A few weeks ago, Franciscan Richard Rohr stopped by the Sojourners offices. It’s been several years since I’ve seen him and it was great to reconnect. He spent some quality time with our Sojourners’ pastor, Juba, a rescued pound pup with an incredibly joyous disposition.
Richard spoke with us about the nature of a contemplative life and laying down dualistic thinking, the binary mind. This is something that didn’t really make sense to me when I was younger, but now I’m beginning to glimpse a way into it.
A paradox is something that initially looks like a contradiction, but if you go deeper with it and hold it longer or at a different level, it isn’t necessarily so. Holding out for a reconciling third, a tertium quid, allows a very different perspective and gives a different pair of eyes beyond mere either/or. You’d think Christians would have been prepared for this. Notice that Jesus in many classic icons is usually holding up two fingers as if to say, “I hold this seeming contradiction together in my one body!” Jesus is the living paradox, which, frankly, confounds and disturbs most of us. Normally humans identify with only one side of any seeming contradiction (“dualistic thinking” being the norm among humans). For Jesus to be totally human would logically cancel out the possibility that he is also totally divine. And for us to be grungy human beings would cancel out that we are children of God. Only the mystical, or non-dual mind, can reconcile such a creative tension.
That’s why Jesus is our icon of transformation! That’s why we say we are saved “in him.” We have to put together what Jesus put together. The same reconciliation has to take place in my soul. I have to know that I am a son of earth and a son of heaven. You have to know that you are a daughter of God and a daughter of earth at the same time, and they don’t cancel one another out.
All of creation has a cruciform pattern of loss and renewal, death and resurrection, letting go and becoming more. It is a “coincidence of opposites” (St. Bonaventure), a collision of cross-purposes waiting for resolution–in us. We are all filled with contradictions needing to be reconciled. The price we pay for holding together these opposites is always some form of crucifixion. Jesus himself was crucified between a good thief and a bad thief, hanging between heaven and earth, holding on to both his humanity and his divinity, a male body with a feminine soul. Yet he rejected neither side of these forces, but suffered them all, and “reconciled all things in himself” (Ephesians 2:10).–Richard Rohr, OFM
Today’s meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation was helpful for me in remembering my ongoing need to realign myself with the essential Love that is the core of Christ – and not projections of myself in the fun-house mirrors of this world. Richard Rohr writes:
“We all identify with our idealized persona so strongly when we are young that we become masters of denial and learn to eliminate or deny anything that doesn’t support it. Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not know it. Our shadow self makes us all into hypocrites on some level. Remember, hypocrite comes from the Greek for “actor,” someone playing a role rather than being “real.” We are all in one kind of a closet or another and are even encouraged by society to play our roles. Until grace is fully triumphant we are all hypocrites of sorts.
Usually everybody else can see your shadow, so it is crucial that you learn what everybody else knows about you—except you! The moment you become whole and holy is when you can accept your shadow self, or, to put it in moral language, when you can admit your sin. Basically you move from unconsciousness to consciousness by a deliberate struggle with your shadow self. There needs to be a struggle, it seems, and usually many of them.
The saint is precisely one who has no “I” to protect or project. His or her “I” is in conscious union with the “I AM” of God, and that is more than enough. Divine union overrides any need for self-hatred or self-promotion. Such people do not need to be perfectly right, and they know they cannot be anyway, so they just try to be in right relationship. In other words, they try above all else to be loving.
Love holds you tightly and safely and always. It gives you the freedom to meet the enemy and know the major enemy is “me,” as the old comic character Pogo said. But you do not hate “me” either; you just see through and beyond “me.” Shadow work literally saves you from yourself (your False Self, that is), which is the foundational meaning of salvation. For then “You too (your True Self) will be revealed in all your glory with him” (Colossians 3:3-4).”–Richard Rohr, ofm
“I’m told that the word “nonviolence” did not exist (at least in the English and German languages) until the 1950s. There’s a reason for that: the notion didn’t exist in our consciousness. We didn’t create a word for it because we didn’t get it yet! When Gandhi came along, he pointed out that every religion in the world knows that Jesus of Nazareth taught and lived nonviolence except one religion—Christianity. In very short order, after Gandhi, this became obvious to many wise people throughout the world.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was the one who most influenced our American culture regarding nonviolence. That’s why I speak of it as a recovery of nonviolence. We had it, but we couldn’t hear it, especially after Christianity became the imperial religion. When you’re imperial, you can’t hear any talk of nonviolence. You have to be violent to be an empire. So after 313 AD, we pretty much lost the nonviolent teaching of Jesus and it was not recovered until the twentieth century. It’s sort of unbelievable, but in between, nonviolence was almost universally forgotten, denied, or ignored as Christianity needed to justify its own violence.”–Richard Rohr, OFM (Adapted from Fr. Richard’s teachings on his lineage)
Richard Rohr reminds me that no matter how hard I fight with my brothers and sisters (of late, it’s been the U.S. Catholic bishops) that it should never be in such a way that I wouldn’t sit down to dinner with them when Jesus issues the invitation.
“When we start making the Eucharistic meal something to define membership instead of to proclaim grace and gift, we always get in trouble; that’s been the temptation of every denomination that has the Eucharist. Too often we use Eucharist to separate who’s in from who’s out, who’s worthy from who’s unworthy, instead of to declare that all of us are radically unworthy, and that worthiness is not even the issue. If worthiness is the issue, who can stand before God? Are those who receive actually saying they are “worthy”? I hope not. It is an ego statement to begin with.
The issue is not worthiness; the issue is trust and surrender or, as Thérèse of Lisieux said, “It all comes down to confidence and gratitude.” I think that explains the joyous character with which we so often celebrate the Eucharist. We are pulled into immense gratitude and joy for such constant and unearned grace. It doesn’t get any better than this! All we can do at Eucharist is kneel in gratitude and then stand in confidence. (Actually, St. Augustine said that the proper Christian posture for prayer was standing, because we no longer had to grovel before such a God or fear any God that is like Jesus.)”–Richard Rohr, ofm
We don’t teach meditation to the young monks. They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors.–Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966
The piercing truth of this statement struck me as a perfect way to communicate the endless disguises and devices of the false self. There is no more clever way for the false self to hide than behind the mask of spirituality. The human ego will always try to name, categorize, fix, control, and insure all its experiences. For the ego everything is a commodity. It lives inside of self-manufactured boundaries instead of inside the boundaries of the God-self. It lives out of its own superior image instead of mirroring the image of God.
The ego is constantly searching for any solid and superior identity. A spiritual self-image gives us status, stability, and security. There is no better way to remain unconscious than to baptize and bless the forms of religion, even prayer itself, instead of surrendering to the Substance Itself. First stop slamming doors, and then you can begin in the kindergarten of spirituality. Too many priests, bishops, and ministers are still slamming doors.
In the name of seeking God, the ego pads and protects itself from self-discovery, which is an almost perfect cover for its inherent narcissism. I know this because I have done it all myself.–Richard Rohr, OFM
It’s the feast day of Julian of Norwich, great mystic and theologian of the church. I’m grateful to Richard Rohr for his reflections below:
At this time in history, the contemporary choice offered most Americans is between unstable correctness (liberals) and stable illusion (conservatives)! What a choice! It has little to do with real transformation in either case. How different from the radical orthodoxy of T. S. Eliot, who can say in Little Gidding,
You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel…
There is a third way, and it probably is a way of “kneeling.” Most people would just call it “wisdom.” It demands a transformation of consciousness and a move beyond the dualistic win/lose mind of both liberals and conservatives. An authentic God encounter is the quickest and truest path to such wisdom, which is always non-dual consciousness and does not take useless sides on non-essential issues.
Neither expelling nor excluding (conservative temptation), nor perfect explaining (liberal temptation) is our task. True participation in God liberates us from our control towers and for the compelling and overarching vision of the Reign of God—where there are no liberals or conservatives. Here, the paradoxes—life and death, success and failure, loyalty to what is and risk for what needs to be—do not fight with one another, but lie in an endless embrace. We must penetrate behind them both—into the Mystery that bears them both. This is contemplation in action.
Read my favorite mystic, Julian of Norwich (1342-1420), and she will show you how to be a most traditional Christian, while breaking all the rules and orthodox ideas at the very same time. On the night of May 8, 1373, God “showed himself” to her and it took her more than twenty years to unpackage the experience. This English laywoman well deserves to be a doctor of spirituality. Her Revelations of Divine Love is a bottomless well of wisdom, love, and truth, and one of the few books I could return to every month and find something new—which, for me, is a sign of perennial and radical orthodoxy.–Richard Rohr, ofm
Please keep me in your prayers as I prepare myself for tomorrow’s Tar Sands Action at the White House. It will likely end in a “very civil civil disobedience,” as Bill McKibben says – and arrest. To date, 381 people have been arrested. Monday’s “religious contingent” will likely be the largest group yet. I’m grateful to be able to live my “Christian lifestyle” out loud in this way – to take a small political risk for the gospel.
It seems to me that it is a minority that gets the true and full gospel. We just keep worshiping Jesus and arguing over the right way to do it. The amazing thing is that Jesus never once says “worship me!” He says, “follow me” (e.g., Matthew 4:19).
Christianity is a lifestyle—a way of being in the world that is simple, nonviolent, shared, and loving. However, we made it into a clever “religion,” in order to avoid the lifestyle itself. One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain, and still believe that Jesus is their “personal Lord and Savior.” The world has no time for such silliness anymore. The suffering on Earth is too great.
The “Thomas Mass” was first created in Helsinki, Finland in 1988 by a collection of ministers of various denominations, artists, musicians, and civic leaders (hence it is not really a “Mass,” in the official Catholic sense). They wanted to create a prayerful service that would again fill their cathedral, but with seekers, searchers, and believers alike. They recognized that much of Europe had become a continent of skeptics, and so they named the service after St. Thomas “the Doubter.”
After an initial attempt to create an ecumenical and new liturgy, they realized that it basically had the structure of the historic Catholic Mass. It immediately began to spread across Europe. The Thomas Mass avoids the usual denominational turf, arguments, and leadership, while still offering a deeply sacramental structure where disparate groups can gather in a faith-filled way.
It retrieves the historic meaning of the very word “liturgy” as a collective work of the people. One of the strengths of the Thomas Mass is that it emphasizes full participation instead of mere listening or “attendance.” It was a wonderful experience.