Happy New Year!
As we transition into a new year, my mind wanders to the collective sigh of relief felt throughout the land. What a year it’s been! And while I know that we are all yearning to get beyond the sufferings and restrictions, I invite us to pause and open our hearts and reflect on the gifts received these past 9 months. While we have lost much, in many ways perhaps we can see how we’ve gained and grown. At APTB, and for me personally, this season has been a time of deep listening and of learning new things, exploring different paths and welcoming new friends into our community. The letting go and the learnings, while painful at times, have the sense of new birth, of new life, of new possibilities; while we can’t know where this will lead us, there is a rightness to the path and a sense of hope in our midst.
I wish to extend a most heartfelt thank you to all who have supported us this past year – not just financially, though that helps to keep the doors open, but also with your engagement and participation in the amazing dialogues, prayer services and retreat reflections that have taken place. Your enthusiasm, input and feedback encourages us to continue putting forth offerings that nurture, grow, and, yes, stretch our awareness of that bigger story within the inspirited, incarnational world we are living into. I look forward to exploring topics such as The Divine Feminine Across the Traditions and praying together throughout our Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Our various book clubs will be exploring the writing of Pope Francis and Martin Luther King Jr while we continue to find safe ways of gathering socially so that we can stay connected.
While APTB has done some really awesome things, there is a feeling of possibility, movement and growth in the air. To continue responding with our whole heart, we need your help. Are you interested in helping shape and implement APTB’s next steps? Join our Leadership Team! Feeling called to lead or facilitate one of our many book clubs? Give me a call! Have a program or offering idea for us? Send me an email! We really would like your deeper participation in APTB’s future. Won’t you prayerfully consider playing a role in co-creating this space and place for spiritual connection to happen? I look forward to chatting with you!
Wishing you all a joy-filled and peace-filled New Year. May we all find that special gift this season offers!
Some simple but urgent guidance to get us through these next months.
I awoke on Saturday, September 19, with three sources in my mind for guidance: Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943), the young Jewish woman who suffered much more injustice in the concentration camp than we are suffering now; Psalm 62, which must have been written in a time of a major oppression of the Jewish people; and the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats (1965 – 1939), who wrote his “Second Coming” during the horrors of the World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic.
These three sources form the core of my invitation. Read each one slowly as your first practice. Let us begin with Etty:
There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.
—Etty Hillesum, Westerbork transit camp
Note her second-person usage, talking to “You, God” quite directly and personally. There is a Presence with her, even as she is surrounded by so much suffering.
Then, the perennial classic wisdom of the Psalms:
In God alone is my soul at rest.
God is the source of my hope.
In God I find shelter, my rock, and my safety.
Men are but a puff of wind,
Men who think themselves important are a delusion.
Put them on a scale,
They are gone in a puff of wind.
What could it mean to find rest like this in a world such as ours? Every day more and more people are facing the catastrophe of extreme weather. The neurotic news cycle is increasingly driven by a single narcissistic leader whose words and deeds incite hatred, sow discord, and amplify the daily chaos. The pandemic that seems to be returning in waves continues to wreak suffering and disorder with no end in sight, and there is no guarantee of the future in an economy designed to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and those subsisting at the margins of society.
It’s no wonder the mental and emotional health among a large portion of the American population is in tangible decline! We have wholesale abandoned any sense of truth, objectivity, science or religion in civil conversation; we now recognize we are living with the catastrophic results of several centuries of what philosophers call nihilism or post-modernism (nothing means anything, there are no universal patterns).
We are without doubt in an apocalyptic time (the Latin word apocalypsis refers to an urgent unveiling of an ultimate state of affairs). Yeats’ oft-quoted poem “The Second Coming” then feels like a direct prophecy. See if you do not agree:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this sad time must be to first restore the Divine Center by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. If contemplation means anything, it means that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God,” as Etty Hillesum describes it. What other power do we have now? All else is tearing us apart, inside and out, no matter who wins the election or who is on the Supreme Court. We cannot abide in such a place for any length of time or it will become our prison.
God cannot abide with us in a place of fear.
God cannot abide with us in a place of ill will or hatred.
God cannot abide with us inside a nonstop volley of claim and counterclaim.
God cannot abide with us in an endless flow of online punditry and analysis.
God cannot speak inside of so much angry noise and conscious deceit.
God cannot be found when all sides are so far from “the Falconer.”
God cannot be born except in a womb of Love.
So offer God that womb.
Stand as a sentry at the door of your senses for these coming months, so “the blood-dimmed tide” cannot make its way into your soul.
If you allow it for too long, it will become who you are, and you will no longer have natural access to the “really deep well” that Etty Hillesum returned to so often and that held so much vitality and freedom for her.
If you will allow, I recommend for your spiritual practice for the next four months that you impose a moratorium on exactly how much news you are subject to—hopefully not more than an hour a day of television, social media, internet news, magazine and newspaper commentary, and/or political discussions. It will only tear you apart and pull you into the dualistic world of opinion and counter-opinion, not Divine Truth, which is always found in a bigger place.
Instead, I suggest that you use this time for some form of public service, volunteerism, mystical reading from the masters, prayer—or, preferably, all of the above.
You have much to gain now and nothing to lose. Nothing at all.
And the world—with you as a stable center—has nothing to lose.
And everything to gain.
Richard Rohr, September 19, 2020
A collision of opposites forms the cross of Christ.
One leads downward preferring the truth of the humble.
The other moves leftward against the grain.
But all are wrapped safely inside a hidden harmony:
One world, God's cosmos, a benevolent universe.
APTB Leadership Retreat
On a cold Saturday in January, A Place To Be Leadership Team gathered to pray, reflect, and discern about our own spirituality as well that of the Center. As we shared our hopes for A Place To Be, words and phrases were collected that became our Vision for the future. We would welcome your input! What word or phrase would you like to add to the list?
Click here for more information about our leadership retreat.
Join us as we learn about and explore the role of the divine feminine across several traditions. For more information, click here.
Our Social Justice Book Group will be reading Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr. beginning Feb. 1. For more information click here.
For more information about our Lenten Book Study, with groups on Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings, click here.
We Make the Road By Walking ONLINE Bible Study following the book by Brian McLaren. For more information, click here.