Richard Rohr’s Levels of Spiritual Development (Part 1-4) by Wes Eades

This morning at St. Paul’s Episcopal, here in Waco, I’ll be facilitating our second conversation on what it looks like to bring faith into every crevice of our lives. What does it mean to be a “Christian Businessperson, “Christian Teacher,” “Christian Parent,” or “Christian Grocery Shopper?” Most of us acknowledge that there is much about Christian faith that is “subversive” to he culture, and yet most of us participate in the culture, usually, without thinking twice about it.

I’ve asked the members of the class to be reading to classics of Christian Spirituality: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence and In His Steps by Charles Sheldon. Each of these books raises the question “What would Jesus do?”

This morning at St. Paul’s I’ll begin to raise questions about what we mean by “spiritual formation,” which is the fancy term we now use rather than the older term “discipleship.” Anyone raised in a religious setting is familiar with the concept of “spiritual growth.” This concept is all over scripture, especially in the writings of the Apostle Paul:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me (1st Corinthians 13:11).

There have been many, many attempts to describe, in more detail, what this process of growth looks like. Rohr does an excellent job of integrating many of these attempts into the following “levels.” He presents this material in his book The Naked Now. I’ve relied very heavily on the summary is from this site in presenting this material.

I’ll open the conversation this morning with my elaboration on Ken Wilber’s metaphor of the warehouse, and then get into Rohr’s material.
Here’s the basic list of the stages:

Level One: My self-image and my body is “who I am”.
Level Two: My external behavior is “who I am.”
Level Three: My Thoughts / Feelings are who I am.
Level Four: My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body is who I am.
Level Five: My shadow self is who I am (The dark night).
Level Six: Who I am Is Empty and Powerless (God’s Waiting Room).
Level Seven: I am much more than I thought I was.
Level Eight: I and the Father are one.
Level Nine: I am who I am, just me.

And here’s a bit more on the first two levels…

Level One: My self-image and my body is “who I am”
Level one spirituality is the natural state of a new born. Security is of the highest importance, and a new born is truly at the mercy of adults for getting all needs met. This is a time of natural “narcissism.”  However, some adults continue to live in this stage. If I am living here, I am consumed with safety and security first, and then with simply getting what I want. The narcissism that is natural to a young child continues into adulthood. Such a person, for example, will vote for the candidate which promises to provide security and “stuff.” Thinking on this level is usually dialectical: either/or, black/white, right/wrong. This person is controlled by fear and anger. “Grace” is an unknown force. The concept of faith is “believing in things that are impossible to believe”.

Level Two: My external behavior is “who I am”
In this stage a person needs to look good “outside” and to hide or disguise unfavorable traits from others. This is the natural stage of later childhood and early adolescence. Adults who are stuck here are preoccupied with accumulating the symbols of status (car, home, clothing), while hiding flaws. One becomes so good at hiding flaws that soon their negative qualities are hidden even from themselves. This leads to the emergence of the “shadow self” that is hidden inside the person (psychological denial). Carl Jung observed that we can be so good at hiding our flaws from others that we hide them even from ourselves. Many people living in this stage, and who are active in religion, find it important to “follow the rules.”  Anyone who does not is considered “wrong” or “sinful”. The Scribes and the Pharisees exemplify this level showing judgmental attitudes of hate and a lack of love. The Scriptures, the aim of which is to foster conversion and growth to this level of person, instead are used as ammunition to convert others. Getting stuck at this level is very common among conservatives.
Growth to the next level involves a “letting go” of current values, being able to live with confusing darkness until the Spirit opens the door to new life.
More next week….

Last week at St. Paul’s, here in Waco America, we began our discussion of Rohr’s 9 levels of spiritual development. We focused on levels 1 and 2:
Level One: My self-image and my body is “who I am”.
Level Two: My external behavior is “who I am.”

I’ve asked the class to be reading In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon, and it occurs to me that this book begins with a description of a classic level 2 congregation and pastor. I find it hard to tell if Sheldon is mocking this fictional First Church as he describes how much they admire themselves for attention to detail, or if he is simply commenting on what he finds to be the state of many churches. Nonetheless, Sheldon taps into old wisdom as he sets up the sort of crisis that is necessary to shake people up. Sadly, we often require a crisis in order to start asking fresh questions about faith.

This morning we’ll be discussing levels 3 and 4.

Level Three: My Thoughts / Feelings are who I am
As a person moves into level three he or she begins to question conventional values and  conforming external behavior. This is a natural place for adolescents to be. However, immaturity is revealed by a need to simply rebel against anything and everything. Mature growth involves the development of the intellect and will. A person seeks to have his or her own value-centered thoughts and feelings and begins to develop more self-control. This person doesn’t just rebel, this person understands why he or she is rebelling.

A common danger in this stage is that person’s will confuse education with transformation. For example, a person my have been raised with a belief that creation literally happened in seven days, as the book of Genesis describes. It may take an intro to archeology class in college to raise questions about this belief. At this point, there is something of a “crisis.” My model of superstitious, functional, and mature religion suggests individuals might respond in one of three ways:

The superstitiously religious person might decide that archeology is of Satan, and might even choose to leave a college that teaches such things.
The functionally religious person might just compartmentalize these concepts, and choose to never even think about how scientific story of creation is in conflict with the biblical story.
The mature person, however, will come to see how these two stories can enrich each other if the Bible is read metaphorically.

But here’s some irony. Some people will make this shift in how they read the Bible, but will then become judgmental of those who have not become as wise as them! In other words, they have become more educated, but not transformed. It’s not enough to let go of the need to be “right,” which is at the core of level 2, it also requires the letting go of a desire to judge others.

Rohr notes that this stage is very common among liberals and the educated. I’ve heard Rohr use the term “limousine liberals” to describe those who are proud of the fact that they no longer judge anything as “bad,” except for those who don’t think they way they do. A person who is truly finding transformation in this stage still understands that there is still such a thing as “right and wrong.” He or she is just shifting the way one defines this.

This is a good place to mention what  Ken Wilber refers to as “transcend and include.” This means that, in healthy development, we integrate what has been of value in the past into our fresh points of view. It has occurred to me along the way that sometimes we try to transcend by rejecting. For example, some people, when confronted with the major problems of reading the entire Bible literally, simply reject the Bible altogether. Also, a person may simply reject the concept of “evangelism” because he or she associates this with aggressive attempts to badger others into the Kingdom of God. (By the way, simply referencing Ken Wilber is enough to get you labeled a heretic in many theological circles. )

One more observation… I find it fascinating how so many people begin to “sniff” level three as adolescents and young adults, only to go scurrying back to level two, usually when they start having children.

Finally, it should be noted that the leap from “three” to “four” is considered the biggest leap in the entire spectrum of growth. Natural brain development pushes us through the stages up to this point. Since the human brain reaches maturity around age 25, it is easy to get lazy about spiritual growth beyond young adulthood. It often takes a major defeat, shock, or humiliation to pass through and move beyond.

Level 4: My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body is who I am
At this level, a person begins to first sense unity: “You know yourself in God and God in yourself.”  However, this level can be very overwhelming, especially because, in my opinion, traditional congregations don’t know what to do with these people. Consequently, these people often disconnect from faith community altogether. This can lead to individualism and self-absorption. Often find people themselves indulging in self-help books or being drawn to other faith traditions in a quest to find something that “fits.” They risk becoming isolated from the Body of Christ, losing contact with transcendent Mystery, and practicing religion as a technique.

A memory just came to me… I’m recalling a college philosophy class where we were discussing some philosopher’s view that anything done in the name of love is inherently morally “good.” (Can someone please remind me who that philosopher was?) Still being rather conservative in my views, and feeling a need to champion Christianity in my secular classroom, I found this view almost outrageous! It sounded to me like such a philosophy could lead to a woman choosing to have sex with numerous men simply because she believed this would enhance their self-esteem!

What I see now is that such a philosophy is so deeply unsettling because it places all of the responsibility for moral behavior back on the individual. Operating responsibly from this place requires that a person have a vital, living relationship with God, and many people simply don’t want to go to that much trouble. I’ve come to understand that this is what was behind Jesus’s excoriation of the Pharisees.

The hard work in this level involves the confrontation with the “shadow self.” If we are going to let go of all the rules that have guided us in the past, then we better be developing a clear sense of how our own brokenness can twist our perspectives. Those who are moving into the stage in healthy ways are willing to ask this hard question: How might I be a bigger problem to myself, and those around me, than I’ve realized?

Next time we’ll jump into level 5, which is commonly referred to as “the dark night of the soul.” Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
This morning at St. Paul’s I’ll be picking up again with Rohr’s levels of Spiritual formation. In previous posts we’ve covererd:

Level One: My self-image and my body is “who I am”.
Level Two: My external behavior is “who I am.”
Level Three: My Thoughts / Feelings are who I am.
Level Four: My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body is who I am.

As I touched on in a previous post, stage Four can be a very liberating place to be early on, but gradually becomes more troubling. The liberation comes from the loosening grip of religious dogma combined with a willingness to trust one’s own experiences as providing insight into the Mystery of God. One example of what this might look like involves generosity. Those raised in conservative Christian settings are taught to give 10% of their income to the church they attend. In stage Four a person begins to move past this “rule” for giving toward a principal of sacrificial giving. They might decide to give less to the local church, and direct more funds toward other projects that they perceive are serving the Kingdom of God.

As I also said in that previous post, this can be daunting becomes it places much more responsibility on me! If I’m going to operate from my intuition and experience, instead of according to a set of rules, then I must take more time to truly examine myself and understand my motivations. The temptation is to simply return to a rather narcissistic place where I say, “Hey, I make my own rules!”

I’ve been asking the class to read In His Steps as an example of a congregation seeking to evolve spiritually together. By the middle of the book it is clear that the characters have been thrown into Stage Four together. Many of them keep discovering that simply asking he question, “What would Jesus do?” creates more fog than clarity. Yet through mutual support they tease out their answers, and act on them.
The self-examination needed to navigate this stage successfully will no doubt stir up plenty of anxiety (as it does for Sheldon’s characters) If we can sit in that anxiety, then we move into Stage Five.

Level Five: My shadow self is who I am (The dark night)
Richard Rohr describes his experience in Stage Five like this:

As a young man I thought I had become a Franciscan and a priest to teach and talk about love, that I had left everything to love God and neighbor. But by my forties and fifties I had to be honest and say, “Richard, have you ever really loved anybody more than yourself? Is there anybody in particular that you would die for?” My celibacy was based on the utterly false premise that if I did not love anybody in particular, I would automatically love God more. I realized that that was not at all true. All I did was love myself more, but in a very well-disguised form. Much of that middle period of my life I spent shadowboxing, seeing my own inability to believe and to practice the very things I was teaching to others. And this continues!

In this stage of development weakness, along with a deep sense of hypocrisy, may seem overwhelming. The previous stage invites a much more honest look at oneself. As this unfolds one begins to realize just how broken he or she is, and that the tendency to project “evil” on to others is a genuine issue. One may began to think, “How could I have ever claimed to be Christian?” Confronting anger and fear is important, but it is also necessary to “upgrade” one’s understand of Grace. It can be very painful to sit in this place, and trust that God is the one who transforms us, and we cannot transform ourselves. Many people benefit from a close relationship with a spiritual director during this time. As with every stage, there is a danger of feeling overwhelmed, and tempted to retreat to an earlier stage.

Earlier, in Stage Three, one becomes liberated from all of the dogmatic rules regarding what one has to do to be saved. In Stage Four, one begins to realize, “Dang, I may not be lost in the ways I was taught back then, but I’m still lost!” Stage Five unfolds as one truly sits in this anxiety.

This is the stage where Grace truly becomes a life-giving reality. The only way we can live with our destructiveness is to believe that God is indeed redeeming all those who wish to be redeemed (and maybe those who don’t).

Once again, if we navigate this leg of the journey, our reward is not much in the way of contentment.

Level 6: “Who I am Is Empty and Powerless” (God’s Waiting Room) still doesn’t sound like a wonderful place to be!

This is a stage of profound emptiness. A danger here is that a person will regress back to a place of simplistic, perhaps superstitious, religious practice. All a person can do is wait and ask and trust. Here is where the deepest expressions of faith are taught, and a person is asked to trust that darkness can be a good teacher. Here is where we truly start turning loose. Defeat is a better teacher than accomplishment. Darkness is greater than light. You begin to sense that the divine presence may be in you and in others. God is about to become real.

Level Seven: I am much more than I thought I was.
This stage represents the death of the false self, and birth of the True Self (I, that is Wes, prefer Burleson’s designations of small self and Authentic Self). I am who I am. At first, because you are not at home yet, this level will feel like a void. Even if a wonderful void. there is a sense of “I have never been here before.” Gentleness and Compassion become a part of your demeanor. You have been patterned to see and act oppositionally, now you drop dualistic thinking. You move towards “both/and” rather than “right/wrong”. John of the Cross would call this the “luminous darkness”

Until you get to levels 5, 6 and 7, the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t make much sense.

Level Eight: I and the Father are one.

This stage is captured by St. Teresa’s declaration, “One knows God in oneself, and knows oneself in God.” All else is a passing ego possession, and I do not need to protect it, promote it or prove it, to anyone. This is a place of true freedom. The fig leaves from the Garden have finally been totally discarded because one has nothing to hide. A person who is living in this space is no longer governed by guilt and shame.

Level Nine: I am who I am, just me.
The stage seems to be a fuller living out of level eight. There is no need to appear to be anything but who I really am. Fully detached from self-image, living in God’s image of you–which includes and loves both the good and the bad. The serenity found in the saints. Totally non-duality. This person fully realizes the religion is a container that we humans need in order to approach the Mystery. The Mystery can never be contained by any religious container, but religion is valued as an avenue to open ourselves up to a very graceful and loving Mystery.

One thing I’ve realized as I’ve worked through Rohr’s stages intellectually is that, for me, things get really fuzzy with levels 4, 5, 6, and even 7, all of which reflect great unrest and darkness. It seems to me that Rohr offers 4 stages to lay out what James Fowler describes in one stage (Fowler’s stage 5).  What I think I’m seeing from my current vantage point, that of a privileged white male who is 58 years old, is that I’ve certainly sat in the pain of these dark stages, and grown from it. Still, I can see how I’ve routinely retreated back to the pseudo-enlightenment of stage 3 as a way of soothing my anxiety and regaining the illusion of solid ground. I’ve believe my Authentic Self has solidified to a place where I can parent my small self effectively, yet I can’t say I’ve really tasted the sort of freedom that Rohr tells us is available.
I guess I’m saying that it sometimes seems ridiculous that I’m trying to teach this stuff!

Mature, Functional, and Superstitious Religion (St. Paul’s class starts January 12)

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus — Philippians 4:7 (New International Version)

Why am I so anxious? This question chases me around, for at least a little while, every day. I was raised on hefty doses of Philippians 4:7. I’ve heard hundreds of sermons on the peace of Christ. I’ve taught Sunday School lessons on the peace of Christ. I love the communal response: “May the peace of Christ be with you.” “And also with you.” (And I’ve discovered it’s a nifty way to bring order to a room, if there’s enough current or former Episcopalians present!)

So, why am I so anxious? I think I know the answer, at least intellectually. It takes a life time for Julian of Norwich’s declaration to soak down into our bones: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. I’ve come to see how hard it is to settle into this faith while surrounded by a culture that measures success by production and consumption.

I’ve been teaching a class at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (Waco, America) for the past three years. This Spring the group has asked me to help them wrestle with how we can take the next steps in taking faith into our worlds in concrete and practical ways. I’m considering a number of approaches to our study, and I’ll be starting with a consideration of the chart below. I’ve been playing with the concepts of mature, functional, and superstitious religion for years, and this chart is an attempt to capture my thoughts.



"The Smouldering Paradigm Shift: Bushi Yamato Damashii's Buddhist-Christian Journey" by Buddhistdoor International Adrian Gibb


Adrian Gibb is a PhD candidate in Studies in Religion and History at the University of Queensland. He is also the coordinator of PAX (Progressive Anglican Christians) and was one of the original admins for Hedge-Church, an online multi-faith community.

Senior Pastor Dr. T. Marquis Ramsey and Daishin Buddhist Monk Bushi Yamato Damashii have much in common, and they should do, as they are one and the same person. A person who is at the forefront of a slow smouldering paradigm shift where two faiths, thought by some to be mutually exclusive, come together in an inter-faith temple.
“To some this is blasphemy. They will cite that “man cannot serve two masters.” I tell them I am serving no master. I serve neither Buddha nor Christ. I serve humanity (laughing).” Bushi Yamato Damashii declares.
The journey to a combined faith, ordination as a Monk and the establishment of the St. Stephen Interfaith Temple in North Carolina is one that began many years ago.
“By the time I was nearing my mid-teens, I had grown both weary and leery of much of religion’s rhetoric about divinity and the Sacred,” explains Bushi. “I began exploring Hinduism and Buddhism and grew increasingly fond of the Lord Buddha. Because of my family’s strong Christian tradition I studied Buddhism and the Dharma secretly away from my family’s knowledge. This would have been a cardinal no-no in my parents and grandparents eyes (laughing). Later I spent time in Japan and had the spectacular opportunity to visit the temple of Zen Daikokuji Temple in Saga Kyoto, Japan and was hooked. I was 20 at the time.”
Upon returning to the Unites States T. Marquis Ramsey, as he was exclusively then, followed the path of an American Baptist Pastor, and spent 20 years in that role, earning two Masters degrees and a PhD in the process. And while, during that time, dissatisfaction with much of the doctrine and dogma of the institutionalised Church grew, his love of the teachings and person of Jesus remained constant.
“Of the issue of Christianity, Jesus was always the theme. In my eyes, His teachings of responsibility to one another are essential. I eventually broke away from the institution and have since disavowed many of the theological trends and teachings of the Christian church...but the essences of Jesus’ teachings are valid and alive in me all the time. I took my vows as a Buddhist monk and never once disavowed the compassionate Christ I have come to know and understand. I understand what His Holiness The Dalai Lama means when he speaks of “...the need for building tolerance for other faith traditions.” The essence of a pure religion is compassion for all sentient beings. This idea binds me to Christ and the Lord Buddha. At age 42, I am a Buddhist monk who loves and honors the teachings of Christ.”
It was on June 1st of this year that Bushi took his Upasampada, which means ordination in Pali. He had been a novice monk for six years before this momentous occasion.
“I am a follower of Mahayana Buddhism, but more specifically, Nichiren. The tradition is sometimes considered ‘Nichiren Buddhism’. Here in the United States, like many other parts of the world, each sect or branch of Buddhism adapts to its host country or culture. Nichiren Buddhism here has priests, monks, and nuns. I am a member of the Daishin Buddhist Society of America. My tradition is a highly open-minded tradition yet deeply rooted in the Lotus Sutra.”
As his move from Christian Pastor to Interfaith Priest and Monk took shape, Bushi was determined to take the Church of St Stephens, where he was Senior Pastor, with him.
“The idea of doing interfaith ministry started for me about 10 years ago. I was already moonlighting as a Buddhist away from my congregation. I knew that at one point I was going to eventually begin exploring the idea. And in 2008 I came to this place which at that time was a Baptist church, and I began selling the idea almost immediately (laughing). It did not go over so well at first (laughing). Many were really reluctant and had never looked at Jesus as an ‘inclusionist’ or even ‘broadminded’ to say the least (laughing). But some were open to the idea and wanted to explore other religions and perspectives. It was a tough sell but my urging prevailed. After four years of teaching and urging the need to become tolerant, knowledgeable, and understanding of other people and faiths, we converted to an interfaith ministry and added the Buddhist Center.”
However, while some were willing to make that journey with Bushi, once the shift to Interfaith Temple began to become a reality, many were not willing to follow their Pastor’s path.
“We lost nearly everyone of the former congregation. Many did not want to explore nor accept Muslims, Catholics, Hindus, Buddhists, et cetera. It was okay. This was understandable for me. I understood how people could become so dogmatic and institutionalized by religion. And I also understood very intimately how traditions and culture mean everything to some people. I however understood too that I must in some small capacity bridge the gap of the broken hearts and minds of religion. With hard work and great compassion we have gained so many more new friends. We are doing well. Many new people are exploring Buddhism and other religions by interacting with the people who are here. We are discovering that many former Christians and ‘moonlighting’ Christians are visiting with us and exploring meditation and chanting the Nembestu. It is not uncommon here to hear both Namaste and Amen.” Bushi declares with delight.
For Bushi Yamato Damashii his Christianity has been enhanced by his Buddhism, and his regard for the Lord Buddha has been similarly enhanced.
“Jesus in my opinion was a great person who cared for all sentient beings. Many Buddhists, including myself, consider Jesus to have been a Bodhisattva (a living Buddha). I certainly view him in this regard. I refer to the teachings and history of Jesus to draw strength for living a very committed life as a monk, and as a person accountable to other persons,” he explains. “It was Thich Nhat Hanh who wrote the book ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ’, and in it he speaks of the compassion of both the Christ and the Buddha. He also speaks of the need to rid ourselves of the desire of material items of futility. I think both Christ and the Buddha were in favor of this idea. In my opinion, the more advanced the world becomes with technology, material sufficiency, and wealth, the more alienated we as a species become from each other. This separation and exile from human connection, I feel, is what both Jesus and Buddha taught us to avoid.”
A black belt in various Martial Art traditions and the Minnie R. Smith Professor of Theology and Divinity at The Institute for Divinity Research (TIDR) means that this mixture of Buddhism and Christianity is manifesting in many parts of Bushi’s life, and this is exactly how he likes it.
“My work is to bring humanity together through one of the great philosophical divides of history... religion!”
As the St Stephens Interfaith Temple continues to grow and prosper and Bushi Yamato Damashii revels in his dual role as Buddhist Monk and Christian Pastor, perhaps it is conceivable that this paradigm shift, while, for now, slow and smouldering, may one day light an interfaith fire around the world. 

SOURCE: Buddhist Door




Tao Te Ching – Chapter 64 (Part 1 and 2) by Galen Pearl

This uncharacteristically long chapter comprises several parts that may at one time have been separate. It reminds me of the book of Proverbs in the Bible, which contains many pearls of wisdom that can be considered as stand alone verses. Because of its length, I’m going to break discussion of this chapter into two posts.

Some key lines from the first part:

Peace is easily sustained

This is an interesting pronouncement in a world where peace has been elusive, from families to nations, across millennia. To me, this speaks to our natural state of alignment and harmony, easy to maintain if we refrain from interfering. The history of conflict at all levels and at all times in this world, has almost always been caused when we have shifted out of alignment because of fear. A Course in Miracles teaches that this fear results from our mistaken belief in separation, from each other and from God. Fear makes us want to control outside circumstances that are beyond our control. Inner conflict is then manifested externally.

What has not yet happened is easy to prepare for
Manage things before trouble arises

These lines remind me of the old adage “A stitch in time saves nine.” It also reminds me of how our practice prepares us for the unexpected. If my balance is improved by practicing tai chi, for example, I am less likely to fall if I miss a step or trip over something. If my inner alignment is rooted through practicing meditation, I’m less likely to be buffeted by an unanticipated challenge.

A long journey begins under the foot

This wisdom is often phrased as “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The character in this line, however, is actually the character for “foot” and the following character means “under.” This gives me a slightly different sense of this proverb. No matter where I’m headed, my present location is always exactly under my feet. No matter how many steps I take, I am always in the same “place,” that is, over my feet.

It’s like breathing. I will breathe my way all through my life’s journey, but the breath that matters is the one I’m taking right now.

No matter how you interpret this line, I think the point is that, to use another saying, “no matter where you go, there you are.” The present moment, standing on this ground, breathing this breath, is where I exist.

As I said, this chapter is more like pearls on a string rather than one big pearl. I hope these lines offer something helpful for your contemplation. I will continue the chapter in the next post.

(Part 2)

As I explained in Part 1, this unusually long chapter resembles a string of proverbs. Picking up from the earlier post, here are some key passages from the rest of the chapter.

Action leads to failure
Grasping leads to loss
Thus the sage refrains from action and does not fail
Refrains from grasping and does not lose

Once again we encounter this perplexing concept of non-action. Refraining from action to avoid failure reminds me of the athlete who said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. We are encouraged to try and try again, to learn from our failures.

But remember that non-action in this context does not mean sitting around doing nothing in resignation or fear. It means not engaging in ego-driven action. It means allowing one’s actions to be guided by inner wisdom and alignment such that action is effortless and unforced.

And as we know from the Buddha’s teaching, grasping is at the root of suffering. Impermanence is the nature of the manifested universe. Our attempts to hold onto something that is changing create a struggle that we will inevitably lose.

Thus the sage desires no desire
Does not value material treasure
Allowing all things to return to their true nature
By not presuming to act

The Chinese characters for true nature are hard to translate. Literally, they mean “self so.” They sort of mean “what is so of itself” or “what is, as it is.” This pair of characters appear throughout the Tao Te Ching and, like non-action, represent a foundational concept in this ancient wisdom teaching.

When we refrain from ego-driven action or interference, and follow our inner guidance, then what is, as it is, naturally unfolds. We no longer create suffering with futile struggles with reality. We are aligned with the universal energy that manifests through us with effortless harmony.

Sounds too good to be true? It isn’t. It is who we are. It isn’t a matter of becoming. It’s a matter of remembering.

The Tao is not about grasping, but allowing, like water. ~Wayne Dyer

SOURCE: No Way Cafe

“Infallibility and Its Errors - Part 3: The Infallibility of the Bible” by Father Seán ÓLaoire


Note: This is the third of three essays.  Number one was entitled: The infallibility of the mass media; number two was entitled: The infallibility of science; and this final one is entitled: The infallibility of the Bible.

The infallibility of the Bible
And the fourth shock to my hopes for some bastion of infallibility came as I studied the Bible.  It, too, for all its wisdom and insights, has been filtered, edited, redacted and massaged by hundreds of generations of priests, translators and, yes, even emperors.

I have learned lots from newspapers, from theology, from science and from the Bible, but I am duty bound to separate truth from tactic, and fact from fiction; to recognize metaphor and allegory and distinguish those from historical data.

A. Levels of Revelation
Christians, who consider the Bible to be the revealed word of God, actually span a very wide spectrum.  At one end, are those who claim that it is inspired by God whose Holy Spirit influenced the words, message and collation of the Bible.  Then comes the position that it is also infallible when it comes to matters of faith and practice but not necessarily in scientific or historical matters. Position number three is occupied by those who claim that its inerrancy extends to all matters – no exception.  Then comes biblical literalism whose adherents further claim that not only is it inerrant on all topics but that its meaning is clear to the average reader.

It gets even more confusing. Most evangelical Bible scholars claim that only the original texts in the original languages were inspired; while other groups – like the followers of the King-James-only Movement – are convinced that only the KJV is inerrant.  In 1546, the Council of Trent decreed St. Jerome’s translation into Latin of the original Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek language versions (called The Vulgate) – done around 380 CE – to be the only authentic and official Bible of the Latin Church.

As you can see it is far from clear what the ideas of “revelation” and “divine inspiration” of the Bible actually mean.  There is lots of wiggle room.  Many scholars point out that the biblical texts come from a creative dialog between ancient oral traditions and different faith communities over an extended period of time.  So, there were political, cultural, theological, economic and even hygienic issues involved.

B. Major Redactions
Modern scholarship employs three main techniques in understanding the time-of-composition of various parts of the Bible.  Historical Analysis seeks to establish the “intent” of each writer, so as to be able to translate accurately.  Materialist Analysis looks at the social, economic and political environments at the time of composition.  And Structural Analysis, especially using the 20th century discipline of Semiotics, tries to identify internal consistencies and inconsistencies within the texts.  Semiotics is the science of understanding the grammar, not just of individual sentences (e.g., subject, predicate, object&hellipWinking, but of an entire text.  Texts have a natural flow and when edits or redactions are done they leave footprints in the text.

Each organization, from tennis clubs to nations, needs a variety of documents to establish itself. In the case of a culture, it needs “stories” of the ancestors to bind them as “family”; epics to celebrate (and exaggerate) their past heroes and heroines; laws to establish the ground rules, poetry/prayers to focus their spirituality; oracles/prophets to align them with God’s precepts; teachings to steer them on the journey; and “wisdom” writings to reflect on the great existential issues.

The Bible employs all of these kinds of document and, using the three kinds of analysis just mentioned, scholars can identify when and where various parts of the Bible come from.  In summary, they’ve discovered four great origins/redactions which are known as J, E, P and D – for reasons which will shortly become obvious.

J (or Y in Hebrew) gets its name from how God is called in this group of writings i.e., Yahweh. It represents the oldest writings beginning around 950 BCE. It is the sacred history of the southern kingdom of Judah and centered on a promised land, a chosen king and a temple-of-the-divine; and it treats of the beginnings (Adam and Eve), the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the core story of Exodus and Moses. The author of J is a great storyteller and God is presented as very “human” – he is a gardener, potter, surgeon and tailor.  He bargains with Abraham, is quite forgiving and always ready to bless.

E gets its name from how God is called in this group of writings i.e., Elohim. It begins to produce its writings around 750 BCE. The E tradition speaks of a very different kind of God than is presented in J.  He is accessible mainly through dreams or in spectacular manifestations or theophanies.  No images allowed! E is very interested in moral questions and quite focused on sin. Real worship is about obeying God, keeping the covenant and rejecting false gods.

P gets its name from the “Priestly” documents of the Bible which were written during the Babylonian captivity – 587 to 538 BCE – and later; especially under the influence of Ezekiel. P has a very dry style; it loves figures and lists. The vocabulary is very technical, having to do with liturgy/cult/worship.  Genealogies appear often because it is written during the Babylonian captivity and it is vital that the exiles retain a sense of history and belonging.  The huge emphasis on worship covers pilgrimages, festivals and the importance of priests. The priests replace the role of the king in J and of the prophets in E.  Because of its unique style it is the easiest of the four traditions to identify when reading the Torah.

D gets its name from the book of Deuteronomy.  It is a collection of laws that was begun in the northern kingdom but, after the Assyrian conquest, in 721 BCE, was taken south and hidden in the Temple.  During renovations there in 612 BCE it was rediscovered, completed and offered as a rededication of the people to God. It became the Book of Deuteronomy and also influenced other books of the Bible. The style is very emotional and put into the mouth of Moses – though it was composed over 600 years after the time of Moses.

JE Around 700 BCE, scholars in Jerusalem under the direction of king Hezekiah, began to amalgamate J and E – the sacred histories of the southern kingdom of Judah and the (fallen) northern kingdom of Israel. It was an effort to heal the results of the civil war of 933 BCE.  It is known to scholars as JE.

JEPD Over a period of some 500 years, the religious leaders had gone over their history several times in order to find meaning in their experiences as a culture.  Now – around 520 BCE, under Ezra the priest-scribe    – they began to bring the four main attempts together into a single work.  It was completed around 400 BCE and is known as “the Pentateuch” in Greek or “Torah” in Hebrew.  It consists of the five first books of the modern Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The books of Genesis, Exodus and Numbers contain input from J, E and P; Leviticus is a pure P document and Deuteronomy is a pure D document.

A simple example will illustrate this weaving of sources.  The story of the escape from slavery in Egypt – contained in chapters 13 and 14 of the book of Exodus – has J, E and P interwoven into a single narrative, but it oscillates between them throughout the two chapters drawing upon J eleven times, E eight times and P eight times.

The Bible is a work of love and dedication that spanned many generations of priests, prophets and scribes. Each redaction was an attempt to make sense of their relationship with their God and express it in a way that the people of each era could comprehend.

C. A Synopsis of the Development of Torah
Once David had established himself as king of the twelve tribes and his son Solomon had built the first temple, the scribes, using the orthography borrowed from the Phoenicians, began to record the sacred history of Judea.  The king (“son of God” according to the installation rite), the temple, its priests and ritual became the focus of this record. They went on to invent “creation stories”, “how stories” and “why stories” (like all cultures). This began around 950 BCE and is the J (Yahwist) stream.

Very shortly however, on the death of Solomon in 933 BCE, the kingdom split into Israel (with ten tribes) in the north of the country and Judah (with two tribes) in the south.  However, none of the kings of the north were descended from David and so were not “sons of God” and there was constant juggling for the throne.  In fact, between 933 and 721 BCE, of the 19 kings of Israel, eight were assassinated. Because they did not want their people going to Jerusalem to worship, instead of unity built around the king, temple or priesthood, it was the prophets e.g., Elijah, Amos, Hosea who held the spiritual authority.  Beginning around 750 BCE they began to record the sacred history of the north (Israel) which scholars call E.  They also began to collect the laws, but in 721 BCE the northern kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians and most of the people deported.  A few of the leaders escaped to Judah bringing with them both E and the collection of laws.

In an effort to heal the 212-year rift, both sets of scholars got together to stitch J and E into a single work (which modern Bible scholars call JE).  Compromises were made and the editing was far from seamless, with two or more versions of some events included.  The collection of laws was deposited in the temple library and forgotten until 612 BCE when major temple renovations re-discovered it.  The king at this time, Josiah, was a very pious man and had the scholars complete this book-of-laws and, in a grand ceremony, had it read to the assembled multitudes who renewed their covenant with God.  This document is what we now know as Deuteronomy (D).  To give it extra traction, it was written as a series of injunctions from Moses; but, in fact, it was compiled 600 years after the time of Moses.

Soon after (597 BCE), however, Judah was overthrown by the Babylonians and the people deported.  The priests in exile, under the leadership of Ezekiel, created a new stream of writing to remind the people of their origins and commitment to God.  This work was done around 550 BCE and led to the P (priestly) document.

When they returned from exile in 538 BCE and rebuilt the temple, the scribes united all four sources, now known as JEDP.  The original name for it is Torah in Hebrew and Pentateuch in Greek.  It consists of the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Around 400 BCE, in a major redaction, under the guidance of Ezra, the writings of the prophets (Nevi’im) and the wisdom literature (Ketuvim) were added to the canon; hence the total work is known as TaNaKh or The Hebrew Bible.

One final comment.  Much later, when the final decision was to be made about which books to include or exclude, the Jewish scholars used two criteria.  To qualify for admission, a book had to have been written (i) in Hebrew and (ii) before 400 BCE.  Both criteria were misapplied.  Some books, whose originals were written in Hebrew but were lost and which “now” existed only in translation, were excluded, only for the originals to surface when it was “too late.” And some books which purported (according to internal claims) to have been written before 400 BCE were discovered, through modern scholarship, to actually have been written much later.  You win some, you lose some.


"Tasting Teilhard" by Brie Stoner

After a million years of reflection, there is a dynamic meeting in the consciousness of man between heaven and earth at last endowed with motion, and from it there emerges not simply a world that manages to survive but a world that kindles into fire! ~ Teilhard de Chardin, Activation of Energy, 280

I remember first coming across the name Teilhard de Chardin five years ago in a Foundations of Christian Mysticism course that the Dominican Center hosted in Grand Rapids, MI. His name sounded mystical in and of itself, like an exotic French 50 year old bottle of wine, the subtleties of which my un-refined Bota-Box palate would never differentiate. Like all things French, I immediately assumed I wouldn’t “get it,” and so a couple of his works sat untouched collecting dust in my study for several years. However, during my first year in the Living School at the Center for Action and Contemplation, I experienced Teilhard as the critical key that unlocked all that was theologically tangled and seemingly unresolvable for me between Christianity and its relevance to my peers and future generations.

Midwifed by Cynthia Bourgeault’s masterful introduction and insistence that we were capable of comprehending him, I began a journey to read as much of his works as I could get my hands on. Like any good wine enthusiast, I’ve been swirling and slowly sipping his words…and little by little the subtleties are making themselves known, forming a larger vision of creation and the world that is downright intoxicating.

If you and I were sitting next to each other at a bar for an evening of wine tasting and you asked me to make my best Teilhard pitch, this is what you would most likely hear me say (accompanied, no doubt, by a multitude of wild hand gestures and one or two more colorful words):

Since the time of the enlightenment, humanity has lost its place in the family of things. Our neurotic human souls are crying out to once again find our meaning in the meta-story, to sense ourselves as belonging…not just to one another, but to the whole of the cosmos. We’ve lost our place, and religion has lost its message of hope by becoming bogged down by theology that is not only incompatible with what we know about the cosmos, but in some critical ways psychologically damaging to the collective human soul as well. From the moment we discovered that our earth and humanity were not the center of the universe, to the post-modern age of dissected fractal meaninglessness that has haunted us of late, the intelligent human soul seeking to be faithful to the Christian tradition has had to develop something of a split personality. On the one hand holding the unwavering belief in the devotional heart that insists by experience that the Christian Tradition contains mystical and transformational truth, and on the other hand the unshakable belief in the luminous human spirit of exploration within the sciences which resulted (until now) in a drastically different picture of the universe.

Teilhard presents a message of the world for which humanity desperately hungers: the convergence of matter and spirit through the lens of evolution. As a scientist and theologian, he paints the picture of a universe that is still in the process of becoming, the body of Christ still forming. As such, our theology can at long last rest in the future instead of some paradise lost, freeing up all the energy thus far employed in the prison of our collective shame. Even though Vatican II acknowledged that our understanding of the universe must now be evolutionary, we are still collectively holding on to the religious paradigm that at one time things were perfect and that humanity wrecked it all through “original sin”. Through the lens of evolution, however, all things are still in motion. Creation isn’t “finished”…which means, frankly, humanity didn’t ruin it by eating a piece of fruit.

Right about here, between tasting the Pinot Noir and the highly anticipated—by me, anyway—Grenache, you would stop me and ask the inevitable question:
“Wait a minute, wait a minute….If the universe isn’t the finished “clock” we’ve made it out to be, and if humanity didn’t break the clock… then what’s the meaning of the Incarnation? Isn’t the whole point of Christ that God sent him to fix the damn clock? Isn’t the whole point of Christ that he is the “redeemer”?”

Teilhard’s evolutionary lens elevates the idea of Christic redemption into another dimension. Teilhard declares, “Cosmogenesis…culminates in Christogenesis,”[1] or as present day Teilhardian scholar Ilia Delio interprets it, “Christ the redeemer IS Christ the evolver.”[2] To Teilhard, Christ had to be present and infused into matter from the beginning and exist organically or could not exist at all.[3] Christ is the catalyst of creation that was embodied by the person of Jesus, fulfilling the incarnational and personal message of Love. Jesus as Christ demonstrates the directional potential of the convergence of evolution, which Teilhard calls Christ Omega, and elevates humanity’s awareness that we have a conscious choice in the matter. In his poetic and mystical The Hymn of the Universe, Teilhard declares, “Through your own incarnation, my God, all matter is henceforth incarnate.”[4] Far from being a pantheistic statement, Teilhard outlines a panentheism: A God inextricably interwoven into a matter while still infinitely beyond it, calling creation onward from the future towards its fullest potential and convergence into Christ Omega.

Teilhard’s theology places humanity once again in the critical center of things, not as we once thought in our Ptolemaic universe, but as the “arrow pointing the way”: the directional thrust of evolution itself.[5] In humanity, evolution is now moved into the subtle energies of consciousness, which Teilhard calls the noosphere, and is now a choice.[6] Evolution, in other words, is entirely up to us. In this theological paradigm, the role of sin and human suffering transitions from a punitive one to a collective ascensional force in the process of evolution. For Teilhard, suffering as embodied by the passion of Jesus Christ, represents the energetic exchange that if consciously borne, can further our course in evolution into Omega.

No longer the result of the distant actions of an ancestor’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, this perspective on sin as a frictional byproduct of creation[7] creates a much more subtle relationship to the problem of evil: one of active responsibility. Unlike the individual responsibility that has been thus far characterized in Christianity by a quest for salvation in the afterlife, Teilhard depicts the salvation of the whole of creation as happening now, mediated by the actions of the human collective. We have a conscious choice in the furthering of evolution in our suffering, which Teilhard describes as a cosmically necessary ingredient in creation, and our participation in this choice affects not just our individual lives, but the outcome of the whole evolutionary story.

Teilhard’s theology is one that at long last moves Christianity away from the foundations it has uncomfortably rested on thus far in the metaphysics of duality, with it’s static schism between matter and spirit. Instead, Teilhard places our Christian paradigm on a creative, unfolding and non-dual metaphysics: something much more akin to the ecstatic mandala of the Christian Trinity, the thrust of the Incarnation, and the comprehension of the cosmos as an interconnected whole of quantum physics. Teilhard portrays a deeply hopeful and globally inclusive Christianity that restores humanity into a participatory role as the mediators of the salvation of creation. It is the collective human species that is now forming the body of Christ, with religion once more (or perhaps at last becoming) the animating force for this “zest for living” and belief in humanity, as we continue to consciously evolve into the zenith of creation’s potential in Christ Omega. Like a prophet in the wilderness, Teilhard widens the lens and challenges us to foster, “No longer simply a religion of individuals and of heaven, but a religion of mankind and of the earth—that is what we are looking for at this moment, as the oxygen without which we cannot breathe.”[8]

(At this point in the wine tasting, we’d be starting in on a dessert wine. The bar would have emptied out by now of its more raucous counterparts. The solitary glow of the candle in front of us would draw our gaze as I gave you my closing Teilhard spiel.)

These are some of the reasons why I believe Teilhard’s theology is the theology of the future. On a personal level, he has become for me a beloved teacher, facilitated the discovery of a lifelong vocation, and has inspired me with a zest for the world that is proving contagious. While recently on a trip to Nashville, a musician friend told me, “Whatever you’re smoking, Brie…I want some. I want to see humanity like you do.“ I told him my drug of choice is the mystical vision of Christianity and the World found in the writings of a man named Teilhard de Chardin. In my opinion, Christianity has always held this life-giving, hopeful message in its mystical heart. Like a puzzle containing an image we simply couldn’t decipher, we’ve been trying to put the pieces of Christian theology together without an appreciation of the cosmic whole, resulting in some forced incompatible fits and the scrambling of the image’s graceful shape. Teilhard helps us to see the luminous, all-encompassing vision of what this puzzle can form. Perhaps now we can start moving some of the pieces around so that all of humanity can see it too.

If Teilhard were a 50 yr old fine French wine, and I desperately wanted you to try him, I would use his own words on the label. On the front of the wine bottle I would place an image of the World, not in its typical spherical form, but a World in the shape of a heart on fire…with the following words on the back:

Let there be revealed to us the possibility of believing at the same time and wholly in God and the World, the one through the other; let this belief burst forth, as it is ineluctably in process of doing under the pressure of these seemingly opposed forces, and then, we may be sure of it, a great flame will illumine all things: for a Faith will have been born (or reborn) containing and embracing all others—and, inevitably, it is the strongest Faith which sooner or later must possess the Earth. ~ Teilhard de Chardin,  The Future of Man, 268

[1]. Teilhard, Christianity and Evolution, 81.
[2]. Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution, 76.
[3]. Teilhard, Pierre Teilhard, ed.King, 115.
[4]. Teilhard, Hymn of the Universe, 24
[5]. Teilhard, The Phenomenon of Man, 220-221
[6]. Teilhard, Phenomenon of Man, 226.
[7]. Teilhard, Activation of Energy, 247.
[8]. Teilhard, Activation of Energy, 240.
Wisdom way of knowing

Levels of Spiritual Development (from Richard Rohr's book "The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See")

One of the more important breakthroughs in understanding why some people seem to "get it" (whatever "it" is) while many do not get it or even oppose or distort it, has now come to be recognized by teachers as diverse jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Abraham Maslow, James Fowler, Clare Grave, and Ken Wilber. Their insights remind us of Thomas Aquinas's observation that "Whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver."
In simple terms, whatever you teach or receive will be heard on at least eight to ten different levels, according to the inner, psychological, and spiritual maturity of the listener.

"A Church of Non-Christians" by Peter Rollins

One of the signs of a world-historical movement is that it spills over from its particular interests and unites previously separate groups. In other words, an influential movement speaks beyond the confines of its origin, crosses tribal boundaries and touches people who might otherwise have no connection with each other. For instance, the French Revolution and the Arab Spring both began in a particular place with a particular people but ended up having world transforming significance through impacting the lives of millions who had nothing to do with either. Read More...