established systems, all would be well.

The Universal Christ happily displaces that notion. For if inclusion is to be meaningful, it must be based on the idea that everyone and everything is included from the beginning, not included in socially constructed hierarchies with allegiance to one political system or another, but included in a web of life, set forth from the foundations of the earth. [1] [Italics are Richard’s.]

CAC Board Member Alexie Torres-Fleming also ponders how the mystery of the Universal Christ might affect our work for justice. Alexie asks:

What are the implications of the Universal Christ for those at the margins of our society: the poor, the suffering, those that are othered and oppressed in our world? In [The Universal Christ] Richard says, “God loves things by becoming them.” So when I couple this with my understanding of the Incarnation, how this great Mystery of the universe desired to be completely known; and that God is not just, as Father Richard said, present in us, but also as us, what I see is a radical level of belonging and a recognition of the absolute holiness of the asylum seekers and refugees at our borders, the Black young man in America, the transgender person . . . the gay person . . . the incarcerated person, the Muslim person, the Black and brown woman.

What I understand is that we are loved, we belong, and that we are not a mistake or a problem to be solved or a public policy to be fixed, but a holy part of the Divine Mystery that is the Universal Christ. [2]

References:
[1] “Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes on The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation, April 10, 2020, YouTube video.

[2] “Alexie Torres-Fleming on The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), presentation, April 13, 2020, YouTube video.

Story from Our Community:
I was introduced to Richard Rohr while struggling with the scandals and hypocrisy surfacing in the Catholic Church. Reading The Universal Christ allowed me to let go of operating more out of fear than love. I have come to appreciate that I can embrace my Catholic upbringing and see it is not the only path—there are so many ways to see, know and experience God. As such I find my days filled with ordinary miracles. Thank you Richard and CAC staff. —Christine A.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Each blade of dew-graced grass is part of a larger braided design, just as each person is part of a larger whole. The extraordinary glistens in the most ordinary.
Read Full Entry

Unveiling the Universal Christ

Unveiling the Great (Christ) Mystery
Sunday, August 22, 2021

This mystery has been kept in the dark for a long time, but now it’s out in the open. God wanted everyone, not just Jews, to know this rich and glorious secret inside and out, regardless of their background, regardless of their religious standing. The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. Colossians 1:26–27, The Message

The Christ Mystery that Paul speaks of in Colossians is the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything. Paul was a mystic of the first magnitude, which explains why he was able to see Christ everywhere. When I use the word “mystic” I am referring to experiential knowing instead of just textbook or dogmatic knowing. The difference tends to be that the mystic sees things in their wholeness, their connection, their universal and divine frame, instead of just their particularity. Mystics get the whole gestalt in one picture, as it were, and thus they go beyond our more sequential and separated way of seeing the moment. In this they tend to be closer to poets and artists than to linear thinkers.

Obviously, there is a place for both perspectives, but since the Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there has been less and less appreciation of such seeing in wholes. We limited ourselves to rational knowing and the scientific method. So in our time, this deep mode of seeing must be approached as something of a reclamation project. After the Western Church separated from the East in the Great Schism of 1054, we gradually lost the profound understanding of how God has been liberating and loving all that is.

Mystics throughout the ages, however, knew Christ as another name for everything—in its fullness. Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335­–c. 394) wrote “For who, when [taking] a survey of the universe, is so simple as not to believe that there is Deity in everything, penetrating it, embracing it, and seated in it?” [1] Rhineland mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg (c. 1212–c. 1282) proclaimed, “The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things.” [2] And twentieth-century Trappist mystic Thomas Merton (1915–1968) wrote, “Christ prayed that all people might become One as He is One with His Father, in the Unity of the Holy Spirit. Therefore when you and I become what we are really meant to be, we will discover not only that we love another perfectly but that we are both living in Christ and Christ in us, and we are all One Christ.” [3]

This week’s meditations will highlight various contemporary and ancient voices who have understood the “rich and glorious secret” of Christ inside and out, everywhere, and in all things.

References:
[1] Gregory of Nyssa, The Great Catechism, 25, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 5, Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises, etc. (Charles Scribner’s Sons: 1917), 495.

[2] Mechthild of Magdeburg, The Flowing Light of God, 2.19, in Meditations with Mechtild of Magdeburg, versions by Sue Woodruff (Bear & Co.: 1982), 46.

[3] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New Directions: 1972), 150–151. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 1, 4.

Story from Our Community:
I was introduced to Richard Rohr while struggling with the scandals and hypocrisy surfacing in the Catholic Church. Reading The Universal Christ allowed me to let go of operating more out of fear than love. I have come to appreciate that I can embrace my Catholic upbringing and see it is not the only path—there are so many ways to see, know and experience God. As such I find my days filled with ordinary miracles. Thank you Richard and CAC staff. —Christine A.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Each blade of dew-graced grass is part of a larger braided design, just as each person is part of a larger whole. The extraordinary glistens in the most ordinary.
Read Full Entry
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