In my inbox today, by coincidence when I’ve been doing keyword searches for ecumenical resources on Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, a copy of Richard Rohr’s summary of this week’s daily meditations on the theme “A Sacramental Reality.” One of those coincidences we’re reminded to look for in 12-step recovery? Sure looks like it. The encyclical isn’t mentioned by name, but Father Rohr quotes writers from different faith traditions breathe its spirit.
A best-selling Franciscan author and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, he has a mystical streak I deeply appreciate. In headnote to this week’s collection of meditations, he quotes a lovely passage by the late Canadian Ojibwe author Richard Wagamese:
Remember. Remember that Creator is the wind on my face, the rain in my hair, the sun that warms me. Creator is the trees, rocks, grasses, the majesty of the sky and the intense mystery of the universe. Creator is the infant who giggles at me in the grocery line, the beggar who reminds me how rich I really am, the idea that fires my most brilliant moment, the feeling that fuels my most loving act and the part of me that yearns for that feeling again and again. Whatever ceremony, ritual, meditation, song, thought or action it takes to reconnect to that feeling is what I need to do today … Remember.
Father Rohr’s focus this week was on the sacraments, specifically the Eucharist or Holy Communion, but the daily readings — from a variety of faith traditions — center on the essentially sacramental idea that the world, all of creation, is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.
All of which gives me plenty to think about as I try to wrap my head around Laudato Si’
In the daily meditations Rohr quotes extensively from Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who did so much to harmonize Christian and Buddhist teaching; Rachel Held Evans, the popular evangelical-turned-Episcopalian author from Tennessee; and John Chryssavgis, theologian and adviser to the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Istanbul on environmental issues:
- If Christ is the body of God, which he is, then the bread he offers is also the body of the cosmos. Look deeply and you notice the sunshine in the bread, the blue sky in the bread, the cloud and the great earth in the bread. . . . You eat it in such a way that you become alive, truly alive. —Thich Nhat Hanh
- This is the purpose of the sacraments, of the church—to help us see, to point to the bread and wine, the orchids and the food pantries, the post-funeral potlucks and the post-communion dance parties, and say: pay attention, this stuff matters; these things are holy. —Rachel Held Evans
- Just as the Spirit is the “air” that the whole world breathes, so too the earth is the “ground” which we all share. Were God not present in the density of a city, or in the beauty of a forest, or in the sand of a desert, then God would not be present in heaven either. So if, indeed, there exists today a vision that is able to transcend—perhaps transform—all national and denominational tensions, it may well be that of our environment understood as sacrament of the Spirit. The breath of the Spirit brings out the sacramentality of nature and bestows on it the fragrance of resurrection. —John Chryssavgis
Thich Nhat Hahn is known, among many other things, as the author of Living Buddha, Living Christ and a lifelong advocate of interfaith understanding. (He also wrote a 2021 book titled Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet that I’ll have to look for!) Rohr’s meditation quotes from his Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, a 1999 title in which he gives his take on the Eucharist:
The bread that Jesus handed to you, to us, is real bread, and if you can eat real bread you have real life. But we are not able to eat real bread. We only try to eat the word bread or the notion of bread. Even when we are celebrating the Eucharist, we are still eating notions and ideas. “Take, my friends, this is my flesh, this is my blood.” Can there be any more drastic language in order to wake you up? What could Jesus have said that is better than that? You have been eating ideas and notions, and I want you to eat real bread so that you become alive. If you come back to the present moment, fully alive, you will realize this is real bread, this piece of bread is the body of the whole cosmos.
Rachel Held Evans, who died in 2019 at the age of 37, is dear to my heart because we both started out writing for small-town daily newspapers in East Tennessee. Held Evans went on to win a Tennessee Press Association award for best humor column, and to write several best-sellers on her spiritual journey from an evangelical Protestant background to a more latitudinarian understanding that led her to the Episcopal church. Rohr quotes from her autobiographical Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church:
Indeed, the word sacrament is derived from a Latin phrase which means “to make holy.” When hit with the glint of love’s light, even ordinary things become holy. And when received with open hands in the spirit of eucharisteo [New Testament Greek: to give thanks], the signs and wonders of Jesus never cease. The 150-plus gallons of wine at Cana point to a generous God, a God who never runs out of holy things. This is the God who, much to the chagrin of Jonah, saved the rebellious city of Nineveh, the God who turned five loaves of bread and a couple of fish into a lunch to feed five thousand with baskets of leftovers to spare. This God is like a vineyard manager who pays a full day’s wage for just one hour of work, or like a shepherd who leaves his flock in search of a single lamb, or like a father who welcomes his prodigal son home with a robe, a ring, and a feast.
We have the choice, every day, to join in the revelry, to imbibe the sweet wine of undeserved grace, or to pout like Jonah, argue fairness like the vineyard employees, resent our own family like the prodigal’s older brother. […]
Or, Held Evans might have added, to destroy God’s creation.
John Chryssavgis is a widely published Greek Orthodox theologian, church historian and adviser to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople (Istanbul) on environmental issues. Rohr quotes from his 2019 book Creation as Sacrament: Reflections on Ecology and Spirituality, on the urgency of today’s crisis:
No matter how carefully [humans have] sought to foster material prosperity and self-sufficiency, it is now clear that grave “fissures” and “faults” have appeared on the face of the earth. … The image of God in creation has been shattered; the face of God on the world has been distorted; the integrity of natural life has been fragmented. Yet, it is precisely in this shattered world that we are called to discern the caring nature of the Creator and discover the sacramental nature of creation.
A lot to chew on — in all of this — with links, citations and Father Rohr’s suggestions for further reading on each of the daily meditations.
Cite: Richard Rohr, “A Sacramental Reality: Weekly Summary,” Daily Meditations, April 24 – April 29, 2022, Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque https://cac.org/themes/a-sacramental-reality/.
A footnote (of sorts). Here’s something that fits the subject but wasn’t part of Father Rohr’s mediation series. So I’m shirt-tailing it here (to use a term for tacking something on to the end of a story from back in the day when I was newspapering a couple of counties over from Rachel Held Evans’ paper in Rhea County, Tennessee). It’s a passage from “Towards Collective Action: A Buddhist View of Laudato Si” [sic, no apostrophe], by Jonathan S. Watts, research fellow of International Buddhist Exchange Center, Kodosan, Yokohama, undated but shortly after Laudato Si’ came out in 2015:
Having looked at ways that Christian and Buddhist understandings on the ecological crisis can augment each other, I would like to finish with clearly the most essential issue of collective action. Indeed, His Holiness speaks directly to this need to shift from well meaning individual actions on behalf of the environment to a major collective thrust needed to face this issue. I think a step that needs to be taken is an emphasis on the collective power of religious communities on local and regional levels to enact lifestyle shifts that take on greater impact because they are practiced on a social level. If you consider the existence of a temple, church, mosque, or some other religious facility in the majority of communities all over the world, the power of each of them acting along the line of an ecological gospel, as His Holiness and other concerned religious leaders have articulated, would be transformative, as well as offering a power check on the destructive forces of our global economic and political order.
Watts adds, by the way: “The International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), with which I have worked for over 25 years, is trying to develop such movements through the Interfaith Climate and Ecology (ICE) Network formed in 2012 through education, advocacy, networking, pilgrimage, and developing eco-temple communities.” Another correlation: Thich Nhat Hahn, in addition to his work with Buddhist-Christian dialog cited above, is widely credited with coining the term “engaged Buddhism” and popularizing it in the West.
Cite: Jonathan S. Watts, “Towards Collective Action: A Buddhist View of Laudato Si,” Social and Pastoral Bulletin, Dec. 15, 2016, Jesuit Social Center, Tokyo http://www.jesuitsocialcenter-tokyo.com/eng/?page_id=5370.
[Posted April 30]