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.

The Sacred Wound

Richard Rohr

Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing that we must go down before we even know what up is. It is first an ordinary wound before it can become a sacred wound. Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as whenever we are not in control.

All healthy religion shows us what to do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it. If our religion is not showing us how to transform our pain, it is junk religion. It is no surprise that a crucified man became the central symbol of Christianity.

If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter because we will be wounded. That is a given. All suffering is potentially redemptive, all wounds are potentially sacred wounds. It depends on what we do with them. Can we find God in them or not?

If there isn’t some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somehow in it and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down, and the second half of our lives will, quite frankly, be small and silly.

+Adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 25.

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.

A Lectio Divina for Today’s Christians by Richard Rohr

Read the following passage slowly and aloud four times. With the first reading, listen with your heart’s ear for a phrase or word that stands out for you. During the second reading, reflect on what touches you, perhaps speaking that response aloud or writing in a journal. Third, respond with a prayer or expression of what you have experienced and what it calls you to. Fourth, rest in silence after the reading.

The Shining Word “And”

“And” teaches us to say yes
“And” allows us to be both-and
“And” teaches us to be patient and long-suffering
“And” is willing to wait for insight and integration
“And” does not divide the field of the moment
“And” helps us to live in the always imperfect now
“And” keeps us inclusive and compassionate toward everything
“And” demands that our contemplation become action
“And” insists that our action is also contemplative
“And” is the mystery of paradox in all things
“And” is the way of mercy
“And” makes daily, practical love possible

Adapted from The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See,
pp. 180-181 – Fr. Richard Rohr

NOTE: “In ChristianityLectio Divina (Latin for divine reading) is a traditional Benedictinepractice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word.[1] It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word.” – Wikipedia

 

Only Love Can Handle the Truth – Richard Rohr

Fr. Rohr’s daily meditations play an important part in my faith formation – this one stands out among the rest.  A third way – standing in between – embracing the mystery that comes with being mere human.  There is no such thing as “real truth, real quick”.  This is what being a blessed fool is all about.

The contemplative mind does not need to prove anything or disprove anything. It’s what the Benedictines called a Lectio Divinaa reading of the Scripture that looks for wisdom instead of quick answers. It first says, “What does this text ask of me? How can I change because of this story?” And not “How can I use this to prove that I am right and others are wrong or sinful?”

The contemplative mind is willing to hear from a beginner’s mind, yet also learn from Scripture, Tradition—and others. It has the humility to move toward Yes/And thinking and not all-or-nothing thinking. It leads to a “Third Way,” which is neither fight nor flight, but standing in between—where I can hold what I do know together with what I don’t know. Holding such a creative tension with humility and patience leads us to wisdom instead of easy answers which largely create opinionated and smug people instead of wise people. We surely need wise people now, who hold their truth humbly and patiently.