Mature Discipleship and the Way of Blessing: Reflections on Ron Rolheiser’s “Sacred Fire”

Reflections on Ronald Rolheiser’s new book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity

There are many spiritual pathways for the many seasons of our lives, for our personal contexts, gender and sexual orientation, and personality types. A personal God has a personal relationship with every creature. God’s center is everywhere and focuses on each moment of experience and each person’s life journey. Our lives are truly a holy adventure with spiritual surprises around every turn.

In an interdependent universe, no person is self-made; we emerge from the vastness of the universe: we are star stuff and we are God stuff and our lives our gifts to God and one another.

A key element in embracing the interdependence of life is blessing. It is at the heart of my spiritual journey as a pastor, professor, author, husband, father, grandfather, friend, and random companion. Blessing another requires no preconditions or prerequisites, simply the desire to wish another well-being. I was delighted when  Catholic spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser placed the act of blessing at the heart of mature spirituality. In the paragraphs that follow, I will reflect on my own vision of blessing.

Let me begin with dialogue with affirmations from the world’s wisdom traditions:

I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…In you all

of the families of the Earth shall be blessed.  (from Genesis 12:2-3)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for the y will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the

realm of God. (Matthew 5:3-10)

 

In beauty may I walk. All day long may I walk. Through the returning seasons may I walk. On the trail marked with pollen may I walk. With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk. With dew about my feet may I walk….. With beauty before me, may I walk. With beauty behind me, may I walk. With beauty above me, may I walk. With beauty below me, may I walk. With beauty all around me, may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, may I walk. It is finished in beauty. It is finished in beauty. (From the Navajo Blessing Way)

As I ponder these words, I experience the sacred fire of which Rolheiser speaks and rejoice in a world filled with challenge and also blessing.

Blessed are the interdependent for they shall experience God. Spirituality is ultimately concerned with beauty and blessing. The movement of the universe is toward beauty. You can delight in the beauty of a grasshopper munching on a leaf, a toddler inventing a game, or the birth of a galaxy. Despite war, violence, and tragedy, there is, as Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer assert “a hidden wholeness,” luring all things with the vision of beauty that is inherent in their nature and our own. When the author of Genesis says that humankind is created in the image of God, he or she is proclaiming that we reflect the beauty and wisdom of God.  But, not just humankind: the continuity of life characteristic of the evolutionary process suggests that we are part of a lively universe that gives us life and the ability to embody blessing and beauty in our lives. We are part of a beautiful universe that inspires and undergirds our own experiences of beauty.

Mother Teresa asserted that her mission was to do something beautiful for God and that the quest for beauty – to bless and be blessed – is the heart of the spiritual journey. We move from beauty to beauty and blessing to blessing as we travel the pathways of wholeness. There is no ultimate separation in the Way of Blessing between creature and Creator. God and the world dynamically interact in each moment and every event. God calls from within and from without and we respond, embodying this same divine holiness to greater or lesser degrees. Our love for our neighbors and the non-human world brings delight and beauty to God’s experience. We love God best by loving God’s ongoing creation in all its varied manifestations.

In the pathway of blessing, we discover that action and contemplation and ethics and spirituality complement one another in the lively interdependence of life. Our love for creation radiates across the universe and within God’s experience, and then returns to us the energy and inspiration of become agents of beauty and blessing in the world.

Abraham and Sarah, whose blessing is highlighted at the beginning of this essay, go on an adventurous journey and become participants in a blessing way that transforms the world. They are blessed to be a blessing and so are we. The energy of love that courses through us finds its fulfillment in flowing into the lives of others. This is the message of Jesus’ picture of the vines and branches. When we are consciously connected to the vine, and when our hearts, minds, spirits, and bodies are aligned with God’s dynamic vision, we experience great joy and bear fruit that nourishes others. In fact, we will discover that there are no “others.”  Unique though we are, we are one. We become persons of stature, for whom the well-being of others is joined with our own well-being. We become little Christs and Bodhisattvas whose compassion heals the Earth. As the Navajo prayer affirms, “in beauty it is finished!” In blessing, we are whole.

 

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).


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