Now to the one who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21
Beloved St. John’s community,
Many of you are familiar with Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr, the founder of Center for Action and Contemplation who provides a daily email with reflection and prayer. In November 24’s reflection, he quotes Thomas Merton, as follows:
What is the relation of [contemplation] to action? Simply this. He who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. —Thomas Merton1
Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone who perhaps was “right” from the point of view of ideals, but whose attitudes were so off-putting that your interactions with that person were more negative than positive? Do you think that perhaps you have ever been on the giving end of such an interaction?
I know I have, on both counts. We see this every day on the news, on social media, and perhaps even in our own interactions with family members. But my friends, there is hope, and another way. That way comes from having the humility of allowing ourselves to see and, more importantly, to feel the impact of our own self-righteous indignation on others, and the damage that it causes—and then, opening ourselves to the overwhelming love and power of God that is always right here, within us. Are “we” right? Often, yes. Does being “right” excuse the condescension, contempt, and even hatred we can sometimes feel for those who disagree with us? Gently, I would say, it does not. The ends do not justify the means, as we all too often are quick to point out in those whose ends we disagree with.
I can only speak about this because I have witnessed in my own life the pain and damage that comes from this need to be right. I believe we are seeing it play out all over our country. But I have also experienced the generative, life-giving transformation that can come with making a commitment to gentleness and humility, even if I myself, as an enneagram “8”, will always only be a beginner learning those qualities, with God’s help. It feels like my shoulders coming down from my ears. It feels like the knot in my stomach unclenching. It feels like being able experience my love of friends and family who voted differently than I did. And then it feels like the extraordinary miracle of watching relationships transform before my eyes, like light dawning after a long and very hard night.
Several weeks ago in my October 25 sermon, I quoted our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who said that we need to knit back together what he called the “evangelical gospel and the social gospel.” By “evangelical,” he didn’t mean the religious-political right, or a literal interpretation of all scripture, or any of the things we might associate with that word. He meant the acknowledgment that following the Way of Jesus must be as much about our personalities, character, and inner spiritual lives as it is about the social, communal, and political worlds in which we live. Without both—without both contemplation and action, in Rohr’s terms—we will not see the change we seek in the world. But if we do have both—if we admit that the line between good and evil runs straight through each one of us, and open ourselves to the power of God for transformation—then healing and justice will flow from our own transformation as naturally as sprouts come from seeds in the springtime earth.
Dear ones, I invite you to join me in simple, everyday practices of connecting with God, observing our interactions with others, and experiencing the profound hope that comes from seeing that when we change, it immediately changes the environment around us. The harder a change is, the more we have to open ourselves to the power and presence of God. And that power is truly in operation, and can bring about the change that we seek.