Making Light of God; A Metaphor by Rev. Andy Bryan

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.

Ever-Widening Circles

Father Richard describes his spiritual development as a “pilgrim’s progress,” with God using the circumstances of his life—particularly his international ministry and travel—to expand his vision, heart, and mind:

As I moved in ever-widening circles around the world, the solid ground of the perennial tradition never really shifted. It was only the lens, the criteria, the inner space, and the scope that continued to expand. I was always being moved toward greater differentiation and larger viewpoints, and simultaneously toward a greater inclusivity in my ideas, a deeper understanding of people, and a more honest sense of justice. God always became bigger and led me to bigger places. If God could “include” and allow, then why not I? If God asked me to love unconditionally and universally, then it was clear that God operated in the same way.

Soon there was a much bigger world for me than the United States and the Roman Catholic Church, which I eventually realized also contained paradoxes. The e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”) on American coinage did not include very many of its own people (women, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ people, poor folks, people with disabilities, and so many more). As a Christian I finally had to be either Roman or catholic, and I continue to choose the catholic end of that spectrum—remember, catholic means universal. Either Jesus is the “savior of the world” (John 4:42), or he is not much of a savior at all. Either America treats the rest of the world and its own citizens democratically, or it does not really believe in democracy at all. That’s the way I see it.

But this slow process of transformation and the realizations that came with it were not either-or decisions; they were great big both-and realizations. None of it happened without much prayer, self-doubt, study, and conversation. The journey itself led me to a deepening sense of holiness, freedom, and wholeness. Although I didn’t begin thinking this way, I now hope and believe that a kind of second simplicity is the very goal of mature adulthood and mature religion.

My small, personal viewpoint as a central reference for anything, or for rightly judging anything, gradually faded as life went on. The very meaning of the word universe is to “turn around one thing.” I know am not that one thing. There is Big Truth in this universe, and it certainly isn’t mine.

Mature religions, and now some scientists, say that we are hardwired for the Big Picture, for transcendence, for ongoing growth, for union with ourselves and everything else. Either God is for everybody, and the divine DNA is somehow in all creatures, or this God is not God by any common definition, or even much of a god at all. We are driven toward ever higher levels of union and ability to include, even if some of us go kicking and screaming. “Everything that rises must converge,” as Teilhard de Chardin put it. [1]

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, trans. Norman Denny (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 192.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2011), 107–109.

A WARNING TO RELIGION FROM THE GARDEN OF EDEN – Richard Rohr

The sin warned against at the very beginning of the Bible is “to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). It does not sound like that should be a sin at all, does it? But the moment I sit on my throne, where I know with certitude who the good guys and the bad guys are, then I’m capable of great evil-while not thinking of it as evil! I have eaten of a dangerous tree, according to the Bible. Don’t judge, don’t label, don’t rush to judgment. You don’t usually know other people’s real motives or intentions. You hardly know your own.

The author of the classic book The Cloud of Unknowing says that first you have to enter into “the cloud of forgetting.” Forget all your certitudes, all your labels, all your explanations, whereby you’ve put this person in this box, determined this group is going to heaven, decided this race is superior to that race. Just forget it. It’s largely a waste of time. It’s usually your ego projecting itself, announcing itself, and protecting itself. It has little to do with objective reality or real love of the truth.

If the world and the world’s religions do not learn this kind of humility and patience very soon, I think we’re in historical trouble.

+Adapted from Beginner’s Mind (Recording).

The River of Grace – Richard Rohr

Father Richard teaches that a practice of contemplation carries us into the “Big River” of God’s love and enables us to release our fears.  

Grace and mercy teach us that we are all much larger than the good or bad stories we tell about ourselves or one another. Our small, fear-based stories are usually less than half true, and therefore not really “true” at all. They’re usually based on hurts and unconscious agendas that persuade us to see and judge things in a very selective way. They’re not the whole You, not the Great You, and therefore not where Life can really happen. No wonder the Spirit is described as “flowing water” and as “a spring inside you” (John 4:10–14) or as a “river of life” (Revelation 22:1–2).  

I believe that faith might be precisely that ability to trust the Big River of God’s providential love, which is to trust its visible embodiment (the Christ), the flow (the Holy Spirit), and the source itself (the Creator). This is a divine process that we don’t have to change, coerce, or improve. We just need to allow it and enjoy it. That takes immense confidence in God, especially when we’re hurting. Often, we feel ourselves get panicky and quickly want to make things right. We lose our ability to be present and go up into our heads and start obsessing. At that point we’re not really feeling or experiencing things in our hearts and bodies. We’re oriented toward making things happen, trying to push or even create our own river. Yet the Big River is already flowing through us and each of us is only one small part of it. 

Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing; we are already in it. This is probably the deepest meaning of “divine providence.” So do not be afraid. We have been proactively given the Spirit by a very proactive God.  

Ask yourself regularly, “What am I afraid of? Does it matter? Will it matter in the great scheme of things? Is it worth holding on to?” We have to ask whether it is fear that keeps us from loving. Grace will lead us into such fears and emptiness, and grace alone can fill them, if we are willing to stay in the void. We mustn’t engineer an answer too quickly. We mustn’t get settled too fast. We all want to manufacture an answer to take away our anxiety and settle the dust. To stay in God’s hands, to trust, means that we usually have to let go of our attachments to feelings—which are going to pass away anyway. People of deep faith develop a high tolerance for ambiguity and come to recognize that it is only the small self that needs certitude or perfect order all the time. The Godself is perfectly at home in the River of Mystery.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, rev. ed. (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2003), 142–144. 

INCARNATIONALISM – Richard Rohr

Pure, unspoiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father, is this: to come to the help of orphans and widows when they need it and to keep free from the enticements of the system. -James 1:27

Whenever the human and the divine coexist, at the same time, in the same person, you have Christianity. I don’t know that it finally matters what Scriptures you read, liturgies you attend, or moral positions you hold about this or that, as much as it is how you live trustfully inside of God’s one world. This creates honest people, people who don’t waste time proving they’re right, superior, or saved. They just try to live and love the daily mystery that they are in the loving presence of God. “God comes to you disguised as your life,” as Paula D’Arcy proclaimed the first time we taught together. Imagine that!

There are basically four worldviews: (1) reality is just matter, (2) reality is just spirit, (3) through religion and morality, you can work to put matter and spirit together (the most common religious position), and (4) the mate rial world has always been the place where Spirit is revealed. You cannot put them together they already are together, as in Jesus. Only the fourth position, incarnationalism, deserves to be called authentic Christianity. It has little to do with the right rituals, only the right reality.

+Adapted from Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation (Recording). – Richard Rohr

Nothing Stands Alone – 2022 Daily Meditations

I have been reading these daily meditations from the Center for Action and Contemplation for over five year now. It is usually, the first thing I read every morning. What a great way to start the day! This year’s theme is perfect for this COVID chaos period. I hope you will join me on this journey – since indeed – Nothing Stands Alone.

Grace and Peace,

Brian

In the 2022 Daily Meditations, Father Richard Rohr invites you on a journey of understanding God as Relationship—with ourselves, each other, and the earth—through the theme of Nothing Stands Alone.

What could happen if we embraced the idea of God as relationship—with ourselves, each other, and the earth? Could salvation simply be the willingness to remain in loving relationship with all creation? We will explore these questions and more in the 2022 theme for Daily Meditations, Nothing Stands Alone.

Over the next twelve months we will explore how relationship itself invites us to experience God’s presence in ourselves and each other. Fr. Richard calls this “participating in the wholeness of the Body of Christ.”

“Our sense of disconnection is only an illusion. Nothing human can stop the flow of divine love; we cannot undo the eternal pattern even by our worst sin.”

–RICHARD ROHR

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God Has No Grandchildren, Only Children – Richard Rohr

Jesus practically begs for some trust from his disciples, even after they’ve witnessed his miracles and heard his profound teaching. He eventually puts this question to them: “Who do you say that I am?” Don’t give me your theologies. Who is the Jesus you know? That’s the only Jesus that can really touch you and liberate you. Finally, Peter responds, “You are the Christ!” and Jesus gives him strict orders not to tell anyone (Mark 8:29-30). Why? Because each one of us has to walk the same journey of death and doubt for ourselves and come out the other side, enlarged by love.


No one can do this homework for us. Every generation has to be converted anew and the Gospel has to always be preached in new contexts and cultures in ways that are good news to that time and people. Yes, institutions and denominations are necessary and somehow inevitable, but when they imagine that they can prepackage the message in eternal formulas and half-believed (half-experienced?) doctrines and Scriptures, they often become their own worst enemy. Too many people join a club instead of going on a journey toward God, love, or truth.


+Adapted from The Four Gospels (Recording).

Expansive Questions, Not Constrictive Answers – Richard Rohr

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).

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world
of sin and doubt. To a world like ours,
of anguished shame He came, and
his Light would not go out. 

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal it’s tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

by Madeleine L’Engle
Christmas star of the Nativity of Bethlehem, Nativity of Jesus Christ. Background of the beautiful dark blue starry sky and bright star.

Trusting Our Inner Experience

Father Richard Rohr elaborates on Carl Jung’s teaching on the importance of inner experience as the only pathway to transformation.

Carl Jung wanted to bring externalized religion back to its internal foundations. He saw how religion kept emphasizing the unbridgeable distance between the Creator and creation, God and humanity, inner and outer, the one and the many. In spite of creation’s ecological unity (Genesis 1:9–31), Christianity too often began by emphasizing the problem of separation (“original sin”) instead of beginning with the wonderful unity between creation and Creator.

Except for the experience of many saints and mystics, religion has greatly underemphasized any internal, natural resonance between humans and God. This gives us clergy an almost impossible job! First, we must remind everyone that they are “intrinsically disordered” or sinful—which then allows us to just happen to have the perfect solution. It is like a vacuum cleaner seller first pouring dirt on the floor to show how well this model works. As if the meaning of this beautiful universe could start with a foundational problem!

Christianity rarely emphasized the plausibility or power of inner spiritual experience. Catholics were told to believe the pope, the bishops, and the priests. Protestants were told to believe the Bible. The Catholic version has fallen apart with the pedophilia crisis worldwide; Protestantism’s total reliance on preaching the Bible has been undone by postmodern worldviews. But both Catholics and Protestants made the same initial mistake, I’m sorry to say. It’s all about trusting something outside of ourselves. We gave people answers that were extrinsic to the soul and dismissed anything known from the inside out. “Holiness” largely became a matter of intellect and will, instead of a deep inner trust with an inner dialogue of Love. It made us think that the one with the most willpower wins, and the one who understands things the best is the beloved of God—the opposite of most biblical heroes. We’ve been gazing at our own “performance” instead of searching for the Divine in us and in all things. 

We must begin with a foundational “yes” to who we are and to what is (Reality). This is mature religion’s primary function. It creates the bedrock foundation for all effective faith. If we begin with a problem, the whole journey remains largely a negative problem-solving exercise that never ends. We’re left with inherently argumentative and competitive Christianity.

If we begin with the positive, and get the issue of core identity absolutely clear, the rest of the journey—even though it isn’t always easy—is by far more natural, more beautiful, more joyful and all-inclusive. What else should the spiritual journey be? When we start in the basement, most people never believe they can even get to the first floor, and they just opt out. Isn’t this obvious at this point in Christian history? Sadly, we clergy became angry guards instead of joyful guides, policing dogma instead of proclaiming the Great Gift which is perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed at the heart of all creation from the very beginning.