The great thing about God’s love is that it’s not determined by the object.
God does not love us because we are good. God loves us because God is good.
It takes our whole lives for that to sink in, along with lots of trials and testing of divine love, because that’s not how human love operates.
Human love is largely determined by the attractiveness of the object.
When someone is nice, good, not high-maintenance, physically attractive, important, or has a nice personality, we find it much easier to give ourselves to them or to “like” them. That’s just the way we humans operate.
We naturally live in what I call the meritocracy of quid pro quo. We must be taught by God and grace how to live in an economy of grace. Divine love is a love that operates in a quite unqualified way, without making distinctions between persons and seemingly without such a thing as personal preference. Anyone who receives divine love feels like God’s favorite in that moment! We don’t even have the capacity to imagine such a notion until we have received it! Divine love is received by surrender instead of any performance principle whatsoever.
+Adapted from Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate…
Our image of God, our de facto, operative image of God, lives in a symbiotic relationship with our soul and creates what we become. Loving and forgiving people have always encountered a loving and forgiving God. Cynical people are cynical about the very possibility of any coherent or loving Center to the universe, so why wouldn’t they become cynical themselves?
When we encounter a truly sacred text, the first questions are often, “Did this literally happen just as it states? How can I be saved? What is the right thing for me to do? What is the dogmatic pronouncement here? Does my church agree with this? Who is right and who is wrong here?” These are largely ego questions. They are the questions we were trained to ask, because everybody else asks them, unfortunately! They are questions that try to secure our position, not questions that help us go on a spiritual path of faith and trust. They constrict us, whereas the purpose of the Sacred is to expand us.
Having read a sacred text, I would invite you to ponder these questions:
1. What is God doing here?
2. What does this say about who God is?
3. What does this say about how I can then relate to such a God?
+Adapted from A Teaching on Wondrous Encounters (Recording).
If we want to go to the mature, mystical, and non-dual levels of spirituality, we must first deal with the often faulty, inadequate, and even toxic images of God with which most people are dealing before they have authentic God Experience. Both God as Trinity and Jesus as the image of the invisible God reveal a God quite different than the Santa Claus god who made “naughty and nice” lists or an “I will torture you if you do not love me” god (worse than our worst enemy, I would think). We must be honest and admit that this is the god to which most people are still praying. Such images are an unworkable basis for any real spirituality.
Trinity reveals that God is the Divine Flow under, around, and through all things-much more a verb than a noun, relationship itself rather than an old man sitting on a throne. Jesus tells us that God is like a loving par- ent who runs toward us while we are “still a long way off” (Luke 15:20), then clasps and kisses us. Until this is personally experienced, most of Christianity does not work. This theme moves us quickly into practice- based religion (orthopraxy) over mere words and ideas (orthodoxy).
God’s revelations are always pointed, concrete, and specific. They come not from a Platonic world of ideas and theories about which we can be right or wrong or observe from a distance. Divine Revelation is not something we measure or critique. It is not an ideology, but a Presence we intuit and meet! It is more Someone than something.
All of this is called the “mystery of incarnation”-enfleshment or embodiment, if you prefer and for Christians it reaches its fullness in the incarnation of God in one ordinary looking man named Jesus. God materialized in human form so we could fall in love with a real person, which is the only way we fall in love at all. Walter Brueggemann called this clear Biblical pattern “the scandal of the particular.” We first get the truth in one specific, ordinary place and moment (like the one man, Jesus), and then we universalize from that to the universal truth (the cosmic Christ). Our Franciscan philosopher John Duns Scotus called this the principle of “thisness” (haecceity or haecceitas in Latin). We can only know in focused moments what is always and everywhere true.
+Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 17.
Wisdom is bright and does not grow dim… and is found by those who look for her. -Wisdom 6:12
Wisdom is not the gathering of more facts and information, as if that would eventually coalesce into truth. Wisdom is precisely a different way of seeing and knowing the ten thousand things in a new way. I suggest that wisdom is precisely the freedom to be truly present to what is right in front of you. Presence is wisdom! People who are fully present know how to see fully, rightly, and truthfully.
Presence is the one thing necessary for wisdom and, in many ways, it is the hardest thing of all. Just try to keep (1) your heart space open, (2) your mind without division or resistance, and (3) your body aware of where it is-all at the same time! Most religions just decided it was easier to believe doctrines and obey often-arbitrary laws than take on the truly converting work of being present. Those who can be present will know what they need to know, and in a wisdom way.
+Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 59-60.
By teaching “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1), the great teachers are saying that you cannot start seeing or understanding anything if you start with no. You have to start with a Yes of basic acceptance, which means not too quickly labeling, analyzing, or categorizing things as in or out, good or bad, up or down. You have to leave the field open, a field in which God and grace can move. Ego leads with no, whereas soul leads with Yes.
The ego seems to strengthen itself by constriction, by being against things, and it feels loss or fear when it opens. No always comes easier than Yes, and a deep, conscious Yes is the work of freedom and grace. So, the soul lives by expansion instead of constriction. Spiritual teachers want you to live by positive action, open field, and studied understanding, not by resistance, knee-jerk reactions, or defensiveness, and so they always say something like, “Do not judge,” which is merely a control mechanism.
Words and thoughts are invariably dualistic, but pure experience is always non-dualistic. You cannot really experience reality with the judgmental mind because you are dividing the moment before you give yourself to it. The judgmental mind prevents you from being present to the full moment by trying to divide and conquer. Instead, you end up dividing yourself and being conquered.
+Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, pp. 46-47, 49-50, and When Action Meets Contemplation (Recording).
The phrase “spirituality of subtraction” was inspired by Meister Eckhart, the medieval Dominican mystic. He wrote that the spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition. Yet, I think most Christians today are involved, in great part, in a spirituality of addition and, in that, they are not very traditional or conservative at all.
The capitalist worldview is the only one most of us have ever known. We see reality, experiences, events, other people, and things-in fact, every thing-as objects for our personal consumption. Even religion, Scripture, sacraments, worship services, and meritorious deeds become ways to advance ourselves—not necessarily ways to love God or neighbor.
The nature of the capitalist mind is that things (and often people!) are there for me. Finally, even God becomes an object for my consumption. Religion looks good on my resume, and anything deemed spiritual is a check on my private worthiness list. Some call it spiritual consumerism. It is not the Gospel.
Our word for God’s dramatic breaking beyond our ironclad rules is grace. Grace is God’s magnificent release from our self-made prisons and the only way that God’s economy can triumph over our deeply internalized merit badge system. Grace is the secret key whereby God offers to be the Divine Locksmith for every life and for all of history. Life, when lived fully, tends to tool and retool us until we eventually find some form of grace is necessary for our very survival and sanity. Without grace, almost everything human declines and devolves into smallness, hurt, and blame.
Grace humiliates our attempts at private virtue. Grace makes us feel powerless, where, before, we knew that if we did this, then we would earn that. Accepting grace can make us feel poor and empty and even useless. Who wants grace? Only sinners and almost no one else!
+From A Lever and a Place to Stand: The Contemplative Stance,
Father Richard makes a distinction between first-half-of-life and second-half-of-life spirituality:
Most cultures are first-half-of-life cultures, and even sadder, most organized religions almost necessarily sell a first-half-of-life spirituality. In the first half of life, it is all about me: How can I be important? How can I be safe? How can I make money? How can I look attractive? And, in the Christian scenario, how can I think well of myself and go to heaven? How can I be on moral high ground? These are all ego questions; they are not the questions of the soul. It is still well-disguised narcissism, or even sanctified narcissism, which is surely the worst kind.
I’m sad to say, I think many Christians have never moved beyond these survival and security questions. Even “wanting to go to heaven” is language for securing my future, not a shared future, or a common future for humanity; religion becomes a private insurance plan for that future. It’s still all about me, but piously disguised. It’s not really about love at all!
Any sense of being part of a cosmos, a historical sweep, or that God is doing something bigger and better than simply saving individual souls (my soul in particular), is largely of no interest. This becomes apparent in the common disinterest of so many when it comes to Earth care, building real community, simple living, and almost all peace and justice issues. For many Christians—stuck in the first half of life—all that is important is their private moral superiority and spiritual “safety,” which is somehow supposed to “save” them. It creates what I am now calling a “cult of innocence,” not any real human or divine solidarity. 
Once God and grace move us to the second half of life, religion becomes much more a mystical matter rather than a moral matter. Then it’s about union with all and participation in and with God. Indeed, this is the work of true religion: to help us transition from stage to stage, toward ever-deeper union with God and all things.
Those who fall into the safety net of silence find that it is not at all a fall into individualism. True prayer or contemplation is instead a leap into commonality and community. We know that what we are experiencing can only be held by the Whole and we are not alone anymore. We are merely a part, and as such a very grateful and totally satisfied part. This is “the peace the world cannot give” (see John 14:27).
Real silence moves us from knowing things to perceiving a Presence that imbues all things. Could this be God? When we begin to experience a mutuality between ourselves and all things, we have begun to understand the nature of Spirit. God refuses to be known as any kind of object, but only as a mutuality.
 The phrase “cult of innocence” was coined in a tweet by author and pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, and is explored in depth in Brian McLaren’s new book Do I Stay Christian?.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2016), 87–88, 208.
The first chapter of the Gospel according to John talks a lot about light. Light is a common theological metaphor throughout Scripture. John opens up his version of the events of Jesus’s life exploring this metaphor, and applying it to the coming of Jesus.
John the Baptist has come to “testify to the light” that was on its way. John’s witness is to point to “the true light, which enlightens everyone.” The divine light Jesus was going to be bringing into the world was such that no darkness would be able to overcome it.
When light and darkness are used as theological metaphors, they are often used to describe the concepts of belief and unbelief. “Light” describes believing; “darkness” describes unbelief. But it is a metaphor and as such it has its limits.
The limits of the metaphor really hit home for me when one of my seminary classmates explained why it really didn’t work for her to think about light and dark as a binary reality. Jen is legally blind. For her, being in a room that is lit typically actually makes it harder for her to see. Light at that level causes her pain. She needs the lights to be dimmed in order to see more clearly.
Hearing Jen talk about how the metaphor of light and darkness feels to her was very helpful for me. I still embrace and affirm the metaphor, but with a qualifier. Jen’s insight helped me realize a very important truth:
Everything we say about God is a metaphor.
As soon as we start talking about God we place limits on God’s identity, the limits of human language. Theology is an attempt to describe the indescribable. God is infinite, present everywhere at once, the creator of all that is and ever will be.
And so we embrace metaphor, and it is good! For yes indeed, the light has come into the world, and no darkness will ever overcome it.