compassionate listening

July 27, 2022 4 comments

Father Richard shares his experience of how challenging it is to hear each other without agenda or defensiveness:

Can we take responsibility for the fact that we push people to polarized positions when we do not (or will not) stand in the compassionate middle? I think of how often, during my talks, someone raises a hand and says, “I disagree with what you just said.” Often, they did not hear or understand what I said, and they don’t have the humility to ask, in a non-accusatory way: “Did I hear you correctly in saying . . . ?” or “What do you mean when you say . . . ?” Of course, sometimes I am wrong, but such a mentality does not encourage dialogue or mutuality. Unfortunately, my response also often suffers because of the negative energy generated. I am then defensive or biting my tongue to control my own judgments or desire to attack back. The result is a half response, at best, because the environment is not safe and congenial.

Responses of this sort are usually full of assumptions: “I did understand you. I know your motivation. I know what you’re trying to say. Therefore, I actually have the need and right to attack you.” Normally, neither person grows or expands in such a context. The truth is not well served, because neither individual feels secure, respected, or connected. Unfortunately, this has become the state of our public discourse.

Fortunately, there will always be people who have the grace and the ability to engage in reflective listening, to ask, “Richard, did I understand what you were saying?” and repeat back to me their perception of what I said. Normally then I can clarify, or perhaps admit that I have communicated poorly or am, in fact, incorrect. When we can listen and respond in that way, each person is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve as children of God. Each person feels heard, and misunderstandings are clarified compassionately.

Unfortunately, that is not the way the ego likes to work. Opposition gives us a sense of standing for something, a false sense of independence, power, and control. Compassion and humility don’t give us a sense of control or psychic comfort. We have to be willing to let go of our moral high ground and hear the truth that the other person may be speaking, even if it is only ten percent of what they are saying. Compassion and dialogue are essentially vulnerable positions. If we are into control and predictability, we will seldom descend into the vulnerability of undefended listening or the scariness of dialogue. If we are incapable of hearing others, we will also be incapable of hearing God. If we spend all day controlling and blocking others, why would we change when we kneel to pray?

—Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2001, 2020), 56–57.

You might have to read this more than once. There’s a lot going on in this teaching. The Body of Christ could use a serious download in this area. I’m certain I need it as much as the next person. There’s no easy in this. —MDP

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choice and love

July 14, 2022 4 comments

As many mystics and saints throughout history have said, God created because God needed something to love beyond the internal love of the Trinity. And then, to take this one step further, God created humans so that one species could love God back freely. Robots cannot love. Trees cannot love consciously, at least in the way we understand consciousness. Now set this parallel to your relationship with your own children. Your fondest desire, maybe at an unconscious level, if you consciously conceived a child, was to bring forth a love object. “I want to love this child in every way I can, and even hope that this child will love me in return. And the way I love them, paradoxically, becomes their empowerment to love me back. Now apply this pattern to God and us.

I think this is why the reproductive process is given to us in this unique and special way, precisely so that we can experience the reciprocal character of love. God is creating an object of love that God can totally give himself to, so that eventually we will be capable of freely loving God back in the same way. Humans are like two-way mirrors, both receiving and reflecting. Humans are like tuning forks that pick up a tone and hand it on as resonance.

+Adapted from The Cosmic Christ, Richard Rohr OFM

This is another way of understanding why freewill is so important to humanity. God continues to risk and trust us to choose (for ourselves) God… to serve God… to love God. Without freewill… any love  of God (even ours) is worthless and ultimately meaningless. Frankly, without choice… it’s something else altogether. —MDP

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no pushing

June 1, 2022 4 comments

This is one good thing that silence and waiting has taught me: our lives are always useable by God. We need not always be effective, but only transparent and vulnerable. Then we are instruments, no matter what we do. Silence is the ability to trust that God is acting, teaching, and using me—even before I perform or after my seeming failures. Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing.

God takes it from there, and there is not much point in comparing who is better, right, higher, lower, or supposedly saved. We are all partial images slowly coming into focus, as long as we allow and filter the Light and Love of God, which longs to shine through us—as us!

+Adapted from Contemplation in Action, by Richard Rohr OFM

Truly beautiful stuff here! Those words, “…without my pushing,” pretty much summarize the whole notion of Jesus’ words: “the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.” We struggle with taking our hands off of what we want, think, or certainly know. We probably need more silence… more listening… less talking… less stubborn demanding and insistence that we know better. I know that is definitely true for myself! —MDP

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pregnant with awful

May 18, 2022 4 comments

I’m knocking on your reality door again with another one of Brian Doyle’s contributions in his book One Long River of Song.  I’ve already told you what I think of him and this book he wrote.  When I read something like what I’m about to share with you, it makes me want to take all the people I really love and care about and just shake the crap out of them. Not because I’m better, smarter, perfect, or right, but because we’re not always paying attention (mea culpa) to the small things that are not very small at all. Even in marriage one plus one doesn’t make two! It makes one, and there are a lot of words said at weddings AND funerals that I’m not sure we understand very well in the moment. And… if we do grow into understanding, then it begs the question: are we serious about what we promised and cut covenant for? I wonder sometimes about you and me on this topic.

Okay, that’s enough from me.  Here’s Brian.  Thanks for checking in. —MDP

PS – I’ve cried every time I’ve read this.  Maybe more out of gratitude that my stupidity hasn’t marked my name in this story at this time in my life. —MDP


I know a guy whose wife fell in love with another man. She told him about it first thing in the morning on a summer day. She then went to start the coffee.

What did you do? I asked.

Just lay a bed, he said, listening to her puttering in the kitchen. Everyone thinks that awful comes by itself, but it doesn’t. It comes hand in hand with normal. No one talks about this. You’re watching the basketball game when the phone rings and you find out your grandfather didn’t wake up this morning. At the scene of the terrible car crash there’s a baseball glove that fell out of one of the cars. The awful is inside the normal. Like normal is pregnant with awful. We know this, but we don’t talk about it. The guy has a stroke at his desk, but no one knows because he has the door closed, which everyone takes as a sign he’s on it important call. I just lay a bed. It wasn’t heavy, like I couldn’t move or anything. It wasn’t dramatic. I was just listening. She got the coffee ready and I shuffled out and we had coffee and didn’t say anything. No words came to mind. That’s another thing no one says—that when you are completely shocked and horrified and broken and aghast, you don’t actually rage and weep and storm out of the house. Or at least I didn’t. Maybe some people do. But I don’t think so. I think probably most people are like me and just continue along, doing what they were going to do. I took a shower and got dressed and went to work. My brother says I must have been in shock, but I don’t know about that. I mean, I was shocked, sure I was. But I think it’s more that there had been a terrible car crash and I was noticing the normal. It was a Saturday, so the kids were sleeping in. I go to work on Saturdays, so I went to work. Lovely day, one of those days when you see dragonflies all day long. Dragonflies are very cool. People think you look for metaphors after something like that, but I think we just keep walking. That’s what I think. I mean, of course I thought about stuff like should we get divorced and how could she fall in love with another guy and how come she fell out of love with me, but mostly I thought about the kids. Sometimes I thought about the other guy, but not so much. I did wonder if we could ever get it together again, but not too much. I went to the bank and to pick up a suit at the tailor. I had a hard few moments there, because the tailor gave me an envelope with the stuff that had been in my suit pockets. This was my best suit, so I wore it for dates and weddings and wakes. There were a couple of Mass cards from funerals and wedding invites, but also there were two tampons just in case she needed them, and a photo of us at a wedding on the beach, and a ring our daughter had given me, one of those rings that you can make whistle. That rings nailed me. You would think it would be the photo of us beaming on the beach, but it was the ring.

A soldier friend of mine tells me the same thing happens when you are in a fight: that everything is normal, and then it isn’t, and then it’s normal again, except there are guys screaming or crumpled and not screaming. You get up cautiously from where you were kneeling, and you look around and everything’s just like it was a minute ago, coffee and dragonflies and the kids sleeping in, and then you just keep moving. It’s sort of boring, I guess, from a certain perspective.

—Brian Doyle One Long River of Song

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critique of compassion

May 4, 2022 5 comments


Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharoah, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context.

—From The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann

I have never considered this aspect of Jesus’ compassion. Considering his constant non-violent attack upon the blindness of the religious establishment, I think it’s prudent to concur with Brueggemann’s understanding on this. Anything we do that mirrors the nature and character of the Christ pretty much confronts that social “numbness,” ineffectiveness, and lethargy of institutional religion. Any “like Christ” witness very often exposes and looks very different to the norms and attitudes of religious churchmanship (which is a terrible sport). Actually, it might have everything to do with the chronic institutional shrinkage as a whole. —MDP

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the bullet

April 20, 2022 4 comments

My eldest daughter gave me a book for my birthday this past summer. I don’t think anyone has ever given me a “book” on my birthday that wasn’t signed by the author. But this one wasn’t signed because Brian Doyle (the author) died with a brain tumor in 2017 at the age of 60. Slowly and methodically, I have read his words, which convey much more than the actual thoughts on the page. I have loved every offering in Brian’s book, and it saddens me deeply that I did not know him personally. I think he would have been a great friend whom I would have loved very much. I ache to have shared a pint or two or three with him.

I’m putting up one of the short reflections in Brian’s book. I’ve gone back and forth about posting it because I realize how easily people are triggered around topics that have been politicized and used as a litmus test for “the love of God… and country.” I, for one, am not ignited by these kinds of partisan political passions. I’m trying really hard to live my life following something else… Someone else… a different “Way” in my life.  I’m no longer convinced that God is vested in any kind of political wing (especially the one we might favor OR claim as the “righteous side”). Honestly, I used to think that way, but not anymore.

This constant bickering, bullying, and demonizing of each other, all produced by mankind’s political opinion and/or lust for power and control… well, it’s so damn tiring.  So, I’ll stop with my shallow words and let you chew on Brian’s.

I offer this story only as a mix into your thinking. It’s not a statement. It’s not a directive. I’m driving from here to nowhere specific. I’m just thinking and wondering how we arrived to where we are. To be clear, I have people I love, children and grandchildren that I don’t want anywhere near the implications of this story. —MDP


Here’s a story. A man who was a soldier in the American army in Iraq tells it to me. A friend of his, one of his best and closest friends, was nearly pierced through by a bullet fired by a sniper. The bullet entered the friend’s upper right chest, just below the collarbone, and plowed almost through to the back, just below the shoulder blade. American surgeons removed the bullet and discovered it was a 5.56-millimeter cartridge manufactured in Lake City, Missouri. The Lake City Ammunition Plant was founded by the Remington Army Company in 1941. Today it is operated by Orbital Alliant Tech systems, which averages five billion dollars in sales annually. Half of the one hundred biggest weapons and ammunition manufacturers in the world are American companies. Orbital is one of these. Orbital sells 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition a year to the American army and to the armies of other nations around the world. Some of that ammunition is lost or stolen or shuffled clandestinely to all sorts of revolutionaries, criminals, gangs, and thugs, including some that call themselves freedom fighters or insurgents against economic and cultural imperialism, though in many cases they are actually fighting to impose their own chosen form of oppression and tinny empire on the people they live among, people whom they are not averse to slaughtering for advertising reasons.

So let us review: An American soldier, age twenty-two, is nearly pierced by a bullet made in America, sold for a profit in America by an American company that makes half a billion dollars a year selling bullets and other weaponry to armies all over the world. The vast majority of the companies make a tremendous profit every year selling bullets and weaponry all over the world are American. Most of them are publicly traded companies in which many other Americans are heavily invested. So the bullet that nearly pierced an American boy, a bullet that caused him enormous pain, a bullet that permanently affected the use of his arm and shoulder, the bullet that cut a scar on his chest that he will wear until the day he dies, was made in America, by American workers, and paid for by American investors who profited handsomely by the sake of the bullet that executed its purpose by punching a hole the size of a quarter almost all the way through a boy from America.

A 5.56-millimeter bullet can penetrate fifteen to twenty inches through “soft tissue”—soft tissue meaning, for example, a boy. The bullet is “prone to yaw,” which means that it skews easily from a direct path, and it is also liable to fragment at what is called the cannelure, a groove around the cylinder. When a bullet fragments on delivery, the fragments slice and tear and rip and shred everything in their path, including bone. A 5.56-millimeter bullet can punch nearly half an inch into steel, and punch right through a bulletproof vest, and punch right through a human being of any size and shape and age and nationality and gender and religion and sexual orientation and combatant status, or not.

Rarely does a writer speak bluntly, ahead of time, to people who will type furious outraged insults in the comment section, after his article is posted, but I will here and now.

Dear outraged shrieking lunatic, you who are about to lecture me on how this was just an accident, and how it’s a necessary part of the capitalist system, and how I am clearly a yellow liberal pansy: Are you stupid, or are you insane? What part of all this makes sense? What part of all this is not about profit? Why should America be the biggest weapons dealer on earth? Why do we lie about how this is directly linked to murders all over the world, and how our own kids suffer and die from American weapons and ammunition? Is profit share more important than the lives of uncountable thousands of people all over the world who die from our weapons and ammunition? Are there no other products that all those American employees could possibly design and manufacture? Really? Have you ever been nearly pierced through by a 5.56-millimeter bullet? No? Then how do you have the unmitigated gall to say anything to me, you pompous ass?

—From One Long River of Song by Brian Doyle

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how does one really love God?

March 30, 2022 4 comments

Ordinary Christianity has emphasized that we should love God. This makes sense, but do we really know how to do that? What I find in the mystics is an overwhelming experience of how God has loved us! That’s what comes through all of their writings, and I do mean ALL—that God is forever the aggressive lover, God is the protagonist, God is the one who seduces me out of my unworthiness. It’s all about God’s initiative! Then the mystics try desperately to pay back, to offer their lives back to the world, to the poor and rejected, and, thus, back to God. Love is repaid by love alone.

Mystics are not trying to earn God’s love by doing good things or going to church services. That question is already and profoundly resolved. The mystic’s overwhelming experience is the full body blow of divine embrace, a radical acceptance by God even in a state of fragmentation and poverty. That’s what makes it amazing and grace (see Romans 11:6).

+Adapted from “Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate… Seeing God in All Things” by Richard Rohr

The title of this article is “How Does One Really Love God?” I don’t know how often you and I consider such a question, but what the author offers here is profound. These strong reminders can really focus us AND release us from performance pressures at the same time. “God is forever the aggressive lover.” Amazing! Read it again. It’s really good. —MDP

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“be” prayer

March 16, 2022 Leave a comment

Most of us grew up saying prayers, reading prayers, or listening to others praying. Few of us were challenged to “be” prayer. There is a difference between a person who says prayers and a prayerful person. It is the difference between something we do and something we are.

Do you know someone who “is” a prayer? He or she is probably someone who views life in a different way than most—someone who seems to have found a way to be aware of God’s presence in an ongoing way.

We are called as Christ followers to be present in each moment in order to experience that God’s time and our time have intersected. We are called to practice the presence of God. It is this for which our hearts. yearn.

—Ron DelBene, “A Simple Way to Pray,” Weavings

DelBene is offering something here that few seldom consider. I would never discount anyone’s prayers.  In fact, how you pray is a personal privilege. Yet, I often wonder, how far do our prayers reach? Rhythms of systematic prayer can be very helpful in giving us a guideline on how to loosen the confines of restrictive time. But what Delbene is saying here is that our words in prayer are not more important than hearing God’s words in prayer. God has something to say to us despite our deepest and most dramatic longing to “inform” God with our prayers. There is another perspective, another way, another track that we might need to ponder in laying out our joys, concerns, and grievances. If we listen closely, we might find out that the splinters in our neighbors’ or our enemy’s eyes (the ones we want to make sure that God truly sees and understands) only look that way because of the planks and rods in our own eyes. Are we certain that we really understand all the intricacies of complex politics and human nature? Prayer that “hears” more than it “says” should often be challenging and changing our worldviews, our compassion levels, and building our thirst for relational unity and peace. Getting still in the presence of God should be sanding us down and rounding our edges. Yes, tell God your problems. But, wait around long enough to hear if you are part of those problems. —MDP

P.S. The ministry of intercession is a different animal altogether, and most true intercessors have been trained that hearing is paramount to speaking. Serious intercessors work hard to pray prayers that they sense are in alignment with the moving flow and will of the Spirit of God. Literally, it’s like praying the words of the Holy Spirit.

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March 1, 2022 12 comments

Sometimes you must go on record.  Sometimes… if not all the time… one needs to say what is real about the blessings and/or curses in your life.  This today is me being real about one of the great blessings in my life. God’s blessing can come like the fickle summer breeze, or it can be the deepest of bedrock for an entire lifetime. This blessing has been a constant since I was aware. Bobby Charles Reese, Jr, has always been that guy who has been more of a brother than a friend. Don’t get me wrong though, BCR has been my friend since we were toddlers. He and his family lived across the street from my family until we moved in 1965. But the bond was already forged and never let go.

BCR was the balance of equilibrium and the standard of who and what you could trust in almost every growth section of my life. Until Patti came along, we were pretty much inseparable. I can barely remember anything in my life before the age of 20 that didn’t include BCR. We were that close… that connected. Soul mates.  A friend who I loved… and still very much do.

Yesterday, I got the text that I knew was coming. BCR will now finish the rest of his days on this earth in a memory care facility in Central Texas (a couple of miles from where his Karon and he have their home). He’s 65 years young, and can no longer care for himself, for his family, or call my name if I walk into the room. He might or might not recognize me, but regardless, he’d hug my neck, smile, and act as if I’d made his day by dropping in to see him. When the dementia showed itself, it forced his early retirement from the Santa Fe railroad. BCR went to work for the railroad with just a few hours remaining to complete his degree from the University of Texas. Working for the railroad was the dream… so he quit school and went to work.

I’ve seen BCR multiple times since that retirement. He lives in Texas. I live in Colorado. Time together is easy anymore. The mental decline has been slow and brutal. Yet, BCR’s Karon has worn the cape and garments of care that lovers often do for their mates. As I said, I knew the time was close. As expected, BCR made the transition to his new residence without an ounce of pushback or agitation. Karon said, “he just rolled with it.”

I would tell you stories, but there’s too many. BCR was the best man at my wedding. I was the best man at his. He loved my kids. I love his. He loves my wife. I love his. He loves me. I love him. Those parts have not changed. Not in the least.

So here… now… today, I declare it again: Bobby Charles Reese, Jr., I love you. I have always loved you. Thank you for the role you’ve played in my life. Thank you for being my forever… faithful… loyal… friend. One of the greatest blessings of my life.


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those who risk everything…

February 23, 2022 Leave a comment

I believe that faith might be precisely and ability to trust the river, to trust the Flow and the Lover. It is a process that we don’t have to change, coerce, or improve, and is revealed in the notion of God as a Trinitarian relationship that flows unguarded! We only need to allow the Flow to flow—and through us. That takes immense confidence in God’s goodness, especially when we’re hurting. Usually, I can feel myself get panicky. I want to make things right, quickly. I lose my ability to be present, and I go up into my head and start obsessing. I am by nature goal-oriented, and many of us are, trying to push or even create the river—the river that is already flowing through me, with me, and in me (John 7:39).

The people who know God well—the mystics, the hermits, the prayerful people, those who risk everything to find God—always meet a lover, not a dictator. God is never found to be an abusive father or a manipulative mother, but a lover who is more than we dared hope for.

—Richard Rohr from Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer

… And when you pursue and find God, who do you meet? For as long as I’ve been a pastor and for as long as I’ve lived in spiritual community, I’ve rarely met people who see God as lover. That may be shocking to you, but it’s true. I have found that most people see God much more like a tv game host… “Let’s make a deal! You be good, and I’ll bless you. You be bad, and I’ll spoil your day.” Honestly, all that does is kill the relationship, intimacy, and trust. Perfect love casts out fear! (1 Jn 4:18) We must move beyond that gothic notion and understanding of God. Our God is Love. That’s enough to change everything… especially us. —MDP

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