Affirming oneness doesn’t mean refraining from taking a stand on issues of importance. Clear-headed dualistic thinking must precede any further movement into nondual responses, especially about issues that people want to avoid

The whole creation is eagerly waiting for the full revelation of the children of God. . . . From the beginning until now, the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth. —Romans 8:19, 22

  • Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained. We must actually distinguish things and separate them, usually at a cost to ourselves, before we can spiritually unite them (Ephesians 2:14‒16).
  • We, in our corporate wholeness, are the glory of God, the goodness of God, the presence of God. It’s not my private holiness; it’s our connectedness together and our participation in this, for the common good, is holiness. On my own, I don’t know how to believe that I am a child or heir of God. It is being together in our wholeness, with the entire body of Christ, that makes it somehow easier to believe that we are beautiful. We each have our own little part of the beauty, our own gifts of the Spirit, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul says that the particular way “the Spirit is given to each person is for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Paul’s word for this is a “charism”—a gift that is given to each person not just for themselves, but to build up the community and even society. Since we don’t have the full responsibility of putting it all together as individuals, we can shed the false theology of perfectionism. All we have to do is discover our own gift and use it for the good of all. Jesus’ corporate image is the Reign or Kingdom of God. All of them are looking for a corporate, communal, participatory image of what’s really happening and to be able to carry and bear that.
  • How do you know if you are on a path that leads to increasing wholeness and involves living out of wholeness? You will hear harmony, not simply the cacophony of a fragmented self. You will also sense the energy of the larger whole—an energy that goes beyond your own. You will, at least occasionally, experience the thrill of being simply a small part of a large cause, the thrill of being a tool, seized by a strong hand and put to an excellent use. You will be comforted by knowing that we are all interconnected. In a very real sense, therefore, what you do for another, you do for yourself. Love passed on to others becomes the most meaningful form of self-love, and care of the earth and its inhabitants becomes care of self. We live wholeness when we re-member our story and, through it, experience a deeper sense of being part of a greater whole. We live wholeness when we know we belong—to people, to a place, to a community and tribe, to earth, to God (however named), and to the cosmos. . . . We live wholeness when we know that what we already have is enough and that all we need is to be resourceful with it.
  • The test to which Plotinus puts us, however, is very searching. To be in unity with the Spirit is to be in unity with one’s fellow people. Not to be in unity with one’s fellow people is thereby not to be in unity with the Spirit. The pragmatic test of one’s unity with the Spirit is found in the unity with one’s fellow people.

Pentecost SundayMay 23, 2021

We Turn Around One Thing: What has been “unveiled,” especially this past year with the pandemic, is that we really are one. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained. We must actually distinguish things and separate them, usually at a cost to ourselves, before we can spiritually unite them (Ephesians 2:14‒16).

Unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained. We must actually distinguish things and separate them, usually at a cost to ourselves, before we can spiritually unite them (Ephesians 2:14‒16). Perhaps if we had made that simple distinction between uniformity and true unity, many of our problems, especially those of overemphasized, separate identities, could have been overcome. The great wisdom of Pentecost is the recognition through the Spirit of an underlying unity amidst the many differences!

Paul already made this universal principle very clear in several of his letters. For example, “There is a variety of gifts, but it is always the same Spirit. There are all sorts of services to be done, but always the same Lord, working in all sorts of different ways in different people. It is the same God working in all of them” (1 Corinthians 12:4–6). We see this beautiful diversity and yet unity in the universe itself—from Latin, unus + versus, “to turn around one thing.”

Although we here at the Center are fully committed to the perennial tradition—the recurring themes and truths that surface in all the world’s religions—we are not seeking some naïve “everything is one.” Rather, we seek the hard fought and much deeper “unity of the Spirit which was given us all to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Here we must study, pray, wait, reconcile, and work to achieve true unity—not a foolish and boring uniformity, which is rather undesirable and even unholy. The deeper unity we seek and work for is described by Julian of Norwich when she writes, “The love of God creates in us such a oneing that when it is truly seen, no person can separate themselves from another person” [1], or any other creature, I would add. This is something that we can embrace originally at a primal and then deeper levels of consciousness. Children already enjoy this unity at a pre-rational level, and mystics later enjoy it consciously at a trans-rational and universal level.

So what we might now call deep ecumenism is not some form of classic pantheism or unfounded New Age optimism. It is the whole method, energy, and final goal by which God is indeed ushering in an ever recurring “new age” (Matthew 19:28).

What has been “unveiled,” especially this past year with the pandemic, is that we really are one. We are one in both suffering and resurrection. Jesus’ final prayer is that we can consciously perceive and live this radical union now (John 17:21‒26). Our job is not to discover or even prove this, but only to retrieve what has already been discovered—and rediscovered—again and again, by the mystics, prophets, and saints of all religionsUntil then we are all lost in separation—while grace and necessary suffering gradually “fill in every valley and level every mountain” to make a “straight highway to God” (Isaiah 40:3–4).

References:
[1] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, chapter 65. Rohr paraphrase.

Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “The Perennial Tradition,” Oneing, vol. 1, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), 13‒14. No longer in print.

Monday – All we have to do is discover our own gift and use it for the good of all.

We’re in a spiritual crisis, and the key to building a true belonging practice is maintaining our belief in inextricable human connection. That connection—the spirit that flows between us and every other human in the world—is not something that can be broken; however, our belief in the connection is constantly tested and repeatedly severed. —Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

On my own, I don’t know how to believe that I am a child or heir of God. It is being together in our wholeness, with the entire body of Christ, that makes it somehow easier to believe that we are beautiful. We each have our own little part of the beauty, our own gifts of the Spirit, as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul says that the particular way “the Spirit is given to each person is for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Paul’s word for this is a “charism”—a gift that is given to each person not just for themselves, but to build up the community and even society. Since we don’t have the full responsibility of putting it all together as individuals, we can shed the false theology of perfectionism. All we have to do is discover our own gift, even if it is just one thing, and use it for the good of all.

Paul uses the brilliant metaphor of the body to show how unity is created out of diversity: “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. . . . Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (see 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27).

So we, in our corporate wholeness, are the glory of God, the goodness of God, the presence of God. As an individual, I participate in that wholeness, and that is holiness!  It’s not my private holiness; it’s our connectedness together. In Peter’s words, echoing the Hebrew Scriptures, “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart, who have been called out of darkness into this wonderful light. Once you were not a people at all; now you are the very people of God” (1 Peter 2:9–10). Jesus’ corporate image is the Reign or Kingdom of God. Paul’s is the Body of Christ. John’s is the journey into mystical union where “I and the Father are one” (see John 10:30).

All of them are looking for a corporate, communal, participatory image of what’s really happening, because the individual cannot carry such glory and greatness—and neither can the individual bear such universal suffering and sadness.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 7 (Franciscan Media: 2002), CD.

Tuesday – How do you know if you are on a path to increasing wholeness and living out of wholeness?

Spare me perfection. Give me instead the wholeness that comes from embracing the full reality of who I am, just as I am. David Benner, Human Being and Becoming

Author and psychotherapist David Benner writes of the importance of embracing “wholeness” as a path to holiness, which recognizes and affirms the “oneness” of who we are, without needing to eliminate or perfect any part of ourselves. This generates the same goodwill towards others, leading to greater love.

The harmonic of the universe is wholeness, not perfection; more specifically, it is wholeness that involves differentiation. Fusion is a union that sacrifices differentiation; wholeness retains differentiation. Without wholeness, we hear only the cacophonous noise of the various parts of our selves, clanging together. Without differentiation, we hear only the pure sound of a single tone, but not its harmonics. . . .

How do you know if you are on a path that leads to increasing wholeness and involves living out of wholeness? You will hear harmony, not simply the cacophony of a fragmented self. You will also sense the energy of the larger whole—an energy that goes beyond your own. You will, at least occasionally, experience the thrill of being simply a small part of a large cause, the thrill of being a tool, seized by a strong hand and put to an excellent use. You will be comforted by knowing that we are all interconnected. In a very real sense, therefore, what you do for another, you do for yourself. Love passed on to others becomes the most meaningful form of self-love, and care of the earth and its inhabitants becomes care of self. We live wholeness when we re-member our story and, through it, experience a deeper sense of being part of a greater whole. We live wholeness when we know we belong—to people, to a place, to a community and tribe, to earth, to God (however named), and to the cosmos. . . . We live wholeness when we know that what we already have is enough and that all we need is to be resourceful with it.

Living wholeness is participating in the dynamism of love that gathers everything together into greater unity and consciousness. It is to live with an openness of mind and heart, to encounter others, not as strangers, but as parts of one’s self. When we enter into the heart of love in this way, we enter the field of relatedness and come to know our truest and deepest belonging and calling.

Wholeness and love are inseparable. . . . In the words of Ilia Delio, “Our challenge today is to trust the power of love at the heart of life, to let ourselves be seized by love, to create and invent ways for love to evolve into a global wholeness of unity, compassion, justice, and peacemaking.” [1] This is living wholeness and love.

References:
[1] Ilia Delio, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love (Orbis Books: 2013), xxv.

David G. Benner, “Perfection and the Harmonics of Wholeness,” Perfection,” Oneing, vol. 4, no. 1 (CAC Publishing: 2016), 62‒63.

Wednesday Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained. We must actually distinguish things and separate them, usually at a cost to ourselves, before we can spiritually unite them (Ephes 2:14‒16).

To be in unity with the Spirit is to be in unity with one’s fellow people. Not to be in unity with one’s fellow people is thereby not to be in unity with the Spirit. The pragmatic test of one’s unity with the Spirit is found in the unity with one’s fellow people. Howard Thurman

While we have the language of philosophy, psychology, modern science, and sociology to describe the truth of universal interconnectedness, the mystics first described it based on their own experience. In this meditation, African American mystic and scholar Howard Thurman (1899‒1981) reminds us of how our love for God is one with our love for our neighbor.

Long ago, Plotinus [205–270 CE] wrote, “If we are in unity with the Spirit, we are in unity with each other, and so we are all one.” [1] The words of this ancient Greek mystic are suggestive; for they call attention to the underlying unity of all of life. The recognition of the Spirit of God as the unifying principle of all life becomes at once the most crucial experience of humanity. It says that whoever is aware of the Spirit of God in themselves enters the doors that lead into the life of their fellow people. The same idea is stated in ethical terms in the New Testament when the suggestion is made that, if a person says they love God, whom they hath not seen, and does not love their brother or sister who is with them, they are a liar and the truth does not dwell in them [1 John 4:20].

The way is difficult, because it is very comforting to withdraw from the responsibility of unity with one’s fellow people and to enter alone into the solitary contemplation of God. One can have . . . [perfect] solitary communion without the risks of being misunderstood, of having one’s words twisted, of having to be on the defensive about one’s true or alleged attitude. In the quiet fellowship with one’s God, one may seem to be relieved of any necessity to make headway against heavy odds. This is why one encounters persons of deep piousness and religiosity who are intolerant and actively hostile toward their fellow people. Some of the most terrifying hate organizations in the country are made up in large part of persons who are very devout in their worship of their God.

The test to which Plotinus puts us, however, is very searching. To be in unity with the Spirit is to be in unity with one’s fellow people. Not to be in unity with one’s fellow people is thereby not to be in unity with the Spirit. The pragmatic test of one’s unity with the Spirit is found in the unity with one’s fellow people. We see what this means when we are involved in the experience of a broken relationship. When I have lost harmony with another, my whole life is thrown out of tune. God tends to be remote and far away when a desert and sea appear between me and another. I draw close to God as I draw close to my fellow people. The great incentive remains ever alert; I cannot be at peace without God, and I cannot be truly aware of God if I am not at peace with my fellow people.

References:
[1] Plotinus, Enneads, VI.5.7.

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press: 1981), 120–121. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.

Thursday: Action Based in Oneness
There is a stereotype of mystics seeking to escape the world, concerned only with the ecstasy of their own experience of union with the Divine; yet in that union is a doorway that opens out into everything and everyone. —Liza J. Rankow

We must proclaim the truth that all life is one and that we are all of us tied together. Therefore it is mandatory that we work for a society in which the least person can find refuge and refreshment. . . . You must lay your lives on the altar of social change so that wherever you are, there the Kingdom of God is at hand! —Howard Thurman, Commencement address, Garrett Biblical Institute, 1943

Scholar and activist Liza Rankow has centered her work in spirituality and justice on the teachings of Howard Thurman. Hers is a clear explanation of the radical connection between mysticism and social action, which is at the core of our message here at the CAC.  She credits the prophetic Howard Thurman as her teacher, one who “recognized an inherent oneness that breathes through all life and being.” [1]

I describe [Thurman’s] view of oneness as “north” on the ethical compass of the mystic ethos. (And one need not have had a personal experience of mystic union to adopt this ethic and worldview.) It is something to guide us, to point ourselves toward, to check ourselves against as we work for justice, healing, and liberation. It is the ideal that compels us, although we may never attain it, expanding the radius of our concern and the depth of our responsibility. . . .

There is a stereotype of mystics seeking to escape the world, concerned only with the ecstasy of their own experience of union with the Divine; yet in that union is a doorway that opens out into everything and everyone. The experience of oneness brings us back into relationship with the allness. The oneness and the allness inter-be (to return to the term from Thich Nhat Hanh). Thus we feel deeply the wounds of a battered world, and the suffering and the needs of the people—including, as Thurman puts it in Jesus and the Disinherited, those “with their backs against the wall”—the disenfranchised, the marginalized and the oppressed. [2] Inaction is not an option. The mystic worldview creates an ethical mandate, and it offers a new way to enter the world of social transformation—from the position of oneness rather than dualism. It shifts the paradigm. . . .

We do not undertake this work alone. We have comrades, community, allies and accomplices all over the planet. There is strength and hope in remembering this, and in reaching beyond the manifest world to the larger Life that surrounds us—the forces of Nature, the wisdom of the Ancestors, the power and presence of the Spirit. These too are part of the oneness. A mystic approach to social action invites us to call on energies beyond our finite selves in order to stand with grace, courage, and fierce love, addressing the indignities of the world with a depth that causes them to crumble. Thurman reminds us that God is against all dualisms, and anything that denies the oneness of Life, ultimately, cannot stand.

References:
[1] Liza J. Rankow, “Mysticism and Social Action: The Ethical Demands of Oneness,” in Anchored in the Current: Discovering Howard Thurman as Educator, Activist, Guide, and Prophet, ed. Gregory C. Ellison II (Westminster John Knox Press: 2020), 117–118.

[2] Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (Beacon Press: 1996, 1976), 11.

Liza J. Rankow, “Mysticism and Social Action,” 120, 121, 126.

Friday: Dualistic Clarity Before Nondual Oneness

We sometimes think that affirming oneness means refraining from taking a stand on issues of importance. Instead, clear-headed dualistic thinking must precede any further movement into nondual responses, especially about issues that people want to avoid.

We must operate from a level of nondual consciousness to understand more fully the oneness or unity that the Gospel and the Christian scriptures offer us. The divine image and dignity are inherent in every being. We have the freedom and honor of choosing to grow (or not) in our unique likeness of this image. Jesus is one clear example of this path who models inclusive, nondual, compassionate thinking and being.

Why then does Jesus tell stories that show harsh judgment, casting the rejected into “outer darkness” and “eternal punishment,” especially in Matthew’s Gospel (see Matthew 25:46)? This seems to undo all the mercy and forgiveness Jesus demonstrates in the rest of his life and teaching. Let me explain how I see it.

We sometimes think that affirming oneness means refraining from taking a stand on issues of importance. Instead, clear-headed dualistic thinking must precede any further movement into nondual responses, especially about issues that people want to avoid. We cannot make a nonstop flight to nondual thinking or we just get fuzzy thinking. First, we must use our well-trained and good mind, and then find our response in a holistic (body, mind, soul, and heart) response. This is at the heart of mature spirituality, and one of the most common confusions. Many assert justice by naming the problem in stark relief and “prophetically” staying right there. Others speak too quickly of love, forgiveness, and communion before they have themselves hung for a while in the “tragic gap,” as Parker Palmer calls it.

Note that Jesus reserves his most damning and dualistic statements for matters of economic justice where power is most resistant: “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24); “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24); or the clear dichotomy in Matthew 25 between sheep (who feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned) and goats (who don’t). The context is important. Jesus’ foundational and even dualistic bias is always against false power and in favor of the powerless. Unfortunately, Christians have managed to avoid most of what Jesus taught so unequivocally and with dualistic clarity: nonviolence, sharing of resources, simplicity, loving our enemies.

History shows that we will almost always compromise or completely avoid the Gospel issues of justice, power, money, and inclusion. Only a small number of Christians have learned the contemplative response to these same social evils, but the number is growing. More and more individuals are finally learning the artful balance of practicing clear-headed critique and open-door compassion—at the same time!  These are people who recognize the human need for restitution, making amends, and full public accountability, and the divine capacity for forgiveness and patience. If either are sacrificed, we do not have the full Gospel. Yes, it is still a small minority who know how to do both, but they are the hope of the world.

Interbeing

Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh (b. 1926) has offered the world much wisdom through his personal example and teaching. Here he offers a meditation about a piece of paper to illustrate the mysterious interconnection of all things which he calls “interbeing”:

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be.

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. Without sunshine, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. The logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here—time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. We cannot just be by ourselves alone. We have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. . . . Without non-paper elements, like mind, logger, sunshine and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, ed. Arnold Kotler (Bantam Books: 1991), 95–96.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Introduction,” “Evolutionary Thinking,” Oneing, vol. 4, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2016), 13–14.

God is never static within us. Only when God is held without can we continue to think of God as inert, static, and merely imposing laws. Anybody who has paid attention to their inner life or read history books surely recognizes that life and love are cumulative, growing, and going somewhere that is always new and always more. Perhaps it is this newness and non-familiarity of which we are afraid? For some reason, we think that admitting such love dynamism and cooperating with it (see Romans 8:28) is going to compromise our eternal, unchanging notion of God. Yet the Bible is not afraid of a dynamic and unfolding understanding of God. The notion of “The Lord” clearly evolves with many other iterations in the Hebrew Scriptures. For the New Testament writers, these images inspire the Christian notion of Jesus and lead to the utterly relational and totally interactive doctrine of the Trinity. A dynamic understanding of God is not only rather obvious in the Bible, but also necessary—and surely exciting. Remember, the only language available to religion is metaphor. God is always like something else we have experienced visibly and directly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s