“…The great spiritual teachers tell us that when the Divine Life is born in us, that which is false and illusory begins to die. This is promising and it is frightening. No one can face that unless he or she is pretty sure that beneath that which is unreal there is a deeper and better reality. When we start to trust our own best experience of God [or however you might name the divine], the One who says ‘Have no fear,’ and ‘I am with you always,’ that deeper reality begins to come forth…”
The most recent issue (April 2015) of the The Way journal (A Review of Christian Spirituality published by the British Jesuits). It features an essay titled: Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Journey by Jane Kopas (Jane Kopas taught briefly at the College of Wooster (Ohio) and was a professor at the University of Scranton (Pennsylvania), where she taught theology, religious studies and women’s studies. She is the author of Sacred Identity (1995) and Seeking the Hidden God (2005) as well as numerous articles. She currently lives in New Jersey).
Here’s the opening section of the essay
“THE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY of the birth of Thomas Merton took place on 31 January 2015. This is a time for remembering and reassessing the life of this great spiritual guide and, consciously or unconsciously, weighing his relevance for our own lives. We may do this to find something in his life to emulate. We may look to him for answers to our questions about prayer and the spiritual life. Or maybe it is just that we want to know more about a spiritual writer who left an enduring mark on twentieth-century religious thought.
Whatever our reasons, it is helpful to recall Merton’s cautions about how one uses the life and words of others. Merton writes:
“Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints; they never succeed in being themselves .... They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint ....”
If we are to learn anything from Merton about his contemplative journey, we would do well to attend to his words by making our own paths. Each individual’s journey is full of unique opportunities as well as detours, obstacles, dead ends and roads not taken. Merton himself lived by that conviction…”
You’ll find the complete article online here (PDF).
The Sacred Gaze: Contemplation and the Healing of the Self (Liturgical Press: 7th April 2014 / p.b. 180 pages) sounds like a fascinating book and I can’t wait to read it. It evokes and resonates with a lot of reading and thinking I’ve been doing over the last few years. Reading about it reminded me of a great BBQ-side conversation I had last weekend.
“Eight hundred years ago, Clare of Assisi advised a correspondent to gaze into the mirror of the crucified Christ and study her own face within it. One hundred years ago, sociologist Charles Horton Cooley said we can know our self only as it is reflected to us by others. Contemplation is the choice to find our reflection in the divine Mirror. In The Sacred Gaze, Susan Pitchford explores how a false self is created by distortions in the mirrors around us. Drawing from the mystical and sociological traditions, and with practical suggestions for how to begin, Pitchford shows how gazing into the face of Christ can reveal to us who we really are. When the true self is known, and known as God's beloved, the way is opened to radical freedom and joy.
Susan R. Pitchford is a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Washington and a professed member of the Third Order, Society of St. Francis. She is the author of God in the Dark: Suffering and Desire in the Spiritual Life (Liturgical Press) and Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone…”
Janet Ruffingsays of the book: “…“The Sacred Gaze invites the reader to consider devoting the time and energy to cultivating the contemplative life, not only for its own sake, but also for the way deep experiences of God’s unconditional love have the potential to bring a deeper level of healing to a wounded or spoiled identity. To experience oneself as beloved of God, expressed either through a mutual gazing in love upon one another in imaginative contemplation or as held in God’s embrace in imageless prayer for long periods of time over a lifetime, leads to the discovery of one’s true self that relieves one of the burden of all ego projects. To look into the mirror who is Christ is to discover one’s own Christic identity.”
You’ll find a sample excerpt (PDF) for a time on the publishers website. As an aside, I wasn't aware of her or her writing in 2012 when it turns out she was here in New Zealand - the guest speaker at the "Living Simply in a Complex World" at the Convocation of the New Zealand Third Order of St Francis in Waikanae, NZ, Oct 4-7 2012. Andrew Jones (aka Tall Skinny Kiwi) has a blog post with video links here.
While the book is too expensive for me to purchase, my own imagination was stirred by this nice summing up of the central theme in Bachelard’s fascinating book, Resurrection and Moral Imagination. The summing up (below) is from an online review by Phillip McCosker, published in The Tablet last June (emphasis, mine).
Transcendence in ethics;
Resurrection and transcendence;
Resurrection, imagination and ethics;
Living beyond death and judgement;
Mortality and moral meaning;
The practice of resurrection ethics: secularization, contemplation and the Church;
“…Bachelard’s game-changing vision is quite different from that of her fellow Anglican moral theologian Oliver O’Donovan’s earlier Resurrection and Moral Order. For O’Donovan, ethics must be founded on the Resurrection because it vindicates the created order and its morality; for Bachelard, the Resurrection gives a new world from which to act, and that world can be perceived even without explicit religious belonging…
… Crucial here is Murdoch’s conviction, which Bachelard makes central, that moral differences between us are not the result of making different moral choices within a shared world – choosing different items from the same menu – but rather because we perceive different worlds. We’re in very different eateries: the suicide bomber and the vegan live in different moral universes. Building on Wittgenstein, Bachelard emphasises how our unconscious background pictures of reality filter and unwittingly influence our every thought and action. The task of the moral life is to reveal the world as it really is and attend to it, avoiding the false consolations of attractive but illusory and facile views.
Our regular and predictable celebrations of Easter can deaden our sense of the utter strangeness of the Resurrection. Liturgical familiarity breeds not contempt exactly, but apathy or cosiness, a sense of “same old, same old”. We are now bored by the events that filled the early Christians with dumbstruck fear and awe, turning their conceptual universes inside out and upside down. Nothing was the same again, all re-constellated around the risen Jesus…
… By complete contrast, in the bizarre new world revealed by the Resurrection, we live a life after the pattern of Jesus. This is what the Spirit brings about. Not a life of prescriptions and proscriptions but a life shaped by a person, a person whose identity is constituted, not over against others, but by constant trust and dependence on the Father: an outward-looking life in which death is revealed to be a penultimate reality; a life sourced in God’s boundless generosity and grace, lived from and into the open and uncontrollable future.
If we receive our real identities from the risen Jesus who is always ahead of us as he calls us, this fundamentally alters our relations with each other. We cannot control our identities: we receive them as gifts. Likewise we do not possess goodness: we participate in it as it transcends us. For Bachelard, a moral life sourced in the Resurrection reveals the true depth of reality; it is always vulnerable because it lives from the unknown future and under God’s judgement alone, and it is therefore always compassionate, producing a moral discourse which doesn’t trade in easy certainties or wishy-washy niceness but is messy, unsystematic and painful…”
“…Eventually, I managed to come to ground with a few moderately successful books, which confronted me with my next challenge as a writer. In this society, people who write passable books — and even books that aren’t — tend to get pegged as experts on their subjects. My ego loves to absorb and massage those projections of expertise. My soul knows it ain’t true: I’ve never written a book on something I’ve mastered. Once I master something, I get bored with it, and writing a book is way too hard to take on a subject that bores me.
I write about things that feel to me like bottomless mysteries — teaching, social change, spirituality, democracy, etc. — and I start writing from a place of “beginner’s mind.” For me, writing does not begin with reaching for expertise by gathering facts, wrapping them in lucid thoughts, then downloading all of that from my mind to the page. It begins with making a deep dive into something that baffles me — into my not-knowing — and dwelling in the dark long enough that “the eye begins to see” what’s down there. I want to make my own discoveries, think my own thoughts, and feel my own feelings before I explore what conventional wisdom says about the subject. That’s why I’m not so much a writer as a re-writer, most of whose scribbling goes through eight or ten drafts.
As a writer, my most critical inner work is to fend off projections of expertise — whether they come from without or within — that would allow my ego to trump beginner’s mind. The moment ego takes over, I lose the main gift I bring to my work, the fact that I was born baffled.
Novices are often advised to “write about what you know.” I wouldn’t call that bad advice, but I think it needs tweaking. Write about what you want to know because it intrigues and baffles you…”
While I don’t agree theologically with everything Marcus Borg has written / said, I work hard to remain open to alternative perspectives ad standpoints. I always find something in his learning, insights and perspectives that is helpful
“Marcus Borg's reflections on Jesus are among the most influential in contemporary Christian thought, yet as an American "progressive" theologian and Jesus scholar he was one of the first to challenge literalist interpretations of the Bible. This is the last interview in Australia before he died at the age of 72 early this year. Anglican priest and founder of Benedictus Contemplative church, Sarah Bachelard offers an Easter reflection on the Resurrection.” She has written what looks like a fascinating book, albeit a very expensive book.
Listen to the 53 min broadcast here on The Spirit of Things.
Today, a replay of a conversation with Don Riso M.A, who was one of the foremost teachers and developers of the Enneagram in the world. Many of you will know that he passed away in August 2012.
To mark that occasion What We Need to Know’s Andrea Isaacs decided it would be a good time to replay (in 2012) her conversation with Riso March, 2010 (can be heard here).
In this interview (downloadable via iTunes), they talked about why people would want to know about the Enneagram.
Don was co-founder of The Enneagram Institute, and a Founding Director of the International Enneagram Association. He taught the Enneagram worldwide for over 30 years. His five best-selling books (co-written with Russ Hudson), The Wisdom of the Enneagram; Personality Types, Understanding the Enneagram; Discovering Your Personality Type; and Enneagram Transformations have sold over a million copies worldwide and are the most influential books in the field.
It’s an insightful conversation and a pleasant experience to hear Riso after only having read his books.
We might differ as to what the “key” or “keys” are, but it’s nonetheless a vivid metaphor:
“We are like prisoners in an unguarded cell. No one confines us against our will, and we have heard that the key that will release us is also locked inside. If we could find the key, we could open the door and be free…. This is not a meaningless metaphor: we are prisoners of our ego, enchained by our fears, restricted in our freedom, suffering from our condition. No one prevents us from searching for the key that would free us. We must, however, know where to look for it and be willing to use it once we have discovered where it is.”
Today I want to highlight a series of four brief conversations (Mp3 audio) in which theologian Douglas Campbell talks about the following topics. Each conversation is around 30 mins, and provides a good introduction to each of those topics. They were recorded a few years back.