Documentary film maker Ken Burns:
“I used to think there were three great crises: the Civil War, the Depression and the Second World War in American life. I would add this. And maybe this is the very, very worst. But at the same time, we just keep going forward. There is no other option but to endure.” [NPR]
‘Well, darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable, and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.’
American politics has reached a moment of existential uncertainty. Beyond the headlines and news alerts are problems bigger than any one administration—problems that stem from the deep tensions and challenges in America’s political institutions.
It’s time to reevaluate and revisit how we think about American democracy. The Founding Fathers did their best, but the hosts of a new podcast, “Politics in Question,” have some ideas, too. They discuss political reforms in this first-of-its-kind show that asks the very biggest questions.
Join hosts Lee Drutman, Julia Azari, and James Wallner, three lively experts on American political institutions and reform, as they imagine and argue over what American politics could look like if citizens questioned everything.
There are a lot of podcasts about the daily chaos. But “Politics in Question” is the first to step back and think big about the basic structures and processes of democracy — and to take nothing for granted.
This podcast is part of The Democracy Group, a network of podcasts that examines what’s broken in our democracy and how we can work together to fix it.
“From all the thoughts of ‘I’ and ‘man,’ that man finds utter peace.”
The extremist behavior and violence that took place in Washington, D.C. on January 6 was truly shocking and worthy of condemnation—many have already done so. The whole world is transfixed, bearing witness to the awful and extraordinary unfolding of history.
In my previous letters I wrote about the DISORDER that is already upon us, as well as the consequences that ensue when illusions of power and privilege co-opt and distort Christianity. At the Center for Action and Contemplation, we are free to speak in great part because we are not beholden to the usual constituencies. Using the brilliant metaphor from the Hebrew Scriptures, we are “outside the camp” of either political party, any need to influence an election, and, by the grace of God, any negative or fear-based church pressure from Rome, Santa Fe, or Assisi.
We are also, like few other organizations, free from the coercion of donors and finance, thanks to almost thirty-three years of operating with our priorities clearly in view to all who cared to study or read our publications. Blessedly, our donors have not run for cover over time, but only increased in numbers, continuing to join us—even from outside the usual camps of both religion and politics.
Few people enjoy such freedom of living and teaching from the edge of the inside. This is the unique position that a prophetic charism holds and for which it is responsible; it is structurally quite rare, and therefore we must use it.
“Moses used to take the tent, and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. . . . Anyone who wanted to consult Yahweh would go to this tent of meeting outside the camp.” (Exodus 33:7)
The “tent of meeting” is the initial image and metaphor that eventually became our much later notion of “church.” Moses had the prescience and courage to move the place of hearing God outside and at a distance from the court of common religious and civic opinion—this was the original genius that inspired the entire Jewish prophetic tradition. It is quite different than the mere liberal and conservative positions, and often even at odds with them. Most of liberalism is based on a secular foundation of knowledge, and most of conservatism is identified with boundary-keeping, order, and control. By contrast, Prophecy and Gospel are rooted in a contemplative and non-dual way of knowing—a way of being in the world that is utterly free and grounded in the compassion of God.
The early desert fathers and mothers imitated both Moses and Jesus by fleeing to Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Cappadocia—and some as far as Ireland and Scotland. Beginning in the 4th century, we Christians surrendered our unique and free perspective to the Roman and Byzantine Empires. In the desert and outside the camp, these people discovered what we now call “contemplation”: the alternative mind and the alternative community to the status quo—then and now—of money, power, and war.
The free and graced position found in the tent of meeting is what allowed Jesus and all prophets in his lineage to speak from a minority position. It is always less desirable, compared to the comfortable and enjoyable places at the center and the top; yet it is the Jesus stance, and the place where all Franciscans follow after him.
“Let us go to him, therefore, outside the camp, and be willing to share in his degradation.” (Hebrews 13:13)
For many people, religion as a “cosmic egg” capable of holding universal Truth, collective and personal meaning, is broken. Now, the cracks in this very “uncosmic egg” are rapidly spreading in all directions. Delusions enthrall us and inherent deceit becomes overwhelmingly apparent and manifest in the nihilism of our postmodern age, the denial of science and reasonableness, and the denial of the pandemic that now assaults us all. The very future of the meanings of words and truth are at stake, as specifically exemplified by Trumpism in its many forms.
We must again move with Jesus outside the camp and even be willing to “share in his degradation” if that be God’s will. We must trust that the one who has called us into this present moment will also sustain us and lead us through it.
“Yahweh would speak with Moses face to face [outside the camp] as a young man speaks with his friend. And then Moses would return to the camp.” (Exodus 33:11)
This is the primary vocation of the Center for Action and Contemplation. We invite you to join us—first, in the tent of meeting outside the camp for prayer, dialogue, and deep discernment. Then, like Moses, we must all choose to “return to the camp,” where all of our brothers and sisters live and die.
Maybe unity is not possible, yet, we can remember that we are one, one in humanity as species and co-creators in our reality with ourselves and in each other…especially in context and proximity of losing our democracy, our republic, just three weeks ago. Can we pledge, at least, to cooperation? To listening? To empathy?
We are ‘we the people.’ Let us remember. And may we vow today to divest ourselves from the for-profit platforms and groups that feed disinformation and hate into our collective bloodstream. It must end.
And in less than 24 hours, the first woman vice president in the United States.
‘The story we believe and live in today has a lot to do with the world we create for our children, our grandchildren, and our descendants one hundred thousand years from now (if?).’ -Brian McLaren
‘We are all looking for a larger and more loving story in which to participate.’
‘The deepest truth is our union with the Absolute, Infinite Being with God. That’s the root of our reality.’ -Beatrice Bruteau
‘We experience liberation from
fruitless, or counterproductive action.
We will no longer be “just” anything,
No, whatever our work we will do it as agents…builders…of a new world.
Then, we will
treat our neighbors differently,
and so much more.’
-Center for Action and Contemplation
We are falling on our face because we are jumping high.
A dash of perspective in a dark hour.
It’s scary out there right now. It’s going to be scary for some time to come. What has been unleashed, what has been revealed, is ugly. It is what makes democracies die.
In the despair, it is easy to lose perspective. I certainly do all the time. But from time to time, I step back and try to remember where we are as a country on the arc of things.
And I see then that this is both a very dark time and, potentially, a very bright time. It’s important to hold these truths together.
When I look down at the ground of the present right now, I feel depressed. If I lift my head to the horizon, I see a different picture.
This is not the chaos of the beginning of something. This is the chaos of the end of something.
Because the 40 years of this plutocratic takeover — of the ideology that said if you’re torn between doing what’s good for money and what’s good for people, always do what’s good for money; these stories about lazy workers and welfare queens; and any number of other fraudulent tales that were meant to justify life in the Hamptons — if I allow myself to feel this way on a good day, it all actually feels like it’s burning down.
And on matters of race and identity, likewise, the Trump era doesn’t have the crackle of a launch. It has been a mourning. A mourning for white power. A mourning for a time when simply to be white and show up was enough. A mourning for an era in which simply to be a man, and not necessarily an especially capable one, could get you ahead of other people. A mourning for a time when you could be the default idea of an American and not have to share your toys.
We must understand that what we’ve been living through is backlash. Backlash.
It’s not the engine of history. It is the revolt against the engine of history. Then we might remember — just to pat ourselves on the back for a second — that what we are actually endeavoring to do right now is to become a kind of society that has seldom, if ever, existed in history. Which is become a majority-minority, democratic superpower.
I have a lot of love for my friends in Europe, but actually none of you all have your immigration rates and naturalization rates at a high enough level to get there anytime soon. And you all may never get there.
Look at India and China. I love India. My parents are from India. India is never going to be a nation of immigrants. It’s never going to be a country of people from all the world. It can barely get unity with people just from India. China is never going to be a nation of immigrants. No shade. That’s just not their history. It’s not who they are.
We are falling on our face because we are jumping very high right now. We are trying to do something that does not work in theory.
To be a country of all the world, a country made up of all the countries, a country without a center of identity, without a default idea of what a human being is or looks like, without a shared religious belief, without a shared language that is people’s first language at home. And what we’re trying to do is awesome. It is literally awesome in the correct sense of that word.
And, therefore, that we are having insurrections on the Mall or four years of an autocratic attempt or racism oozing through the television and social media portals is both terrifying and a completely predictable, inevitable result of people in power exploiting these transitional anxieties for their own pecuniary gain.
And what we have to do is get smarter than powerful people. Get more organized than them, and understand that there is a different story to tell those who mistakenly went to the Mall and the 12 percent of Americans who actually supported that terrorist attack, and everybody else — a story to tell them about something great we are trying to do.
We will actually create a country that’s better for every single person. But we have to be willing to tell that story forcefully. We have to be willing to fight those people tooth and nail, and we have to fight to win.
We are living through a revolt against the future. The future will prevail.
Let go. Let be. And receive
in all things.
Image credit: Basket and Tree Root (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University.
Like the exposed roots of a tree, reality unveiled can be many things at the same time: sharp, smooth, ugly, beautiful, painful, and healing.
Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation:
A Time of Unveiling
The future, however, is finer than any past. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind
If you are anything like me, there is some part of you that was relieved to turn the calendar over to 2021. The new year puts at least some symbolic distance between ourselves and 2020, a year that brought so much chaos, heartbreak, and uncertainty to so many people throughout the world. I dare say that no one lived through the past year without experiencing some level of disruption and loss of freedom, of health, of loved ones, and especially our cherished notions of how things “ought” to be.
The Daily Meditations theme for 2021 is “A Time of Unveiling.” I’m convinced we are living in such a time—when reality is being revealed as it is. Systems of evil have become both more brazen and banal, our sense of “normal” has been upended, and yet in the midst of it, God continues to invite us to deeper transformation.
A few weeks into the pandemic, some people even began to use the word “apocalyptic” to describe what was taking place. Often, this word is used to scare people into some kind of fearful, exclusive, or reactionary behavior, all in expectation of the “end times.”
But the word “apocalyptic,” from the Greek apokálupsis, really just means “unveiling.”
The beginning of the new year seems like a good time to pause, “pull back the veil,” and ask, “Where is this all going? What is the end goal for all of us, and—for that matter—for the cosmos itself?” Is our “late, great planet Earth” really headed toward Armageddon? In these fractious, unmoored, and disillusioned times, I can hardly think of more relevant concerns.
No matter what is going on around us, it’s important to remember that God keeps transforming creation into something both good and new. Instead of hurtling us towards catastrophe, God always wants to bring us somewhere even better. A helpful word here is “evolution.” God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. That might be hard to see sometimes in the moment, but it’s nevertheless true.
While more and more people seem to believe that that the universe has no form, direction, or final purpose, as Christians, we can be confident that the final goal does have shape and meaning. The biblical symbol of the Universal and Eternal Christ (Consciousness)
A L P H A ~ O M E G A
stands at both ends of cosmic time. This assures us that the clear and full trajectory of the world we know is an unfolding of consciousness with “all creation groaning in this one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22).
Why do I think this is such an important image to remember? Frankly, because without it we become very impatient with ourselves and others, particularly when we encounter setbacks (both personal and communal).
Humans and history both grow slowly.
I have, like so many, been in isolation since February…only daily hikes, the market, and virtual connection. Truly what has sustained me, even when I’ve bumped up along the edge, is a deep contemplative practice, the discipline of ‘stability loci’, a psychological function for withdrawal, surrender and acceptance: “This is my place, my situation, and that is what I want to work with, however it develops, for better or for worse.”
Deep gratitude for my virtual yoga teachers, Cathie Caccia and Seane Corn. Your spirit and guidance transcends the global sadness and dark, dark days ahead. jai
From the Center of Action & Contemplation:
Practice: Remaining in Place
What if the challenges of the current moment are actually offering us an invitation to let go of our ideas of freedom and mobility and to consciously participate with reality in a new way? In The Great Within psychologist Han F. de Wit invites us to consider the discipline of stabilitas loci (or remaining in place) as a liberating practice. He writes:
Many contemplative traditions contain the rule of not abandoning the monastic community or the place of retreat for shorter or longer periods (sometimes for life). If one follows this rule, it is almost always preceded by voluntarily taking a vow to keep to it. In the Christian tradition, it is known as the vow of stabilitas loci (remaining in one place). This place can, for example, be where one goes into the solitary retreat. The practitioner then vows not to leave this place before he has completed a specific spiritual practice or attained a certain realization. This approach can be found in the Hindu tradition: the yogi draws a certain line around her place of retreat and vows not to step outside it until she has completed a certain practice (sadhana), until she has reached enlightenment, or until death has reached her. A well-known example of this in the Buddhist tradition is obviously that of the Buddha himself, who finally sat down under the bodhi tree and vowed not to leave that spot until he had reached enlightenment. . . .
Why do people do this? What is the function of such a discipline? . . . The contemplative psychological function of this physical stabilitas and of the adherent vow is that we let go of the idea that we have an alternative, we give up the possibility of withdrawing. As we know, one of the characteristic aspects of ego is that it always wants to have alternatives available: ego reflects a mentality that always wants to keep an exit open and therefore can never come to complete surrender and acceptance. Through the vow of stabilitas loci, we confront and surrender an important part of that mentality. We say, “This is my place, my situation, and that is what I want to work with, however it develops, for better or for worse.”. . . The limitation that this discipline imposes on ego proves to have another element: a flourishing of self-confidence and strength of mind that enables us to be in the situation we are in without any reservations. What may seem claustrophobic or restrictive actually turns into vast and hospitable space. 
–Han F. de Wit
Fr. Richard Rohr:
Speaking from personal experience and my many years in Lenten hermitage (where I stayed in one small place for the forty days of Lent), I found a deep inner liberation in “giving up” my freedom to come and go as I chose. I am experiencing some of that same freedom in my hermit-like life necessitated by the pandemic. I cannot “fill” my life or myself up with outside experiences; I must simply “be” with myself and God.
 Han F. de Wit, The Great Within: The Transformative Power and Psychology of the Spiritual Path (Shambhala Publications: 2019), 263–264.
“The anger made me brave and the grief made me sure.” The Book of Longings
Can not recommend this book more highly. Inhaling. -dayle
‘Lord God hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart.
Bless the largeness inside of me, no matter how I fear it.
Bless my reeds and my inks.
Bless the words I write.
May they be beautiful in your sight.
May they be visible to eyes not yet born.
When I am dust, sing these words over my bones:
She was a voice.’
‘I felt all the women who live inside of me.’
-The Book of Longings
Image credit: Catacombe Di San Gennaro (detail of the fresco of the Catacomb of Saint Gennaro), paleo-Christian burial and worship sites, Naples, Italy.
“If we look at texts in the hundred years preceding Emperor Constantine’s edict, it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army. The army was killing believers. Christians were on the bottom but, by the year 400, the entire army had become Christian, and was now killing the pagans. In a two-hundred-year period, Christians went from being complete outsiders to directing the inside! Once Christians joined the inside group, they had to defend their power.
Before the imperial edict of 313 that pushed Christians to the top and the center of the Roman Empire, values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, and love of enemies were common within the faithful community. The church at that point was still countercultural and non-imperial—a social movement for the reign of God. After 313 we lost that free position. Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning war, money, and authority.
Imperial Christianity is always about power. It seldom teaches about nonviolence, forgiveness, inclusion, simplicity, mercy, love, compassion, or understanding in a primary way. Yet Spirit-led movements within Christianity have flourished and continued to emphasize the values that defined the early Church and made it so threatening to the social order.
I believe that any future church will be led by the Spirit back to those foundational values, making it a much flatter and more inclusive community.”
-Fr Richard Rohr
Center for Action & Contemplation
It shouldn’t have been this close. After four years of cruel practices and criminal behavior, too many Americans who voted said, “Yeah, this is good.” So much to unpack. Beyond a divided–deeply divided–nation, the people of the United States are in a cold war, seemingly separated by identity politics–tragically, much of the divisiveness is born of disinformation, state television, and far right social media platforms. It will not end. Even if DT loses, he will lead a shadow presidency, haunting and restricting through his amplified media, restrict and diminish forward moving policy. A deeply Republican senate, led by an evil spirit…not hyperbole…along with a 6/3 Supreme Court, will basically make Biden a lame duck, while he tries to heal a nation.
“Win or lose, a lot more people voted for him this year, after watching him as president for four years, than voted for him last time.” [social media post]
It is dark day in this country. And we have so much to atone.
Today, post election and with votes still be counted, coupled with coup behavior and rhetoric from the current president, democracy seems to be only a frame of mind in this country…perhaps it always has been.
From Sleeping Giants:
“No matter what happens with this election, we’re going to have to contend with a media and social media ecosystem that rewards, incentivizes and monetizes the worst of our society, from hate to disinformation to harassment. It’s cooked into the business model. We currently live in a world where the largest advertisers support a network that openly espouses xenophobic, white supremacist ideas, carelessly spreads disinformation and sics it’s viewers on people with whom they disagree, putting them in danger. We’re dealing with social media platforms whose algorithms give an outsized platform to content that aims to vilify minority groups, drive division and spread falsehoods every single day and platform violent extremists and racists who organize real attacks on their websites. What’s worse is that these outlets and platforms thrive on opposition. It profits them. It’s better for business. It’s not hard to see if there’s a new administration that things will get worse, not better. We need to be more vigilant than ever about asking the companies that support these networks and platforms what kind of world they want to live in and to truly live the values that they outwardly express to their customers. But we also need to ensure that these platforms do not dig further into our government, swaying their policies. We need social media platforms held to account rather than being asked to write policy. They have proven that they cannot be trusted to govern themselves. All of this is to say that, no matter the outcome of the election, the work of activists and researchers and journalists and especially lawmakers is only starting. And that it’s more imperative now than it ever was.”
Sharing other voices:
While it’s too soon to know the presidential race outcome, this is clear: we must do more to counter the alternative information space FOX News and other Trump media create for Republicans. The race should not be this close given the objective reality of Trump’s performance.
-Evan McMullin, Former: CIA ops officer, GOP policy director, independent presidential candidate
Incredible how competitive Trump is with 230K Covid deaths and kids being locked in cages and everything else. Even if Biden wins he will have to govern in a trump country. This is who America is.
-Gabriel Sherman, journalist
To be clear, this wasn’t a presidential election, it was just a survey on how much this country loves racism and most white people checked the box for “very satisfied.”
-Robin Thede, actress and writer
“When a country shows you who it is, believe it the first time.”
“I think the democratic sadness you’re seeing on social media isn’t fatalism or resignation to a Republican win–it’s sadness that we’re not seeing a full scale repudiation to Trumpism.’
[associate professor in Austin]
Before being Republican or Democrat, be human. Regardless of who wins the US election, no one has greater power over you than you. Our minds & hearts are much greater than any politics, and as sovereign beings, we get to choose peace, empathy & humanity.
From Fr Richard Rohr today, the day after election:
A Call to Be One
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
I return once again to the prophetic words of Sister Joan Chittister who calls us to make an unflinching commitment to act with integrity—out of the fullness of our being—not simply our pragmatic, comfortable, or fearful selves.
As a people, we are at a crossover moment. It is a call to all of us to be our best, our least superficial, our most serious about what it means to be a Christian as well as a citizen. . . .
Where in the midst of such polarization and national disunity is even the hope of oneing, of integrating the social with what we say are our spiritual selves? . . .
Even the ghost of an answer makes serious spiritual demands on us all: To heal such division means that we are obliged to search out and identify our own personal value system. It requires us to admit to ourselves what it is that really drives our individual social decisions, our votes, our political alliances. Is it the need to look powerful? The desire for personal control? . . . Do we have the courage to confront the debased with the ideal—even in the face of ridicule and recrimination—or is cowardice our secret spiritual sickness? In that case, our national health can only get worse.
A national cure also surely demands that we begin to see tradition as a call to return to the best of the past, not a burden to be overcome in order to secure the best of the present. It is the sense of a commonly held tradition of the common good—once a strong part of the American past—that we clearly lack in the present. . . .
[We must] make “Love one another as I have loved you” (see John 13:34) the foundation of national respect, the standard of our national discernment, the bedrock of both our personal relationships and a civilized society. . . .
To be one, we don’t need one party, one program, one set of policies. What could be duller, more stagnant, more destructive of the soulfulness it takes to create and preserve the best of the human enterprise than such a narrow-minded view of planetary life? What we need is one heart for the world at large, a single-minded commitment to this “more perfect union,” and one national soul, large enough to listen to one another for the sake of the planet—for the sake of us all.
So where can we look for oneing in the political arena? Only within the confines of our own hearts. Politics—government—does not exist for itself and, if it does, that is precisely when it becomes at least death-dealing if not entirely evil. . . .
In the end, politics is nothing more than an instrument of social good and human development. It is meant to be the right arm of those whose souls have melted into God.
More from Richard:
I consider Quaker author and activist Parker Palmer a true elder. He has clearly “fallen upward”—humbly learning and growing over the years while also generously giving of himself to build a better future with the next generation. From that vantage point, Palmer writes:
For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive—and we are legion—the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation. . . .
Of all the tensions we must hold in personal and political life, perhaps the most fundamental and most challenging is standing and acting with hope in the “tragic gap.” On one side of that gap, we see the hard realities of the world, realities that can crush our spirits and defeat our hopes. On the other side of that gap, we see real-world possibilities, life as we know it could be because we have seen it that way. . . .
If we are to stand and act with hope in the tragic gap and do it for the long haul, we cannot settle for mere “effectiveness” as the ultimate measure of our failure or success. Yes, we want to be effective in pursuit of important goals. . . . [But] we must judge ourselves by a higher standard than effectiveness, the standard called faithfulness. Are we faithful to the community on which we depend, to doing what we can in response to its pressing needs? Are we faithful to the better angels of our nature and to what they call forth from us? Are we faithful to the eternal conversation of the human race, to speaking and listening in a way that takes us closer to truth? Are we faithful to the call of courage that summons us to witness to the common good, even against great odds? When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being.
Parker Palmer’s understanding of the “tragic gap” recognizes that no matter what we do, we can never completely solve the problem. In all our actions, there is always a space left incomplete, imperfect, which God alone can fill. The search for “the perfect” often keeps us from “the good.” The demand for one single issue about which we can be totally right actually keeps us from reading the whole picture—often this is true in regard to voting.
gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā
In our ugly and injurious present political climate, it has become all too easy to justify fear-filled and hateful thoughts, words, and actions in defense against the “other” side. We project our anxiety elsewhere and misdiagnose the real problem (the real evil), forever exchanging it for smaller and seemingly more manageable problems. The over-defended ego always sees, hates, and attacks in other people its own faults—the parts of ourselves that we struggle to acknowledge. We do not want to give way on important moral issues, but this often means we don’t want to give way on our need to be right, superior, and in control. It is our deep attachment to this false or manufactured self that leads us into our greatest illusions. Most of us do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.
The Heart Sutra (sometimes called The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom) is considered by many to be the most succinct and profound summary of Buddhist teaching—surely it must have something to say to all of us. It ends with a mantra that is considered “the mantra beyond compare” because of its daring proclamation of the final truth that takes our whole life to uncover and experience. It is enlightenment itself and hope itself in verbal form. It is the ultimate liberation into Reality.
Here is the Sanskrit transliteration of the refrain:
Gate gate pāragate pārasamgate bodhi svāhā!
Here is how it is pronounced:
Ga-tay, ga-tay, para ga-tay, parasam ga-tay boh-dee svah-ha!
Here is the meaning:
Gone, gone, gone all the way over, the entire community of beings has gone to the other shore, enlightenment—so be it!
This is not meant to be a morbid or tragic statement, but a joyous proclamation, in its own way similar to Christians saying “Alleluia!” at Easter. It is liberation from our grief, our losses, our sadness, and our attachments—our manufactured self. It accepts the transitory and passing nature of all things without exception, not as a sadness, but as a movement to “the other shore.” We do not know exactly what the other shore is like, but we know it is another shore from where we now stand and not a scary abyss.
I would like to offer you a short and inspired litany, and encourage you to make your own additions. The response in every case is a shortened to “Gone, gone, entirely gone!” (for the sake of brevity and impact). It might be called a Litany of Liberation or Detachment:
All the centuries before me:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All the nations of the earth:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All kings, generals, and governors:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All the wars, plagues, and tragedies:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All human achievements by individuals and groups:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All sickness, sin, and error:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All our identities, roles, and titles:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All hurts, grudges, and memories of offense:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All enslavement, abuse, and torture:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All disease, afflictions, and lifetime wounds:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All rejections, abandonments, and betrayals:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All human glory, fame, money, and reputation:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
Your logical, educated mind may say, “Oh, but these things continue in human memory, consciousness, and the standing stones of culture,” which is true and good. That is not the point this sutra is intended to communicate, however; this is ritual and religious theater, not rational philosophy. In terms of all those who preceded us, these things are indeed “Gone!” (Buddhism also uses the word “Empty!”) It takes just such a shock to encourage the ego to let go of the passing self, the false self, the relative self, the self created by memory and choice.
All comforts, luxuries, and pleasures:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All ideas, information, and ideology:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All image, appearance, and privacy:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All our superiority, self-assuredness, and expertise:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All human rights, ambitions, and fairness:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
All personal power, self-will, and self-control:
Gone, gone, entirely gone!
This is the spiritual art of detachment, which is not aloofness or denial, but the purifying of attachment. It isn’t often taught in capitalistic societies, where clinging and possessing are both means and ends, accumulation is the primary measure of progress, and personal power or self-will is both the foundational myth and supreme idol.
In our world, detachment itself can become a kind of EXODUS, an abandoning—whether forced or chosen—of the very things that give us status, make us feel secure or moral, and oftentimes that pay the bills.
In his book No Man Is an Island, Thomas Merton discussed the spiritual link between detachment and hope. Yes, hope! This connection may seem a bit counterintuitive at first, if not contradictory. Yet, as he explains,
We do not hope for what we have. Therefore, to live in hope is to live in poverty, having nothing. . . . Hope is proportionate to detachment. It brings our souls into the state of the most perfect detachment. In doing so, it restores all values by setting them in their right order. Hope empties our hands in order that we may work with them. It shows us that we have something to work for, and teaches us how to work for it.
We live in a time of great hostility, and the temptation from which we must defend ourselves is to pull back from others, deny our shadow, and retreat into our own defended camps or isolated positions. This temptation is not detachment, but the giving over of ourselves to the illusion of separation. True spiritual action (as opposed to reaction) demands our own ongoing transformation, often changing sides to be where the pain is, as Jesus exemplified in his great self-emptying. Rather than accusing others of sin on the Left or the Right, Jesus instead “became sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). He stood in solidarity with the problem itself, and his compassion and solidarity were themselves the healing.
Therefore, “let us go to him, then, outside the camp, and bear the humiliation he endured. For there is no permanent city for us here, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:13–14).
From Maria Popova.
“For a moment of calibrating the correct scale and splendor of things: Nasa captures the first “sprites” – brief, bright flashes of light in the upper atmosphere – on another world, dancing their intense blue in the immense sky of Jupiter.”
Maria wants call it ‘Juno Blue.’
Dr. David Bohm’s holoflux: the flowing movement of all that is, the ground of our being, the mysterious domain in which mind, matter, and meaning are an organic whole…’folding and enfolding.’
Center for Action and Contemplation/Fr Richard Rohr
Glimpsing a new world.
Thomas Keating’s final message was the following:
Dear friends: In the universe, an extraordinary moment of civilization seems to be overtaking us. . . . It’s a time of enormous expectancy and possibility.
We are called to start—not with the old world contracts, now that we know that they are all lies—but [with] what we know as the truth. . . . So I call upon the nations to consider this as a possibility: that we should begin a new world with one that actually exists. This is the moment to manifest this world, by showing loving concern for poverty, loving appreciation for the needs of the world, and opportunities for accelerated development. We need to find ways to make these really happen. I make this humble suggestion, that now arms-making is of no significance in the world. It hinders its progress.
This will allow and offer the world the marvelous gift of beginning, [of] creating, of trusting each other, of forgiving each other, and of showing compassion, care for the poor, and putting all our trust in the God of heaven and earth. I leave this hope in your hands and hearts, coming as a real inspiration from the heart of God. What does [God] care about who has this or other lands, when the power to begin with the truest history is coming from religion as expression of the Source that has been realized for centuries? Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Indigenous, and Christianity—all religions—oneness is their nature. Amen. 
Richard: In this injunction to the world, Father Thomas Keating says what he has been given to know. The only path forward for the survival of our species and perhaps even our planet is a path of nonviolence, of contemplation and action prioritizing justice and solidarity, an affirmation of Oneness and the interconnectedness of all things, which science confirms, and spirituality has always known on its deepest level.
I think the real purpose of the spiritual journey is to expand people’s ability to do good by liberating them. This is what Jesus did, after all—free people from their pain, their sin, their “uncleanness,” and even their deaths. Then he sent them back to their families and to society to live in relationship and live lives of freedom and wholeness. As a devoted student of Jesus and lover of God, Thomas Keating did the same through the gift of Centering Prayer; he helped people connect to an inner stillness and experience of God that liberated them from egoic strongholds—so they could become free and whole. His final words help us imagine the possibilities for ourselves and our world.
 Thomas Keating, Fr. Thomas Keating’s Last Oracle (Contemplative Network: 2020), transcription (October 2018), YouTube video.
From Fr Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation
When we agree to live simply, we put ourselves outside of others’ ability to buy us off, reward us falsely, or control us by money, status, salary, punishment, and loss or gain of anything. This is the most *radical level of freedom, but, of course, it is not easy to come by. It might be called foundational restorative justice, or primal solidarity with the mass of humanity and the earth. Francis and Clare created a life in which they had little to lose, no desire for gain, no loans or debts to pay off, and no luxuries that they needed or wanted.
When we agree to live simply, we have little to protect and no desire for acquisition, even for acquisition of any “moral capital.” When we imagine that we are better, holier, higher, more important to God than others, it is a very short step to “justified” arrogance or violence toward those others. It is almost inevitable, in fact, and we are witnessing today how it manifests itself at every level of our societies. If we could eliminate such manufactured and desired superiority, religion might finally become nonviolent in thought, word, and deed.
When we agree to live simply, we no longer consider immigrants, refugees, people in poverty, or anyone else on the margins of society as a threat. When we choose to relinquish our privileges, whatever they are, we have freely and consciously chosen to become “visitors and pilgrims” in this world, as St. Francis puts it. A simple lifestyle is quite simply an act of solidarity with the way most people have had to live since the beginnings of humanity.
When we agree to live simply, we have time for spiritual and corporal works of mercy, like prayer, service, and justice work, because we have renegotiated in our minds and hearts our understanding of time and its purposes. Time is not money anymore, despite the common aphorism! Time is life itself and we want to give our lives away freely.
When we agree to live simply, we have little energy to defend or protect our group, our ethnicity, our country, our money, and our religion. Our circle is no longer defined by these external and accidental qualities, because we now find the joy and beauty of the real essentials and the actual center which is God.
*Radical, from the Latin word radix meaning ‘root.’
Drawing of Thomas Merton done for The Catholic Worker by Fritz Eichenberg.
The mystic and the spiritual men who in our day remain indifferent to the problems of their fellowmen, who are not fully capable of facing these problems will find themselves inevitably involved in the same ruin. They will suffer the same deceptions be implicated in the same crimes. They will go down to ruin with the same blindness and with the same insensitivity to the person of evil. They will be deaf to the voice crying in the wilderness, for they will have listened to some other, more comforting, voice of their own contrivance.
-Faith and Violence
“There was always just enough virtue in this republic to save it; sometimes none to spare, but still enough to meet the emergency.”
—Sec. of State William Seward during the Civil War
Fr Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation:
The desert ascetics’ [ammas and abbas] relationships were nonpossessive: They cared for others while leaving them free. Concern for reputation was discarded. Feelings were acknowledged and listened to for their wisdom but were subjected to the discipline of the heart’s goal to seek God. The desert ascetics sought to mortify disordered passions that distracted them from their deepening relationship with God..Gaia…the Universe.
These were people who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster. -The Wisdom of the Desert
One of the greatest needs of humanity today is to transcend the cultural limitations of the great religions and to find a wisdom, a philosophy, which can reconcile their differences and reveal the unity which underlies all their diversities.
Professional wrestling isn’t about wrestling, of course. It’s about who’s up and who’s down. The stated rules are there to be broken by some of the participants, and it’s not professional in any useful sense related to the sport of wrestling.
And the metaphor is powerful in many areas of life.
But we can’t understand the metaphor without understanding the forms of status that are on offer.
There is the status of affiliation. This is about belonging, about knowing and living with the rules. It’s about weaving together the culture and this affiliation leads to a form of popularity.
And then there is the status of dominance. This is about winning at any cost, cheating and subjugating. It’s about unraveling the culture in service of just one aim–victory over the others.
Professional wrestling creates tension between the two forms of status. We know that we all benefit from affiliation, but often are swayed by the avenging dominator if we see ourselves in them.
The theater of status happens in our daily lives. It’s who sits where at the meeting, or who gets to announce that the Zoom session is over. It’s the insurgent and that the status quo.
It’s the dramatic back and forth between someone who seeks power and someone who is tired of being told what to do.
The successful affiliator doesn’t seek to out-dominate the dominator. Instead, affiliators weave together enough persistent community pressure to get things back on track.
And sooner or later, people realize that the triumph of the dominator, while it can be painful, is short-lived.
Story from Our Community:
Nearly every day since we started quarantine, I sit outside for my morning prayer time. As part of this, following reading the daily meditation, I play the “Prayer for Our Community” at the conclusion where Fr. Rohr reads the prayer. When he pauses after the words, “Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world,” I quietly bring those to the energy of the space: my parents, my students, those suffering with Covid, our country’s reckoning with its systemic racism, our climate emergency.
Image credit: What is Ubuntu 01 (detail), Gretchen Andrew, 2018.
Fr Richard Rohr:
We think fear, anger, divine intimidation, threat, and punishment are going to lead people to love. Show me where that has worked. You cannot lead people to the highest level of motivation by teaching them the lowest.
Love is the only thing that transforms the human heart.
Ubuntu: I am because we are.
Image credit: Garden of Wish Fulfilment (detail), Arshile Gorki, 1944, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon Portugal.
Fr Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation
In times of Disorder and deconstruction, we long for Reorder on a personal level—to be made new and whole again. But the Scriptures tell us that restoration will also happen on a communal, planetary, and even universal level! Jim Antal, a climate justice leader with the United Church of Christ, reminds us of our ability and responsibility to participate with God…Gaia…in the renewal and reordering of the earth.
“How can you know all these facts [about climate change] and still have hope?” For me, faith and hope are rooted in the conviction that, regardless of how bad things may be, a new story is waiting to take hold—something we have not yet seen or felt or experienced. . . . God…Gaia…is calling us—as individuals and congregations—to work with God and others to champion that new story.
For the vast majority in our society, that new story remains unseen. Wresting our future from the grip of fossil fuel seems impossible—our addiction is too strong, affordable options are too few, and the powers that defend the status quo are mighty, indeed. . . . We cannot be freed by chipping away at this millstone.
We must begin to live into a new story by changing the human prospect [of destruction] and restoring creation’s viability.
That’s what the Water Protectors of Standing Rock have done. Their courageous, unflinching discipline inspired thousands to join them and millions to imagine with them the new world that is waiting to be born. They prepared themselves through prayer and ritual to face down sheriffs, paramilitary contractors, attack dogs, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and high-pressure water cannons in subzero temperatures. They were fueled by hope, hope for a revolution rooted in love—love for God’s great gift of creation. . . .
We can’t accept God’s…Gaia’s…invitation to help create a new story unless we are willing to take action. We become partners with God when we act in unfamiliar, untested ways. Those new actions will be guided by a preferred future that embraces:
- resilience in place of growth
- collaboration in place of consumption
- wisdom in place of progress
- balance in place of addiction
- moderation in place of excess
- vision in place of convenience
- accountability in place of disregard
- self-giving love in place of self-centered fear . . .
As broken-hearted as God…Gaia…must be over what we have done to the gift of creation, God still has a dream. . . . God dreams that humans seek spiritual rather than material progress. God’s dream envisions a just world at peace because gratitude has dissolved anxiety and generosity has eclipsed greed. God dreams of a time when love and mutual respect will bind humanity together, and the profound beauty of creation will be treasured. Let us embrace God’s…Gaia’s…dream as our own. Suddenly, the horizon of our hope comes nearer.
Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation:
Rev. angel Kyodo williams seeks to liberate both the oppressed and the oppressors, which is appropriate as we celebrate Juneteenth in the United States today, to recognize the final day of emancipation from slavery in our nation. In this passage she shares her path to becoming an agent of transformative, peaceful social change.
“My formal Zen practice and training were teaching me to find a more restful place that I could abide in within myself despite the chaos and calamity [of] living in an unjust society. . . . It also gave me a way to be in response to sometimes overwhelming situations that could just lead me to a downward spiral of anger and negativity. . . .
The Zen community I eventually became engaged with [the Zen Peacemaker Order] . . . [was] explicitly committed to social action.
I advocated for [a] more balanced approach to fiercely address injustice from a place of empowerment as a warrior—but one that was ultimately committed to peace rather than aggression. This path recognized the clarity and resilience brought about by cultivating one’s inner life. . . . I saw this as a more sustainable path, especially for Black people, whose road to victory in the external landscape would likely be a long one given the deep entrenchment of the forces of oppression set against us.
In response to the events of September 11th, I wrote what became known as the Warrior-Spirit Prayer of Awakening…
May all beings be granted with the strength, determination and wisdom to extinguish anger and reject violence as a way.
May all suffering cease and may I seek, find, and fully realize the love and compassion that already lives within me and allow them to inspire and permeate my every action.
May I exercise the precious gift of choice and the power to change [as] that which makes me uniquely human and is the only true path to liberation.
May I swiftly reach complete, effortless freedom so that my fearless, unhindered action be of benefit to all.”
May I lead the life of a warrior.
 Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens with Jasmine Syedullah, PhD, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation (North Atlantic Books: 2016), 90–94.
The Unspoken Privilege of Being White
For a long time, I naively hoped that racism was a thing of the past. Those of us who are white have a very hard time seeing that we constantly receive special treatment [because of social systems built to prioritize people with white skin]. This systemic “white privilege” makes it harder for us to recognize the experiences of people of color as valid and real when they speak of racial profiling, police brutality, discrimination in the workplace, continued segregation in schools, lack of access to housing, and on and on. This is not the experience of most white people, so how can it be true? Now, we are being shown how limited our vision is.
Because we have never been on the other side, we largely do not recognize the structural access we enjoy, the trust we think we deserve, the assumption that we always belong and do not have to earn our belonging. All this we take for granted as normal. Only the outsider can spot these attitudes in us.
[And we are quick to dismiss what is apparent to our neighbors who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color [BIPOC] from their lived experience.]
Of course, we all belong. There is no issue of more or less in the eyes of an Infinite God. Yet the ego believes the lie that there isn’t enough to go around and that for me to succeed or win, someone else must lose. And so we’ve greedily supported systems and governments that work to our own advantage at the expense of others, most often people of color or any highly visible difference. The advancement of the white person was too often at the cost of other people not advancing at all. A minor history course should make that rather clear.
I would have never seen my own white privilege if I had not been forced outside of my dominant white culture by travel, by working in the jail, by hearing stories from counselees and, frankly, by making a complete fool of myself in so many social settings—most of which I had the freedom to avoid!
Power [and privilege] never surrenders without a fight. If your entire life has been to live unquestioned in your position of power—a power that was culturally given to you, but you think you earned—there is almost no way you will give it up without major failure, suffering, humiliation, or defeat. As long as we really want to be on top and would take advantage of any privilege or short cut to get us there, we will never experience true “liberty, equality, fraternity” (revolutionary ideals that endure as mottos for France and Haiti).
If God operates as me, God operates as “thee” too, and the playing field is utterly leveled forever. Like Jesus, Francis, Clare, and many other humble mystics, we then rush down instead of up. In the act of letting go and choosing to become servants, community can at last be possible. The illusory state of privilege just gets in the way of neighboring and basic human friendship.
-Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation
100 ways you can take action against racism right now
If you’re looking to get involved outside of organizing in person, we’ve rounded up a list of ways you can take action from home, including ideas specific to demanding justice for Floyd and addressing racism in general.
[Also showing on Netflix.]
Previously unseen footage is shaped into a fresh and timely retelling of the 1992 Rodney King trial — and the verdict that sparked civil unrest–the acquittal of four police officers for beating a black motorist saw several days of protests, violence and looting in Los Angeles. Gives back story to the Watts Rebellion of 1965 in South-Central Los Angeles. Directed by T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay.
We can’t permit the murder of people because of the color of their skin. Institutional racism is real, it’s often invisible, and it’s pernicious.
And White Supremacy is a loaded term precisely because the systems and their terrible effects are very real, widespread and run deep.
The benefit of the doubt is powerful indeed, and that benefit has helped me and people like me for generations. I’m ashamed of how we got here, and want to more powerfully contribute and model how we can get better, together.
It doesn’t matter how many blog posts about justice I write, or how clear I try to be about the power of diversity in our organizations. Not if I’m leaving doubt about the scale and enormity of the suffering that people feel, not just themselves, but for their parents before them and for the kids that will follow them.
It’s easier to look away and to decide that this is a problem for someone else. It’s actually a problem for all of us. And problems have solutions and problems are uncomfortable.
[Photo: Courtney Martin, Oakland, CA]
“We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, “The vision still has its time, presses onto fulfillment and it will not disappoint . . . and if it delays, wait for it [2:3].”
-Fr Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation
‘Apocalypse (ἀποκάλυψις) is a Greek word meaning “revelation”, an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling.’
‘Our nerves, our home, our country crave peace’…and leaders. As the helpers and heroes sustain us, I pray for shift. -dayle
Now, I have no choice but to see with your eyes,
so I am not alone,
so you are not alone.
There is a story of Gandhi that reveals how profound and daring his sense of compassion was. It occurred during one of his famous hunger strikes. A man whose daughter was killed came in anguish, saying to Gandhi that he would stop fighting if the great soul would eat. But Ghandi knew the healing was deeper than just stopping the violence, and so he told the man he would eat only when the tormented father embraced the man who killed his daughter.
It is said that the man collapsed in tears, but did as Gandhi asked, and the larger conflict ended. This is an enormous thing to ask of someone in grief, of someone who has been violated. But beyond the vast courage needed to incorporate this kind of love into our daily lives, Gandhi’s request reveals the irrefutable wisdom that only when the broken are headed, no matter what they have done, will we as a people heal.
-The Book of Awakening, p. 179.
Image credit: Dorothy Day, by Julie Lonneman.
’So what makes a good community? Our very survival as a faith tradition, not to mention a species, might just depend upon this.’
Common Ground & Purpose
People want something more from church than membership. They long for a spiritual home that connects with their whole life, not just somewhere to go on Sunday morning. Church is meant to be a place that nurtures and supports individuals along their full journey toward the ultimate goal: a lived experience of the communion of saints, a shared life together as one family, the Reign of God “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Too often, the formal church has been unable to create any authentic practical community, especially over the last half-century. In response, we see the emergence of new faith communities seeking to return to this foundational definition of church. These may not look like our versions of traditional “church,” but they often exemplify the kinds of actual community that Jesus, Paul, and early Christians envisioned. People are gathering digitally and in person today through neighborhood associations, study groups, community gardens, social services, and volunteer groups. They’re seeking creative ways of coming together, nurturing connection, of healing and whole-making. The “invisible” church might be doing this just as much, if not more, than the visible one. The Holy Spirit is humble and seems to work best anonymously. I suspect that is why the Holy Spirit is often pictured as a simple bird or blowing wind that is here one minute and seemingly gone and then nowhere (John 3:8).
It’s all too easy to project unrealistic expectations on any community. No group can meet all our needs as individuals for emotional, mental, and physical well-being. The human psyche needs space and healthy boundaries and not co-dependent groupings. I certainly learned this lesson myself through my participation in the New Jerusalem Community in Cincinnati in the 1970s and 80s, and even earlier as a Franciscan brother. Almost any community can serve as an excellent school for growth, character, and conversion, even though it may not be a permanent “home” for many reasons.
Remember, the isolated individual is fragile and largely helpless to evoke long-term change or renewal. By ourselves, we can accomplish very little. We must find common ground and common purpose to move forward. Fr. Richard Rohr
‘We wake to our cities in pain but also in longing. Full of far more people ready to build & create than to tear apart. On Lake St in Minn yesterday I saw what the drones & news cameras do not convey – an alternative landscape of care rising up around devastation.’ -Krista Tippet, On Being
The NASA/SpaceX launch and ISS dock has brought needed respite, inspiration, and hope. Look what we can accomplish as a species when we work together. -dayle
Let us surrender to Divine Grace.
-Rev. Dr. David Ault
In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between them, there are doors.
‘In liminal space, we must leave business as usual, which often looks like a sleepwalking trance through daily life if we are not conscious, and voluntarily enter a world where the rules and expectations are quite different. Some call it voluntary displacement. When we wake up in this way and find ourselves on the threshold of something new, we are shocked into realizing that our usual trance state is not the only option, and there might just be something more.
It would be difficult to exist in this time of global crisis and not feel caught between at least two worlds—the one we knew and the one to come. Our consciousness and that of future generations has been changed. We cannot put the genie back in the bottle.’
-Richard Rohr, Oneing
For all its presumed innocence, this way of life lived by well-off North Americans is both unjust to those who cannot attain this lifestyle and destructive of the very planet that supports us all.
Sallie McFague was an American feminist Christian theologian, best known for her analysis of how metaphor lies at the heart of how we may speak about God. She applied this approach in particular to ecological issues, writing extensively on care for the earth as if it were God’s “body.”
‘In this award-winning text, theologian Sallie McFague challenges Christians’ usual speech about God as a kind of monarch. She probes instead three other possible metaphors for God as mother, lover, and friend.’
Center for Action & Contemplation
While we may continue to practice physical distancing from other humans, most of us can still safely spend time in nature. The Journal of Health Psychology confirms what Franciscans and mystics have long known: interacting with nature is a great stress reliever. Just thirty minutes of gardening lowers the cortisol released during stress-induced fight-or-flight responses. Today’s practice, written by poet, writer, and educator Trevien Stanger for the book Order of the Sacred Earth, invites us to make a very specific contemplative contribution by planting trees.
Ethnobotanist, author, and Potawatami elder Robin Kimmerer asserts, “We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of [the] earth’s beings.”  . . .
I contend that every individual can participate in [the] Great Turning, and that one of the great challenges of our time is for each of us to figure out how and where we plug into this psycho-spiritual current. . . . I, for one, plant trees. . . . In my more recent work as an environmental studies professor at a community college in Vermont, I’ve had a hand in planting just shy of 100,000 trees over the past 12 years. . . .
What happens when you plant a tree? What happens when you wield a shovel in one hand (a human artifact) and a tree (a provisional mystery) in the other? What happens when you dig a hole (a Kali-like destruction) and plant a tree within it (an act of creativity)? What happens when you learn about your local ecology not just as an observer, but also as a participant? What happens when you embrace the wildness of a tree-being and integrate it into the semi-wild streets and streams of your local community? What happens when you crack open your isolated sense of self and plant within your heart this symbol of our ever-branching inter-being? What happens when you consider your actions in terms of your ecological and cultural legacy? What happens when you move beyond your concerns of today and inquire as to what type of ancestor you will be? Nelson Henderson posits that “. . . one true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”  Under whose shade do you sit beneath today? Whose shade shall you help gift for tomorrow?
 Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed Editions: 2013), 195.
 Wes Henderson shared his father’s advice in Under Whose Shade: A Story of a Pioneer in the Swan River Valley of Manitoba (W. Henderson & Associates: 1986, ©1982).
Trevien Stanger, “Tree Planter,” Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action, Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jennifer Listug (Monkfish Book Publishing Company: 2018), 184-186.
Image credit: Legend of St. Francis: 15. Sermon to the Birds (fresco detail), artist unknown, formerly attributed to Giotto di Bondone, c. 1297–1299, Upper Basilica of San Francesco d′Assisi, Assisi, Italy.
From Father Richard Rohr, Barbara Holmes, and Bill McKibbon:
Goodness is a first principle of the universe. God declares it on the first page of the story of creation. —Barbara Holmes
Creation is the first Bible, as I (and others) like to say , and it existed for 13.7 billion years before the second Bible was written. Natural things like animals, plants, rocks, and clouds give glory to God just by being themselves, just what God created them to be. It is only we humans who have been given the free will to choose not to be what God created us to be. Surprisingly, the environmentalist and author Bill McKibben finds hope in this unique freedom. He writes:
The most curious of all . . . lives are the human ones, because we can destroy, but also because we can decide not to destroy. The turtle does what she does, and magnificently. She can’t not do it, though, any more than the beaver can decide to take a break from building dams or the bee from making honey. But if the bird’s special gift is flight, ours is the possibility of restraint.
We’re the only creature who can decide not to do something we’re capable of doing. That’s our superpower, even if we exercise it too rarely.
So, yes, we can wreck the Earth as we’ve known it, killing vast numbers of ourselves and wiping out entire swaths of other life—in fact . . . we’re doing that right now. But we can also not do that. . . .
We have the tools (nonviolence chief among them) to allow us to stand up to the powerful and the reckless, and we have the fundamental idea of human solidarity that we could take as our guide. . . .
While the lives of our elders, our vulnerable, and essential workers are at stake during the COVID-19 pandemic, tens of millions of us across the globe have been restraining ourselves at home, choosing not to do many things for many weeks in order to protect those we love (and those others love as well). Surely the earth is breathing a sigh of relief for our reduction in pollution and fossil fuel use. This “Great Pause,” as some are calling it, gives me hope that we will soon find it within ourselves to protect our shared home, not only for our own sake, but for our neighbors across the globe, and future generations.
How is a huge part of the world organised under a system that has different meanings country-to-country, and could even mean something different to you, and the person standing behind you in the line to vote?
How do we know democracy is broken if we don’t know what it is?
by Patrick Chalmers.
“To my mind, there seems no better starting point for understanding politics than to grapple with the word “democracy”. What does it mean and how should it work?
The word is easy enough to define. It comes from the Greek for people (demos) and power (kratos), translating as people power, or government by the people. Most of us know democracy as something like that. But things quickly get more complicated when we ask what exactly that means in everyday life.
‘…there’s ubuntu, Watch South African Anglican cleric and human rights activist Desmond Mpilo Tutu describe ubuntu in this video clip.the Nguni language word for a humanist philosophy and way of living from southern Africa. It’s most often translated as “I am, because you are”, a profoundly political concept which evokes the connectedness that exists, or should exist, between all people and the planet – a manifesto for inclusive government.’
The distorting – if not corrupting – influence of money helps to explain why elected representatives rarely reflect the societies they are meant to represent but rather their richer members. Consider the representation of women in government. Though their share of seats in legislatures worldwide is growing, they still represent fewer than a quarter of deputies. The same goes for minorities – whatever they may be, wherever they may be. So while, for example, western countries are becoming more ethnically, racially and religiously diverse, their legislators generally haven’t kept pace with these changes. If the current US presidential race is anything to go by, the face of democracy is still pale, male and stale. In parts of the world where people of colour are the majority, male and stale usually covers it.”
As the arrow endures the bowstring’s tension so that, released, it travels farther. For there is nowhere to remain.
Concentrate on seeing all the beauty your soul can absorb but turn away from what is ugly and vile and degrading. The higher your sights, the better your spirits. Everything we do requires us to reveal our inner longings. Identify them clearly and make productive use of them.
There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action to which men are driven by their own Faustian misunderstandings and misapprehensions. We have more power at our disposal today that we have ever had, and yet we are the more alienated and estranged from the inner ground of meaning and love than we have ever been. -Contemplation in a World of Action, 1965
A Democratic Pledge
I would like to
- become more selective in what I watch and read
- become more critically aware of the messages I receive
- find new sources information about the things I care about most
- participate in local media
- create interactions in my community
Living Democracy is emerging within the human services, focusing not solely on individual self-reliance but also on the capacities of people to work together for mutual healing and problem solving. Society’s obligation to help support citizens with specific needs does not have to mean top-down governmental control; self-help and society’s help are mutually enhancing and mutually beneficial.
Towards a Moral Revolution
Moral reckonings are being driven to the surface of our life together: What are politics for? What is an economy for? Jacqueline Novogratz says the simplistic ways we take up such questions — if we take them up at all — is inadequate. Novogratz is an innovator in creative, human-centered capitalism. She has described her recent book, Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, as a love letter to the next generation.
‘I think, in this moment of such peril & possibility, we really could build a world like the world has never seen before. If there was ever a decade to do it, it’s this decade. I want future generations to say, “Look how hard they tried,” not “Look at how blind they were.”’
The medieval English anchoress Julian of Norwich bequeathed us a radically optimistic theology. She had no problem admitting that human beings have a tendency to go astray. We rupture relationships, dishonor the Divine, make unfortunate choices, and try to hide our faults. And yet, Julian insists, “All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.”
She squarely faces the inevitability that we will miss the mark [what Julian calls “sin”] and that there is wickedness in this world. Even so, she is convinced that the nature of the Divine is loving-kindness, and she wants us to absorb this into every fiber of our being. -Fr. Richard Rohr
‘I urge you to avoid those who cause dissension and offenses contrary to what you have learned. Avoid them.’
I am certainly no judge of television, since I have never watch it. All I know is that there is a sufficiently general agreement, among men who judgment I respect, that commercial television is degraded, meretricious, and absurd. Certainly, it would seem that TV could become a kind of unnatural surrogate for contemplation: a completely inter subjection to vulgar images, a descent to a sub natural passivity rather than an ascent to a supremely active passivity in understanding and love. It would seem that television should be used with extreme care and discrimination by anyone who might hope to take interior life seriously.
-New Seeds of Contemplation, 1949
His thoughts on the Internet, we can only imagine, would be the same. -dayle
This is a new form of propaganda tailored to the digital age and it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t possible. And it’s all the more difficult because even the most scrupulous, well-intentioned coverage can easily fall into the trap of flooding the zone.
The press, admittedly, has a difficult job to do, especially in this information landscape. But that’s the thing: The landscape has changed. The digital media ecosystem overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is true, some of it is false, and much of it is deliberately diversionary. Trying to cover every crazy story, every batshit claim, is a fool’s errand. The end result of so much noise is what I’ve called “manufactured nihilism,” a situation in which people are so skeptical about the possibility of truth that they give up the search.
The role of “gatekeeping” institutions has also changed significantly. Before the internet and social media, most people got their news from a handful of newspapers and TV networks. These institutions functioned like referees, calling out lies, fact-checking claims, and so on. And they had the ability to control the flow of information and set the terms of the conversation.
Today, gatekeepers still matter in terms of setting a baseline for political knowledge, but there’s much more competition for clicks and audiences, and that alters the incentives for what’s declared newsworthy in the first place. At the same time, traditional media outlets remain committed to a set of norms that are ill adapted to the modern environment.
So now we find ourselves engaged in an endless game of whack-a-mole, debunking and explaining one false claim after another. And false claims, if they’re repeated enough, become more plausible the more often they’re shared, something psychologists have called the “illusory truth” effect.
The prevailing norms of journalism and the political economy of media are driving these dynamics.
As individuals and communities, we can respond with justice and compassion, or we can double down on the pursuit of accumulation and power, with no more than a return to business as usual.
-Father Richard Rohr
Center for Action & Contemplation
‘The pandemic has severely attacked vulnerable communities of color, including tribal communities whose members may not have access to adequate health care nor clean water, we turn to a young voice from the Navajo Nation.’
Aware that the pandemic has severely attacked vulnerable communities of color, including tribal communities whose members may not have access to adequate health care nor clean water, we turn to a young voice from the Navajo Nation (Diné), Alastair Lee Bitsóí, relayed from the pages of the Navajo Times. Excerpts below, with images from the studio of Tony Abeyta.
[Investigative, compassionate journalism. -dayle]
‘Life expectancy gap between black & white Chicagoans, largest in the country: Structural racism, concentrated poverty, economic exploitation & chronic stress cause what’s known as biological weathering.’
ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. THE FIRST 100 COVID-19 Took Black Lives First. It Didn't Have To.
“We’re not going to reverse this in a moment, overnight, but we have to say it for what it is and move forward decisively as a city, and that’s what we will do,” she said. “This is about health care accessibility, life expectancy, joblessness and hunger.”
ProPublica’s reporting also revealed other patterns, factors that could — and should — have been addressed and which almost certainly exist in other communities experiencing similar disparities. Even though many of these victims had medical conditions that made them particularly susceptible to the virus, they didn’t always get clear or appropriate guidance about seeking treatment. They lived near hospitals that they didn’t trust and that weren’t adequately prepared to treat COVID-19 cases. And perhaps most poignantly, the social connections that gave their lives richness and meaning — and that played a vital role in helping them to navigate this segregated city that can at times feel hostile to black residents — made them more likely to be exposed to the virus before its deadly power became apparent.
The city [Chicago] announced the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team in partnership with West Side United, with a goal to “bring a hyper local public health strategy to targeted communities.” In the weeks since, the team has held tele-town halls, delivered thousands of door hangers and postcards with targeted information, and distributed 60,000 masks for residents in the predominantly black communities of Austin, Auburn Gresham and South Shore.
So much new & good is going to come from this. We can stop deluding ourselves that our current way of organizing our society is either sane or even survivable! That had to come first in order to rock us to our core, to humble us. Now we’ll be open to new ideas in a whole new way.
A poster from 1918 asks Chicagoans to self-quarantine if they have symptoms of the flu. For more, see “Don’t Spit! Pandemic Posters Through the Years.” (Courtesy National Library of Medicine)
Pandemics Leave Us Forever Altered
by Charles C. Mann
What history can tell us about the long-term effects of the coronavirus
Just a few decades after the pandemic, American-history textbooks by the distinguished likes of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Richard Hofstadter, Henry Steele Commager, and Samuel Eliot Morison said not a word about it. The first history of the 1918 flu wasn’t published until 1976—I drew some of the above from it. Written by the late Alfred W. Crosby, the book is called America’s Forgotten Pandemic.
Americans may have forgotten the 1918 pandemic, but it did not forget them. Garthwaite matched NHIS respondents’ health conditions to the dates when their mothers were probably exposed to the flu. Mothers who got sick in the first months of pregnancy, he discovered, had babies who, 60 or 70 years later, were unusually likely to have diabetes; mothers afflicted at the end of pregnancy tended to bear children prone to kidney disease. The middle months were associated with heart disease.
Other studies showed different consequences. Children born during the pandemic grew into shorter, poorer, less educated adults with higher rates of physical disability than one would expect. Chances are that none of Garthwaite’s flu babies ever knew about the shadow the pandemic cast over their lives. But they were living testaments to a brutal truth: Pandemics—even forgotten ones—have long-term, powerful aftereffects.
The convulsive social changes of the 1920s—the frenzy of financial speculation, the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, the explosion of Dionysian popular culture (jazz, flappers, speakeasies)—were easily attributed to the war, an initiative directed and conducted by humans, rather than to the blind actions of microorganisms. But the microorganisms likely killed more people than the war did. And their effects weren’t confined to European battlefields, but spread across the globe, emptying city streets and filling cemeteries on six continents.
Unlike the war, the flu was incomprehensible—the influenza virus wasn’t even identified until 1931. It inspired fear of immigrants and foreigners, and anger toward the politicians who played down the virus. Like the war, influenza (and tuberculosis, which subsequently hit many flu sufferers) killed more men than women, skewing sex ratios for years afterward. Can one be sure that the ensuing, abrupt changes in gender roles had nothing to do with the virus?
To save themselves from the disease, scared Europeans sought favor from the heavens, most famously taking off their clothes in groups and striking one another with whips and sticks. Images of half-nude flagellants have, since Monty Python, become a comic staple. Far less comical was the accompanying flood of anti-Semitic violence. As it spread through Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, and the Low Countries, it left behind a trail of beaten cadavers and burned homes.
Absent the diseases, it is difficult to imagine how small groups of poorly equipped Europeans at the end of very long supply chains could have survived and even thrived in the alien ecosystems of the Americas. “I fully support banning travel from Europe to prevent the spread of infectious disease,” the Cherokee journalist Rebecca Nagle remarked after President Trump announced his plan to do this. “I just think it’s 528 years too late.”
For Native Americans, the epidemic era lasted for centuries, as did its repercussions. Isolated Hawaii had almost no bacterial or viral disease until 1778, when the islands were “discovered” by Captain James Cook. Islanders learned the cruel facts of contagion so rapidly that by 1806, local leaders were refusing to allow European ships to dock if they had sick people on board. Nonetheless, Hawaii’s king and queen traveled from their clean islands to London, that cesspool of disease, arriving in May 1824. By July they were dead—measles.
Later it occurred to me that a possible legacy of Hong Kong’s success with SARS is that its citizens seem to put more faith in collective action than they used to. I’ve met plenty of people there who believe that the members of their community can work together for the greater good—as they did in suppressing SARS and will, with luck, keep doing with COVID-19. It’s probably naive of me to hope that successfully containing the coronavirus would impart some of the same faith in the United States, but I do anyway.