“Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’ (Mt 21-23) Continue reading
11 Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid waste-land with poisonous[b] snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. (Dt 8:11-17)
Have a blessed Thanksgiving and enjoy Thanks-living!
As I ponder the new Exhortation from Pope Francis, I feel as if a new day has dawned once again. My mind flits back to John XXIII and his speech to open the Vatican Council over 50 years ago. My mind slow forwards laboriously through the painful roll back of hope under John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Francis, in his own words, has “the smell of the sheep” and we, Christians and all people of good will, recognize him as our shepherd in these difficult times. Francis warns us that “sourpusses” [May be the first ever appearance of this word in a papal writing] cannot spread the joy of the Gospel. Like Paul, he exhorts us to rejoice always as we carry the message of Christ’s love to one another. This is a far cry from the evangelism of the conquistadors. This is about humans in heart-to-heart communion.
Here are the first three paragraphs of the Exhortation:
1.The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.
2.The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many will fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the Risen Christ.
3.I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unflinchingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.” The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus:
“Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in thousands of ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”
How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness that never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire us more than his life, which impels us onwards! (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html)
Wow!!! I am continuing to read Higgin’s book, Thomas Merton on Prayer. What I am reading makes me wonder whether Francis has read and studied Merton. Not that he had to because all mystics come to the some truth.
I am gaining a better understanding of hat Merton meant about the true self and false self. The false self is about survival and Bishop Spong on his around the world pilgrimage observed and reported on animal behavior, all of which is directed toward survival—survival of the fittest. Obviously, our residual reptilian brain impels us to do whatever is necessary to survive; however, the call of the Risen Christ invites us to transcend our survival instincts. The image of God deep within us is the true self which enables us to the transcend instinct.
Merton has two stages. The emptiness Francis describes is the alienation which Merton describes. At some point in our life, we move from first half survival to second half transcendence. We are becoming more than what we are. For Francis, we are gifted with the love of God in Christ; this fuels our desire to share the love of God with all others. Ditto Merton. The transcendence of the true self moves us toward communion with all others—no exceptions. Merton warns that this is not an easy task. When we come to abyss of emptiness and nakedness, Francis and Merton urge us to fall headlong into the darkness so we can emerge on the other side filled with God’s mercy and compassion. When we know we are empty, God can then fill our emptiness with abundance which we can share with others.
Filled with abundance, we can truly “Rejoice always!”
Does God suffer? Abraham Heschel, the great Jewish rabbi and activist of the 20th century, wrote about the pathos of God:
There is a living God who cares . . . passionately (pathos). Justice is more than an idea. The covenant is more than a legal contract . . . a legal document of obligations . . . It is a guarantee of mutual concern.
God is pained when he sees people he love abuse one another.
God simply wants justice. (http://www.foundjs.org/files/learning/HeschelJCC.pdf Amos’ message)
Eckhart says God suffers but God does not suffer because God’s suffering is not seen as suffering but rather as joy.
Something happened at the Abbey of Gethsemani a few days ago. Attending a Merton retreat, I sensed something different going on within me. All of a sudden the Psalms chanted by the monks took on new meaning—a profound regained sense of trust in God who is my protector and shield. God cares about me and calls me forth to be more than I am. Like Paul, I am powerless to do this on my own. The saying over the enclosure entrance gate, “God alone,” spoke to my heart and this time to the ears of my heart. I “knew” now my own helpless and total emptiness before the abyss where we find God. Eckhart says that our attachments destroy our relationship with God. God alone matters.
Jesuit, John Higgins, has written an excellent analysis of Merton’s thoughts on prayer—Thomas Merton on Prayer. Merton’s basic concept of prayer is that we are made for union with God in Christ. Thus in love we are to share that love with others. The difficulty comes in praying and loving in a world and society where we are often alienated, move to the margins, not allowed to be who we are in Christ. Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried” (http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/gilbertkc102389.html#ctuDdau02vukpKyg.99). Action and contemplation constitute the pillars of our life with God. Prayer keeps our compasses on true north and guides us on the way. Spong has documented that the basic human instinct is self-preservation and survival. We are summoned by the spark of God within us to transcend our survival instinct so that we might love God alone and then love one another. A simple peasant beautifully described prayer to the Cure d’Ars, “I look at God and God looks at me.” In solitude, God speaks to us in the only language God knows—silence. In order to provide a place of solitude, Gethsemani has signs all over the place, “Silence spoken here.”
Our struggle is not promethean, not something we can do of our own effort. It is rather our struggle to let God into our lives. It is our struggle in our quest for God. Is this our suffering in God and God suffering? Our struggle. Our quest. In one isolated moment years ago, deep in the here and now, I realized, “There is nothing here.” This has percolated within me for years and now I am getting some glimpse, as through a glass darkly, that my realization of my no-thingness is the doorway into Merton’s “palace of no-where” (now here). I fall into the abyss when I try to love and come up short.
I am watching videos on the Origin of Earth. The lecturer says that creation came from nothing at the instant of the Big Bang when the vast universe was smaller than a small atom. Moving into fullness and expanding the universe is moving toward the point of nothingness. (Don’t get worried—it will take billions of years.) Is Chardin’s Omega Point the point of no-thingness? Yes, because then all will be all in the Risen Christ.
Like the cosmos we arrive at a points of nothingness during our life. Life is always in process and there is no one final point of nothingness. Life is a journey into nothingness. Life is not working for us. We are no-where. If we can morph no-where into now-here, maybe we can open to the grace of God in Christ who empowers us to transcend our survival instinct and come to a new level of consciousness. We pass through our false self and always arise to new life and new abundance but, like Sisyphus, the rock of life keeps tumbling back down the hill. Life is death (no-thingness) and resurrection (abundance).
Something did happen at Gethsemani and I have difficulty describing it. Seems as though my prayer was revitalized by chanting the psalms with the monks where I gained a deep, abiding sense of God and God’s love and mercy. I came away praying psalms daily, practicing lectio divina (sacred reading) daily, and trusting more in God. God will empower me in the Risen Christ, like Paul, to do that which I cannot do.
A brief excursus on this theme. It seems to me that some people have a better ability to love than others. Original sin is but a metaphor for our innate brokenness. Some of us are more broken than others by dint of our upbringing and our life experiences. No parent is perfect. If one’s early life experience included unhealthy doses of emotional and perhaps physical abuse, it will be harder for that person to open in trust to God’s love. Suffering with the baggage of the past gets in the way of union with God but there is hope. Again, what a person cannot do on his/her on God can and will do once the person comes the deep dark abyss of no-thingness and falls headlong into the palace of no-where and tumbles out into the realm of God’s love—abundance and life await on the other side no-where.
God comes to us disguised as our life. Life with God is not all kumbaya and blissful oms. Life has its ups and downs. The Buddha saw that suffering was the root of our existence. We suffer because we are attached to things and to our small self that seeks only what we want and need. We humans have arrived a new level of consciousness but we are still trapped hopelessly in our false self. We cannot answer the God-call to love and service on our own power. Not to be outdone, Christ teaches us that through our suffering in life’s daily struggles we are empowered by His Spirit to transcend ourselves, to become who we were meant to be in God’s eyes. Christ’s suffering divinized him and He now “sits at the right hand of God.” He has shown us the way to life in abundance.
Life happens. Eckhart counsels that a change in our perspective can change how we deal with what is happening to us. If we have 80 coins and lose 40, why not rejoice in the fact that we still have 40 coins? The suffering of loss morphs into the joy of gratitude.
Back at the ranch, we have been facilitating an eleven week John Dominic Crossan DVD-based course at church—“The Challenge of Jesus.” The course is full of new insights into matters theological. I was still struggling with what was going on within me, when a class member asked whether the material presented on the DVD really mattered. In one sense it does because it puts a new perspective on the Resurrection. But in another sense, it does not matter. Theological knowledge is no shortcut to a living relationship with the Living God. The God of Pathos cares about us and cares deeply. Our suffering is in God. Our suffering is God. The God of justice and mercy suffers with us as we reach from the depths of the dark abyss to grab a grace rope.
My suffering is in God. My suffering is God.
Wow! This mind-blowing koan worth is wrestling with. I will probably wind up wounded like Jacob before the koan turns me loose.
The first thing that comes to mind is something I think I first heard from Richard Rohr—God comes to us disguised as our life. Then, I think of the Buddha and his teaching that suffering, which is part of life, comes from attachment. This squares quite nicely with Eckhart’s teaching in The Book of Consolation. Eckhart says that when we focus on something other than God, we open the door to suffering. He goes on to say that God suffers but to God suffering is not suffering. It is joy. Finally, my mind flits back to the inscription over the gate to the monastic enclosure at the Abbey of gethsemane in Kentucky—God Alone! When we focus on God Alone our suffering turns to compassion and mercy is the very being and life of God. This is as far as I have come with “understanding” Eckhart’s koan. Continue reading
As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
I have been struggling to put God into an evolutionary world view. Creation is God’s love and mercy flowing forth and yet we live in what Merton describes as existential dread. We strive to become better, to become more faithful followers of the Gospel and yet, like Paul, we continuously do that which we would not do. Paul had an intense experience of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus and but he still does that which he would not do. Like Paul, we feel helpless as we come closer and closer to our own nothingness, our total inability to become more than we are by dint of our own effort. This is the stuff of despair; however, Paul’s assurance of divine mercy grounds us in hope.
The highlighted passage from Paul helps me make sense of our aloneness, frustration and alienation. Creation is groaning forth toward the Omega Point when the Kingdom will become total reality. It is groaning forth because the evolving nature of the cosmos and all in it is characterized by both grace and chaos. The instinct for survival that drives our reptilian brains consigns us to disobedience. Instead of answering to call to love as the Creator loves, we disobey—we fail to listen to the call of love. We serve our own interests, our false selves, instead of loving and giving as we should. We strive to assure our own survival.
Why chaos? Why survival? Why disobedience? Paul says it is because God has bound us over to disobedience so that we might know the unfathomable love of God—hesed = mercy, loving kindness. In our anxiety and dread, perhaps even our despair, we come to a place of nothingness, an abyss. It is the desert. It is the dark night of the soul. It is bottoming out. No wonder AA has had such a dramatic impact on our society. AA gets it. AA understands what Paul is saying. We have to come to the place of nothingness, emptiness, and dread so we can discover the mercy of the Creator who lives buried deep within our being, as our very true being, as our face before we were born. Total surrender to the Creator who comes to us countless times each day disguised as our life is the way up and out. But, first of all, it is the way down. We have to fall in order that we might arise, that the glory of the Creator hidden in our being may blossom into the Cosmic Christ living within us. As creation surges forth, we learn to accept the “will” of the Creator as we experience life as it is—not as we want it to be. The grace AND chaos in our lives spurs our divinization, but only if we let go and let God. Partial surrender, lip service will not suffice. Total surrender is the way up and out.
It is love—the capacity to give and care for others and for creation. Blake says that we are born to bear the beams of love. Bearing beams of love does not come naturally. We have to surrender to become the beam bearers of Divine love. The Creator throws us into grace and chaos so that we might become who we truly are.
The slowdown showdown in Washington has captured the attention of a people weary of constant repetitive battles in a government that no longer governs. Washington has abandoned its mission to govern and has abdicated its role to protect and provide. Jim Wallis, who does as good a job as anybody in bringing a Christian perspective to national affairs, has written a perceptive article about the showdown:
The biblical purpose of government is to protect from evil and to promote the good — protect and promote. Government is meant to protect its people’s safety, security, and peace, and promote the common good of a society — and even collect taxes for those purposes. Read Romans 13 by the apostle Paul and other similar texts. The Scriptures also make it clear that governmental authority is responsible for fairness and justice and particularly responsible to protect the poor and vulnerable. Read Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, the Psalms, and even the book of Kings to see that God will judge kings and rulers (governments) for how they treat the poor. And it wasn’t just the kings of Israel who were held accountable for the poor, but also the kings of neighboring countries — all governments. That’s what the Bible says; so let me be as clear as I can be. Continue reading
On the twenty-ninth day of September 2013 we had a wonderful, spirit-filled afternoon at Good Shepherd Church in Hayesville, N. C. We gathered at 4 pm for the installation of our new rector, Father Bill Breedlove, and to confirm and receive new members into our faith community. We are blessed to have Father Bill as our rector and pastor.
On this beautiful fall afternoon with the green-blue mountains and bright blue cloud-filled sky framed in the windows behind the altar it was not difficult to feel the presence of the Spirit of the Risen Christ in our midst. A grand liturgy with a wonderful anthem by the choir was followed by a reception replete with gourmet finger food.
Bishop G. Porter Taylor presided over the liturgy and delivered a challenging sermon. Attributing the statement “I think about God and God thinks about me” to Simone Weil, he reminded us that our primary purpose in life is to think about God. We are called to live and act in God’s presence as God flares forth in the cosmos and in our lives. It is our new rector’s role to remind us to think about God. (So as not to be putting words in the bishop’s mouth, let me say that this is my interpretation of what he said.)
At times, God gets a little out of focus. At other times, God falls completely off our radar screens as we fly through our daily lives. Yet, we know we are created in the very image and likeness of God and that life is about becoming what we are in Christ—divinized, Spirit-filled human beings.
Three weeks ago we had a break in a supply line in the main bathroom and had water damage in two upstairs rooms and the bathroom, two downstairs rooms and the crawlspace. Not a pleasant experience. At first it was easy to sing “Halleluia” with Leonard Cohen. But as time wears on and slow step by step restoration takes place over time it is easy to let God drop off the radar screen; however, God refuses to vanish into obscurity. Patience comes from patior which means to suffer through. While suffering through the inconvenience of the flooding, God refuses to get out of the picture. God keeps tapping me on the shoulder and nudging me onward. Is this house really all that important? It can be and is being restored. God is pestering me especially when I am busy packing boxes, mainly books to prepare for the carpet work and ceiling repair. Sunday’s Gospel reading about Lazarus at the gate of the rich man put God back in focus.
I have too much stuff! I found chargers for many I do not know what they go to machines. I unshelved books I did not know I had. (I have been having success selling books on Amazon since May and plan to sell more and give the remainder to the library at Young Harris College or to the Friends of the library. Stuff gets in the way of thinking about God. The cleanup and restoration will give me the opportunity to get rid of a lot of “stuff!” I took three bags of pants and shirts to the S.A.F.E. Again Thrift Store yesterday. I am going to get “unstuffed”!
Flooding events and other accidents never seem to happen at a convenient time. This flooding occurred just when I was beginning to teach six classes over three weeks in the Institute for Continuing Learning at Young Harris College. I am having a great time teaching “The Hero’s Journey: Odysseus, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter.” Nothing like a flood to help me think about Odysseus’ descent into the underworld, Skywalker’s fall into the garbage dump complete with trash compactor, and Harry’s descent into the tentacle filled pit.
I am just getting acquainted with Harry Potter. Why all the wizard stuff? Harry has ventured into Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry after a painful childhood. Having had his parents killed by the arch villain Voldemort, Harry escapes only to be treated like less than human by his aunt and uncle and their nerdy kid. In fact, Harry could have charged Vernon, Petunia, and Dudley Dursely with child abuse. As the Potter saga unfolds, Harry has been protected from Voldemort because of the love and courage of his mother. Voldemort continues to pursue Harry; however, this is the hero story with a higher consciousness twist. Harry, unlike the vengeful Odysseus who slaughters all his wife’s suitors and the maids who cavorted with them, seeks the redemption of Voldemort. In the final book, love is the answer to violence. Thus, the courageous love of Harry’s mother, who gave her life to save him, becomes the driving force in the Potter saga. What a welcome relief from the death arrows of Odysseus and the light swords of Star Wars.
Both Freud and Jung ventured into mythology because of their clients’ experiences with dreams. In the wake of Joseph Campbell’s monumental work on the monomyth of the hero, I have noticed a marked tendency to psychologize the myths. This is helpful. On our life’s journey we follow the pattern of the hero’s journey as some event(s) challenge(s) us to leave our comfort zones , cross the scary threshold and venture forth into the adventures of the unknown before we return home once again. When we finally return with the boon, we are not the same person we were when we began the journey. Life may well be a series of journeys where we have the opportunity to come to new levels of consciousness, where we rediscover our face before we were born. Life is a constant homecoming to our true selves created in the image and likeness of God. The Eastern Church calls this divinization. We are ever becoming more than we are.
Enter the bishop’s sermon once again. One of the liturgical readings was about slaying the dragon in the Book of Revelation. When the bishops began to speak about the dragons in our lives, a light bulb went on. The dragons and demons in Odysseus, Star Wars, and Harry Potter often morph into internal dragons from our dark side.
We shove our painful experiences and memories into our dark shadow side where they will have a life of their own until we confront them or until they disrupt our life. Like the hero, we must encounter these dragons or we will implode ourselves and/or others. This is the true power of myth and I really like the bishop’s definition of myth—something that probably never happened but is true nonetheless.
Myth helps us identify and live with our dark side. Thomas Keating, a Cistercian monk from Snowmass, Colorado, teaches centering prayer and instructs us to let the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and memories which emerge as our monkey-mind works overtime simply float by like boats on a river. Often, the Divine Physician brings healing as these thoughts, memories, feelings and perceptions emerge from our dark, shadow side. These are the interior demons in search of release. When we let go, a healing balm soothes our troubled souls.
On our Christian journey, we are not orphans like Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker. The Force is with us. We are the children of Jesus’ Abba and brothers and sisters of the Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We think about God and God thinks about us. We are connected to THE Cosmic Force, the energy and matter of the God-filled cosmos. Poseidons, Darth Vaders, and Voldemorts cannot separate us from the Cosmic Force that is the Love of God flaring forth.
Thomas Merton, another Cistercian monk, reminds us that the inner journey is what really counts:
History would show the fatality and doom that would attend on the external pilgrimage with no interior spiritual integration, a divisive and disintegrated wandering, without understanding and without the fulfillment of any humble inner quest. In such a pilgrimage no blessing is found within, and so the outward journey is cursed with alienation. Historically, we find a progressive ‘interiorization’ of the pilgrimage theme, until in monastic literature the ‘perigrinatio’ of the monk is entirely spiritual and is in fact synonymous with monastic stability. Thomas Merton. “From Pilgrimage to Crusade.” Mystics & Zen Masters. NY: Dell Paperback, 1961. 90-112.
As you follow your bliss, pursue your odyssey, engage in your pilgrimage, keeps your focus on true north—the Cosmic Risen Christ. “Think” about God. However, you “think” about God, God is “thinking” about you. As I wrote this, it struck me that “thinking” is a metaphor for dwelling in the presence of the Divine. Abide in the Force of God’s Love. We live, now not us, but the Risen Cosmic Christ dwells deep–deep within us.
I want to recommend a great new book: Occupy Spirituality by Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox. A young activist and an elder spiritual warrior dialogue about the spirituality inherent in the Occupy Movement. The book is a call for contemplation, justice and compassion in a world gone wrong. The authors interviewed and filmed activists in the Occupy Movement from coast to coast. The appeal to me is that they call upon me to get involved and to be elder to the Occupy Generation. The call is for justice and eco-justice.
In the book they reference a powerful speech by activist Chris hedges, “Real Hope Is about Doing Something.” http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/hope_in_the_21st_century_20101128/
I hope this material challenges to be an elder you as much as it is challenging me.
Rolling, cascade, hurling downward
The water of the mighty fall
Roaring, growling and purring
The river plummets
Into the carved out depths.
Glistening droplets fill the air
Breathe in nature’s delight
The water of life for you.
Justice rolls down
Like a mighty river
Bringing graced life.
Righteousness an ever-flowing stream
Carving out new life.
The Creator’s spirit flows
Filling the cosmos
With right order and mercy.
Enmeshed in the falls
As in the depths of being
Taken up into the flow
Delving deep within
Finding true life
Creator-Life deep within.
© J. Patrick Mahon, 2013