Samstag, 31. Januar 2015

A Psalm of Praise

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A Psalm of Praise

Today is the 100th birthday of Thomas Merton (1915-1968), a man who almost single-handedly brought contemplative spirituality back to Western Christianity's awareness. He was a Trappist monk, poet, and activist, and he was deeply engaged with interfaith dialogue. Merton wrote extensively about contemplation, and his own prayer practice "centered entirely on attention to the presence of God and to His will and His love . . . a kind of praise rising up of out of the center of Nothing and Silence" (The Hidden Ground of Love, pp. 63-64). Here is one of his exuberant, joyous psalms:

Today, Father, this blue sky lauds you.
The delicate green and orange flowers of the tulip poplar tree praise you.
The distant blue hills praise you,
together with the sweet-smelling air that is full of brilliant light.
The bickering flycatchers praise you
with the lowing cattle and the quails that whistle over there.

I too, Father, praise you, with all these my brothers,
and they give voice to my own heart and to my own silence.
We are all one silence, and a diversity of voices.
You have made us together,
you have made us one and many,
you have placed me here in the midst
as witness, as awareness, and as joy.

Here I am.
In me the world is present,
and you are present.
I am a link in the chain of light and of presence.
You have made me a kind of center,
but a center that is nowhere.
And yet also I am "here."

-Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, pp. 131-132

Spend some time witnessing the wonder of creation and write, draw, dance, or sing your own psalm of gratitude.

Freitag, 30. Januar 2015

The Story that Defines Us

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The Story that Defines Us
Friday, January 30, 2015 
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, is not the oldest book of the Bible. The Genesis account of creation was likely compiled in its present form as late as 500 BC, and in fact, there are at least two different accounts that you can see in the first chapters. At the time it was written, the Jews were likely in exile, having been conquered by Babylon. There they were exposed to many creation stories.

Rob Bell described one of the most popular stories of that time, the Babylonian Enuma Elish, at CAC's CONSPIRE 2014 conference. Within the Enuma Elish, creation happens after a battle between two gods. The male god kills the female god, then tears her body apart and uses half of her to create the heavens and half to create the earth.

Rob points out that the driving engine of this story is violence, carnage, and destruction. The exiled Jews decided to write down their oral tradition, a confrontive narrative to the dominant creation story, in order to stay cohesive as a tribe among all the foreign influences. In the Judeo-Christian story of Genesis 1, God, who is "Creator" in verse 1, "Spirit" in verse 2, and "Word" in verse 3 (foretastes of what we would eventually call Trinity), creates from an overflowing abundance of love, joy, and creativity! Rob contends that the question of whether the engine of the universe is violence and destruction or overflowing love, joy, and creativity is still the question. He says we live our lives according to these deep forces within us, and the engine that drives us is deeply connected to the way we view the Universe. Is our starting point love or is it fear and hatred? How you begin is invariably how you end. And both possibilities are rather visible in our world today.

Our creation story says that we were created in the very "image and likeness" of God (Genesis 1:26) and out of a fully generative love. I love how Rob, and many other evolutionary Christians, says what this means for us: "We are created with a drive to self-transcend, to move beyond oneself for the joy and blessing of others." It is all positive, an original blessing instead of an original sin, sending us toward a cosmic hope. There is something within us, which Christians call the Holy Spirit, that makes us aware that we are here to co-create with God and make something beautiful of the world. Like the Trinity, theperichoresis (divine dance) of God, we are made to encircle others and creation in self-giving love, generosity, blessing, and service. When you start positive, instead of with a problem, there is a much greater likelihood you will move forward positively too.

Our starting point is totally positive, and not just the sad overcoming of a problem. Blessed John Duns Scotus, OFM (1266-1308) said that the Christ is Plan A, and we got off to a very bad start by making Jesus (or the Christ) a mere problem-solving technique of God--or Plan B. God creates the first premise and meaning of reality, not human sinfulness. The first chapter of the Bible repeatedly says creation is "very good" (Genesis 1:10-31)! Are we really that obtuse? It sure seems so. From such a blessed and unitive beginning, we were given to know the clear direction of the whole tangent--we came from goodness, we are slowly ticking toward goodness, and we will end in goodness. And all this goodness is pure gift.

Giving Birth to God

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Giving Birth to God 
Wednesday, January 28, 2015 

From the beginning until now, the entire creation as we know it has been groaning in one great act of giving birth.  
--Romans 8:22

Creation did not happen once by a flick of the Divine hand, and now it's slowly winding down--which is what we've assumed for most of history. Creation, in fact, is a process that is still happening and winding up, and even better, we're in on it! We are a part of this endless creativity of God. Talk about inclusion and how everything belongs! In other words, YOU matter and YOU make a difference!

The reason this is so hard for us to see in our little, tiny moments of history, is that this groaning and this giving birth proceeds by a process of losses and gains, and the losses are very real. There is no doubt that history, like the biblical text itself, goes three steps forward and two steps back. (Why do so many people prefer the two steps backward passages?) Thank God, there always seems to be a net gain to history and to the biblical text too. Even though we see violence, war, genocide, and stupidity, and we see religions and factions circling the wagons around their own tiny identities, yet always it happens that something like Vatican II, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, or Pope Francis comes out of seeming nowhere! Where does this high level, enlightened thinking come from?

It seems history moves forward, and then we say, "No, no, no! This is too much freedom; it's too scary." So we pull back into denial and resistance (Joshua and Judges after Exodus, Napoleon after the French Revolution, Tridentine Masses after Vatican II). But the movement of history cannot be stopped. There is always a leaven that remains, a critical mass, a few people who get it, and the toothpaste is out of the tube forever. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can't put it back in. You can't tell people they don't know once they know the Bigger Truth. So history proceeds, nevertheless, and the Second Coming of Christ is this ever new level of Christ-people that keeps emerging despite continual regression into "passion and death," exactly as revealed in the body of Jesus. I cannot wait to ask God why this seems to be the divine and chosen pattern of all true development and growth.

One of the greatest Jesuits of the last century was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and one of his most memorable lines is "Everything that rises will converge." Everything is moving toward unity. There is temporary differentiation and complexity, but that increased complexity ironically, paradoxically moves to another unity on a higher level. But in between is the necessary conflict! If it isn't moving toward unity, always at the price of some kind of suffering, it is not a higher level of consciousness.

Evolving into Fullness

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Evolving into Fullness 
Thursday, January 29, 2015 
The prologue to John's Gospel is not talking about Jesus; it's talking about Christ, which, as I've shared in previous meditations, is a much older and more inclusive statement. So, instead of using the Greek word "Logos" as John does, I'm going to use the word "blueprint," because it really has the same meaning but is not so mysterious. Logos is his way of pointing to the inner blueprint, the inner pattern and template for reality. Now re-read the text:

"In the beginning was the blueprint. The blueprint was with God. The blueprint was God." The inner reality of God was about to become manifest in the outer material world. "And all things came to be through this inner plan. Nothing came to be except through this blueprint and plan. All that came to be had life in him." Now it's become personalized: "him." The great universal mystery that has been since the beginning of time now becomes specific in the body and person of Jesus. The blueprint has become personified and visible. "And that life was the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it" (John 1:1-5).

"This blueprint was the True Light that enlightens all human beings that come into the world" (1:9). So the True Light, or what I'm going to call "Consciousness," precedes and connects and feeds all of our smaller lights. "He was in the world that had its very being through him. But the world did not know him" (1:10).

Exactly! We have not much understood Jesus' cosmic significance or the meaning of the "Body of Christ" and what many psychologists would rightly call "the collective unconsciousness." This blueprint had largely been operating unconsciously. It is just too much for human consciousness to absorb or believe. Yet God seems to be very patient, very humble, and always outpouring.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us," or in my paraphrase, "The blueprint materialized and became visible. We have seen his glory, full of grace and
truth. . . . From his fullness, we have all received, grace upon grace" (John 1:14, 16). The Greek word John uses for "fullness" is pleroma. Paul uses the very same word in several places and clearly teaches that "You have a share in this fullness" (Colossians 2:9) and even "You are filled with the utter fullness of God" (Ephesians 3:19). Talk about inherent dignity and empowerment! You can chew on that for the rest of your life. Most Christians never have.

Sonntag, 25. Januar 2015

God Creates Things that Create Themselves

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Monday, January 26, 2015 

In Romans 8:22, Paul says, "From the beginning until now, the entire creation as we know it has been groaning in one great act of giving birth." That is a very feminine notion of creation, giving birth slowly through labor pains. It complements Genesis' masculine statement: "Let there be light!" (1:3). Just this one line from Paul should be enough to justify a Christian belief in evolution. Yet to this day, the issue of evolution still divides some Christians, questioning what is rather obvious: that God creates things that create themselves. Wouldn't this be the greatest way that God could create--to give autonomy, freedom, and grace to things to keep self-creating even further? (Non-creative minds tend to not see or allow creativity anywhere else. In fact, that is what makes them so uncreative!)

Healthy parents love their children so much that they want them to keep growing, producing, and performing to their highest potential. Good parents are even excited when their children surpass them, as my uneducated farmer parents were when I went off to higher studies. Mature parents are generative about their children and say, in my paraphrase of Jesus' words: "Don't get too excited about the things that we did. You're going to do even greater things!" (John 14:12). Immature parents only see their children as images and extensions of themselves. True love empowers and delights in the even larger and independent successes of those they love. (It is often would-be successful sons who are most resented and abused by jealous and weak fathers.)

For a long time most people were satisfied with a very static universe. Yet Jesus understands reality as dynamic and evolutionary. Clearly there is an unfolding to the universe (we are literally still expanding!). Reality is going somewhere. It's moving, until "In the end there will only be Christ. He is everything and he is in everything" (Colossians 3:11). The One > Multiplicity > Conscious Unity seems to be the underlying pattern. Paul sees history as an ongoing process of ever greater inclusion of every lesser force until in the end, "God will be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). The notion of the Cosmic Christ is precisely "the One" reality that includes everything and excludes nothing. As St. Bonaventure put it, "God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere."

Adapted from Christ, Cosmology, and Consciousness (MP3 download);
and A New Cosmology: Nature as the First Bible, disc 2 (CD, MP3 download)