Today, Sister Joan Chittister continues exploring the relationship between prophetic witness and contemplation:
A spiritual path that does not lead to a living commitment to . . . the Kingdom of God within and around us everywhere for everyone, is no path at all. . . . It is a dead end on the way to God. . . .
Jim said, “Ok, you be you and I’ll be God. And since I’m God, I’m watching you get up exhausted every morning, and I’m so touched that you want to spend this time with me. Really, I am! It just means the world to me. The thing is, I just can’t bear how much I love you. It’s too much! And so at a certain point I rush into the bodies of your children and wake them up because. . . .”
Jim paused. “Because I want to know what it feels like to be held by you.”
Yes, the interruption is the presence of God that I was so desperately trying to access in moments of stillness and silence. With or without the luxury of stillness and silence, God comes to us disguised as our very lives (as Paula D’Arcy has said). In my case, Jim helped me to discover how my path as an exhausted young parent was the monastery of my own transformation. If I learned to let my heart open enough, I just might begin to recognize each cry, each diaper change, every choo-choo play time request . . . all of it, as the startlingly stunning, diaphanous infusion of infinite love colliding into the small shape of my very finite and ordinary reality. There, at the intersection of everything, is God with us . . . wanting to be touched, noticed, nurtured . . . held by us. All we have to do is behold.
Authentic love is of one piece. How you love anything is how you love everything. Jesus commands us to “Love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” and he connects the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor, saying they are “like” one another (Matthew 22:39). So often, we think this means to love our neighbor with the same amount of love—as much as we love ourselves—when it really means that it is the same Source and the same Love that allows each of us to love ourself, others, and God at the same time! That is unfortunately not the way most people understand love, compassion, and forgiveness—yet it is the only way they ever work. How you love is how you have accessed Love.
We cannot sincerely love another or forgive offenses inside of dualistic consciousness. Try it, and you’ll see it can’t be done. Many pastors and priests have done the people of God a great disservice by preaching the Gospel to them but not giving them the tools whereby they can obey that Gospel. As Jesus put it, “cut off from the vine, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The “vine and the branches” offer one of the greatest Christian mystical images of the non-duality between God and the soul. In and with God, I can love everything and everyone—even my enemies. Alone and by myself, my willpower and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time. Many folks try to love by willpower, with themselves as the only source. They try to obey the second commandment without the first. It usually does not work long-term, and there is no one more cynical about love than a disillusioned idealist. (This was my own youthful generation of the 1960s.)
Finally, of course, there is a straight line between love and suffering. If we love anyone or anything deeply and greatly, it is fairly certain we will soon suffer because we have given up control to another, and the price of self-extension will soon show itself. Undoubtedly, this is why we are told to be faithful in our loves, because such long-term loyalty and truly conscious love will always lead us to the necessary pruning (John 15:2) of the narcissistic self.
Until we love and until we suffer, we all try to figure out life and death with our minds; but afterward a Larger Source opens up within us and we “think” and feel quite differently: “until knowing the Love, which is beyond all knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19). Thus, Jesus would naturally say something like, “This is my commandment: you must love one another!” (John 13:34). Authentic love (which is always more than a heart feeling) initially opens the door of awareness and aliveness, and then suffering for that love keeps that door open for mind, body, and will to enter. I suspect for most of us that is the work of a lifetime.
Christian biblical images of the peaceable realm are abundant:
- Isaiah’s prophecy of a time when lions will lie down with lambs [11:6-7];
- Paul’s teachings on the equality of male and female, Jew and Gentile, and slave and free [Galatians 3:28];
- and John’s challenge to love the neighbor whom we can see as an expression of the love of God whom we cannot see [1 John 4:11-12, 20-21]
all echo the gospel teachings of Jesus. Love is the ethic of Jesus of Nazareth—love of God, neighbor, and self. Jesus, Paul of Tarsus told us, is our peace, the one whose love breaks down walls of hostility that separate people [Ephesians 2:14-16]. The church, as the body of Christ, is called and commissioned to break down those walls wherever we encounter them. It is our mission, and we understand that.
Thus, every Sunday morning in American churches, bulletins, greeters, and signs on the door offer messages of welcome. Yet what is often meant by welcome is that strangers can come in as long as they look like us, don’t offend us, don’t challenge us, and work heroically to fit in with our communal sense of self. In American culture, what we are likely to be made uncomfortable by are racial and ethnic differences, generational differences, theological differences, or differences due to sexual orientation. But, as psychologist Robert Carter argues, what matters most in American culture is race. 
Though American congregations share the call to welcome, in fact, only 7. 5 percent of the over three hundred thousand Christian congregations in the United States are multiracial and multicultural, which means no one racial or ethnic group makes up more than 80 percent of its members.  Even churches with a sincere desire to diversify may encounter barriers, such as location, language, and worship style. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s observation that eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings is the most segregated hour in America still stands to challenge each congregation to examine the difference in its midst and to develop a higher capacity and moral compass to embrace it and to celebrate it.
Cultural differences in the body of Christ enable different types of people to draw near to the heart of Jesus. . . . Jesus did a fantastic job of knowing his audience and speaking directly to their hearts. For example, Jesus talked
- sheep to shepherds,
- fish to fishermen, and
- bookish theology to bookish theologians.
He was all things to all people. I think that our differences enable us to speak richly and directly to the hearts of all types of people. . . .
Culturally homogeneous churches are adept at targeting and attracting a certain type of person and creating a strong group identity. However, attendees at such churches are at a higher risk for creating the overly simplistic and divisive . . . labels that dangerously lead to inaccurate perceptions . . . as well as hostility and conflict. What often begins as an effective and culturally specific way to reach people for Christ ends up stifling their growth as disciples. Perhaps this is because we often fail to make a distinction between evangelism and discipleship. People can meet God within their cultural context but in order to follow God, they must cross into other cultures because that’s what Jesus did in the incarnation and on the cross. [I, Richard, would add that Jesus crossed “into other cultures” quite consistently in his entire public ministry. This is rather hard to miss!]
Discipleship is cross-cultural. When we meet Jesus around people who are just like us and then continue to follow Jesus with people who are just like us, we stifle our growth in Christ and open ourselves up to a world of division. However, when we’re rubbing elbows in Christian fellowship with people who are different from us, we can learn from each other and grow more like Christ. . . .
For this reason, I believe that churches and Christian organizations should strive for cultural diversity. Regardless of ethnic demographics, every community is multicultural when one considers the various cultures of
- economic status,
- education level,
- political orientation and so on.
Further, every church should fully utilize the multifaceted cultural diversity within itself, express the diversity of its local community, expertly welcome the other, embrace all who are members of the body of Christ [which is everyone] and intentionally collaborate with different churches or organizations in order to impact the kingdom. And churches situated in multiethnic communities—I’m not letting you off the hook—should absolutely be ethnically diverse . . . seeing culturally different others as God’s gift to us.
The primary problem is that our identities are too small. We tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. . . . Indeed, adopting a common identity is the key to tearing down cultural divisions and working toward reconciliation. —Christena Cleveland 
The dualistic mind, upon which most of us were taught to rely, is simply incapable of the task of creating unity. It automatically divides reality into binary opposites and does most of its thinking inside this limited frame. It dares to call this choosing of sides “thinking” because that is all it knows how to do. “Really good” thinking then becomes devising a strong argument for our side’s superiority versus another country, race, group, political party, or religion.
It seems we must have our other! We struggle to know who we are except by opposition and exclusion. Eucharist was supposed to tell Christians who we are in a positive and inclusionary way. But many Catholics, particularly clergy, have made the Holy Meal into a “prize for the perfect” and a “reward for good behavior” instead of medicine for sickness—which we all equally need. Now I see what our real sickness is. Our sickness or “sin” is the illusion of separateness, a completely mistaken identity which is far too small and too boundaried. The Eucharist is made to order to remind us that we are all one body of Christ. Even those in “other flocks” (see John 10:16)—other religions or no religion at all—are still part of the one body of God, which is, first of all, creation itself.
Christianity’s long history of anti-Semitism is one example of this. Throughout Europe, leaders at the highest levels of church and culture, and even canonized saints, thought Jews were a problem—while their own leader Jesus, his mother Mary, and all the apostles were fully Jewish! Figure that one out. Anti-Semitism only lessened for a time during the Crusades when Christians directed their negative energy toward Muslims. Later, when there were no obvious “others” around, we Christians divided into warring denominations and did our fighting there.
Humans are wired to scapegoat and project our shadow elsewhere. Being able to recognize our own negativity takes foundational conversion and transformation of the egoic self. Unitive consciousness—the awareness that we are all one in Love—lays a solid foundation for social critique and acts of justice. I hope we will let God show us how to think and live in new ways, ways that meet the very real needs of our time on this suffering planet.
The Holy Spirit is the love relationship between the Father and the Son. It is this relationship itself that is gratuitously given to us! Or better, we are included inside this universal love. This is salvation in one wonderful snapshot
Jesuit Richard Hauser (1937–2018), who focused much of his teaching and writing on the Holy Spirit, saw that the indwelling Spirit leads to union and love:
This love has as its object God, as well as other people. Christian theological tradition has most often seen the Holy Spirit in the Trinity as the bond of love between the Father and the Son. . . . The primary effect of the Spirit acting in people . . . will be love, both for one another and for God. . . .
God’s Spirit joins our spirit; it does not replace it. The good acts we perform are truly our acts, not simply acts of the Holy Spirit in us. The deepest part of the self is the spiritual dimension. From the center flows all our freedom and love; at this level we remain free to choose to move or not to move with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is indeed active in us at all times drawing us toward greater love and service of God and others, but the Spirit does not control our response. That flows from our freedom. 
This loving relationship shows itself in myriad forms, such as the endless diversity of insects and wildflowers, culture and art, medicine and science. Each manifestation expresses God’s endless desire to create new forms of life and externalized love. All things good, true, and beautiful are already baptized in the one, same Spirit. (Read Ephesians 4:4-7 anew!)
The Holy Spirit shows up as the central and healing power of absolute newness and healing in our relationship with everything else. Anglican mystic Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941) defined mysticism as “the art of union with Reality.”  The Spirit is the artist painting this union through us!
The Spirit’s work is helping us stay in relationship and building connection. The Spirit warms, softens, mends, and renews all the broken, cold places in and between things. Invisible but powerful, willing to be anonymous, the Spirit does not care who gets the credit for the wind from nowhere, the living water that we take for granted, or the bush that always burns and is never consumed.