Sunday, May 11, 2014


lectio divina, prayer, meditation, solitude, silence, stillness: finding peace in the desert - every day 

In this first volume in a three-part series, Richard Rohr develops aspects of transformation, a recurring theme in his popular presentations. Three of these talks were first presented at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. Talk Three was sponsored by Bellarmine Parish at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Talk One -- Jesus: Forgiving Victim, Transforming Savior
If we imitate the way Jesus lived the role of victim, we will be able to live the Christian mystery. Jesus suffers freely but does not pass on the pain. He forgives, which destroys the death that confronts us. He says, No one else is your problem. You are the locus of conversion and transformation. 

Talk Two -- The Spirituality of Imperfection
The focus of true holiness is giving up control a journey into letting go. This is the way of descent, a path of owning our weaknesses and allowing God to transform us.

Talk Three -- The Maternal Face of God
Rohr attends to developments in feminine consciousness to consider images of God and their evolution in our own understanding of the Divine, who is beyond gender. He considers aspects of God that can transform the spiritual understanding of both women and men.

Talk Four -- Dying: We Need It for Life
Accounts of near-death experiences provide a springboard for exploring a remarkable pattern found in all faiths. Something has to die to unleash the transformative power in all things.


Discharging Your Loyal Soldier
Spirit-Taught Morality
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
The Loyal Soldier is largely what Freud described as the “superego.” He said that our superego usually substitutes for any real adult formation of conscience. It is your early voices of guilt and shame that keep you under control. It is merely preconditioned responses, and not yet God encounter. The superego feels like God, because people have had nothing else to guide them. Such a bogus sense of conscience is a terrible substitute for authentic Spirit-led morality, yet it is what much organized religion teaches. We used to call it “pay, pray, and obey” religion.
What reveals the bogus character of this level of conscience is its major resistance to change and growth, and how it substitutes small, low-cost moral issues for the real ones that ask us to change, instead of trying to change others. It normally takes the form of “straining out gnats while swallowing camels” (Matthew 23:24), as Jesus says. (I am thinking of Catholics who are self-centered and live materialistic lives, and the only thing they confess is that they “had three distractions during Mass”!)
God, life, and destiny have to loosen the Loyal Soldier’s grasp on your small self, which up to now has felt like the only “you” that you know and the only authority that there is. To let go of the Loyal Soldier will be a severe death, an exile from your first base. However, have no doubt, discharging your Loyal Soldier will be necessary to finding authentic inner morality, or what Jeremiah promised as “the law written in your heart” (31:33). Most need guidance—and failure—to cross this boundary.
Gateway to Silence:
The war has ended. Go in peace.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Eat Pray Love

Time interview (Time October 14, 2013, p. 48). She gets asked most
about loving; 'praying is the last thing anybody wants to talk about'PRE-DAWN PRAYER-WALK 6th October 2013

(First day of summer-time)

3.30: alert wakefulness 

Why, Lord? 

Half-hour enquiry / mental note-taking

Rise for slow wash, dress-for-walking, coffee 

To my oratory-desk for scripture  - from Mark's Gospel


Intercessions: + my beautiful soul-mate slowly recovering from cancer-scare during last five months 
+ Syria:  Christians were there before Islam; in 2010 6%; now less than half after being caught in the cross-fire between Assad and rebels/Al Quaida; also the 900,000 refugees from the Iraq mess; and before that, 600,000 Palestinians
+ the community of St Martins
+ a retreatant, who resumes a two-day journey inwards and backwards through time with me later this morning. Jotted about ten discussion-items...

.  .  .  .  . 

Walk into a beautiful pre-dawn 

Thank you Lord for a safe, quiet suburb. 

Just one other human - a female jogger - three cars (taxi, someone driving home from work/night out; another going to their vocation)

Background music all the way - magpies, currawongs, plovers, wattle-birds, a kookaburra, grey butcher-birds  (none from the quiet owl). Possums playing, raucous mating... 

Prayed for the occupants of each silent house: remembering another night when at 4 am I was there serendipitously to help a de-hospitalized very sick neighbour into his home and bed after being deposited (with his wife) by an ambulance, which hurried off... 

Thanks for beautiful gardens: some lit by daytime-solared lights... 

Home 6 am: to be greeted by the barking of my next-door buddy, Buddy...

And now, 7 am. Breakfast and prayer with Jan...  


I there ,just been reading this ,,don't know if you've seen it so ,,,here tis ,, : )


One could easily say that what makes something “spiritual” is precisely that it is paradoxical. “Spiritual things,” as we call them, always have a character of mystery, seeming contradiction, awesomeness, invisibility, or a kind of impossibility to them. That is exactly why we call them spiritual! Isn’t that true for you?
Organized religion has tended to recognize this, but then tries to “organize” what is always Mystery so that it does not seem so impossible, invisible, or contradictory. This was probably good and inevitable, and is much of the function of Scripture and Sacred Story. They take away some of the shock and impossibility of what we are actually saying. This made for a much more beautiful and engaging story than mere literal telling of bare theological “facts.” (Read the book or see the movie, Life of Pi, where this very point is made brilliantly. Both the literal and the symbolic story are in their own way true, and you can choose the one you prefer to believe at the end.) I really doubt if God cares, as long as you get inside of the Great Mystery of Life and Love.
Organized religion makes for a highly communicable message, one that is much more accessible and often more attractive, that allows us to take great things in necessarily small doses, and creates a sharable and sacred language that we can all agree upon and talk about in a hushed or authoritative voice. It also creates a lot of backlash from those who hate or fear symbolism, because it all seems so fanciful to them. This has largely been the case since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the countries that were influenced by what was called the Enlightenment, and now the rest of the world which they in great part colonized.
But organized religion also created fast-food religion that did not make actual God experience needed or even available to most people. They just believed things or belonged to so-called special and superior groups. Transformation of self or transformation of consciousness was not deemed necessary, except at a few artificial behavioral levels. (“We fast on this day,” “We don’t drink alcohol or caffeine,” “We attend this kind of service.”) Such agreed-upon practices were very good for creating a kind of social order in a country, but of themselves they did not lead people to any deep experience of union with God—or themselves. This, of course, is much of the point that St. Paul goes to great length to demonstrate in two of his most important letters: Romans andGalatians.
As many have said in varying ways, you can (1) Do the old thing with the old mind (“conservatives”), (2) Do a new thing with the old mind (“liberals”), or (3) Do a new thing with a new mind. Only the third way deserves to be called authentic religion. The other two stances often avoid the necessary dying to self which is called transformation. The new mind could be called the contemplative mind. The new thing is always love—at ever-deeper levels.
What was originally just thought of as “prayer” was an attempt to “change your thinking cap” and look out at reality from a different pair of eyes. Because the word became cheapened by ego usage, many of us now use the wordcontemplation to describe this new mind or alternative consciousness. The single most precise way to describe this mind is that it sees things in a non-dual way, which is precisely why holy people can love enemies, overlook offenses, see things as paradoxical without giving up their reason, and believe in Jesus as both fully human and fully divine at the same time. Frankly, without the contemplative mind almost all major religious doctrines and dogmas are just silly nonsense, and worse, they are not even helpful to humanity—or God!
With the contemplative mind, things like forgiveness, love, embrace of the outsider, surrender to Mystery, the integration of contradictory ego and shadow, all become possible and even attractive. Now the goal of all religion is in sight—actual union with what is. And “what is” is called God.

Richard Rohr



Published on April 21, 2014 | 0 comments
Four Views on Christian Spirituality
Four Views on Christian Spirituality
Bruce Demarest, ed.
Zondervan, 2012
230 pp.

Reviewed by Dr. Stephen Yuille
The purpose of Zondervan’s Counterpoints series is to provide a forum for comparing different views on issues deemed important to Christians. Recognizing the recent surge of interest in the topic of spirituality, Counterpoints has produced the present volume: Four Views on Christian Spirituality.
In the introduction, Bruce Demarest sets the stage for the four views by identifying the cause of the recent rise of interest in spirituality: “dissatisfaction with materialism and consumerism” (p. 11). Increasingly, people are aware of the emptiness intrinsic to a naturalist worldview and, as a result, are looking for meaning beyond the natural realm. As Demarest explains, this trend has produced three broad “options” for seekers: Secular Spirituality — the quest for self-realization; Religious Spirituality — the pursuit of the absolute in non-Christian religions; and Christian Spirituality (pp. 12–20). He identifies four traditions within this last category: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Progressive Protestantism, and Evangelicalism.
The book explores how these four traditions address what it means to live out a relationship with God (p. 25). Expectedly, it follows the format of other books in theCounterpoints series: one contributor presents his position while the other three respond.
The first contributor, Bradley Nassif, represents Eastern Orthodoxy. He begins by identifying three key-aspects of Orthodox spirituality: beauty, liturgy, and doxology (pp. 27–28). He proceeds to identify the heart of Orthodox spirituality as the gospel “centered on Jesus Christ in his Trinitarian relations” (p. 32). This leads to a discussion of Orthodoxy’s understanding of gospel emphases, spiritual practices, church dogmas, and — of course — deification: “the goal that integrates all Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality” (p. 53).
The second contributor, Scott Hahn, represents Roman Catholicism. He maintains that the “foundation” of Catholic spirituality is “divine filiation,” which encompasses the “fact” of salvation: justification, sanctification, the remission of sin, the infusion of grace, and spiritual regeneration (p. 75). Hahn affirms that God is a family. Baptism is the door into this family. Mary is the mother of this family. The saints on earth and in heaven are siblings in this family. And God directs his family through the visible creation, meaning he works through the seven sacraments of the church (p. 89). These sacraments, therefore, are central to Catholic spirituality.
The third contributor, Joseph Driskell, represents Progressive Protestantism. He identifies a number of factors that have shaped this tradition’s spirituality. The first is an approach to biblical interpretation based on “form,” “source,” and “redaction” criticism (p. 119). The second is a rejection of supernatural theism; in short, God is not a person out there, but a force right here (p. 123). The third factor is a portrayal of Christ as merely an “inspired leader,” who proclaimed an ethic of love even in the face of martyrdom (p. 124). The fourth factor is a concept of the Holy Spirit as “the sense of goodwill and well-being that occurs as any community of friends and associates gathers for fellowship” (p. 133). Emptied of its supernatural emphasis, Driskell explains that Progressive Protestantism is committed to a spirituality of social justice.
The fourth contributor, Evan Howard, represents Evangelicalism. He defines its spirituality as “the manner by which we live in communion with Christ in response to the Spirit in pursuit of holiness resulting in service to others” (p. 160). He divides his discussion into two major sections. In the first, he considers the marks of Evangelical spirituality; in brief, it is protestant (distinguished from medieval Catholic scholasticism, asceticism, mysticism, etc.), orthodox (founded upon historic Nicene belief), conversion-based (committed to a radical turning to Christ), and active (involved in social engagement). In the second section, Howard surveys the practices of Evangelical spirituality such as reading, studying, meditating, preaching, singing, and praying.
Bruce Demarest concludes the volume by attempting to provide “a brief integrative exposition of Christian spirituality” (p. 205). For starters, he claims that it is “thoroughly Trinitarian,” “rigorously Christological,” and “robustly pneumatic” (p. 207). Moreover, it is “nurtured in the Christ-centered body of believers in which Scripture is taught and preached, the sacraments observed, and discipline exercised” (p. 208). Demarest is careful to note that there are basic theological differences between the four traditions (pp. 208–211). Yet, despite these differences, he concludes: “we are learning that considerable common ground exists between committed Christians in the four traditions” (p. 217).
Overall, I enjoyed reading this book. The contributors’ essays are well-researched and well-organized. They engage in a very cordial discussion while representing their respective positions. That being said, I have three significant concerns.
First, the chapter on Progressive Protestantism is out of place. I do not say this to disparage Joseph Driskell; his chapter is well-written. Nevertheless, I am confused as to why it is included in a volume on Christian spirituality. Proponents of Progressive Protestantism deny the doctrine of the Trinity along with Christ’s incarnation and resurrection. They also dismiss the doctrine of the atonement. By their own admission, they reject supernatural theism. It leaves me wondering why Progressive Protestantism is even classified as Christian. To put it another way, I fail to see how Progressive Protestants are any different from the average members of a local Rotary Club.
Second, the chapter on Orthodox spirituality is potentially misleading. Evan Howard picks up on this, claiming that Bradley Nassif “speaks with a new voice” (p. 67). In saying this, Howard means that Nassif is so deeply indebted (personally and theologically) to Evangelicalism that his presentation of Eastern Orthodoxy doesn’t really reflect the Orthodox Church. Howard comments, “What we have before us then, is a presentation of a vision of Orthodox spiritual theology” (p. 67, italics mine). The same can be said of Scott Hahn’s presentation of Catholic spirituality. Is it truly reflective of Roman Catholicism, or is it merely a vision of Catholic spirituality deeply influenced by a very specific context — American Evangelicalism?
Third, the chapter on Evangelicalism is far too broad. Evan Howard has attempted the impossible: to define the spirituality of a nebulous movement. He adopts what is widely touted as the standard definition of Evangelicalism — namely, David Bebbington’s four marks: activism, biblicism, conversionism, and crucicentrism (p. 16).1 But do these marks really constitute an identifiable movement? Is it really possible to include Pietism, Puritanism, Quakerism, Methodism, Arminianism, Fundamentalism, Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Pentecostalism, Calvinism, and a host of other isms under the same umbrella? I am inclined to think the marked differences between these groups render any discussion of a common Evangelical spirituality meaningless.
I submit that—when it comes to Christian spirituality—the place to begin is withhow people think God communicates with them. When we do, we discover four main views: senses, feelings, symbols, and words. In the history of Christianity, different groups have embraced one or more of these as the means by which God communicates with the soul. This conviction has, in turn, shaped their spirituality: a spirituality of senses, a spirituality of feelings, a spirituality of symbols, and a spirituality of words. What are the biblical, philosophical, and theological paradigms that underpin each of these views? How are these views formative? What groups (churches, denominations, and movements) have championed each of these views? Personally, I believe this would have been a far more profitable approach.
But that isn’t how this volume addresses the subject. That’s no surprise. At the outset, Bruce Demarest makes it clear that the goal of the book is to find “an integrated and viable spirituality” (p. 20). In other words, the book is shaped by a pre-determined objective; namely, the desire to arrive at an “ecumenical” spirituality (p. 218). Does it achieve this goal? Yes. But, in so doing, it never really addresses the main issues behind the competing (and, at times, contradictory) views of Christian spirituality. For this reason, it leaves the reader wondering to what extent ecumenical spirituality is biblical spirituality.
1 For an evaluation of David Bebbington’s four marks of Evangelicalism, see Michael Haykin and Kenneth Stewart (eds.), The Advent of Evangelicalism: Exploring Historical Continuities (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2008).

Dr. Stephen Yuille is Pastor of Grace Community Church, Glen Rose, TX, and he is Book Review Editor for Spirituality and Christian Living here at Books At a Glance.


Meditatio Newsletter Lawrence Freeman


Quest for the divine...

December 21, 2013

Barney Zwartz

Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.
Illustration: Jim Pavlidis.
Anguish drove Sarah Bachelard back to religion - a familiar path but one with some modern twists. As a young scholar, she studied theology at Oxford University, seeking to fulfil the ''glimpse'' of God she had seen while growing up Anglican. ''I was an academic soul, and thought the way to make it real was to study it, but that didn't work so I left the church for 10 years.''
She worked for the Senate in Canberra, but ''a broken heart and painful, frightening anxiety'' led her to begin meditating to recapture her spiritual side.
''The really liberating thing is that I didn't have to believe anything in advance. It's just a practice, and if it leads to a deeper life, then it will be obvious in the doing of it.''
Bachelard rediscovered that glimpse, and it deepened. In 2006 she was ordained an Anglican priest, and two years ago launched the Benedictus community in Canberra, an ecumenical group for whom meditation is at the heart of worship.
Many people find meditation leads in other directions than church. But the numbers turning to that and other practices to satisfy a spiritual hunger is rocketing. As mainstream churches empty and as the traditional bulwarks of community falter and fragment, there is a growing backlash against what many see as a high-pressure materialistic lifestyle.
According to David Tacey, a spiritual snapshot of Australia depends on where one looks. ''There is a decline in religious participation, which can be very disturbing for religious people, or there is the quest for transcendence, which can be very heartening and can lead to the opposite conclusion.''
Tacey, a La Trobe University professor and long-time writer and researcher on religion and young people, says people are hungrier than ever for the transcendent - an experience beyond themselves, beyond the material - but because they are not finding traditional religion, a lot of the searching doesn't get noticed.
''We are definitely in a transitional period as a society. When the formal traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam understand that the hunger is for spiritual experience of God and not simply talk about God, they may find young people are getting attracted to the traditions.
''I don't say attracted again, because most people have not been inducted into church traditions in the first place. Many have not only atheist parents but grandparents - we are suffering from religious amnesia.''
Psychiatrist Louise Newman says the evidence shows spirituality, a sense of meaning, is fundamental to mental health, whether organised religion or a system of values. Without it, people are liable to depression, feelings of social alienation, drug and alcohol problems and relationship difficulties.
Newman, director of the Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry, says it is part of the human condition to seek values and purpose. ''We see it today in hugely different ways, the rise of fundamentalism, particularly among the young, is part of that reaction against what we've seen as a decline. People are getting on to creeds as a way to re-establish core values.''
Meanwhile, the importance of Christmas, which she says was unfashionable for a while, is being recognised again. ''It is a very important celebration about relationships, however it is celebrated. It might be a relationship with God or Jesus, but for most people it is especially about families.''
A hunger for something beyond the material world is utterly basic, it is part of being human, believes Simon Smart, director of the Sydney-based Centre for Public Christianity. But we are good at distracting ourselves and hiding or sublimating that hunger.
This is a time in history when people do not know what to do with their longing for transcendence, so clutch at answers that won't satisfy, he says. We all know we are composed of physical particles, but no one lives as though that's all we are. ''We resist that radical reduction.''
The spiritual side is a vitally important aspect of our lives that science can attempt to explain but never quite manages. And it is an area to which the Christmas story can speak powerfully, he says. It can break through people's defences.
Tacey says many people are turning to the East for answers, and many are doing a lot of reading. At one of Melbourne's biggest bookshops, Readings, mystical literature is the most popular after cook books and travel guides, he was told.
''This is true of my students - 70 per cent of them read mystical books, such as Hildegard of Bingen, or Thomas Merton. It's a doorway into the experience of God rather than God-talk.''
He warns that, alongside spiritual hunger, the decline of mainstream religion has brought a second effect. ''It makes people more gullible to cults and sects and various new-age groups who are often asking people to pay big money.''
As British author G.K. Chesterton said a century ago, when people stop believing in God it's not that they believe in nothing, they believe in anything.
So, if orthodox religion does not satisfy, where else can people turn to satisfy their spiritual longings?
One traditional answer is beauty, whether through nature or art. In today's technological West, in which the rational is elevated, people tend to be suspicious of emotions, and detach beauty from any improving role. But as far back as Plato 2400 years ago, beauty was prized as morally good because it lifts one outside and beyond oneself, a critical step in morality.
Philosophers Simone Weil, who was deeply devout, and Iris Murdoch, who was not a believer, both connected art and transcendence.
Murdoch thought art and morals were two aspects of a single struggle. Plato tells us that beauty is the only spiritual thing that we love immediately just as part of our human nature, she wrote. He treated the beautiful as an excellent introduction to ''the good'', seeing art as not so much an analogy of morals as a case of morals.
Nearly everyone has experienced being profoundly moved by beauty, especially music because - as Martin Luther observed - it bypasses reason in feeding the emotions. ''Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us,'' he said.
Theologian Tom Wright has called the transcendence brought by such examples as ''the fingerprints of God'' because it can awaken hearers to a further spiritual reality.
Melbourne University philosopher Christopher Cordner says the experience of real beauty is always a shock, taking one out of oneself. ''You are jolted from being the centre of your world, somehow. You acknowledge the marvellous, wonderful nature of the otherness of the world.''
Cordner says beauty is nourishment for the soul, for religious and non-religious alike, and is inescapably connected with gratitude. It always comes as a surprise - ''when you hear Schubert's Ave Maria sung by Barbara Bonney for the 600th time, it's always new''.
The importance we attach to introducing our children to the marvels of our cultural heritage is not just giving them a sense of history, or making them better citizens, though these things matter, but because they deepen us as we are, here and now. A genuinely religious transcendence, he says, exists further along this path.
Tasmanian poet Janet Upcher makes the same exalted claim about poetry's ability to present the world in a fresh and amazing way. Upcher never felt transcendence through religion, ''but I have through the poetry of Wordsworth and R.S. Thomas [an Anglican priest], where you connect with something greater than yourself, something fathomless and ineffable.
''Poetry, through metaphor, allows us to see the world with wonder, through fresh eyes and with new associations, so that we can recreate the cliche of reality.'' It offers a connection that opens out into something cosmic.
To a poet, she suggests, a rainbow is a metaphor for so many transcendent things, not just the spectrum of light reducible to its components and atoms a scientist sees.
''Whereas science confines, explains and reduces the objective world, poetry seeks to explore the infinite, to expand and to create mysterious possibilities that are not quantifiable or explicable,'' she says.
To Upcher, rather than lifting people beyond the mundane, Christmas now means the loss of transcendence. ''If you look around, people are bowed down with shopping and consuming, and the world is too much with us. It's become much worse in the past decade and a half.'' She sees technology as impoverishing because it removes mystery.
Poet-illustrator Michael Leunig diagnoses the predicament in the same way, but suggests a different remedy. Leunig, whose gentle and soulful take on the world via such characters as Mr Curly and Vasco Pyjama has resonated with tens of thousands of people, believes the question is not so much what people are looking for as what they are trying to get away from.
''For contemporary urban people there's a certain unexpressed revulsion and fear at the speed of change and growth of pressure and ugliness and menace,'' he says.
''They are looking for freedom from what oppresses them, and modern materialistic life has become something of a monster for many people, whether debt or fear of what is to become of their children. It's a sense you are on your own, there's nothing to catch you when you fall, and no one will care.''
No wonder there is a backlash, he believes. ''In their racial memory, whatever the tradition, the religion they mocked they now look to again and ask what was at the heart of it. There's a need to regain the spiritual. It's an instinctual desire, even if it's not conscious. What awakens the spiritual dimension is hardship or threat or suffering.''
But where transcendence implies rising above, Leunig prefers to go below. ''What is so dysfunctional is the grandiose, it's the enormity and bigness that overwhelms people. One can go under it, go back and down towards what is truly grounded, in slowness, in small things, in peace rather than stimulus, small elements of beauty rather than great excellence, to do what is possible and not to overreach.'' But to find relief, Leunig warns, one must first be aware that there is such a thing as the spiritual, then value it and feed it.
Tacey says Australians find it hard to talk about spiritual longings. They fear being stigmatised or categorised as a lunatic fringe. ''We are such a radically secular culture, so materialist, that to talk about the transcendent is almost unAustralian.''
He often talks to members of Catholic religious orders in steep decline, and their tone is great despair and bewilderment, ''but I don't go along with all that pessimism. I'm pessimistic about a lot of mainstream churches, but I'm not pessimistic about God. We need a better understanding about what God is, and a lot less cliches and platitudes.''
And this, according to Smart, is where Christmas can come in. ''If we take time and allow the Christmas story to work, we might find it means something incredibly powerful to us.''
Christmas is often a time of melancholy and longing, but the Christian story of the birth of Jesus, he says, ''speaks to a strange but beautiful and logical sense if we allow it to and see what the story really is at its heart. It's a challenge to get past the crass materialism. It's an outrageous story of God coming to us as a child, not remaining aloof but being part of us - the baby born into obscurity in an outpost of the Roman empire turns out to be God come near to us.''

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