Father Richard Rohr is a familiar Franciscan friar and teacher to many. His work is grounded in Christian mysticism, action and contemplation. In April 2020, during the Caring for the Human Spirit Virtual Conference Rohr’s words, became my guide throughout the challenges and distress of the pandemic, systemic racism and political climate. Rohr spoke about the keys of transformation acknowledging that we live in a world of paradox. He spoke of the presence of Christ when matter and spirit work together. He reminded us that it is important to be OK with ambiguity for this is what FAITH means, and that we must be comfortable with being wrong. This quote from the Center for Action and Contemplation, sums up his message, “Great love and great suffering bring us back to God, and I believe this is how Jesus himself walked humanity back to God. It is not just a path of resurrection rewards but a path that now includes death and woundedness.” In recognizing the repeating historical pattern of social transformation which moves from order to disorder and eventually reorder we can understand it as a process that connects all relationships in creation under God.
We might gain helpful insight into the polarizing struggles today from Rohr’s words. We can learn from past struggles in which one side holds tightly to the way things have always been and the other questions and criticizes, fighting for their worldview. Rohr called for advocating for and teaching wisdom. This wisdom includes the ability to hold multiple perspectives in tension with each other while engaging in contemplation, leading to wisdom and transformation.
Another pattern of transformational response I learned during a presentation (I apologize I cannot remember which one) was to make time to reflect, reconnect, and restore. Through reflecting on our story, and the stories of others, our self-awareness and understanding of the perspectives of others grows. I propose this may work as a process to re-engage our congregations. Many are afraid to come back to the physical building, some had life-changing experiences during the pandemic and others carried on in a more usual way. Some are loudly verbalizing their frustration to their clergy. Setting aside intentional time to talk with each other to reflect on and understand the variety of experiences can lead to reconnection with others, sharing our congregational story and restoring the physically present work of Christ with others. We can begin to reconnect with the values, traditions, behaviors and people we most hold most dear. Slowing down in time of reflection or meditation lets our soul rest and restore reminding us that we are called to be a small part of God’s loving care of creation.
Another way to practice caring for others is offered by Roshi Joan Halifax, Abbott and Head Teacher at Upaya Institute who wrote, Practicing the Three Tenets and GRACE in our Imperiled World in March 2021. In this blog Halifax speaks about combining the Three Tenets of Buddhism which include “Not Knowing, Bearing Witness, and Compassionate Action” with the practice of GRACE. Halifax writes, “I developed the practice of GRACE ten years ago as a way to strengthen altruism and compassion when encountering suffering. GRACE is a mnemonic that entails five braided steps: Gathering attention, Recalling intention, Attuning to self and other, Considering what will serve, Engaging and ending.” Perhaps we can learn to transform our current challenges with this approach.Three Tenets:
Pause and connect with one’s motivation and feelings to open and
let go of expectations
Discern how to be fully present in the face of suffering with humility
Being grounded, empathetic and insightful to the multitude of perspectives and potential outcomes while embracing humility
Here is a brief look at how to respond to suffering with GRACE. I encourage you to read the full article by clicking the link above.
G Grounding, gather our attention, focus on one’s breath
R Recall our intention, remember why we want to serve
A Attune to our spirit, recognize how we are feeling, move into curiosity
C Consider what will serve in compassionate action
E Engage and End each interaction
Halifax cautions us about what she calls, “the shadow of altruism”. While altruism is an essential characteristic of one who serves God and others, and needed in community, the individual or community may be harmed physically or emotionally when boundaries are overstepped. When we notice tightness in our chest, or stomach, cold hands or a feeling of unease it may be that we are not responding to the need in congruence with our values and beliefs. This is the time to pause and breathe, even for a moment to ask what is really needed in this situation. Taking the time to reflect and be to be honest with ourselves, to discern if we are helping because of our own need to be needed or truly acting with compassion to serve another’s need will help prevent clergy, chaplains and others called to serve God from overstepping to fix problems, rather then truly being with, walking alongside, and sharing the love and work of God.
The closing line of Practicing the Three Tenets and GRACE in our Imperiled World is Roshi Joan Halifax’s desire for the world. “With so many challenges at this time, the anger and anguish, or futility and despair over our local and global political situation, millions of refugees seeking a place to land, grave economic and social disparities, the environment, and this historic pandemic, I hope that the Three Tenets and GRACE can be upayas (skillful means) to support us in meeting the world with greater heart, greater resilience, and greater wisdom.”
I pray the wise words offered by Father Richard Rohr and Roshi Joan Halifax bring comfort and hope for tired souls. May they bring awareness and compassion action for feelings of fatigue, anxiety, irritability, confusion, distraction, loneliness, sadness, and anger within ourselves and those we serve.
Center for Action and Contemplation
SNEUCC Health Ministry Resources
SNEUCC Pastoral Care, Self-Care and Mental Health Resources
UPAYA Institute and Zen Center
Deborah Ringen is the Minister of Health and Wellness for the Southern New England Conference, UCC.