Earlier this year (It aired 8th February 2015), Oprah sat down with theologian and author Father Richard Rohr to discuss how we can reconnect to our true selves by overcoming the many ways in which our egos block our paths. Father Richard, who has been a Franciscan priest for more than 40 years and founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has a firsthand understanding of how silence and meditation, deeper spiritual intuitions and the inherent experience of love can lead to transformational discoveries within oneself.
Excerpt from show:
You’ll find the full conversation here (video) / scroll down.
With the anniversary of Frenchman Jacques Ellul’s birth having just past I thought I’d start with a quote from Ellul; a quote I read against the both / and nature of the quote that follows from James W. Thompson.
“…I try to do… the same thing I do in all my books: face, alone, this world I live in, try to understand it, and confront it with another reality I live in, but which is utterly unverifiable. Taking my place at the level of the simplest of daily experiences, I make my way without critical weapons. Not as a scientist, but as an ordinary person, without scientific pretensions, talking about what we all experience. I feel, listen, and look…”
The Centripetal and Centrifugal Nature of the Church
The “…church has both sharp boundaries that separate it from the dominant culture and doors that permit the church to have an impact on the larger society. The community is not only sent into the world; it is also a light that attracts the world to it as others observe the power of the gospel to change lives. (p. 174)
This David Steindl-Rast OCSO TED talk was last up on my blog in 2013. With the start of a New Year I re-watched / listened to it. Its well worth watching again, so today’s post is a repeat.
Also worth watching is a short film, in which Steindl-Rast reads his poem – A Good Day – accompanied by a short film shot by Louie Schwartzberg. It’s captured in the DVD that accompanies the wonderful little book A Good Day: A Gift of Gratitude. I found the film very moving, especially as I reflected on the relationship between seeing and gratitude. So many times in my life I’ve come across people who can’t see (not literally) who they are (but others can), how they are and relate, and so so often are therefore ungrateful for who they are and what they have. There’s little humble, loving (and critical) self-awareness and so little gratitude. Life and relationships are cheap and superficial. There is little of the richness, gratitude and depth that is the place out which Steindl-Rast speaks and lives.
A ‘new’ book (Simply Good News / pub. Jan 6, 2015 / HarperOne, 208 pages) by prolific Anglican Theologian and Author N.T. Wright. I draw attention to the word new because in a sense this not a new book. It’s largely a restating of Wright’s well established lines of thinking; thinking he has engaged in the myriad of books and articles he’s written, and in the myriad of interviews and lectures.
Anyone familiar will Wright will find little new in this book, however, it does serve as a distillation of his thinking as far as it relates to an understanding of what the gospel or “good news” is. Or, as the book’s subtitle puts it: “…Why is the Gospel News and what makes it Good?"
However, anyone new to Wright (and this is probably as good a starting point as any), or wanting his thinking about the “good news” in one book, this is a great place to start.
Andrew Wilson from CT offers a brief review of the book here.
This recently published book (an edited collection of essays) - Ice Axes for Frozen Seas: A Biblical Theology of Provocation - by outstanding Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann sounds fascinating. Edited by Davis Hankins the book is described in this way: “Endlessly cunning, elusive, and playful—the Bible consistently unsettles even as it assures. Walter Brueggemann reveals exactly how Scripture exposes the inadequacy of the assumptions and habits that shape our lives. He finds inside Israel’s ancient poetry, prophecy, narrative, and legal covenants new words that create new peoples. In so doing this book provokes a theology of transformation—one that compels new social, economic, and political practices. Brueggemann’s reading reveals that we are not fated to live a life of greed, anxiety, and violence, but instead can embrace a shared life of well-being grounded in an investment in the common good. Brueggemann shows the endless ways by which the Bible provokes new life for transformed peoples. “
Hardback, 430 pages. Published: 15th September 2014. ISBN: 9781481302180
In this Moot podcast from late 2014 UK Anglican Vicar and author Dave Tomlinson explores the theme ‘The Laboratory of the Spirit.’ He asks, where and what is the spiritual quest today, and how do we engage with it? Why are many non-churchgoers more spiritually intelligent than some churchgoers? How can the church become a more effective laboratory of the Spirit?
The session began with exploring the place of Spiritual Intelligence, and drawing on his newly published book, A Bad Christian Manifesto: Reinventing God (and Other Modest Proposals), the session drew on Chapter 4. Dave explored the theme that spiritual intelligence is not the same as being deeply rooted in a religious tradition. The two are not synonymous. In fact all too often being religious in Christianity can come across as lacking in any spiritual intelligence.
Dave defined spiritual intelligence in terms of attributes:
Self-awareness: a grasp of what makes us tick, in terms of values and motivations.
Constancy: consistency in following our deepest convictions and values – even when it means standing against the crowd.
Spontaneity: staying alive in the moment and responding to what each moment presents.
Empathy: identifying with others and sharing in their feelings.
Humility: a measured sense of our own place in the wider scheme of things.
Curiosity: the motivation to explore – especially the ‘why?’ questions.
Flexibility: standing back from a situation or problem to see the bigger picture, and make necessary readjustments.
Resilience: remaining positive in the face of adversity; learning and growing from mistakes and setbacks.
Groundedness: a sense of bearing and purpose.
Receptivity: staying open and welcoming toward diversity and difference.
“The Oxford English Dictionary carries various definitions and explanations of silence – nearly all of them negative: ‘Avoidance of mentioning or discussing something’, ‘prohibit or prevent from speaking’; ‘an eerie silence descended over the house’, ‘Susan had withdrawn into sullen silence.’ Indeed, we often consider the silence of a friend as a sign they are sad, worried, self-conscious.
But real silence, writes Maggie Ross, is a way of being in which self-consciousness, instead of interpreting and transmitting our experiences in distorted, or negative fashion, becomes a receptor for the transfiguration of interpretation that flows from the deep mind.
If we do not open to the gifts of original silence that resides in deep mind, we risk ignoring our souls and becoming an amalgam of beast and computer—a version of the scariest monsters in the BBC television series, Dr. Who, named 'The Silence'—or other negative manifestations. Ross writes: ‘The world is out of joint not only because, from a cultural point of view, our bodies have been cut off from our minds—just one of many consequences of our having lost our relationship with the natural world—but also because our minds, overloaded with extraneous information, and stressed by the frenetic speed required merely to stay alive in our artificial world, have lost their relationship with the original silence from which, and within which, we evolved.’
Silence: A User’s Guide is first of two volumes, and is just what the title says: it is a guide to original silence, which is both a vast interior spaciousness and the condition of our being in the natural world. This book exposes the processes by which silence can transfigure our lives—what Maggie Ross calls "the work of silence": the shifting of the centre from which we draw our energy from the constructs of the virtual world to the wellspring that arises in deep mind. This is a process which anyone can engage, 'literate or illiterate; king or peasant.'
If we are to recover our balance—and our humanity—we need to unblock the flow of communication between the limited world of our self-consciousness that is linear, finite, two-dimensional, static, and dead, and our core silence—our deep mind—that is global, infinite, dynamic, and multi-dimensional.
In eight chapters Silence: A User’s Guide tackles spiritual, theological, psychological, historical and linguistic approaches and attitudes toward silence, and culminates in a picture of what a life lived from the wellspring of silence might look like: a life both liberal and conservative, generous and respectful of all living things.”
You can find more information and “look inside” the book here. See this recent post for more on silence.
I’ve really valued Robert Augustus Masters insights; firstly his insights into our emotional life, and secondly and most recently, his insights into the challenges and invitations of being a man (his latest book To Be a Man: A Guide to True Masculine Power Hardcover– January 1, 2015).
In this Sounds True conversation Masters, who is an integral psychotherapist and spiritual teacher whose work emphasizes physical embodiment and greater relational maturity. He talks about the deep shame that men often experience in a society that encourages them to “man up” and ignore their emotions. He also speaks on developing a healthier approach to anger, as well as coming to a new understanding of masculine sexuality (68 minutes).
So often its impossible to get past the ideology and the psychological frameworks and conditioning that undergird violence. Then too there is the question of what constitutes “common good” (especially when considered from a political perspective)?
However, Merton’s defining of “nonviolence” has significant merit, not least in terms of, at the very least, beginning the conversation.
"Nonviolence seeks to ‘win’ not by destroying or even by humiliating the adversary, but by convincing [the adversary] that there is a higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs and blood. Nonviolence, ideally speaking, does not try to overcome the adversary by winning over [them], but to turn [them] from an adversary into a collaborator by winning [them] over."
—Thomas Merton, from Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice
Mark Vernon recently highlighted an interesting report written by Dr Jonathan Rowson, Director of the secular organisation RSA’s (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce) Social Brain Centre, “this report examines how many of society’s problems risk going unaddressed as we struggle to ‘do depth’ in public – it is historically sidestepped by governments and deferred to religions. But at a time of political alienation and democratic stress, it is no surprise that politicians and the public are now seeking to reconnect with their forgotten spiritual roots.
Spiritualise: revitalising spirituality to address 21st century challenges is the culmination of a two-year project funded by the John Templeton Foundation and the Touchstone Trust. The project received contributions from over three hundred experts including atheists, agnostics, and people of various faiths.
Many people think of themselves as having a spiritual aspect to their lives, but without really knowing what that means. This report puts forth that whilst spiritual identification is an important part of life for millions of people, it currently remains ignored because it struggles to find coherent expression and, therefore, lacks credibility in the public domain.
This report recommends that we all rediscover and develop mature forms of spirituality, grounded both in what we can never really know about our place in the universe, and what we can know – and experience – about ourselves. The spiritual injunction is principally an experiential one, namely to know oneself as fully as possible. For many, that means beginning to see beyond the ego and recognise being part of a totality, or at least something bigger than oneself.
Spirituality can be explored in terms of four main aspects of human existence that are often distorted or misrepresented:
Love – the promise of belonging
Death – the awareness of being
Self – the path of becoming and transcendence
Soul – the sense of beyondness
The report concludes with twelve points to be read as calls to action, but not of the conventional injunctive ‘do this!’ variety. In each case, the suggestion is that most issues in the public realm have spiritual roots that we need to acknowledge, engage with, and ‘bring to the table’ when our personal and professional roles oblige us to think more instrumentally.”
You’ll find the PDF version of the report here (90+ pages). Personally I think the report highlights some real challenges to, and opportunities for the Church and the mission of God in the 21st century. The Spirituality conversation is to the 21st century West what St. Paul’s Athenian address. It provides a language and a way into both talking about Christianity and into sharing our rich resources in meaningful ways; ways that deepen and enrich what it means to be truly and fully human after the example of the Son of Man.
You can also read Mark Vernon’s thoughts in respect of the report here.