‘Let us pray together for doctors, hospital staff, and volunteers who are giving their own lives to save others. And for civil leaders, for those who have to make decisions at this time. All these people are the pillars defending us in this crisis.’
In Italy, one priest asks for photos from his parishioners to place them in his sanctuary as he prays for them, everyone, during this time of pandemic.
From Hailey, Idaho’s Rev. Lea Colvill: ‘This Italian priest demonstrates how we see with our hearts.’
Father Richard Rohr, at the Center for Action & Contemplation in New Mexico:
‘As we grow in the spiritual life, our life will become increasingly centered. Only a few things will really matter. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, I see a lot of people right now thinking this way. There’s a sense that we’re all in this together—every continent, country, class, religion, race, age, or gender. We’re all subject to this crisis. Suffering has an ability to pull you into oneness.’
But in these dancing tears,
what is often withheld can be found:
‘…love your solitude and bear the pain of it without self-pity. The distance you feel around you should trouble you no more than your distance from the farthest stars.’
‘If a man has to be pleasing to me, conforming, reassuring, before I can love him, then I cannot truly love him. Not that love cannot console or reassure! But if I demand first to be reassured, I will never dare to begin loving. If a man has to be a Jew or a Christian before I can love him, then I cannot love him. If he has to be black or white before I can love him, then I cannot love him. If he has to belong to my political party or social group before I can love him, if he has to wear any kind of uniform, then my love is no longer love because it is not free: it is dictated by something outside itself. It is dominated by an appetite other than love. I love not the person but his classification, and in that event I love him not as a person but as a thing. In this way I remain at the mercy of forces outside myself, and those who seem to me to be neighbors are indeed strangers; for I am, first of all, a stranger to myself.’
-Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration, 1965
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith on the purpose and power of poetry
The two-time American poet laureate joins The Ezra Klein Show for a powerful conversation on love, language, and more.
‘It’s the rare podcast conversation on The Ezra Klein Show where, as it’s happening, I’m making notes to go back and listen again so I can fully absorb what I heard. But this is that kind of episode.
Tracy K. Smith is the chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton and a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and was the two-time poet laureate of the United States from 2017 to 2019. But I’ll be honest: she was an intimidating interview for me. I often find myself frustrated by poetry, yearning for it to simply tell me what it wants to say, aggravated that I can’t seem to crack its code.
Preparing for this conversation, and even more so, talking to Smith, was a revelation. Poetry, she argues, is about expressing “the feelings that defy language.” The struggle is part of the point: you’re going where language stumbles, where literalism fails. Developing a comfort and ease in those spaces isn’t something we’re taught to do, but it’s something we need to do. And so, on one level, this conversation is simply about poetry: what it is, what it does, how to read it.
But on another level, this conversation is also about the ideas and tensions that Smith uses poetry to capture: what it means to be a descendent of slaves, a human in love, a nation divided. Laced through our conversation is readings of poems from her most recent book Wade in the Water, and discussions of some of the hardest questions in the American, and even human, canon. Hearing Smith read her erasure poem, “Declaration” is, without doubt, one of the most powerful moments I’ve had on the podcast.
There is more to this conversation than I can capture here, but to say it simply: this isn’t one to miss, and that’s particularly true if, like me, poetry intimidates you.’
I want to utter you. I want to portray you
not with lapis or gold, but with colors made of apple bark.
There is no image I could invent
that your presence would not eclipse.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, 1967.
Prayer, contemplation, is freedom and affirmation growing out of nothingness into love. Prayer is the flowering of our inmost freedom, in response to the Word. Prayer is not only dialogue with God: it is the communication of our freedom with ultimate freedom in infinite spirit. It is the elevation of our limited freedom into the infinite freedom of the divine spirit and of the divine love. Prayer is the encounter of our freedom with all the all-embracing charity which knows no limit and knows no obstacle. Prayer is an emergence into this area of infinite freedom. Prayer, contemplation, then, is not an abject procedure, though sometimes it may spring from our abjection. But prayer is not something that is meant to maintain us in servility and helplessness. We take stock of our own wretchedness at the beginning of prayer, contemplation, in order to rise beyond it and above it to infinite freedom and infinite creative love in God.
-Thomas Merton, Contemplation in a World of Action, 1965
When do we
become one with earth and stars?
It is not achieved, a young friend, by being in love,
however vibrant that makes your voice.
Learn to forget you sang like that. It passes.
Truly to sing takes another kind of breath.
A breath in the void. A shudder in God. A wind.
-Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus I, 3
Because Jesus did not directly attack the religious and institutional systems of his time until his final action against the money changers in the temple , his primary social justice critique and action are a disappointment to most radicals and social activists. Jesus’ social program, as far as I can see, was a quiet refusal to participate in almost all external power structures or domination systems. Once we have been told this, we see it everywhere in the four Gospels. Jesus chose a very simple lifestyle which kept him from being constantly co-opted by those very structures, which we can call the sin system.
The city of Sepphoris was the Roman regional capital of Galilee and the center for most money, jobs, and power in the region where Jesus lived. It was just nine miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Yet there is no record that Jesus ever went there, nor is it mentioned once in the New Testament, even though he and his father, Joseph, were carpenters or “workmen” and Jesus traveled through many other cities much farther away. He also seems to have avoided the money system as much as possible by using “a common purse” (John 12:6, 13:29)—voluntary “communism,” we might say.
Jesus was finally a full victim of the systems that he refused to worship. Is this not a much more coherent explanation of why Jesus died?
What can we learn from Jesus’ life about how we might address the systems of inequity and oppression in our own cultures? One lesson seems to me that we have to “start local.”
He simply goes around doing what he knows to be right, which he surely discovered during his long periods of solitude and silence (a form of contemplation) on the outskirts of town, and others begin to join him.
-Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation
our own impermanence is concealed from us.
The trees stand firm, the houses we live in
are still there. We along
flow past it all, an exchange of air.
Only the woman who has had to face despair is really
convinced that she needs mercy.
I miss you, D.
Twenty years now
Where’d they go?
I don’t know
I sit and I wonder sometimes
Where they’ve gone
And sometimes late at night
When I’m bathed in the firelight
The moon comes callin’ a ghostly white
And I recall
December 4th, 1875 – December 29th, 1926
Rose, oh pure paradox, desire
to be no one’s sleep beneath
the many eyelids of your petals.
All has been leveled to equal meaninglessness. But it is not quite the same. It is not that all is “one,” but all is “zero.”
Everything adds up to zero. Indeed, even the state, in the end, is zero.
Freedom is then to live and die for zero. Is that I want: to be beaten, imprisoned, or shot for zero?
But to be shot for zero is not a matter of choice. It is not something one is required either to “want” or “not want.” It is not even something one is able to freeze.
Zero swallow shudders hundreds of thousands of victims every year, and the police take care of the details.
Suddenly, mysteriously, without reason, your time comes, and while you are still desperately trying to make up your own mind what you imagine you might possibly be dying for, you are stalled up by zero.
Perhaps, subjectively, you have tried to convince yourself and have not wasted time convincing others. Nobody else is interested.
What I have said so far concerns execution for a “political crime.” But death in war, in the same way, is a kind of execution for nothing, a meaningless extinction, a swallowing up zero.
The Society of Zero
All will come again into its strength:
the field undivided, the waters undimmed,
the trees towering and the walls built low.
And in the valleys, people as strong
and varied as the land.
And no churches where God
is imprisoned and lamented
like a trapped and wounded animal.
From the Book of Hours II, 25
My passion has grown to encompass filmmaking, community storytelling and social media. The West’s mountains, deserts and forests are my office. My goal is to nurture, strengthen and empower connections with the natural world. Simply put, I want people to shut their laptops and turn off their iPhones and go live the life they daydream about.
Loving the Questions
In 1974, a 15-year-old Serene Jones sat at a campfire sing-along that helped shape her understanding of America and its complicated relationship to its own story. She and her fellow campers were singing along to the familiar lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” when she learned for the first time that the song actually has a few lesser-known verses, including:
“In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?”
She writes in her book Call it Grace bout how hearing these more critical lyrics to a popular American song was a moment of revelation. Even decades later, she’s held onto the memory as a metaphor for America’s tendency to shine light on the “sunny, hopeful, and helpful” while “[lopping] off the uncomfortable verses about our lives.”
And in this week’s On Being, Jones talks about how her work as a public theologian is about reconciling these two realities in humanity: Both our propensity for love and connection, as well as our capacity for hatred and cruelty. She says it’s the work of connecting our personal stories to this bigger question — what does it mean to be human? — that makes theology such an important exercise. “What is theology, if it’s not talking about our collective lives and the meaning and purpose of our lives and how we’re supposed to live together and who God is, in ways that are part of our conversation together?”
Serene Jones describes theology as the place and story you think of when you ask yourself about the meaning of your life, the world, and the possibility of God. For her, that place is a “dusty piece of land” on the plains of Oklahoma where she grew up. “I go there to find my story — my theology. I go there to be born again; to be made whole; to unite with what I was, what I am, and what I will become.” In her work as a public theologian, Jones explores theology as clarifying lens on the present — from grace to repentance to the importance of moving from grieving to mourning.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue,” he wrote. “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
A Circle expands forever
It covers all who wish to hold hands
And its size depends on each other
It is a vision of solidarity
It turns outwards to interact with the outside
And inward for self critique
A circle expands forever
It is a vision of accountability
It grows as the other is moved to grow
A circle must have a centre
But a single dot does not make a Circle
One tree does not make a forest
A circle, a vision of cooperation, mutuality and care
—Mercy Amba Oduyoye
Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “The Story of a Circle” (Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians), The Ecumenical Review, vol. 53, no. 1 (January 2001), 97. Used with permission.
Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Compassion & Contemplation
- Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
- The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
- Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
- Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
- Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
- Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
- Peacemaking is more important than power.
- We should care more about love and less about sex.
- Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (Eternity is Gaia’s work anyway).
…but the angel, imperious,pointed over and over
to what was written on the page he held,
and would not held and kept insisting: read.
Then the man read, and when he did the angel bowed.
It was as if he had always been reading,
and now was able to obey and bring to pass.
Alexander Stoddard/Grace Notes:
’Any profound view of the world is mysticism.’ -Albert Schweitzer
Love the questions. The bigger the questions, the better. The mysteries of life have never been understood by any human so far and never will be. The little things that make you happy, the order you put into your corner of the universe, the joy you feel from these small rituals, are mysterious. You’re not crazy; you’re creative. It’s all right if you are teased. Who cares? You do these things for yourself.
A BIBLICAL ROUGH DRAFT
The New Yorker
‘Many do not know that the Bible was once a “living document,” passed orally from person to person, and from generation to generation, before finally being written down. Even the most well-known Biblical passages went through countless iterations before arriving at the final, perfect, logical, cohesive, and treasured versions we now hold dear.
Early written drafts of the Bible were the transcribed pontifications of travelling “storytellers,” who tromped from village to village in floppy sandals, swatting at flies, sipping beads of dew from the undersides of donkeys, and fighting dogs for scraps of raw meat. A close reading of the earliest known transcription of a popular excerpt from the Book of Matthew reveals that the “narrator” is suffering from low blood sugar. No doubt a syphilitic holy man dressed in desert rags, he searches in vain for just the right metaphor, a well-aimed zinger with which to make his point. The toil that the poor fellow suffers in so doing undercuts the very principle he is straining to illustrate.’
‘Our security must become a relationship to the whole, omitting nothing.’
Ghandi recognized, as no other world leader of our time has done, the necessity to be from from the pressures, the exorbitant and tyrannical demands of a society that is violent because it is essential greedy, lustful, and cruel.
He recognized the impossibility of being a peaceful and nonviolent man, if one submits passively to the insatiable requirements of a society maddened by overstimulation and obsessed with demons of noise, voyeurism, and speed.
Gandhi believed that the central problem of our time was the acceptance or the rejection of a basic law of love and truth which had been made knows to the world in traditional religions.
His whole, his political action, finally even his death, were nothing but a witness to this commitment: “If love is not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces.”
-Thomas Merton, Seeds of Destruction
The most inward and loving of all,
he came forth like a new beginning,
the brown-robed brother [St. Francis] of your nightingales,
with his wonder and good will
and delight in Earth.
Rilke, The Book of Hours III, 33
This is the miracle of love: to discover that all creation is one, flung out into space.
This is the principle of nonviolence, and I want to recommend it to you with all the enthusiasm I can command. . . .
If human beings go to war, it is because they fear someone.
Remove the fear, and you re-establish trust, and will have peace.
Nonviolence means destroying fear.
-Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action & Contemplation
Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.
—John Steinbeck, The Short Reign of Pippin IV (1957)
Lord, the time has come. Summer was abundant.
Cast your shadows over the sundial,
across the fields unleash your winds.
Command the final fruits to ripen.
Grant them two more southern days,
bring them to fullness and press
their last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Who now has no house will not build one.
Who now is alone will remain alone,
will read into the night, write long letters,
and, restless, wander streets
where leaves are blowing.
-Rilke, Book of Images
I would rather sense you
as the earth senses you.
In my ripening
what you are.
No miracles, please.
Just let your laws
from generation to generation.
You train your eye, and your vision lusts after color. You train your ear, and you long for delightful sounds. You delight in doing good, and your natural kindest is blown out of shape. You delight in righteousness, and you become righteous beyond all reason. You overdo liturgy, and you turn into a ham actor. Overdo your love of music, and you play corn. Love of wisdom leads to wise contriving. Love of knowledge leads to faultfinding.
When the delights become a religion, how can you control them?
Chuang Tzu, who wrote in the fourth and third centuries B.C., is the chief authentic historical spokesman for Taoism.
Some say it’s naive to think we can turn love into the governing principle of our civilization; I say it’s naive to think we’ll last another 100 years on this planet if we don’t try. Swords into plowshares: we can to turn a war economy into a peace economy. Where [he] has harnessed fear, we must harness love.-Marianne
Admonitions, 27:Where there is charity and wisdom there is neither fear nor ignorance.Those who live in love have a wisdom about them, particularly in their sense of priorities. They know what is important.
Day by Day with St. Francis:Those who are fearful see things that aren’t there, and tend not to grasp the truth when it is presented to them.
In love there is no fear; indeed, perfect love casts out fear.
1 John 4:18
‘Occasional churchgoing and the recitation of has prayers have no power to cleanse this purulent wound.’ -Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
‘Lord, the great cities are lost and rotting.
Their time is running out…
The people there live harsh and heavy,
crowded together, weary of their own routines.
Beyond them waits and breathes your earth,
but where they are ti cannot reach them.
They don’t know that somewhere
wind is blowing through a field of flowers.’
-Rilke, The book of Hours III, 4/5
This is a new time, and we must bring forth something new within ourselves in order to deal with it. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”
We are not poor. We are just without riches,
we who have no will no world:
marked with the marks of the latest anxiety, disfigured, stripped of leaves.
Around us swirls the dust of the cities,
the garbage clings to us.
We are shunned as if contaminated,
thrown away like broken pots, like bones,
like last year’s calendar.
And yet if our Earth needed to
she could weave us together like roses
and make of us a garland.
For each being is cleaner than washed stones
and endlessly yours, and like an animal
who knows already in its first blind moments
its need for one thing only…
to let ourselves be poor like that…as we truly are.
-The Book of Hours III,16
“…a discovery that respects the hiddenness and in communicability of each one’s personal secret, while paying tribute to his presence in the common celebration.”
-Thomas Merton, Seasons of Celebration
‘The Golden Rule is so basic, so logical, so easy to agree with, yet so utterly difficult to practice! One way to start is to simply put ourselves in the other’s shoes, to practice empathy and sympathy. Practice is really the operative word, for empathy does require practice. It takes many intentional efforts before we can make it a habit.’
Day by Day with St. Francis, by Peter A. Giersch 
If we just keep hold of each other, you grasping the young one and I the old, we could revolve together like ´*.¸.• .¸. ¸.☆¨ .¸.¸¸.☆’s.
New Poems, by Rainer Maria Rilke
God is in the roses
The petals and the thorns
Storms out on the oceans
The souls who will be born
And every drop of rain that falls
Falls for those who mourn
God is in the roses
And the thorns. -Rosanne Cash
“Vulnerability transforms you. You can’t be in the presence of a truly vulnerable, honestly vulnerable person and not be affected. I think that’s the way we are meant to be in the presence of one another.” [Richard Rohr]
The cross was not a transactional moment, but deeper, ensconced in humility and vulnerability. [Reference to Richard Rohr]
“As he draws near Jerusalem, Jesus weeps out of a sadness and frustration at people’s blindness to what is right in front of them…oblivious.” [Forward Day by Day]
“The Talmud says that unhappy conditions arise when we mistake shadower substance. We are ever renewed by the presence of that which cannot change. We are ever renewed by the passage of the Divine light through our consciousness. Silently, I pass from less to more, from isolation to inclusion, from separation into oneness.” [Ernest Holmes]
“And this above all: that through these petals light must pass. From a thousand skies, each drop of darkness is filtered out and the glow at the core of each flower grows stronger and rises into life.
And the movement of the roses has a branch none could discern, were it for for what it ignites in the universe entire…
One could say they were self-contained if self-contained meant to transform the world outside, patience of springtime, guilt and restlessness, the secrecy of fate and the darkness of Earth at evening…on out to the streaming and fleeing of clouds and, farther yet, the orders of the stars…take it all and turn it into a handful of inwardness.”
See how it lies at ease in the open roses. -Rilke
The flower doesn’t dream of the bee. It blossoms and the bee comes.
It is the tending of our own souls that invites the natural process of love to begin. I remember my very first tumble into love. I found such comfort there that, like Narcissus, I became lost in how everything other than my pain was reflected in his beauty. All the while, I was addicting my own worth, empowering him as the key to my sense of joy.
If I have learned anything through the years, it is that, though we discover and experience joy with others, our capacity for joy is carried like a pod of nectar into our very own being. I now believe that our deepest vocation is to root ourselves enough in this life that we can open our hearts to attract others. In other words, in being so thoroughly who we are, an inner essence is released that calls others to experience our personal light.
It seems the very job of being is to ready us for such love.
In this way, the Universe continues through the unexpected coming together of blossomed souls.
So if you can, give up the want of another and be who you are, and more than not, love will come at the precise moment you are simply in love with you. [Nepo]
Identify one trait makes you feel good about who are are: your laugh, your simile, your ability to listen, or the sound of your voice.
Notice how this effects others.
These small moments are the beginnings of love. They do not yet have definition.
Take a moment. Give thanks for your small goodness and for the potential love of others.
A hunger drives us.
We want to contain it all in our naked hands,
our bribing sense, our speechless hearts.
We want to become it, or offer it-but to whom?
We could hold it forever-but, after all,
what can we keep?
Not the beholding, so slow to learn.
Not anything that has happened here.
There are hurts. And, always, the hardships.
And there’s the long knowing of love-all of it
amidst the stars,
we will see: these are better unsaid.
-Rainer Maria Rilke, from the Ninth Duino Elegy
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.
Science of Mind/Ernest Holmes:
This was the Christ speaking, the son begotten of the only Father-the Son of God. Humble in his humanity, compassionate in his tenderness, understand the frailties of the human mind, he let the Great Spirit speak through him, in words of love and sympathy. He proclaimed his divinity through his humanity and taught that all men are brothers.
Rev. Dr. David Goldberg:
The Sanskrit word karuna is translated as compassion, which means active sympathy or the willingness to bear the pain of others. Closely related to karuna is metta, loving kindness.
It’s important to remember also that genuine compassion is rooted in prajna or wisdom. Prajna is the realization that the separate self is an illusion. This takes us back to not attaching our egos to what we do, expecting to be thanked or rewarded.
In Essence of the Heart Sutra, His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes, “According to Buddhism, compassion is an aspiration, a state of mind, wanting others to be free from suffering. It’s not passive-it’s not empty alone-but rather an empathetic altruism that actively strives to free others from suffering. Genuine compassion must have both wisdom and loving kindness. That is to say, one must understand the nature of the suffering from which we wish to free others (this is wisdom), and one must experience deep intimacy and empathy with other sentient beings (this is loving kindness). [Right Action and Compassion, Barbara O’Brien, April 2018]
Mark Twain, looking back on his life:
“There isn’t time so brief is life for bickering, apologies, heart-burnings, calling to account there is only time for loving, but in an instant, so to speak, for that.” 
“Brother body is poor…that means we must be rich for him.
He was often the rich one; so may he be forgiven
for the meanness of his wretched moments.
Then, when he acts as though he barely knows us,
may he be gently reminded of all that has been shared.
Of course, we are not one but two solitaries:
our consciousness and he.
But how much we have to thank each other for,
as friends do! And illness reminds us:
friendship demands a lot.” [Written between 1908 and 1923.]
Thomas Merton (insert medium of choice):
“I am certainly no judge of television, since I have never watched it. All I know is that there is a sufficiently general agreement, among men whose judgement 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 inert 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. 
In the end we will hear what we are:
The orchard or the road leading past.
“Prayer is a perspective from which to behold, from which to respond to, the challenges we face. (Wo)man in prayer does not seek to impose personal life upon God; (s)he seeks to impose God’s will and mercy upon self. Prayer is necessary to make us aware of our failures, backsliding, transgressions, sins.
To pray is to open a door, where both God and soul may enter. Prayer is arrival, for Him and for us. To pray is to overcome distance, to shatter screens, to render obliquities straight, to heal the break between God and world.
A dreadful oblivion prevails in the world. The world has forgotten what it means to be human. The gap is widening, the abyss is within the self.”
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
Beatitudes of Spirit
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
-Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3-10