THE DAILY MEDITATION

Image credit: Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives. 

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault

Knowing from the Whole   Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault reflects on another significant element within the Christian mystical lineage. The Cloud of Unknowing is a 14th-century spiritual classic written by an anonymous English monk. Perhaps this shows ego in a subservient role. But the writer was also anonymous for practical reasons. Meister Eckhart had just been silenced by the Pope in 1329 for emphasizing independent study, thinking, and experience, to which this author was also committed. It took many generations for the Church to affirm the value of inner, personal experience. Today Centering Prayer—which was drawn from The Cloud of Unknowing—is practiced by many Christians around the world.

The Cloud of Unknowing is a mystical text, and like most mystical texts it can only ultimately be accessed at the level of consciousness from which it was written. “Like attracts like,” as the old hermetic saying goes. The best way to engage a text written from a state of deep contemplative stillness is to match that state as closely as you can in yourself by meditating your way into the text rather than diving in with your analytical mind. In my latest book, The Heart of Centering Prayer, I explore this text from a different angle than how The Cloudis typically interpreted. Traditionally, The Cloud is understood as focusing on mystical marriage where the goal is to direct desire away from earthly objects toward heavenly ones until spiritual union with God can be achieved. This approach, while certainly true of many other mystical texts, misses the subtle shift the author makes. Rather than emphasizing the seemingly obvious subject/object split between lover and beloved, the author invites us into an entirely different way of knowing and experiencing Love.

Consider the following lines from chapter 16, describing Mary Magdalene as a model of the contemplative transformation the author has in mind:

Instead, she hung up her love and her longing desire in this cloud of unknowing and she learned to love a thing that she might never see clearly in this life, neither by the light of understanding of her reason nor by a true feeling of sweet love in her affection. [2]

Clearly, the kind of love this author has in mind is of a fundamentally different quality than what we usually mean by love.

The love presented here is not affectivity or feelingbut describes what we would nowadays call nondual perception anchored in the heart. The heart’s energetic bandwidth is intimacy, the capacity to perceive things from the inside by coming into sympathetic resonance with them. In contrast to the mind, which perceives through differentiation (I am me, because I am not you), the heart takes its bearings directly from the whole (the “I” and the “you” drop out), through a process that scientists nowadays describe as “holographic resonance.” Imagine trying to describe that in the 14th century! Ahead of his time, the author gropes for metaphors to describe an entirely different mode of perception and understanding. 

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into love.

References:

[1] For more on Centering Prayer, see Cynthia Bourgeault’s earlier meditation on the practice or her book detailed below.
[2] The Cloud of Unknowing, trans. Ira Progoff (Dell: 1983, ©1957), 101. Emphasis added. From chapter 16-5 of Cloud.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Shambhala: 2016), 117-121.

Falling Fearless into Love   Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the Christian mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The third and most powerful wellspring of hope that Teilhard has to offer us—for those with “eyes to see and hearts to hear”—is the assurance that this slow toiling of the planet toward what he calls the “Omega,” the convergent point of all evolution, is not merely some hypothetical, futuristic theory. Omega is neither abstract nor hypothetical; it is already present, actively permeating the earth with its energy. “I probably would never have dared to consider or form the rational hypothesis of it,” Teilhard writes, “if I had not already found in my consciousness as a believer not only the speculative model for it, but its living reality.” [1]

That “living reality,” is for Teilhard the radiant heart of Christ, which he first met as a child and which continued to grow in him throughout his life as a palpably real and personal presence. Not only his own heart but the entire planet was increasingly enfolded within the experiential realm of “the Christic.”

While the way in which Teilhard incorporates Christ into evolution makes some uncomfortable, in the grand tapestry of Teilhardian seeing, the warp of science and the weft of mysticism are inextricably intertwined. And it is just here, in fact, that Teilhard’s greatest gift to our own troubled times may lie waiting to be tapped.

Teilhard’s felt-sense conviction of the presence of Christ already at work in “the stuff of the universe”—directing the course of evolution from within its very planetary marrow—allowed him to “stay the course” over a lifetime of bearing untold personal suffering for the sake of a world that was already luminously inhabited by Christ.

For Teilhard, faith was never a matter of doctrines and principles. It is first and foremost an action—an “operative” as he calls it. Faith in this way becomes a wager: if the premise is true, you can only live into it through action. Rather than trying to do faith from the “top down,” by first convincing yourself of the logic of the argument in question, begin from the “bottom up,” by acting in alignment with it, and see what happens next!

Perhaps this is what Teilhard means by “harnessing the energy of love.” [2] In our own times, it is surely our best shot—perhaps our only shot—for acting in a way that does not merely compound the darkness. Teilhard’s conviction that faith is not something that we have but something that we do is perhaps the best antidote possible to the despair and distrust that paralyze so much of our postmodern moral resolve. It is a call to step out of the boat onto the ocean of love and discover—all our fear and skepticism to the contrary—that the water really does hold us up.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into love.

References:

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber (Sussex Academic Press: 1999), 211.
[2] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “The Evolution of Chastity,” Toward the Future, trans. René Hague (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1975), 87.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, “Teilhard for Troubled Times: Part 3, The Living Reality of Omega,” May 2, 2017, omegacenter.info/teilhard-for-troubled-times-part-3/.

Don’t Co-Exist. Coalesce!   Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the Christian mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The second hopeful resource that Teilhard brings to our unsettled times is his unshakable conviction that evolutionary progress will unfold its ultimate triumph in the realm of the personal. Our postmodern temperament has a well-ingrained tendency to regard the world through a filter of distrust, in which we inevitably view evolution as “random,” disconnected, and certainly impersonal. However, Teilhard encourages us to see our planetary home as a coherent and increasingly compassionate whole, steadily plying its way along an irreversible evolutionary trajectory.

In the big picture, there is nothing to suggest that evolution has gone off track. But there is plenty to suggest that we are entering a critical new phase in which some old-order survival strategies (read: the “fight or flight” mechanisms that have ruled our survival thus far) are giving way to a new and more intentional sense of mutual interdependence. The transition appears to already be underway. To continue this turning, it’s crucial that we humans make the evolutionary shift from “individuals” to “persons.”

What’s the difference?

We typically use these terms interchangeably, but for Teilhard they denote distinctly different, progressive evolutionary stages. An individual lives as an autonomous unit, subject to the old-order laws of “survival of the fittest” and planetary indifference. A person has come to understand themselves as belonging to greater relational field. They now sense their identity from a sense of wholeness in an entirely different order of coherence: a whole greater than the sum of its parts. In this greater whole both unity and differentiation are preserved; meanwhile the whole begins to be infused by a supremely personal tincture or essence. The universe is no longer random, but a system of relationships to which we all belong and are participating in!

A cautionary note: for Teilhard, oneness does not equate simply to some sentimental proclamation of “fellowship” or “let’s all just get along.”

For Teilhard this process of becoming unified is evident in the evolution of the smallest cell to the orbit of our very planet. In fact, says Teilhard, it’s the very direction of how consciousness evolved in the first place! As more complex forms emerged in unified units on our planet, consciousness was able to emerge with it. From this we can gather that the future of spirituality will not be found in the “enlightenment” of a select number of individuals, but will arrive through us collectively as a new “unit,” in the emergence of what we might call the mystical body of Christ.

The rising scent of our common humanity is already in the air, and as we consciously join hearts across the antiquated boundaries of the nationalities and denominations that once defined our identities, the blue biosphere of our planet Earth is being suffused with the gold and scarlet of our common human heart.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into love.

Reference:

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, “Teilhard for Troubled Times: Part 2, Don’t Co-exist, Coalesce!” April 17, 2017, omegacenter.info/teilhard-for-troubled-times-part-2/.

Deep Hope Flows Over Deep Time   Monday, October 16, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the Christian mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The first of the Teilhardian “road signs” helps us reframe our sense of scale: Teilhard reminds us that deep hope flows over deep time. From his perspective as a geologist and paleontologist, Teilhard reassures us that evolution has not changed direction; it has always been and always will be “a rise toward consciousness.” [1] But rather than the very small snapshots represented in our short lifetimes, evolution’s span is measured in eons, not decades. When we lose sight of the cosmic scale, the result is anguish and impatience. If we measure human progress only by our usual historical benchmarks—the span of a presidential administration, the not-yet 250 years of the American democratic experiment, or the “mere” 2,500 years of Western civilization—we are still only catching the smallest snippet of the inevitable process of what Teilhard calls tatonnement, or “trial and error,” part of the necessary play of freedom on its way to new combinations and creativity.

Teilhard affirmed that even the emergence of human consciousness itself, as it reached its present configuration 125,000 years ago with the stunning debut of homo sapiens [current estimate is 200,000 years], followed a 10,000-year ice age, in which it appeared that all that had been gained prior to that point was irreversibly lost. It wasn’t. Paleontological discoveries reveal that humans kept and refined their skills of using fire and making tools—providing unmistakable evidence that even when hidden by ice and apparent desolation, the evolutionary journey was still unperturbedly marching forward.

“Deep hope” is not, however, an excuse to relax our vigilance in stewardship for the planet Earth. Teilhard does not permit himself to be used that way; his sense of the oneness of the world pervades everything he sees and writes. But he realizes as well that Creation has an intelligence and a resilience that meets us far more than halfway. Over the millennia our planet has endured meteor strikes, the rise and fall of sea levels, ice ages, the continual shifting of tectonic plates, the appearance and disappearance of species.

For sure, we need to fall on our knees every morning and beseech God to help us through this latest dark time of human greed and destructiveness. But our real task at this evolutionary cusp is not to lose sight of what is coming to us from the future, the vision of our common humanity that is indeed “groaning and travailing” to be born (Romans 8:22).

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into love.

References:

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber (Sussex Academic Press: 1999), 183.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, “Teilhard for Troubled Times: Part 1, Deep Hope Flows Over Deep Time,” April 3, 2017, omegacenter.info/teilhard-for-troubled-times-1/.

Teilhard for Troubled Times   Sunday, October 15, 2017

I’ve invited Cynthia Bourgeault, one of CAC’s core faculty members, to explore Christian mysticism in this week’s Daily Meditations.

When I was asked to reflect on a mystic’s life and work, for me the choice was clear. In the midst of our socio-political concerns, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)—a French philosopher, paleontologist, and Jesuit priest—enters the equation offering a vastly broader and more hopeful perspective in which to search for a new moral grounding. Writing in a historical era whose traumatic upheavals eerily foreshadow our own, he is yet able to paint a bigger picture where there is still room for optimism and coherence.

Just how is Teilhard able to find hope in such troubled times? I’d like to unpack that question over the next few days by presenting what I call the Teilhardian “waypoints.”

For many of us, the concept of a forward evolutionary journey may feel like a false hope. Perhaps it seems that such hope is bought at the cost of all sensitivity to individual suffering and pain, by setting the scale at so vast a magnitude that human lives register as no more than tiny pixels.

Teilhard himself was accused of false optimism, of an indifference to personal suffering after World War II when people and nations—still shaken from the horrors of the Holocaust and Hiroshima—struggled with personal and collective remorse. But Teilhard was by no means indifferent. His life-transforming vision of the oneness of humanity came to him in the midst of serving as stretcher bearer in the bloody trenches of World War I, and his writings on human progress rose from the untold depths of personal suffering he endured in faithfulness to a Church that actively blocked his path. He knew personal suffering only too well, and he looked straight into the face of the sorrow, the horror, and named it as such.

The haunting prayer woven into Teilhard’s reflection on faith in The Divine Milieu makes clear that it is no cheap optimism he is dispensing here, but a wrenchingly honest acknowledgement of our human predicament and an unfailing fidelity to seeing God in every aspect of the earth, even in our human suffering:

Ah, you know it yourself, Lord, through having borne the anguish of it as a man: on certain days the world seems a terrifying thing: huge, blind, and brutal. . . . At any moment the vast and horrible thing may break in through the cracks—the thing which we try hard to forget is always there, separated from us by a flimsy partition: fire, pestilence, storms, earthquakes, or the unleashing of dark moral forces—these callously sweep away in one moment what we had laboriously built up and beautified with all our intelligence and all our love.

Since my human dignity, O God, forbids me to close my eyes to this . . . teach me to adore it by seeing you concealed within it. [1]

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into love.

References:

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu, (Harper Perennial Modern Classics: 2001), 112. Emphasis added.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, “Teilhard for Troubled Times: Part 1, Deep Hope Flows Over Deep Time,” April 3, 2017, omegacenter.info/teilhard-for-troubled-times-1/.

Image credit: Mother and Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.

Exploring the Mystics with James Finley

Summary: Sunday, October 8-Friday, October 13, 2017

This week CAC faculty member and guest writer James Finley introduced us to the Christian mystics Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross. James is attuned to the pedagogy of the mystics and invites us to a different kind of reading. As he puts it, “The mystics are not writing for our logical minds but to awaken our hearts to what matters most. This requires us to slow down enough to catch up with ourselves. These meditations call us to settle into a quiet, prayerful pondering about who we deep down really are and are called to be and how can we be more faithful to it.”

“I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms; just as in Heaven ‘there are many mansions.’” —Teresa of Ávila (Sunday)

Your God-given godly nature is the infinite reality of you. You are as precious as God is precious. You have a value that cannot be calculated. (Monday)

What if we could join God in knowing who God knows I am eternally in God, before the origins of the universe, and know ourselves hidden with Christ in God forever? (Tuesday)

Infinite Love is the architect of our hearts, and we are made in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with Infinite Love will do. Love is our origin and our destiny. (Wednesday)

The concrete immediacy of life is the infinite love of God manifesting itself in the present moment. (Thursday)

The mystic—that is, the person who is ripe with this love consciousness that’s born in the night—is not more holy but is granted a greater realization of the infinite holiness of the simplest of things. (Friday)

Practice: Breathing Love in All Things

I have the intuition that in his Spiritual Canticle, John of the Cross was trying to move us poetically into a spacious state or a way of being in the world which really is Christ consciousness, the way Christ lived his life.

Let’s say you are sitting in prayer and using your breath as the prayer. As you inhale you listen to God saying I love you. When you breathe out you exhale I love you: you give yourself to the love that gives itself to you. In the I love you received and the I love you response, the reciprocity of love and of the communion deepens.

Now while you are sitting there saying this prayer, let’s say there is bodily pain. Now when you inhale, you inhale Infinite Love, loving your pain and all, through and through and through and through and through. And when you exhale yourself into God, you give yourself, pain and all, into the Love that loves you, pain and all.

Let’s say you are sitting there and you are confused; something has happened and you are bewildered. You sit there and as you breathe in God, you breathe in God loving you, confusion and all, through and through and through and through and through. And when you exhale yourself in the I love you, you give yourself, confusion and all, to the Love that loves you, confusion and all.

And let’s say you are sad, and you breathe in God loving you through and through and through, sadness and all; and you exhale yourself in your sadness. Then your sadness is an act of love. And so, in every reciprocity of love, the ultimate irrelevance of conditioned states yields and gives way to Love that unexplainably sustains you in the conditions in which you exist.

This is the message of John’s Spiritual Canticle. It is not saying that you are not in pain, that you are not sad or confused; nor is it saying that you don’t need to deal with these things.

Let’s turn it around. You are sitting in prayer and bubbling over with joy because you just won the lottery. And God is loving you through and through, joy and all; and you breathe yourself back to Love, joy and all. It’s the infinite irrelevance of attainment and nonattainment, the infinite irrelevance of laughter and tears with respect to the oceanic Love that loves you through and through and through and through in your tears, in your laughter, in all things.

So, stabilized in love, we are grounded in the courage that empowers us to touch the hurting places. Prior to being grounded in love, we think we are nothing but the self that things happen to. We are afraid to go near the hurting place because we absolutize the relative. But if we are absolutely grounded in the absolute love of God that protects us from nothing, even as it sustains us in all things, it grounds us to face all things with courage and tenderness.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

Reference:

Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CDMP3 download.

For Further Study:

James Finley, Richard Rohr, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CDMP3 download
James Finley, The Contemplative Heart (Sorin Books: 1999)

Only Love Is Real   Friday, October 13, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues sharing insights from John of the Cross. Take a few moments in the midst of your busy day to slow down, to enter into the quiet, and to read these words from your heart center, without judgment or needing to fully understand with your logical brain.

Just as with Teresa of Ávila’s The Interior Castle, by the very first paragraph of John of the Cross’ Prologue to The Ascent of Mount Carmel you get the sense that the words are coming from some very deep place from inside of him—or really through him—that intimately accesses a deep place in us:

A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. [1]

One of the operative principles of love is that love does not rest as long as there is an inequality in love. In seeing the beloved down, the lover is moved to lift the beloved up. John says the infinite love of God will not rest until you are equal to God in love. Even though you would be absolutely nothing without God, God will not rest until you are as much God as God is God. God will not settle for a trace of inequality. In the “dark night of the soul,” we are weaned away from the ego’s finite ideas and feelings about God. We come to know that no idea about God is God. We are also weaned from our ideas about our self as being a finite, separate self apart from God.

Not everyone experiences this kind of union in this life. But in some lives God does not wait until death to begin the consummation through a dark night of the soul. In this nondual state, although I am not God, I am not other than God either. Although I am not you, I am not other than you either. Although I am not the earth, I am not other than the earth either. All things are unexplainably, invincibly one in endless diversity forever.

The awakening of this state on this earth does not mean you are holier than others. Rather, you awaken to how unexplainably holy everybody is. The mystic—that is, the person who is ripe with this love consciousness that’s born in the night—is not more holy but is granted a greater realization of the infinite holiness of the simplest of things.

Then, in some strange way, when you die, nothing will happen, because you’ve already died to the illusion that anything less than love is real; and you are aware that Infinite Love is loving you endlessly and giving itself away as your life.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

References:

[1] John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Institute of Carmelite Studies Publications: 1991), 114-115.

Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, discs 1 and 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CDMP3 download.

Experiencing God’s Love   Thursday, October 12, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues sharing insights from John of the Cross. Before you read, take a few deep, slow breaths. Feel yourself in your body, in this place. Attune to your heart’s wisdom and let your mind rest in the quiet.

John believed that substantial union is our God-given godly nature. It’s the inherent sacredness of life itself. This dance of infinite love is rhythmically playing itself out in the rhythms of our life standing up and sitting down, waking up and falling asleep. The concrete immediacy of life is the infinite love of God manifesting itself in the present moment.

All of life, distilled to its simplest essence, has to do with the intimate, utterly personal way that each of us serendipitously stumbles upon this great truth. When everything is said and done, only love is real; only love endures. Outside of love, there is nothing, nothing at all. We subsist in varying degrees of awareness from which flow gratitude and peace.

John of the Cross calls this growing awareness of affective union “the way of beginners.” At this stage, our belief is a finite idea about God which reveals something of the nature of the Infinite. Within the Scriptures, there are eloquent, beautiful, finite ideas of the Infinite. And we experience finite feelings of the Infinite. These consolations and solace are the felt sense of God’s abiding presence in our life. This is the ego illumined by faith.

This is just the beginning of our journey. We rightly learn at this stage how to live by this love that we are experiencing. What’s the most loving thing I can do right now for myself, for my body, for my mind, for the gift of my life? What’s the most loving thing I can do for this person, for this community of people, for this animal, for the earth?

The wonderful thing about being a beginner is that we can begin with a confidence that eventually we will arrive at union. When death comes, an extraordinary thing happens: through all eternity, we will no longer be knowing God through finite ideas of the Infinite. Rather, you will know God through God’s own knowledge of God which is Christ; and for all eternity, you will love God with God’s own love which is the Holy Spirit. Through all eternity, you and God will disappear as other than each other.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

Reference:

Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CDMP3 download.

Love Is Our Origin and Destiny   Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Today James Finley will introduce us to another great mystic, John of the Cross. As with all of the mystics, a different kind of reading and perception is required. Remember that mysticism is simply experiential knowing, rather than intellectual knowing. Read today’s reflection with your heart wide open.

John of the Cross (1542-1591) met Teresa of Ávila—then fifty-two years old—when he was a newly ordained Carmelite priest at twenty-five. John was planning to join the Carthusians and become a hermit, but Teresa asked him to join her instead in reforming the Carmelites. Teresa and John shared a rich friendship and correspondence.

When I first read John at age eighteen, there was a certain resonance in realizing he was talking about something that I didn’t understand but I knew mattered very, very much. I’m seventy-four years old now, and I’m still reading him.

Like Teresa, John believed that Infinite Love is the architect of our hearts, and we are made in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with Infinite Love will do. Love is our origin and our destiny. Creative love sustains us breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat. John writes:

God sustains every soul and dwells in it substantially, even though it may be that of the greatest sinner in the world. This union between God and creatures always exists. By it He conserves their being so that if the union should end they would immediately be annihilated and cease to exist. Consequently, in discussing union with God, we are not discussing the substantial union that is always existing but the soul’s union with and transformation in God. This union is not always existing, but we find it only where there is likeness of love. We will call it “the union of likeness”; and the former, “the essential or substantial union.” The union of likeness is supernatural [meaning graced or given]; the other, natural. The supernatural union exists when God’s will and the soul’s are in conformity, so that nothing in the one is repugnant to the other. When the soul rids itself completely of what is repugnant and unconformed to the divine will, it rests transformed in God through love. [1]

God’s will for you is Godself. When you, in the freedom of your will, want nothing but what God wills—that is, you live by and for the ever-deepening consummation of this union in love—then these two wills are united in love.

Our spiritual task is to discern the ways in which our heart is at variance with God’s heart. We see how our own subjective perceptions and intentions are compromised or violate our ultimate destiny in love. By this graced recognition, we are released and liberated. 

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

References:

[1] John of the Cross, John of the Cross: Selected Writings, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh(Paulist Press: 1987), 89.

Adapted from James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, discs 1 and 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CDMP3 download.

Being with Ourselves   Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member James Finley continues reflecting on the Christian mystic Teresa of Ávila and The Interior Castle. Again, he invites you into a different kind of reading. Let your rational mind rest and allow your heart to awaken.

Teresa asks, “Wouldn’t it be a pity not to understand ourselves?” The pity is we tend not to. Teresa is writing about healing the sorrow that arises from being exiled from our soul.

Now let us return to our beautiful and delightful castle [which is our soul] and see how we can enter it. I seem rather to be talking nonsense; for, if this castle is the soul, there can clearly be no question of our entering it [since we are the soul we are going after]. For we ourselves are the castle: and it would be absurd to tell someone to enter a room when he was in it already! But you must understand that there are many ways of “being” in a place. [1]

All of us are here (wherever we may be), right here. But the degree to which each of us is here right now—in terms of a deeply awake, grateful awareness of the gift and miracle of being here—varies greatly from person to person. Another way of saying it is that everyone who’s married is married. Some people are more married than others.

The issue is our tendency to get stuck focusing on what my father or mother, wife or ex-wife, children or friends, pastor or boss thinks of me. What if instead we could join God in knowing who God knows I am eternally in God, before the origins of the universe, and know ourselves hidden with Christ in God forever? If I’m so caught up in perceptions of myself—projections and wounds—if I’m caught up in this labyrinth of confusion, it eclipses my view of the God-given godly nature of who I absolutely, invincibly am.

This is how Teresa of Ávila starts her book, The Interior Castle. We’re just on page two, and it’s clear this isn’t going to be a light read! But what’s also clear is it’s not theoretical. The pedagogy of the mystics slows us down enough to catch up with ourselves. How can we ponder the intimate immediacy of what matters most? How can we learn to not treat ourselves like someone we don’t want to spend time with? How can we settle into a quiet, prayerful pondering about who we deep down really are and are called to be? And how can we be more faithful to it?

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

References:

[1] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, trans. E. Allison Peers (Dover Publications: 2007, ©1946), 17.

Adapted from James Finley, private retreat on Teresa of Ávila and The Interior Castle, 2016.

Made in God’s Image   Monday, October 9, 2017

CAC faculty member James Finley continues exploring The Interior Castle in which Teresa of Ávila describes our soul as a beautiful castle with many rooms; at the center of the castle God dwells. As James shared yesterday, the mystics can’t be understood rationally, but must be read slowly, prayerfully, and with an open heart.

Teresa begins her book with the revelation that God creates us in God’s own image and likeness:

I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity. In fact, however acute our intellects may be, they will no more be able to attain to a comprehension of this than to an understanding of God; for, as He Himself says, He created us in His image and likeness [Genesis 1:26]. Now if this is so—and it is­—there is no point in our fatiguing ourselves by attempting to comprehend the beauty of this castle; for, though it is His creature, and there is therefore as much difference between it and God as between creature and Creator, the very fact that His Majesty says it is made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty. [1]

Teresa then invites us to reflect with her on the far-reaching implications of this revelation. First, to recognize the fact that we’re created in the image and likeness of God is to know that creation is perpetual and absolute.

That is, at this very moment, a God who is Infinite Reality itself is giving reality to us right now. If God would stop creating you into your chair at the count of three, then at the count of three your chair would be empty—because you’re nothing, absolutely nothing, outside and other than God. If at the count of three, God would cease loving the universe into existence, the universe would disappear because the universe is God’s body. The world embodies the Infinite Love that is Reality giving itself away as this universe. This is true of all creation: Brother Sun and Sister Moon, stones and trees and stars and birds and so on.

Teresa says our soul refers to our God-given godly nature. Your God-given godly nature is the infinite reality of you. You’re worth all that God is worth. You are as precious as God is precious. You have a value that cannot be calculated. Teresa says this is why we don’t understand ourselves. To understand yourself you’d have to understand God, who right at this moment is loving you into existence as the very reality of yourself and your nothingness without God. This is crystal clear, isn’t it? No wonder we can’t figure ourselves out!

Although we might not be able to understand ourselves, as humans we do have the unique capacity to be conscious of Infinite Love embodied in us. And in realizing this reality, we’re empowered to assent to it. Love is never imposed; it’s always offered.

As Teresa says, “Let us now then enter this castle.”

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

References:

[1] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, trans. E. Allison Peers (Dover Publications: 2007, ©1946), 15-16.

Adapted from James Finley, private retreat on Teresa of Ávila and The Interior Castle, 2016.

Seven Mansions   Sunday, October 8, 2017

James Finley, one of CAC’s core faculty members, will be reflecting on two mystics from 16th century Spain in this week’s Daily Meditations. James is attuned to the pedagogy of the mystics and invites us to a different kind of reading. As he puts it, “The mystics are not writing for our logical minds, but to awaken our hearts to what matters most. This requires us to slow down enough to catch up with ourselves. These meditations call us to settle into a quiet, prayerful pondering about who we deep down really are and are called to be and how can we be more faithful to it.”

Jim begins with Teresa of Ávila, author of The Interior Castle, one of the great classical works in the Christian mystical tradition.

Teresa was born in Ávila, Spain in 1515. As a young woman, she entered the cloistered Carmelite convent just outside this medieval walled city. After more than twenty years in the convent, she began to have deep experiences of God’s presence in prayer. A few years before her death in 1582, she was asked to write about what was happening to her.

Let’s look at the first paragraph of The Interior Castle:

While I was beseeching Our Lord today that He would speak through me . . . I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven “there are many mansions” [John 14:2]. [1]

Teresa is saying, in effect, “I’m going to try to share some things with you that are hard to talk about. It’s hard to find words for them. As a matter of fact, at certain levels, it’s beyond words. Therefore, I need something like an overarching metaphor under the auspices of which might be the language with which to speak about these things.”

Teresa was given the metaphor of a beautiful castle inside of us to represent the soul where God dwells. In this castle, there are seven “mansions” or dwelling places, which basically describe different stages along the spiritual journey. Teresa walks her readers all the way through to the seventh mansion, the state of mystical marriage or divine union, where we and God disappear as other than each other.

Teresa says that in the seventh mansion, like watching the rain falling from the sky into the river, you can no longer tell the water that falls from the sky from the water of the river. You and God can no longer tell each other apart from each other. Here even the tribulations of life are realized to be the Beloved flowing endlessly as a kind of intimate gift of being human on this earth. There is nothing missing, because even the experience of the missing of love is the Love. It’s the Love giving itself to you as the intimacy of the yearning for love.

Thomas Merton says there is that in you that no one can destroy or diminish because it belongs completely to God. The whole spiritual life is about grounding ourselves in this invincible preciousness of fragility and becoming someone in whose presence others are grounded in this reality.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

References:

[1] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, trans. E. Allison Peers (Dover Publications: 2007, ©1946), 15.

Adapted from James Finley, private retreat on Teresa of Ávila and The Interior Castle, 2016.; and
Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CDMP3 download.

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On behalf of Illuman, we invite all men!

Soularize 2017—Raising Up Elders:
Men Transforming Men
Thursday October 26–Sunday October 29, 2017
Hyatt Regency Tamaya, New Mexico

To be an elder is not just about growing older. It is a much deeper, more profound soul learning. How does it happen? Who can guide us along this journey?

Soularize brings men together to explore these questions through council, time on the land by the Rio Grande, sharing from Illuman leaders, reflection, and prayer. Friday evening Fr. Richard Rohr will present his vision of what it means to be an elder.

Learn more and register at illuman.org/soularize2017.

Please note: As co-sponsor of Soularize, the Center for Action and Contemplation is unfortunately unable to assist you with questions about this event. Visit illuman.org or email administrator@illuman.org for more details.

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Daily Meditations:
Rebuilding Christianity “From the Bottom Up”

Drawing from his own Franciscan heritage and other wisdom traditions, Richard Rohr reframes neglected or misunderstood teachings to reveal the foundations of contemplative Christianity and the universe itself: God as loving relationship.

Each week of meditations builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time! Watch a short introduction to the theme “From the Bottom Up” (8-minute video)—click here. If you’ve missed earlier messages, explore the online archive.

Feel free to share meditations on social media: go to CAC’s Facebook page or Twitter feed and find today’s post. Or use the “Forward to a Friend” link at the top of this message to send via email.

For frequently asked questions—such as what versions of the Bible Father Richard recommends or how to ensure you receive every meditation—please see our email FAQ.

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“People have good reasons to be angry and afraid. Racism, poverty, climate change, and so many other injustices are causing real suffering. But we cannot fight violence with violence. Only the contemplative mind has the ability to hold light and dark together; only unitive consciousness allows transformation at the deepest levels.”

–Richard

For the latest courses at the CAC, follow this link:

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CAC’s newsletter, the Mendicant, is now online!

Read the Mendicant at cac.org/about-cac/newsletter

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1705 Five Points Rd SW, Albuquerque, NM 87105 (physical) PO Box 12464, Albuquerque, NM 87195-2464 (mailing)

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