Week Three: Liberation
Wednesday 20 January 2021 A Liberating Theology
The Brazilian Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara (1909‒1999) was a truly saintly man and one of my heroes for the Gospel. Although many are not familiar with him today, he was well-known in his lifetime for his love for the poor and his embrace of nonviolence. His teachings have shaped many of my thoughts on the nature of evil and our freedom to choose how we respond to the suffering and injustice present in the world. He wrote me on the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination, so I have a personal gratitude toward him. Here he writes:
When you look at our continent [of South America], where more than two-thirds of the people live in sub-human conditions as a result of injustices, and when you see that the same situation is repeated all over the world, how can you help wanting to work towards human liberation? Just as the Father, the Creator, wants us to be co-creators, so the Son, the Redeemer, wants us to be co-redeemers. So it is up to us to continue the work of liberation begun by the Son: the liberation from sin and the consequences of sin, the liberation from egoism and the consequences of egoism. That is what the theology of liberation means to us, and I see no reason why anyone should be afraid of a true, authentic theology of liberation. 
The people already understand that we have no right to blame God for the problems that we have created ourselves. As if the Lord were responsible for the floods or the droughts [Richard Rohr: or the pandemic]! No! It would have been very easy for our Father to create a universe that was already perfect. But it would have been terribly boring for us to come into a world where everything had already been done, and done well, where everything was complete. So the Lord merely began the creative process and entrusted [humans] with the task of completing it. It is up to us to control the rivers. It’s a question of intelligence and integrity. If we had shown sufficient intelligence and integrity in the past the droughts and the floods would already have been controlled. Nowadays deserts are being watered and rivers diverted. It’s our own problem, not the Lord’s. 
Liberation theology as Dom Hélder Câmara describes it is applicable to many of the problems we face. For good or for ill, our choices as individuals have a collective impact on others and future generations. How we treat each other is a marker of our freedom in God. Câmara reminds us:
We all believe that all human beings are children of the same heavenly Father. Those who have the same father are brothers and sisters. Let us really treat each other as brothers and sisters! . . . We all believe that freedom is a divine gift to be preserved at all costs. Let us liberate, in the highest and most profound sense of the word, all the human beings who live round about us. 
 Hélder Câmara, The Conversions of a Bishop: An Interview with José de Broucker, trans. Hilary Davies (Collins: 1979), 170–171.
 Câmara, Conversions, 124.
 First address as Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, April 12, 1964. See Dom Hélder Câmara: Essential Writings, ed. Francis McDonagh (Orbis Books: 2009), 41.
Tuesday 8 January 2021 Authentic Freedom
In his newest book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, Pope Francis points out that we need both personal liberation and liberation from unjust and harmful systems. Unfortunately, many people have been taught that salvation is merely an individual escape plan for the next world, which has not produced many liberated people or healthy systems. He writes:
In every personal “Covid,” so to speak, in every “stoppage,” what is revealed is what needs to change: our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected. 
We all think we are freely and consciously making our own choices when, in my experience, most people live most of their lives unconsciously! Before transformation, we are basically sleepwalking, going through the motions on the surface of life, which is why spiritual teachers like Jesus and Buddha tell us to “wake up.” When our ego or small self is in charge, we are not free; we are being ordered about by our preferences, our likes and dislikes. Is it really liberating to believe the world revolves around us or conversely, that we must hold it all together?
As we engage in contemplative prayer and allow God to transform us through great love and great suffering, we are reminded of our inherent connectedness. We are liberated from thinking of ourselves as somehow separate from everyone and everything else, including God.
After an authentic God encounter, everything else is relativized. There is only one Absolute and it is God, not us or our culture. Both are de-centered. Through prayer we find God both deep within us and all around us. We know our True Self is part of God and lives in God. We are no longer limited by our culturally conditioned reactions but have access to a greater Source of love and ultimate freedom.
Pope Francis recognizes this freedom in the healthcare professionals who have risked their lives and worked so hard for so many months:
[Healthcare workers] are the saints next door, who have awoken something important in our hearts, making credible once more what we desire to instill by our preaching.
They are the antibodies to the virus of indifference. They remind us that our lives are a gift and we grow by giving of ourselves: not preserving ourselves but losing ourselves in service. 
There is no authentic freedom if we do not also consider the rights and well-being of others. As Pope Francis reflects:
Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate. . . . 
The transformed person finds freedom in the service of Life and Love. Your life is not about you. You are about life!
 Pope Francis, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future (Simon & Schuster: 2020), 36.
 Pope Francis, 13.
 Pope Francis, 27.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Scripture as Liberation (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2002), MP3 download.
Monday 18 January 2021 True Liberation in God
There can be no outer freedom without some level of inner liberation. This is a universal truth, but a lesson that each of us must learn for ourselves. If we pursue freedom from a reactionary position, out of our own fear or anger, we are working on too small a scale. The path to full liberation always has its source in an Infinite God. My colleague Barbara Holmes puts it this way:
Although justice must be enacted in concrete ways, I agree with Václav Havel (1936–2011) [who] . . . suggested that liberation is an awareness of connections to a reality “beyond our reach, a higher intention that is the source of all things, a higher memory recording everything, a higher authority to which we are all accountable in one way or another.” 
Barbara Holmes continues to explore this idea of God as the source of true and transcendent liberation through a creative, imagined conversation between civil rights icon Rosa Parks (1913–2005) and the Black mystic and theologian Howard Thurman (1899–1981).
Parks First, don’t we have to redefine liberation? When I refused to get up from the bus seat, when Martin marched and Malcolm railed against the artificial constraints of segregation, it was not to grant a small sliver of freedom to earthbound people. It was the spiritual launch of a liberation too vast to be circumscribed by a single life. This is a liberation worth dying for, worth risking everything for. . . .
Thurman The power that is meaningful for future generations comes through the human spirit but emanates from a divine source. . . .
Parks Liberation requires individuals willing to stand when no one else will, to sit when others are threatening you with harm, to embrace an outsider in full view of an insider, to proclaim the wisdom of the ages and the already/not yet justice of God in the midst of horrific circumstances. We do this although we don’t know what the end will be, and we do this because liberation is the responsibility of each and every person. I know that the sacred heart of the liberation story lies in ordinary acts of obedience and resistance by ordinary people.
Thurman Thank you for that, Rosa. Liberation is not a goal or an event to be enjoyed. It is a series of events that draw us closer to true liberation in God. Liberation comes in the moment that we hear the leading of the Divine and follow. It is the freedom to unbind the shackled and to reunite with God and neighbor. Until we achieve that reunion, we move from liberation to liberation gathering seekers as we go, celebrating only long enough to encourage our spirits and then moving on to new struggles around old issues in different contexts. 
Barbara Holmes’ ability to “listen in” to these conversations between “the ancestors” is a sign of her own spiritual freedom, which she shares so generously with the world.
 Václav Havel, to the National Press Club, Canberra, Australia, March 29, 1995, The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice (Knopf: 1997), 196. Quoted in Holmes, Race and the Cosmos, 2nd ed. (CAC Publishing: 2020), 83.
 Barbara A. Holmes, Liberation and the Cosmos: Conversations with the Elders (Fortress Press: 2008), 68, 70–71.
Sunday 17 January 2021 A Journey to Freedom
In the Book of Exodus, Egypt is the place of slavery and the promised land is the place of freedom. The journey from Egypt to the promised land is a standing paradigm for the universal struggle from slavery to freedom—and thus for the spiritual journey as well. The story of Israel symbolically describes the experience of our own liberation by God, which is both an outer freedom and an inner freedom or it is not real liberation.
The word exodus means “the way out,” as scholar Allen Dwight Callahan explains:
A loanword from the Greek, exodus signifies the road of escape. The biblical drama of Exodus recounts the story of the escape of the ancient Israelites from Egypt and their formation as a new people in Canaan. The Lord had commanded that the Egyptians “let my son [Israel] go” (Exodus 4:23), and the imperative phrase “Let my people go” is repeated seven times in the drama that climaxes in the Israelites’ flight across the Red Sea. 
The liberation that Moses leads is first cemented in a “face to face” encounter with God. According to the book of Exodus, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend” (33:11). God gradually answers Moses’ many objections as to why he should not lead his people: 1) “Who am I?” 2) “Who are you?” 3) “What if they do not believe me?” 4) “I stutter” and 5) “Why not send someone else?” In each case, God patiently stays in the dialogue, answering Moses respectfully and even intimately, offering a promise of personal Presence and an ever-sustaining glimpse into who God is. God is Being Itself, Existence Itself, a nameless God beyond all names, a formless God previous to all forms, a liberator God who is utterly liberated from the limits culture and religion put on any Divinity. God asserts God’s ultimate freedom from human attempts to capture God in concepts and words by saying, “I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Over the course of his story, we see that Moses slowly absorbs this same daring freedom. Despite the failings and limitations Moses perceived in himself, he is liberated by God’s faith in him.
It is this same daring and unequivocal freedom that inspired many Black Americans when they read this text. Callahan again: “African Americans heard, read, and retold the story of the Exodus more than any other biblical narrative. In it they saw their own aspirations for liberation from bondage in the story of the ancient Hebrew slaves. . . . The Exodus signified God’s will that African Americans too would no longer be sold as bondspeople, that they too would go free.” 
In working for outer freedom, peace, and justice in the world we discover the even deeper inner freedom of our True Self in God.
 Allen Dwight Callahan, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible (Yale University Press: 2006), 83.
 Callahan, 83.
Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 158‒159
Image credit: Monastery Window (detail), Photograph by Thomas Merton, copyright the Merton Legacy Trust and the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with Permission.
A window is an invitation. A break in the impervious stone of a wall. A way in or out. Covered in foliage, light, and shadow, this window speaks to the complex nature of reality, unveiled.
Fourth Letter from Outside the Camp
The extremist behavior and violence that took place in Washington, D.C. on January 6 was truly shocking and worthy of condemnation—many have already done so. The whole world is transfixed, bearing witness to the awful and extraordinary unfolding of history.
In my previous letters I wrote about the DISORDER that is already upon us, as well as the consequences that ensue when illusions of power and privilege co-opt and distort Christianity. At the Center for Action and Contemplation, we are free to speak in great part because we are not beholden to the usual constituencies. Using the brilliant metaphor from the Hebrew Scriptures, we are “outside the camp” of either political party, any need to influence an election, and, by the grace of God, any negative or fear-based church pressure from Rome, Santa Fe, or Assisi.
We are also, like few other organizations, free from the coercion of donors and finance, thanks to almost thirty-three years of operating with our priorities clearly in view to all who cared to study or read our publications. Blessedly, our donors have not run for cover over time, but only increased in numbers, continuing to join us—even from outside the usual camps of both religion and politics.
Few people enjoy such freedom of living and teaching from the edge of the inside. This is the unique position that a prophetic charism holds and for which it is responsible; it is structurally quite rare, and therefore we must use it.
“Moses used to take the tent, and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. . . . Anyone who wanted to consult Yahweh would go to this tent of meeting outside the camp.” (Exodus 33:7)
The “tent of meeting” is the initial image and metaphor that eventually became our much later notion of “church.” Moses had the prescience and courage to move the place of hearing God outside and at a distance from the court of common religious and civic opinion—this was the original genius that inspired the entire Jewish prophetic tradition. It is quite different than the mere liberal and conservative positions, and often even at odds with them. Most of liberalism is based on a secular foundation of knowledge, and most of conservatism is identified with boundary-keeping, order, and control. By contrast, Prophecy and Gospel are rooted in a contemplative and non-dual way of knowing—a way of being in the world that is utterly free and grounded in the compassion of God.
The early desert fathers and mothers imitated both Moses and Jesus by fleeing to Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Cappadocia—and some as far as Ireland and Scotland. Beginning in the 4th century, we Christians surrendered our unique and free perspective to the Roman and Byzantine Empires. In the desert and outside the camp, these people discovered what we now call “contemplation”: the alternative mind and the alternative community to the status quo—then and now—of money, power, and war.
The free and graced position found in the tent of meeting is what allowed Jesus and all prophets in his lineage to speak from a minority position. It is always less desirable, compared to the comfortable and enjoyable places at the center and the top; yet it is the Jesus stance, and the place where all Franciscans follow after him.
“Let us go to him, therefore, outside the camp, and be willing to share in his degradation.” (Hebrews 13:13)
For many people, religion as a “cosmic egg” capable of holding universal Truth, collective and personal meaning, is broken. Now, the cracks in this very “uncosmic egg” are rapidly spreading in all directions. Delusions enthrall us and inherent deceit becomes overwhelmingly apparent and manifest in the nihilism of our postmodern age, the denial of science and reasonableness, and the denial of the pandemic that now assaults us all. The very future of the meanings of words and truth are at stake, as specifically exemplified by Trumpism in its many forms.
We must again move with Jesus outside the camp and even be willing to “share in his degradation” if that be God’s will. We must trust that the one who has called us into this present moment will also sustain us and lead us through it.
“Yahweh would speak with Moses face to face [outside the camp] as a young man speaks with his friend. And then Moses would return to the camp.” (Exodus 33:11)
This is the primary vocation of the Center for Action and Contemplation. We invite you to join us—first, in the tent of meeting outside the camp for prayer, dialogue, and deep discernment. Then, like Moses, we must all choose to “return to the camp,” where all of our brothers and sisters live and die.
Among the Contemplatives: An interview with Richard Rohr
Embraced in the earliest days of Christianity, contemplation has been excluded from mainstream worship over the years. In his Harper’s Magazine article, The Gate of Heaven is Everywhere, author Fred Bahnson reconnects with these roots, sharing his experience with Richard Rohr and “among the contemplatives” at the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Universal Christ Conference last year. Bahnson writes, “So many of the mistakes in American Christianity, Rohr told me, are a result of dualistic thinking, which is ‘inherently antagonistic, inherently competitive…the dualistic mind always chooses sides.’ He is sympathetic to those who disaffiliate from religion. But he still believes in faith’s power to instill awe, to bind and heal, to return us to ourselves, to God, and to one another. At the center of that return lies the contemplative mind.”
Pre-Order Brian McLaren’s new book, Faith After Doubt
In his new book, Faith After Doubt, Center for Action and Contemplation core faculty member Brian McLaren uses his own story and the stories of a diverse group of struggling believers to show how old assumptions are being challenged in nearly every area of human life, not just theology and spirituality. He proposes a four-stage model of faith development in which questions and doubt are not the enemy of faith, but rather a portal to a more mature and fruitful kind of faith. The four stages ― Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony ― offer a path forward that can help sincere and thoughtful people leave behind unnecessary baggage and intensify their commitment to what matters most.
“Sixty-five million adults alive in the United States today have already dropped out of active religious attendance… Some leave because they begin to doubt God or the Bible or some of the doctrines and practices required by their churches. Many leave because they begin to doubt the church or synagogue or mosque itself as an institution worthy of their trust and support. Whatever the focus of their doubts, at this very moment, hundreds of thousands of people are watching their doubts grow and their religious identity weaken.” Read an excerpt from the book.
Does this sound like a familiar story for you or someone you love? This new book will help readers to discover a healthy faith that heals and nourishes, and to learn how doubt can reveal a path to detoxifying religious traditions.
Pre-order Faith After Doubt and receive a free signed bookplate
Look for Faith After Doubt in the CAC Bookstore in January.
A Time of Unveiling: 2021 Daily Meditations from Richard Rohr
Today many people experience tremendous suffering, uncertainty, and disruption in their lives. Systems of evil and injustice are being revealed in greater clarity and our collective “normal” has been radically upended. Walking through this chaos and despair can be difficult; but, ultimately, it is when everything seems adrift that the spiritual journey becomes both an anchor and a sail.
In 2021 Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations will reflect on the theme of A Time of Unveiling. Through this series of free daily and weekly emails, Fr. Richard Rohr offers guidance on how to transform this time of chaos into a time of hope and wholeness.
Study Richard Rohr’s Franciscan Way
Join Richard Rohr as he explores the teachings of his spiritual father, St. Francis — an icon of gentleness and compassion, as well as a radical prophet — in this online course with spiritual seekers from across the world.
The Franciscan Way closely follows Jesus’ path of simplicity, justice, and counter-cultural inclusivity. Discover an “alternative orthodoxy” that values vulnerability and union over power alongside a global community of like-minded seekers eager for deeper connection with God, self, and each other.
Learn more about The Franciscan Way
Registration closes Feb. 17, 2021. Course begins Feb. 24, 2021. Financial assistance applications due Feb. 10, 2021.
Explore Cynthia Bourgeault’s Introductory Wisdom School
Explore teachings from the earliest days of Christianity— but in ways that suit today’s world—with Cynthia Bourgeault and other spiritual seekers on the journey toward living in a Wisdom way. This online course integrates Cynthia’s teachings and contemplative practice to offer an embodied experience. Cultivate a Wisdom rhythm in your daily life through reflection and engagement with contemplative practices and teachings.
Learn more about the Introductory Wisdom School
Registration closes Feb. 24, 2021. Course runs March 3 – June 8, 2021. Financial assistance applications due Feb. 17, 2021
Take Two Minutes to Center Yourself
Have you connected with your deeper self today? Join us for a 2-minute practice of contemplation, or “centering” yourself—which is, in essence, the practice of reconnecting with God as our center. This is the sacred place where, in the words of the mystic St. Catherine of Genoa, “my ‘me’ is God nor do I recognize any other ‘me’ except my God.”
We invite you to return to this practice anytime in the coming weeks or months when you feel stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.
New Issue of ONEING Now Available—“Order, Disorder, Reorder”
God teaches the soul most profoundly through darkness—and not just light! We only need enough light to be able to trust the darkness. Trials and darkness teach us how to trust in a very practical way that a good God is guiding us. —Richard Rohr
How does our tendency towards binary thinking limit growth? In the latest issue of ONEING, all five faculty of the Center of Action and Contemplation (CAC) share their insights on the transformative theme of “Order, Disorder, and Reorder,” the continual pattern that repeats itself “in both people and systems.” In “Include and Transcend,” Richard Rohr shares his insights on the importance of “both-and” thinking for individual and cultural growth and expansion.
Each author gives a glimpse into what can happen when we pay attention and are fully present to one another, and the transformation we can experience by recognizing that diversity is not our enemy but our teacher; not something to disdain but to embrace.
ONEING is the biannual journal of the CAC. Renowned for its diverse and deep exploration of mysticism and culture, ONEING is grounded in Richard Rohr’s teachings and wisdom lineage. Each issue features a themed collection of thoughtfully curated essays and critical perspectives from spiritual teachers, activists, modern mystics, and prophets of all religions.
Learning How to See, a Special Podcast from the CAC
Our life job is to see better, to see ourselves better, to see each other better.
–Rev. Jacqui Lewis
How do we learn to see ourselves and each other with compassion, clarity, and purpose? From judgments made unconsciously to complacency in systemic evil, we must first learn how to see before we can learn how to transform. Learning How to See is a new podcast series from the CAC featuring Rev. Jacqui Lewis of New York’s Middle Church, CAC faculty member Brian McLaren, and Father Richard Rohr, about transcending the individual and group biases that can cloud way we see, listen, and love each other.
Over the course of six episodes these teachers discuss the many ways seeing is social, political, and contemplative, weaving together personal experience and spiritual insight in order to find a path into greater understanding and acceptance—even in turbulent times.