The words of Jesus can keep us erect and confident in the midst of the turmoil of the end-time.  They can support us, encourage us, and give us life even when everything around us speaks of death.   Jesus’ words are food for eternal life.  They do much more than give us ideas and inspiration.  They lead us into the eternal life while we are still being clothed in mortal flesh.

When we keep close to the word of Jesus, reflecting on it, “chewing” on it, eating it as food for the soul, we will enter even more deeply into the everlasting love of God.
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Everything that comes from God asks for an open and faithful heart.  We cannot live with hope and joy in the end-time unless we are living in a state of preparedness.  We have to be careful because, as the Apostle Peter says:  “Your enemy the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8).  Therefore Jesus says:  “Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened by debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life. … Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to hold your ground before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).  That’s what living in the Spirit of Jesus calls us to.
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Many people live with the unconscious or conscious expectation that eventually things will get better; wars, hunger, poverty, oppression, and exploitation will vanish; and all people will live in harmony.  Their lives and work are motivated by that expectation.  When this does not happen in their lifetimes, they are often disillusioned and experience themselves as failures.

But Jesus doesn’t support such an optimistic outlook.  He foresees not only the destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem but also a world full of cruelty, violence, and conflict.  For Jesus there is no happy ending in this world.  The challenge of Jesus is not to solve all the world’s problems before the end of time but to remain faithful at any cost.
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For saints, mystics, and budding contemplatives, “words have become flesh,” and experience has gone beyond words. Experience is always non-dual, an open field where both weeds and wheat are allowed (Matthew 13:30). As St. Paul put it, “My spirit is praying, but my mind is left barren” from its criticizing judgments (1 Corinthians 14:14). Words are mere guideposts now, and you recognize that most people have made them into hitching posts. Inside such broad and deep awareness, paradoxes are easily accepted and former mental contradictions seem to dissolve. That’s why mystics can forgive and let go and show mercy and love enemies, and why the rest of us can’t!

Abstract concepts and verbal dogma contain the air of mathematical or divine perfection, but mystics do not love concepts. They love the concrete and the particular. They have had at least one significant encounter with the Divine, which is all it takes, and which they themselves cannot understand or describe as a clear concept. “There is only Christ; he is everything, and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11), they might say. That may sound like an overstatement or mere poetry, but the mystics are not rebels against anything except all attempts to block that very kind of encounter in themselves or in others, which unfortunately a lot of religion itself does. (Which is why Jesus is so disapproving of so much of his own religion, almost more than anything else!)

Mystics—those who have experienced union with the Divine—are in love, in love with life and life for all. If they are not in love, they are not in union. Mystics usually look simplistic and even naive to those who have not shared a similar experience; and that is a burden they must forever carry. They have no time for being against; there is now so much to be for! Jesus was critical of religion, but that was only because he first recognized how right it could be.

from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See

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Jesus teaches us how to live in the present time.  He identifies our present time as the end-time, the time that offers us countless opportunities to testify for Jesus and his Kingdom.   The many disasters in our world, and all the tragedies that happen to people each day, can easily lead us to despair and convince us that we are the sad victims of circumstances.  But Jesus looks at these events in a radically different way.   He calls them opportunities to witness!

Jesus reminds us that we do not belong to this world.  We have been sent into the world to be living witnesses of God’s unconditional love, calling all people to look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.
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The great spiritual teachers always balance knowing with not knowing, light with darkness. In the Christian tradition, the two great strains were called the kataphatic (according to the light) or “positive” way—relying on clear words, concepts, and ideas—and the apophatic (against the light) or “negative” way—moving beyond words and images into silence, darkness, and metaphor. Both ways are necessary, and together they create a magnificent form of higher non-dual consciousness called faith.

The apophatic way, however, has been underused, under-taught, and underdeveloped largely since the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment. In fact, we became ashamed of our “not-knowing” and tried to fight our battles rationally. Much of Catholicism and most of Protestantism became highly cerebral. God (who is really Mystery) became something you perfectly observed, a service you attended, words you argued about, or worthiness you worked for. But God was never someone you surrendered to.

In the capitalist West, the very word “surrender” is not to our liking. We are all about winning, climbing, achieving, performing, and being the best. In that light, contemplation and non-dual thinking (I use the words almost interchangeably) are about as revolutionary and counter-cultural as you can get.

you getWhen you don’t balance knowing with not knowing, you get  into the kind of religion and politics we have today which is very arrogant, falsely self-assured, can never admit when it’s wrong, and can never apologize because “I know!” According to the great spiritual teachers, ignorance does not result from what we don’t know; ignorance results from what we think we do know! Anybody who knows knows that they don’t know, especially when they’re talking about God! Medieval Catholic theology called this docta ignorantia or “learned ignorance.”

from  Beginner’s Mind, Transforming the World Through Contemplative Prayer, The Dance Divine: Exploring the Mystery of Trinity, and Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality

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I believe that the combination of human action from a contemplative center is the greatest art form. It underlies all those other, more visible art forms that we see in great sculpture, music, writing, painting, and most especially, in the art form of human character development. When the external life and the inner life are working together, we always have beauty, symmetry, and actual transformation of persons—lives and actions that inherently sparkle and heal, in part because they can integrate the negativity of failure, sin, and rejection and they can spot their own shadow games.

With most humans, the process begins on the action side; in fact, the entire first half of life for most of us, even introverts, is all about external action. We begin with crawling, walking, playing, speaking. We learn, we experiment, we try, we stumble, we fall. Gradually these enactments grow larger and more “mature,” but we remain largely unaware of our inner and actual motivations or purpose for any of it.

Yes, there are feelings and imaginings during this time, maybe even sustained study, prayer, or disciplined thought, but do not yet call that contemplation. These reflections are necessarily and almost always self-referential, both for good and ill. At this point, life is still largely about “me” and finding my own preferred and proper viewing platform. It has to be. But it is not yet the great art form of the calm union between our inner and outer lives. We must go further.

You cannot grow in the integrative dance of action and contemplation without a strong tolerance for ambiguity, an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and a willingness to not know—and not even need to know. This ever widens and deepens your perspective. This is how you allow and encounter Mystery and move into the contemplative zone.

Adapted from Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World From a Place of Prayer, pp. 1,2, and 4.

emphasis mine

We clearly see the fluctuating nature of our journey in stages of consciousness. There is great wisdom within each stage, and also an inherent trap. Only as we trust and practice the task of each stage are we prepared to move forward.

There are different ways to name the stages of consciousness. “Spiral Dynamics” or Wilber’s “Integral Theory” is one of the most helpful for me, and it states the historical and common stages up to now in this way: the archaic (infant), the magical (child), the powerful (heroic stage), absolute truth (and conformity to the group that has it), individual success (organized rational world), pluralism (modern liberalism).

If we can get through these stages and are still ready to face the big death to our individualism and our superiority, we are poised to advance to what some call second tier consciousness (really the mystical levels) where we finally see the importance and usefulness of EACH of these stages and yet also transcend all of them at the same time! This could be described as the necessary path toward any greater capacity for love, freedom, and enlightenment….

from The Dean’s Address, Living Social Symposium, August 2013.

We belong to a generation that wants to see the results of our work.  We want to be productive and see with our own eyes what we have made.  But that is not the way of God’s Kingdom.  Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results.  Jesus himself died as a failure on a cross.  There was no success there to be proud of.  Still, the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life is beyond any human measure.  As faithful witnesses of Jesus we have to trust that our lives too will be fruitful, even though we cannot see their fruit.  The fruit of our lives may be visible only to those who live after us.

What is important is how well we love.  God will make our love fruitful, whether we see that fruitfulness or not.

All great spirituality is about letting go.
 

The spiritual journey is a journey into Mystery, requiring us to enter the “cloud of unknowing” where the left brain always fears to tread.
A daily practice of contemplative prayer can help you let go and fall into the Big Truth that we all share, the big truth that is God, that is Grace itself, where you are overwhelmed by more than enoughness!
 

Unless we learn to let go of our feelings, we don’t have the feelings, the feelings have us.
Forgiveness is simply the religious word for letting go.
 

Letting go of our cherished images of ourselves is really the way to heaven, because when you fall down to the bottom, you fall on solid ground, the Great Foundation, the bedrock of God.

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