“If you asked me what it is I know, I would be hard pressed to tell you. All I know is that there is a deep “okayness” to life—despite all the contradictions—which has become even more evident in the silence. Even when much is terrible, seemingly contradictory, unjust, and inconsistent, somehow sadness and joy are able to coexist at the same time. The negative value of things no longer cancels out the positive, nor does the positive deny the negative.
Whatever your personal calling or your delivery system for the world, it must proceed from a foundational “yes” to life. Your necessary “no” to injustice and all forms of un-love will actually become even clearer and more urgent in the silence, but now your work has a chance of being God’s pure healing instead of impure anger and agenda. You can feel the difference in people who are working for causes; so many works of social justice have been undone by people who do all the fighting from their small or angry selves.
If your prayer goes deep, your whole view of the world will change from fear and reaction to deep and positive connection—because you don’t live inside a fragile and encapsulated self anymore. In meditation, you are moving from ego consciousness to soul awareness, from being driven by negative motivations to being drawn from a positive source within.”–Richard Rohr
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.
Below is an excerpt adapted from Richard Rohr’s “Prophets Then, Prophets Now” (CD, MP3 download) and “Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer” (p 178).
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
Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (pp. 131-132) and Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, (p. 166)
“With the spiritual “gift of discernment” (1 Corinthians 12:10) you can understand on a whole new level what we mean when we say “God saves you,” because now you see with wisdom and truth. It is the birth of subtlety, discrimination, and compassionate seeing. You move beyond any notion that this or that correct action will get you to heaven. It means that when “your eye is single [or ‘sound’], your whole body will be filled with light” (Luke 11:34). When you see things non-dually, in their wholeness, and do not split between the false “totally good” and “totally bad,” you will grow up spiritually and begin to live honestly and wisely in this world.
Recognizing “the world, the flesh, and the devil” as the classic three sources of evil (and also the source of the “spiral of violence”)—(1) the world’s agreed-upon systems of self-congratulation and self-protection; (2) our individual sin, which is then inevitable; (3) the demonic legitimization of oppressive and destructive power by governments and institutions—can be a primary tool to help you discern what is truly good and what is often evil. Without discernment, many of us end up calling good evil and evil good, just as Isaiah predicted (5:20) and the murder of Jesus revealed. The proper sequencing is very important: if you nip the disguise of evil in the first stage of socially agreed-upon evil, the next two largely lose most of their power to fool you. The “flesh” and the “devil” are exposed for what they are.”–Richard Rohr, OFM
Adapted from Spiral of Violence: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Support the Center for Action and Contemplation.
“Leonard Cohen’s song, “Anthem,” states in the refrain: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” It sounds a lot like Paul’s statement about carrying “the treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). These are both much more poetic ways of naming what we unfortunately called “original sin”—a poor choice of words because the word sin implies fault and culpability, and that is precisely not the point! Original sin was trying to warn us that the flaw at the heart of all reality is nothing we did personally, but that there is simply “a crack in everything” and so we should not be surprised when it shows itself in us or in everything else. This has the power to keep us patient, humble, and less judgmental. (One wonders if this does not also make the point that poetry and music are a better way to teach spiritual things than mental concepts.)
The deep intuitions of most church doctrines are invariably profound and correct, but they are still expressed in mechanical and literal language that everybody adores, stumbles over, denies, or fights. Hold on for a while until you get to the real meaning, which is far more than the literal meaning! That allows you to creatively both understand and critique things—without becoming oppositional, hateful, arrogant, and bitter yourself. Some call this “appreciative inquiry” and it has an entirely different tone that does not invite or create “the equal and opposite reaction” of physics. The opposite of contemplation is not action; it is reaction. Much of the “inconsistent ethic of life,” in my opinion, is based on ideological reactions and groupthink, not humble discernment of how darkness hides and “how the light gets in” to almost everything. I hope I do not shock you, but it is really possible to have very “ugly morality” and sometimes rather “beautiful immorality.” Please think and pray about that.”–Richard Rohr, OFM
Adapted from Spiral of Violence: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil .
“Living in the communion of saints means that we can take ourselves very seriously (we are part of a Great Whole) and not take ourselves too seriously at all (we are just a part of the Great Whole!) at the very same time. I hope this frees you from any unnecessary individual guilt—and more importantly frees you to be full “partners in God’s triumphant parade” through time and history (2 Corinthians 2:14). You are in on the deal and, yes, the really Big Deal. You are all a very small part of a very Big Thing!”–Richard Rohr, ofm
Joan Chittister and the Erie Benedictine’s have put out a new book called Following the Path for all of us who are trying to navigate the second half of life as faithfully as we navigated the first half. Chittister’s newest, along with Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward, are two excellent guides for this season of life.
“The only man I know who behaves sensibly,” George Bernard Shaw wrote, “is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.”
Sometime in the early middle of life, we wake up one morning to discover that our measurements have changed. What we have been doing for years, we begin to realize, simply does not fit us anymore. We have outgrown the young life that we thought would go on forever and have found within us a whole new person. Worse, we find ourselves lodged in a life we no longer find stimulating or satisfying or exciting. We are unfamiliar—even to ourselves. We find that we are living some kind of creeping death, sloughing off what fit us in the past, in the old life we thought we loved, and unable to find a new way to fit into our present.
The feelings that come with the realization are overwhelming. One part guilt, one part fear, they make us ill in soul. We know what we cannot admit. If we do not stay as we are, we will feel forever unfaithful. If we force ourselves to stay as we are, we will go to dust inside.
There is so much at stake now. So much life behind us has been invested in what we now find to be lifeless. And yet there is so much life left to live. How can we possibly live it like this? And where did we go wrong? What happened to our commitment to the life decision we made in an earlier life? And what is at the root of this shift of centeredness: a lack of the kind of personal responsibility that sees a thing through? Immaturity? A lack of focus? What?
And the usual answer is “none of the above.”
Assuming that tomorrow will be the same as today is poor preparation for living. It equips us only for disappointment or, more likely, for shock. To live well, to be mentally healthy, we must learn to realize that life is a work in process.–Joan Chittister, OSB
From Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy by Joan Chittister
“The task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and to answer the first essential questions: “What makes me significant?”, “How can I support myself?”, and “Who will go with me?” As Mary Oliver puts it, “. . . what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (“The Summer Day”). The container is not an end in itself, but exists for the sake of your deeper and fullest life, which you largely do not know about yourself! Far too many people just keep doing repair work on the container itself and never “throw their nets into the deep” (John 21:6) to bring in the huge catch that awaits them.
Problematically, the first task invests so much of our blood, sweat, eggs and sperm, tears and years that we often cannot imagine there is a second task, or that anything more could be expected of us. “The old wineskins are good enough” (Luke 5:39), we say, even though according to Jesus they often cannot hold the new wine. According to Jesus, if we do not get some new wineskins, “the wine and the wineskins will both be lost” (Luke 5:37).”–Richard Rohr, ofm
Adapted from Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (pp. 1-2)
We had an excellent sermon preached at Sojourners last month by Sarabeth Goodwin from the Episcopal Church St. Stephen and the Incarnation. She framed her reflections with stories of sorting through boxes and boxes of paper in her study, trying to decide what to keep and what to let go. It made me realize what a contest with the personal ego this process is! On the flip side, for me, when I’m anguishing about holding on to notes I took at a lecture in 1981, then it is a clear signal of an opportunity to embrace change and release the private ego. Here’s Richard Rohr on a similar topic:
“Once Jesus’ great and good news became a reward-punishment system that only checked into place in the next world instead of a transformational system in this world, Christianity in effect moved away from a religion of letting go and became a religion of holding on. Religion’s very purpose for many people was to protect the status quo of empire, power, war, money, and the private ego. So in many ways, we have not been a force for liberation, peacemaking, or change in the world. One thing for sure is that healthy religion is always telling us to change instead of giving us ammunition to try to change others. Authentic Christianity is a religion of constantly letting go of the false self so the True Self in God can stand revealed—now.”–Richard Rohr, OFM
Adapted from The Art of Letting Go
“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)