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Wisdom in Times of Crisis

This post is part of reflections I shared this morning on a Zoom meeting with guys I normally see in person at a monthly men’s gathering in Bay Shore, NY. See end for more info on these meetings. NEW: See end for YouTube playlist of all songs in this post.

Let’s begin with a moment of silence for friends and loved ones who’ve been impacted by the virus and/or the widespread injustices that are becoming more evident every day.

A few deep water questions are better than a lot of shallow water answers…

Who are you?

Who am I?

Who is my neighbor?

Volumes of books have been offered in search for answers. One of Francis’ biographers says he used to wander the streets of Assisi at night calling out to G-d asking, “Who are you and who am I?” Gradually, he saw G-d in the faces of those Jesus calls “our neighbors” and served his G-d by serving them.

I’m simply placing them before you as grist for your prayer and meditation times. How you wrestle with these timeless invitations helps determine how you’ll answer just about every other important question that arises.

--imaginative compilation of images and soundtrack

The following are a few of the deeper questions I sent prior to our meeting to help us prepare for our time together this morning and for the times ahead.

What has this time been showing me? (Quarantine Covid 19)

What am I being invited to look at in new ways?

What to keep?

What to let go of?

What's my new normal going to look like?

What am I afraid of?

Love & Fear

We’ll only trust someone we know loves us…

Please allow me to reflect on her quote:

· We come into this world from eternity - our eternal life where G-d says he [sic] knew us before we were born (Ps. 139)

· If eternal life is a fact - if it’s truly eternal – then it doesn’t have a beginning OR an end

· We enter as a “free Spirit” as Miten sings below in “Ashes to Ashes.”

· Other names for this Spirit include: soul, true self

· However, incarnation has its costs that include suffering and eventual death – basically, not getting everything we want

· Our ego is formed as a survival mechanism to help us recognize potential threats and dangers. It’s not bad, it just can’t get us back to the Garden – to that state of constant intimate union with our Beloved that we had before we left the Garden

· So, as we mature along the path, our task – our hero’s journey – involves learning how to live from the True Self, the free Spirit with which we entered this life.

· Much of this learning involves unlearning, in order to make room for the truth of who we really are, Whose we really are.

· A major unlearning involves the lie that we are, or ever have been, separate from our Lover. Here’s my favorite song that speaks to this truth. It uses the appropriate imagery of sleeping and dreaming to describe how we get deceived and need to awake from our sleep, as Jesus said on several occasions.

Richard’s Daily Meditations have focused us on “Wisdom in Times of Crisis.”

What follows are excerpts from this week’s Daily Meditations (or “medications” as I see them). Click the links to view the complete meditation for each day.

As I was finishing this post after the Zoom meeting, I recalled this hauntingly beautiful song that seems to sum up the spirit of the wisdom contained in these meditations. I have enjoyed these artists and their peaceful presence in concert and have asked to have this played at my memorial service.

Ashes to ashes

Sermons in stone, oh how time passes

We're here and then we're gone

And all that remains

When we're free of our chains

Is the love we shared

The love we shared

The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But the mystery of transformation more often happens not when something new begins, but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level, and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place. Most of us would never go to new places in any other way. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, dark night, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God.

Inevitable – but we resist…

In the light of eternity, we’re here for a very short time, really. We’re here for one thing, ultimately: to learn how to love, because God is love. Love is our origin, love is our ground, and love is our destiny. —James Finley

What is the practice that matters now? A practice is any act habitually entered into with our whole heart that takes us to the deeper place. Some of these practices, we might not think of as prayer and meditation: tending the roses, a long, slow walk to no place in particular, a quiet moment at day’s end, being vulnerable in the presence of that person in whose presence we’re taken to the deeper place, the pause between two lines of a poem. There are these acts that reground us in the depth dimensions of our life that matter most; so if we’re faithful to our practice, our practice will be faithful to us. . . .

Theology does not by itself provide wisdom in crisis. All theology must become a living spirituality to really change us or the world. It’s disappointing that we Christians have emphasized theology, catechism, and religious education much more than prayer and practice. The biblical book of Job is probably one of the greatest books on prayer that has ever been written. It breaks our stereotypes of what it means to communicate with God.

If we view Job’s story as a journey into an ever-deepening encounter with God, we keep the question of suffering from becoming an abstract debate observed at a distance. It is a text that only fully makes sense to those who’ve felt suffering, been up against the wall, at a place where, frankly, God doesn’t make sense anymore and we no longer believe “God has a plan.”

CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault addresses a fear that motivates all of us on some level—the fear of death. It is a matter of true wisdom to know how to face death wisely and courageously, which is why every religion and culture since the beginning of time has tried to “make sense” of it in some way.

What is the wisdom that matters now? For me, it’s the Paschal Mystery [the passion, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus the Christ]. . . . Simply, the one who would save his life or her life will lose it and the one who’s willing to lose it, will save it. In all great religious traditions, this is the eye of the needle. Everything that’s good, everything that’s abiding, everything that’s worthy, everything that’s generative about a human being arises on the other side of our fear of death. . . . The whole tradition we’ve had of “dying before you die” sounds like martyrdom from the outside, but what you really discover is, it’s the gateway to freedom.

"I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it." - Mark Twain

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” - Mahatma Gandhi

“Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose” (Me & Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin)

“When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose” (Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan)

--Playing with the Rolling Stones as in this clip, going from acoustic to electric, to gospel, to touring with the Grateful Dead…Bob is always evolving…always changin’.

Brian McLaren, a member of the CAC Living School faculty, reminds us why it matters that we pay attention to our health, not only physically but spiritually and ethically as well.

In these challenging, difficult times, we are discovering a wisdom that we needed all along, and that wisdom is that we are all connected. We are not separate. We used to think that we caught diseases as individuals: “I’m sick; you’re not.” But now we realize, no, we catch diseases as individuals who are part of families, and families who are part of cities, and cities that are part of states and nations. We realize now that our whole species can become infected, and that our whole globe can be changed because of our interconnectedness. . . .

CAC Faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes points us to the interwoven nature of love— love of God, of self, and of neighbor. We cannot keep the Great Commandment without fully engaging in all three. In her wisdom, she sees this time of crisis as an opportunity for a great re-imagining of our society and how it might function for the good of all. Barbara says:

The practice I’m focusing on is self-love and love of neighbor. We tend not to be very good at either one, but during this time of isolation, we have equal opportunities to rest and to heal, to love and be loved. . . .

For me a spiritual practice that matters includes social renewal. Instead of blaming others about the state of our union, instead of blaming one political party or another, we actually can reflect on our own complicity and support of systems that abandoned the poor, warehoused our children in failing schools, and failed to provide adequate health care, even under normal circumstances. As a spiritual practice, we can wake up to the possibility of building a new order. We can improvise those possibilities; try them out in the creative microcosm of a shared public life, realizing that our way of life before the pandemic was not perfect. It could be improved so that all members of the society thrive. We’ve received reports that COVID-19 is disproportionally impacting communities of color. There are many reasons for this outcome, including the fact that people of color often have chronic health problems that make them particularly vulnerable to the disease as a result of poverty, poor or nonexistent health care, and economic disparities.

Saturday: Weekly Summary

Practice: The Wisdom of Poetry

When I consider the call to contemplative awareness and solidarity offered by CAC teachers this week, I cannot think of a better practice than the exquisite poem “Pandemic” from poet and minister Lynn Ungar. It was written in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States before most of us were asked to stay at home. Even in those first moments, she envisioned a way of responding to the crisis with love, not fear. The wisdom of this poem goes far beyond the circumstances of the pandemic. May it serve as a guide as we embark on the work ahead of us— striving to eradicate the “viruses” of white supremacy and systemic injustice in the United States and the world.


What if you thought of it

as the Jews consider the Sabbath—

the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel.

Cease from buying and selling.

Give up, just for now,

on trying to make the world

different than it is.

Sing. Pray. Touch only those

to whom you commit your life.

Center down.

And when your body has become still,

reach out with your heart.

Know that we are connected

in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.

(You could hardly deny it now.)

Know that our lives

are in one another’s hands.

(Surely, that has come clear.)

Do not reach out your hands.

Reach out your heart.

Reach out your words.

Reach out all the tendrils

of compassion that move, invisibly,

where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love—

for better or for worse,

in sickness and in health,

so long as we all shall live.

—Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Processional chill out hymn

This video was created by the songwriter and is different from the previous one. Same lyrics. Shaina has other YouTube videos for connecting to Presence.


The full set of CAC faculty videos “Wisdom in Times of Crisis” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020) is available for free on YouTube at:

Men’s Gatherings

Here are additional links to learn more about these and similar men’s meetings held in the US and several other countries (for my Facebook friends).




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