Mindfulness, and the secret lovely toad

During this week of study leave, my “serious” reading has been Richard Rohr’s “The Universal Christ”. Each day I employed the discipline of taking notes from the chapter I read, and distilling them into a blog post, with the hope of integrating Rohr’s ideas into my conscious thinking, and way of seeing the world.

natalie goldbergMy more personal “reading” has actually been listening to Natalie Goldberg read a commemorative edition of her book “Writing Down the Bones”, which is about a Zen approach to writing. I love that at the end of each chapter, she sets down the script, and talks about how it felt to read that section.

One of the themes running through Goldberg’s work seems to be “noticing” the small details of moments, and writing them down, to bring exactness, precision, and life to your writing. I think this gentle encouragement to notice grows organically out of her Zen practice. Be mindful. Pay attention. Be where you are, and see what there is to see, right where you happen to be.

Goldberg’s theme is not a great departure from what Rohr writes of in The Universal Christ. He sees, and loves, the presence of the divine imbued in all things, in every aspect of Creation.writing down the bones other

I like to listen to audio books while I do chores. This may be something like the opposite of living in the moment. Even so, it fed my soul to have Natalie Goldberg’s voice in my ears this afternoon while I did yardwork.

One of my tasks was repairing the downspout fed by the eavestrough on the back of our house.  It is the only one that does not feed into the town sewer, and when it rains, water pools next to our foundation, and finds its way into our basement laundry room.

When I lifted the vinyl splash block that guides the flow of water out of the downspout, I noticed a little brown toad. The toad’s colouring provided such camouflage, I wonder if this species has t20190520_171117he chameleon-like capacity to shift its appearance. Because I was using my phone to listen to Natalie Goldberg’s book, I was able to take a photo before the toad scampered away, and disappeared under some brush.

 

 

 

God seduces us- notes from The Universal Christ

wwoz screen shotWhile compliling these notes from today’s reading of The Universal Christ, I heard an unusual song, that repeated the line “we are living in the absence of the sacred” several times. I was listening to one of my favourite internet radio stations, which is the live feed from WWOZ in New Orleans. https://www.wwoz.org/

I went to the Stream Archive, so I could replay the song, and learn more about it. It was written and performed by Spencer Bohren, an American blues and folk artist who was born in Casper, Wyoming, and is now based in New Orleans.Spencer Bohren

Here is a link to it: https://youtu.be/Q6zStmRAGbc

Here is a link to his website:

https://www.spencerbohren.com/makin-it-home-to-you

It seemed such an apt song to reference, while I gathered quotes from a chapter in Rohr’s book in which he speaks with hope and practicality about the presence of God in our daily reality.

Here are the sentences that spoke to me today:

When you can honor and receive your own moment of sadness or fullness as a gracious participation in the eternal sadness or fullness of God, you are beginning to recognize yourself as a participating member of this one universal Body. You are moving from I to We.

…humanity has never been separate from God—unless and except by its own negative choice. All of us, without exception, are living inside of a cosmic identity, already in place, that is driving and guiding us forward. We are all ‘en Cristo’, willingly or unwillingly,

Every single creature—the teen mother nursing her child, every one of the twenty thousand species of butterflies, an immigrant living in fear, a blade of grass, you reading this book—all are “in Christ” and “chosen from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:3, 9). What else could they be?

I have never been separate from God, nor can I be, except in my mind.

Without a Shared and Big Story, we all retreat into private individualism for a bit of sanity and safety.

Every religion, each in its own way, is looking for the gateway, the conduit, the Sacrament, the Avatar, the finger that points to the moon. We need someone to model and exemplify the journey from physical incarnation, through a rather ordinary human existence, through trials and death, and into a Universal Presence unlimited by space and time (which we call “resurrection”). Most of us know about Jesus walking this journey, but far fewer know that Christ is the collective and eternal manifestation of the same—and that “the Christ” image includes all of us and every thing.

Jesus can hold together one group or religion. Christ can hold together everything. In fact, Christ already does this; it is we who resist such wholeness, as if we enjoy our arguments and our divisions into parts.

We would have helped history and individuals so much more if we had spent our time revealing how Christ is everywhere instead of proving that Jesus was God. But big ideas take time to settle in.

You might wonder how, exactly, primitive peoples and pre-Christian civilizations could’ve had access to God. I believe it was through the universal and normal transformative journeys of great love and great suffering, which all individuals have undergone from the beginnings of the human race. Only great love and great suffering are strong enough to take away our imperial ego’s protections and open us to authentic experiences of transcendence.

Just because you do not have the right word for God does not mean you are not having the right experience. From the beginning, YHWH let the Jewish people know that no right word would ever contain God’s infinite mystery.

God needs something to seduce you out and beyond yourself, so God uses three things in particular: goodness, truth, and beauty. All three have the capacity to draw us into an experience of union. You cannot think your way into this kind of radiant, expansive seeing. You must be caught in a relationship of love and awe now and then, and it often comes slowly, through osmosis, imitation, resonance, contemplation, and mirroring. The Christ is always given freely, tossed like a baton from the other side. Our only part in the process is to reach out and catch it every now and then.

…for ordinary mystics like you and me, the kind of seeing I’m describing is a relational and reciprocal experience, in which we find God simultaneously in ourselves and in the outer world beyond ourselves. I doubt if there is any other way.

Nothing to believe here at all. Just learn to trust and draw forth your own deepest experience, and you will know the Christ all day every day—before and after you ever go to any kind of religious service. Church, temple, and mosque will start to make sense on whole new levels—and at the same time, church, temple, and mosque will become totally boring and unnecessary. I promise you both will be true, because you are already fully accepted and fully accepting.

Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ. The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

What if it’s all about love?

I am enjoying the tremendous privilege of a week of study leave. I let go of my plan to attend a preacher’s conference in Minneapolis, to stay home and rrichard rohr photo croppedead “The Universal Christ”, the latest book by Fr. Richard Rohr.

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan monk and priest, who lives and works at the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. I met Fr. Richard a little over a year ago, at Tulane University in New Orleans organized by my friend William Thiele and the School for Contemplative Living.

Rohr’s subject in this new book is the “Christ Mystery, the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it”

I thought that each day I could share some of the quotes that captured my imaginatiothe universal christ book covern.

“What if Christ is a name for the transcendent within of every ‘thing’ in the universe? What if Christ is a name for the immense spaciousness of all true Love? What if Christ refers to an infinite horizon that pulls us from within and pulls us forward too? What if Christ is another name for everything in its fullness?”

“The essential function of religion is to radically connect us with everything. (Re-ligio = to re-ligament or reconnect.) It is to help us see the world and ourselves in wholeness, and not just in parts. Truly enlightened people see oneness because they look out from oneness, instead of labelling everything as superior or inferior, in or out.”

“Numerous Scriptures make it very clear that this Christ has existed ‘from the beginning’ (John 1:1-18, Colossians 1:15-20, and Ephesians 1:3-14 being primary sources)”

“if you believe Jesus’s main purpose is to provide a means of personal, individual salvation, it is all too easy to think he doesn’t have anything to do with human history- with war or injustice, or destruction of nature, or anything that contradicts our ego’s desires or our cultural biases. We ended up spreading our national cultures under the rubric of Jesus, instead of a universally liberating message under the name of Christ.”

“A merely personal God becomes tribal and sentimental, and a merely universal God never leaves the realm of abstract theory and philosophical principles. But when we learn to put them together, Jesus and Christ give us a God who is both personal and universal. The Christ Mystery anoints all physical matter with eternal purpose from the very beginning.”

“a true comprehension of the full Christ Mystery is the key to the foundational reform of the Christian religion, which alone will move us beyond any attempts to corral or capture God into our exclusive group.”

 

“What hooks us?” (Mark 1:14b-20)

The story of Jesus’ call of the fisherman is so familiar we may not think about how weird it would be, for 4 guys with jobs, families, homes, obligations, and connections to their community, to literally drop everything. To let the fishing nets fall at their feet, step over and around them, and start following Jesus. That happened when Jesus called to Simon and Andrew, and again a little further down the beach, Jesus called to James and John, and they followed.

Can you imagine a situation in which you would walk away from the life you have been living, to start over, with only the clothes on your back, and whatever is in your pockets? The only person I can think of who has done that is my friend Marvin, who left his home in Liberia as a refugee during a horrible bloody civil war.

It probably reflects my comfortable middle class Canadian bias that I kind of assume if these fishermen were willing to drop everything and follow Jesus, they did not have much to give up. They were probably just barely surviving and Jesus offered them something better. Maybe following a freelance, itinerant rabbi would pay better than being a fisherman. But James and John were working in a family business with their father. They had hired hands, which suggests they were at least doing well enough to pay other people.

What could Jesus have said to inspire these four to walk away from their old lives, and follow him? The New Testament offers these quick stories that are like scenes in a movie trailer- they give us clues to the big picture, but leave a lot out. I think Jesus already knew these four men.

Two Sundays ago we heard the story of Jesus being baptized. Tradition says John the Baptizer was Jesus’ cousin, and his role was to be like a herald, who went ahead to announce that someone important was coming, and people needed to pay attention. In The Message it says:

“John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.

 As he preached John said, “The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out.”

If Simon and Andrew, and James and John were amongst those interested in what John the Baptist preached, they may have already been thinking about changing their lives. They may have met Jesus through John’s group. When the time came for Jesus to recruit his team, they would have had time to mull over what he represented.

For most people the experience of a calling, responding to a deep spiritual prompting from God is usually not an instant lightning bolt kind of thing. That happens too, but for most people it is gradual. A nagging thought, an idea that won’t go away, or keeps coming up in different ways and does not let you ignore it. It may take years of decades, even most of a lifetime before we finally get to the point when we act on the calling, sometimes because we can no longer do anything else but change our life.

There can be a sense of being called toward something new- like the early disciples who dropped their nets to follow Jesus. There can also be a sense of being called away from something- the realization that there is something, or perhaps more than one thing about our life that we need to change. We may not need to change our job, or our address, but we may need to change the focus of our lives.

I counselled a person this week who has moved from one bad relationship to another. She is not an alcoholic, but has spent her life taking care of, being abused by, and cleaning up after drunks and addicts. This has cost her a lot, and she is beginning to say she wants a different life, before it is too late.

Life is short. We only have so much time. To what do we want to give that time? As Jesus said in the Gospel, “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.”

Because life is short, and we only have so much time, it is important to live it well. By living well, I don’t mean a self-oriented, consumer-oriented version of life, in which we keep score by having the best stuff, the most toys, the newest and shiniest of everything. By living well I mean more basic things like: having a clear conscience; making a positive difference in the world; being at peace with God, others, ourselves; being able to sleep at night; not living in constant fear or dread; knowing our life matters, to God, to other people, to the world; knowing we are loved, and able to share love with others; not taking ourselves too seriously; being open to new challenges, continuing to grow and learn; having fun.

If we don’t have this kind of spiritual nurture, no amount of material wealth, or power, or prestige will fill the emptiness inside. We may need to change our lives. We may need to stop feeding our egos, and start feeding our souls.

A lot of the problems in our world, and in our own lives are rooted in our addiction, or attachment, or devotion to the wrong things. We are too easily hooked on the “junk food” that seems to feed our hungry ego, when what we really need is soul food. According to the Franciscan priest and spiritual writer Richard Rohr, the three most common varieties of ego-feeding junk food are these core compulsions: to be successful; to be right; to be in control.

The call from God is to repent, to turn our lives around, to focus on what is really important, rather than such soul-starving distractions. This call is not just for those first fishermen turned disciples, or other saints, or spiritual heroes. God wants each of us to have whole, and holy lives. Following God means letting go of things that hold us back from the life meant for us.

A couple of weeks ago when we repeated the vows of baptism and confirmation, I talked about how the instructions on shampoo bottles used to say “wash, rinse repeat”. This is how it is with the call to follow God in full and holy living. We need to wash, rinse, and repeat, over and over again, because we keep complicating and confusing our lives, and getting distracted, and falling for the temptation to follow the wrong things.

The good news is that we can change our lives, and get back to soul food, and wean ourselves off the junk food. There is a spiritual basis for a new and better life.  Over the millennia, Christians have realized that it can be very helpful to have a daily plan, that includes the practices we do everyday, to keep ourselves on track. Just as an athlete or a musician needs to practice to keep in shape, to nurture their gifts, and maintain their skill, we need daily practice to stay spiritually healthy.

This past summer my daughter and I made a pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta.  The original Ebenezer Baptist Church still resounds with his sermons, played over the audio system in the sanctuary. In the museum just down the street I saw, amongst other ordinary things, a pair of his shoes, his razor, and one of his suits, the trousers of which he put on one leg at a time, like any other person. Even a modern saint like Dr. King, who rose to world fame, and influenced so many, lived a human life, in which he recognized the need for daily spiritual practices, to keep on track.

In a book called “Rules for Prayer”, the author William Paulsell gathered a list of seven things Dr. King strove to do every day, for his spiritual fitness and well-being, and helped him be the person, God was calling forth.

  1. Meditate daily on the life and teachings of Jesus
  2. Live in the manner of love
  3. Pray daily to be used by God
  4. Sacrifice personal wishes
  5. Perform regular service for others
  6. Stay in good bodily and spiritual health
  7. Pray for the oppressor

We could do a lot worse, and hardly do any better, than to follow a daily rule like this one. Amen