Reflections by Jerry Webber


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Love Loves . . . Merton's Thoughts

Before posting my own reflection on, "What does it mean to love another?" as a follow-up to the previous post, "Love loves what is . . . as it is," I want to post some of Thomas Merton's words about love and charity.

These thoughts come from the first section of Merton's, No Man Is an Island. The chapter is called, "Love Can Be Kept Only by Being Given Away." (I have retained Merton's original language, which uses masculine pronouns throughout. Merton was not only a product of his times, he was also the product of an all-male monastic community.)


There is a false and momentary happiness in self-satisfaction, but it always leads to sorrow because it narrows and deadens our spirit. True happiness is found in unselfish love, a love which increases in proportion as it is shared. There is no end to the sharing of love, and, therefore, the potential happiness of such love is without limit. Infinite sharing is the law of God's inner life. He has made the sharing of ourselves the law of our own being, so that it is in loving others that we best love ourselves. In disinterested activity we best fulfill our own capacities to act and to be.

Yet there can never be happiness in compulsion. It is not enough for love to be shared: it must be shared freely. That is to say it must be given, not merely taken.


***********

Love not only prefers the good of another to my own, but it does not even compare the two. . . . Love seeks one thing only: the good of the one loved. . . .

To love another is to will what is really good for him. Such love must be based on truth. A love that sees no distinction between good and evil, but loves blindly merely for the sake of loving, is hatred, rather than love. To love blindly is to love selfishly, because the goal of such love is not the real advantage of the beloved but only the exercise of love in our own souls. . . .

Charity is neither weak nor blind. It is essentially prudent, just, temperate, and strong. Unless all the other virtues blend together in charity, our love is not genuine. No one who really wants to love another will consent to love him falsely. If we are going to love others at all, we must make up our minds to love them well. Otherwise our love is a delusion. . . .

One who really loves another is not merely moved by the desire to see him contented and healthy and prosperous in this world. Love cannot be satisfied with anything so incomplete. If I am to love my brother, I must somehow enter deep into the mystery of God's love for him. . . . The truth I must love in my brother is God Himself, living in him.


************

In order to love others with perfect charity I must be true to them, to myself, and to God.

The true interests of a person are at once perfectly his own and common to the whole Kingdom of God. That is because these interests are all centered in God's designs for his soul. The destiny of each one of us is intended, by the Lord, to enter into the destiny of His entire Kingdom. . . .

If we love one another truly, our love will be graced with a clear-sighted prudence which sees and respects the designs of God upon each separate soul. Our love for one another must be rooted in a deep devotion to Divine Providence, a devotion that abandons our own limited plans into the hands of God and seeks only to enter into the invisible work that builds His Kingdom.




Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Love Loves What Is As It Is

Love loves what is as it is.

I have been saying this for years, mostly because it represents a life-stance to which I aspire, not a stance I have attained. Alas, I discover over and over again how far I have yet to travel in order to make this truth my very own.

I wish "Love loves what is as it is" was a comforting insight. Truly, it doesn't offer comfort to me as much as it disturbs me, challenges me, and presses me to a more God-centered stance toward people and situations.

Authentic love is not aligned with certain favorable conditions that are conducive to love and goodwill. Real love is not based on another person changing their ways, and thus becoming more lovable. Transforming love does not withhold itself in protest or make half-baked promises which are conditioned on certain outcomes.

Love loves what is . . . as it is. It does not wait for change. It does not demand the other become lovable -- though for the health of the other and the world, it may be in everyone's best interest for the other to become more lovable! -- before it loves.

Most days I lose touch with this Love early in the morning. I become angry at persons who use power to diminish others or who lord it over those who have no power. I withhold kindness to punish others for the wounds I perceive they have inflicted on me. I wait for wrongs to be righted as a kind of penance before I dare to invest my love and life in a person or situation.

I am frequently called back to Love, however. I am reminded often of my intention to live from an anchored Center, to approach the world from a core of mercy and compassion, rather than judgment and division. I am welcomed back to my foundational belief that those who live from this Center (what Jesus called "the kingdom of God") make a difference in the world simply by their presence.

A few months ago Deepak Chopra was on a late-night talk show. In the midst of talk about the healing power of meditation, the conversation turned to the anxiety, tension, and conflict in the world right now, and Chopra's belief that the turbulence is a sign of society going through a time of transition.

Then the host asked Chopra about inviting the President for a week of meditation, saying, "Do you think you could break him down?" Chopra responded, "You don't need to break him down. Go beyond his wounds to what is really troubling him. He needs love."

I could feel the jolt within myself . . . the air sucked out of my lungs. I was aghast! The loudest part of my being shouted, "Love a narcissist, a bully? Never!"

And the still, small voice within me said, "You KNOW it's true. You must love! This is the path you've chosen. Now walk in it."


Friday, November 23, 2018

The Kingdoms of This World

Luke 4:1-13

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered him, “It is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
to protect you,’

11 and

‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.




I most often read this temptation and testing story from the perspective of Matthew's Gospel. Recently, in moving through Luke's Gospel, I heard the story differently, with a nuance which had not caught my eye previously.

Specifically, I paid attention to vv. 5-8 more intentionally than simply giving the text a cursory reading. Perhaps I was influenced by the current state of affairs in the world. Whatever the reason, I felt a nudge to linger and consider those verses more deeply.

First, in the entire sequence Jesus is "led by the Holy Spirit" (4:1), which comes on the back-end of Jesus' baptism.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:21-22)

At his baptism, Jesus' identity is confirmed. He hears down to his bones that he is the Son of God, he is pleasing to the Father, and his identity cannot be shaken nor severed. In a larger context, the three testings of Luke 4 are attempts to shake Jesus' understanding of himself, to cause him to doubt his core identity. And they come after a period of fasting alone in a wilderness where there are few external resources. In other words, at a time of weakness (H.A.L.T. = hungry, angry, lonely tired) Jesus was tempted to forsake his basic identity in God.

In the second wilderness test (4:5-8), the devil led Jesus up to where Jesus could see "in an instant" all the kingdoms of the world. By seeing in an instant, Jesus had a moment of illumination and enlightenment when he saw all the way through the kingdoms of the world. He saw how they operate, what makes them tick, how they do their business. In a moment of insight, Jesus sees into them, he sees how they work, and he sees what they are built upon.

Then Luke writes, as if to confirm what Jesus has seen in this enlightened vision, about the devil's offer to Jesus: "I will give you their power and authority, for they have all been given to me and I can give them to anyone as I please. Therefore, if you worship me, they will be yours." (This is the piece of the testing scene that I had previously overlooked.)

This is astounding . . . the kingdoms of the world, according to Luke's Gospel, have been given to the devil. They belong to this adversary, this one who stands opposed to God.

For whatever you think about the literal idea of "the devil," it is worth considering the words used in the New Testament for this being or spirit.

In Greek, satanas and satan are the words for accuser or adversary. The one called satan, then, is the one who operates by accusation, whose methodology is to accuse, accuse, accuse in an adversarial way. Pointing fingers, loudly accusing, belittling, sowing seeds of doubt, stoking the flames of fear . . . this is the work of the adversary.

In Greek, the word diabolos (from which we get "diabolical") is often translated "devil" and literally means "the one who divides or separates, the one who tears apart, the one who pits people against each other." Thus, the spirit of diabolos is to separate, to compete, to create conflict, to reduce everything in life down to winners versus losers.

So Luke 4:5-8 gives us a snapshot into how the kingdoms of this world operate, belonging as they do to the spirit of accusation and division (satanas). They accuse and belittle, they attack with barbs, they diminish the humanity of the other, they toss word-bombs from their places of power onto those who have little power.

And these kingdoms operate by dividing people out of fear (diabolos). They separate "us" from "them" They create conflict. They make enemies -- because creating enemies provides the energy of fear, which mobilizes people to act in self-protective ways.

Who are the contemporary "kingdoms of this world"? [This seems like picking low-hanging fruit, doesn't it?]

You can start with anyone or any group who has some kind of power in the world . . . whoever has built any kind of kingdom and then leans into accusation and division to solidity their power . . .

** big businesses who thrive on the competition and conflict inherent in a free-market economy . . . who create subtle and not-so-subtle trends that create a sense of "need" or "want" which competes with the needs and wants of others . . . the very notion of "haves" and "have-nots" is built on this conflict.

** politicians, for whom winning the next election no matter the cost nor the loss of integrity, is the sole objective. We hardly bat an eyelash anymore at politicians who, "Accuse! Accuse!! Accuse!!!" . . . who stoke fear . . . who belittle political opponents . . . who divide and create enemies . . . who separate persons based on religion, race, sexual orientation, nationality, political stance, and so on.

** government systems certainly are kingdoms of the world, only marginally built around compassion and mercy, and increasingly self-serving.

** religious institutions often look more like "kingdoms of the world" than the "kingdom of God" . . . fraught with competition, fomenting conflict, acting in self-interest, fearful of losing power, authority, or control . . . becoming places of judgment and exclusion rather than love, forgiveness, and reconciliation. (And this is not a recent trend, but rather, is a centuries-old hardening.)

The list could go on. The point is that if you are going to be a "successful" kingdom of this world, then you have to play by the rules and according to the spirit of the one to whom these kingdoms belong.

And this is the catch for Jesus. Jesus realizes, in his "instant" of insight, that if he is given the kingdoms of this world, he must also agree to manage or control the kingdoms by the methodology of the one giving them. To bow down and worship the devil means to take on the devil's means for operating the kingdoms of this world . . . the way of accusation and conflict, the way of division and enemy-creating.

To have the kingdoms of the world, you have to play by the rules of the accuser and the divider . . . you have to play by the rules of the kingdoms of the world . . . you have to hold power as they hold power . . . you have to deal with people as pawns the way they do . . . you have to think of soldiers as expendable commodities in order to further your purposes . . . you have to win -- or at least strive for winning -- so there is competition and fighting, wars and killing . . . you have to manipulate people to do your bidding, so you speak to the basic fears and insecurities of people, encouraging ill-will toward others . . . you demonize those whose way of life or life-orientation is different from yours.

And Jesus refuses! This is a trade he will not make! He is grounded in God. His long season of fasting in the wilderness has not weakened his connection with God, but rather has confirmed it. His resolve is stronger than ever . . . he is rooted in his identity in God, which is not founded on fear and insecurity, power and control, accusation and division. He will not accomplish his life-work using the methodology of the devil, or the kingdoms of the world.

He will not accuse; rather, he will love and he will forgive, even those who kill him for his subversive approach to life.

He will not divide and separate; rather, his life is about mercy, about union (with God, self, others, the world), about reconciliation (with God and others), and about making one that which the world has torn apart.






Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Stepping across the Divide

Luke 19:1-10

Jesus was going through Jericho, 2 where a man named Zacchaeus lived. He was in charge of collecting taxes and was very rich. 3-4 Jesus was heading his way, and Zacchaeus wanted to see what he was like. But Zacchaeus was a short man and could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree.

5 When Jesus got there, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry down! I want to stay with you today.” 6 Zacchaeus hurried down and gladly welcomed Jesus.

7 Everyone who saw this started grumbling, “This man Zacchaeus is a sinner! And Jesus is going home to eat with him.”

8 Later that day Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “I will give half of my property to the poor. And I will now pay back four times as much to everyone I have ever cheated.”

9 Jesus said to Zacchaeus, “Today you and your family have been saved, because you are a true son of Abraham. 10 The Son of Man came to look for and to save people who are lost.”




In the previous post, I wrote about the expectations John the Baptizer had of Jesus . . . that Jesus would replicate John's motivational methodology of fear and shame, while further dividing and separating people (the good from the bad). Jesus, the Messiah John anticipated, rejected those means of calling people to deeper life in God. Instead, Jesus' methodology was grounded in his own identity in God. By living in mercy, compassion, love, and reconciliation, he continually sought to uncover the core identity of others as sons and daughters of God.

The Gospel reading for today strikes me as an example of how Jesus refused the divisions commonly enforced by others, and instead offered compassionate generosity to persons, no matter who they were.

Zacchaeus was a wealthy man, even if his wealth came at the expense of others.

Even though rich, he was categorized as a "sinner" by virtue of his occupation. He was also a "sinner" by virtue of his relationship with the Roman Empire. He was in the employ of a foreign government, yet he got wealthy from collecting taxes from "his own people" (do you see the insider-outsider language which separates?). As a tax-collector, he served the occupying government, but his livelihood came at the expense of his home tribe.

To the Romans he was a lackey. To his own people he was a traitor.

In terms of the religious culture of the day, Zacchaeus was a "sinner." The word denotes a social class of people who engaged in work deemed corrupt or disreputable by the religious hierarchy. The category of "sinner" was used by conventional religion to indicate who was in and who was out, thus dividing or separating in order to keep "good" people at a distance from corrupt or unholy people.

Zacchaeus belonged to this social class of people designated by cultural standards to be corrupt or unclean.

Today, this same kind of divide is made wider by religious entities, denominations, and church leaders . . . by governments, policies, and partisan politicians . . . by corporations and marketing campaigns. Some people are in and some are out. Some are justified in their "righteousness" and others are deemed "godless."

Jesus continually crosses this line, walking back and forth across the divide, meeting people from both sides where they are. His mercy and efforts at reconciliation anger those who want to maintain separation, those who are invested in the divisions, those whose worldview depends on competition and creating real or imagined "enemies." After all, making those who have a different worldview your enemy always provides a reason to get up in the morning, always gives energy for a fight, always gives you someone to oppose, always offers you someone at whom to aim your vitriol.

Jesus' anger is never directed at those "on the other side" of the divide, those who have been excluded. If anything, his harshest words are aimed at those who try to maintain the divide, those who keep people separated -- from others and from God -- by categorizing and demonizing.

Zacchaeus is not a "tax-collector" . . . that's only what he does for a living.

Zacchaeus is not a "sinner" . . . that's what religion has labeled him for his lifestyle and his associations.

Jesus sees Zacchaeus as a son of God who has been broken by life, who may have made some questionable choices, who may have done some harmful things, but who is not ultimately to be defined by anything other than his interior connection to God (a "son of Abraham").

So Jesus steps compassionately across the divide toward this alienated man to uncover his truest self, in an effort to help Zacchaeus find this sense of himself which he had lost.

Those who want to maintain the divide hurl accusation: "He's making friendly with a sinner!" But Jesus doesn't see Zacchaeus - or anyone -- as "sinner." He only sees children who have become lost and who need to find their way home. So he says to Zacchaeus, "Come down from the tree. I'm going home with you today!"

The way of Jesus has never been, "Love your neighbor and those like you . . . hate your enemy and those you don't like." (Matt. 5:43)

The way of Jesus has always been, "Love your enemies and those you oppose . . . and then pray for those who refuse your love." (Matt. 5:44)

In that way, Jesus stepped across the divide toward Zacchaeus. And in that same way he continues to step across the divide in our own day.


Monday, November 19, 2018

In a World of Separation and Shame, Bringing Mercy and Reconciliation

Luke 3:1-20

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.




The Gospel of Luke records the entrance of John the Baptizer onto the scene as a forerunner to Jesus' public ministry (Luke 3:1-20). John's role is to prepare the people for "the One who is to come." John's aim is to bring moral change among his listeners, so that "paths would be straight, roads would be leveled, and rough ways be made smooth."

This road-work, so to speak, provides an entryway for the coming Messiah to enter the lives of the people (Lk. 3:3-6).

What are the paths, roads, and rough ways which needed to be given attention? They are within you and me, the ways we are crooked, too high or too low, and rough. We make ready the pathways within ourselves in order to make a way for the coming of the Messiah into our lives.

John knew that to receive something big, something that can change your life, you have to get ready. You have to make some space. You have to prepare yourself. For John, that space is created by moral change, by living a moral life.

John is right in some ways, you know. A growing, deepening spirituality does not drop upon us like pixie dust when we utter a few rehearsed words or respond to a religious salesperson's pitch. To give ourselves fully in living as God's people in the world, we have to make ourselves ready through practice and intention. We have to open ourselves to new ways of seeing and being in the world with God, self, others, and the world. We have to see ourselves honestly and ruthlessly name what we have seen of our interior.

But John's methodology for this preparation, for getting his listeners to moral living, is all guilt and fear. He calls the people who gathered around him, "a brood of vipers" (3:7) as if to shame the crowd into life-change. Then he warns of future punishments for those who don't get their acts together: "the ax is already laid at the root of the tree" (3:9).

He even says the Messiah will come to continue this work of division and separation (3:17), naming some good and worthy (the wheat), while others would be separated as bad and unworthy (the chaff).

Perhaps John leans too much into the Old Testament idea that to be holy means to be set apart from anything unclean or evil. Holiness separates you from that which is corrupt, the thinking went.

At any rate, John projects his own ascetic notions of morality onto the Messiah.

Moral living is a fine goal, but John seems to miss that persons almost never get to morality through shame and fear. Shame and fear act mostly as external motivators. They have no grounding center. They motivate through anxiety about some promised punishment . . . or through some imagined sense that I am a no-good human being. Both shame and fear may produce different behavior for a short-term, but almost never produce long-term, inner transformation. They simply do not have that power.

Jesus, the Messiah who was to come, refused to motivate by fear or shame. In fact, Jesus' path was just the opposite. He affirms in even the lowest of the low that they, too, are beloved sons and daughters of God. He encourages persons not to identify with their sinfulness, but to identify with the God-connection at the heart of who they are. Jesus continually invites persons to stop giving so much attention to the externals of religion, but to deal with the "inside of the cup."

Further, Jesus does not fulfill John's notion that the Messiah divides and separates. In fact, Jesus comes to do the opposite. He reconciles divisions, heals brokenness, mends separations, and brings back together that which has been torn apart. All of Jesus' life-work is about putting together people and relationships who have been broken apart.

The words that best describe Jesus are mercy . . . compassion . . . love . . . reconciling . . . liberating. He seems intent on bringing together, while rejecting separation and division both in the world and within the family of God's people.

John seems to have projected his own path onto Jesus. John made his understanding God's understanding, rather than making God's understanding his understanding.

It is a common mistake, a human mistake we all make, and sometimes find writ large in contemporary culture.

You don't have to look far to see how modern politics, religious life, and the entire social order are bent toward division and separation, pooling together the "alike" while shunning, ostracizing, and demonizing the "unlike." It happens in Christian denominations. It happens in political campaigns. It happens in government affairs at every level. We divide and separate, making enemies of those with other views, all while trying to rally support for our perspective.

This, my friends, is not the way of Jesus. And it is not the way those who truly want to follow Jesus.

Jesus does not endorse John's methodology of guilt and shame. He does not endorse life-change through fear of punishment or anxiety about the future. And he has no intention of separating or dividing, splitting nations, races, religious factions, and groups into the haves and the have-nots.

To broken humans who have been torn up by the world, Jesus brings mercy and compassion, helping all persons come back to a sense of who they are in God.

John got this fundamentally wrong about Jesus. Such basic, foundational spiritual work never happens by guilt and shame . . . nor by division and separation.

This work happens through love . . . mercy . . . compassion . . . reconciliation. And this is how Jesus still goes about his work in our world . . . denominational power plays, political rhetoric, and social divisions notwithstanding.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Check on Your Opinions

The world contains a huge amount of anxious, angry energy at present. Maybe it always has done so . . . this anxious and destructive energy likely has always existed just beneath the surface. But somehow it feels more toxic now that it had made a home in plain sight.

Colliding worldviews and divisions give us pause even to engage in conversations that once would have been considered normal and everyday. [Am I the only one with an wary eye on Thanksgiving week and the family gatherings that include emboldened, combative voices from across ideological spectrums?]

As one of my favorite sports talk-show hosts used to say, "Opinions are like noses: Everybody has one." Indeed, everybody has an opinion.

But not all opinions are created equal, and simply holding an opinion strongly or loudly or stubbornly does not make that opinion life-giving or healthy or whole-making.

In fact, maybe we would do well to hold up those phrases to the ideologies or worldviews to which we cling:

** Is it life-giving? Is it life-giving for you? Is it life-giving for others? Does it lead to fullness of life for everyone concerned? Or does it diminish life?

** Is it healthy? That is, does it come from a place of healing and reconciliation? Does it lead to health (spiritual, emotional, physical) in you and others?

** Does it make the world whole? Does it help persons become complete? Does it help you and others live in the world as people who follow in the steps of Jesus? Is it something Jesus would support or advocate for? Does it hold together divisions? Or does it create more splits and deepen chasms?

I fully realize that not everyone will want to ask questions like these of themselves. But I also realize that for those who call themselves followers of Jesus, these are basic, fundamental stances for Christian disciples.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Spiritual Life and the Social Order


The inward spiritual journey always impacts life in the outer world.

A deepening connection with God (the inner work) always makes a difference in who we are with (and how we see) God, self, others, and the world (the outer work).

The spiritual dimension of life should always impact the social order in which we live.

In fact, the spiritual life gives you and me a different way of being in the world, a way of swimming upstream against the prevailing current of the social order, without having to adopt the means by which society plays the game.

To “play the game” by the rules of society is merely a way of granting legitimacy to those rules and to the social order that created them.

“The ‘team’ with the most votes wins . . . or the side that has the strongest argument is right . . . or this election is a referendum on _________.”

The social order acts – and throughout history, always has – as if it holds all the cards, as if it is the most powerful order in the world. The prevailing social “wisdom” assumes that because it creates the rules, passes the legislation, and determines what is important and unimportant, that it must be the most powerful aspect of life, whether that social wisdom represents “the Left” or “the Right”.

On the other hand, those given to the spiritual world and the spiritual realm of life bet their lives that there is a Spiritual Presence that undergirds all of life, a Divine Source present always and everywhere to which the prevailing social order is largely oblivious. Further, underlying the spiritual life is the conviction that the real authority and power in life is this Spiritual Presence, that all social claims to power and authority are mere pretenders.

So I’m pondering what it means to be a contemplative presence in the kind of world in which we live (and in which we have always lived). What is my life about as I seek to live in the world from the Center, tethered to the Source of all things?

I recognize that for centuries, when the Church was complicit in society’s corruption, those who carried forward the way of Jesus had to do so underground, in ways and in places that were quiet, unseen, and out of the mainstream. In fact, in those centuries, the mainstream expressions of religious faith were just as corrupt as society at large, filled more with the messages of the social order than with the Gospel. So it was up to mystics, monks, and holy women to carry – and live into – a way of being in the world that was healing and regenerative, rather than divisive, hostile, and hysteric.

In the Middle Ages, Popes, Cardinals, and Bishops were a part of royal courts, in the service of monarchs, and a part of the corruption that comes with power. In those settings, the religious authorities offered widespread blessing of the very corruption that served some well, but oppressed most. In those days, it was up to mystics to speak of an authentic connection with God that ran deeper than political influence. Monasteries became places where simplicity and poverty of spirit symbolized a stance against the power structures of the day. But that kind of resistance flowed mostly underground.

In the 1930’s, the Church in Germany so totally adopted the platform of the Nazis that Christians could no longer see what was real. Persons who carried forward an authentically Gospel message – like Dietrich Bonhoeffer – had to do so through an underground Church, so totally had the mainstream Church and clergy adopted the prevailing social order.

So today, the calling of those who would be awake, who would seek a deepening connection with God that makes a difference in the world, may take an underground, almost subversive form. That is not to say contemplatives or those who lean into the spiritual dimension of life should not be active in the social order, in political systems, government, business, and so on. Always, part of the Divine invitation is to work and pray for a more just, more merciful and compassionate world (“on earth as it is in heaven”). So we do not “sit this one out.” However, we also acknowledge that trusting in elections, legislation, capitalism, and policies to change hearts is misplaced trust.

Your spiritual journey makes a difference in the world.

Your practice of prayer impacts the circumference of your realm of influence.

Your openness to a deepening connection with God creates healing space within you and around you that touches the world with wholeness and generosity.

Your soul’s tether to the Source of Life is stronger and more real than all the power, control, and legislations of the social order.

And in your intention to live from a life-giving Center, you carry on an underground tradition that no power of the world can curb.