[I will be adding each day a new thought, as published by Fr. Rohr.]
We don’t come to God (or truth or love) by insisting on some ideal worldly order or so-called perfection, but in fact we come “to knowledge of salvation by the experience of forgiveness” (Luke 1:77)—of reality, of others, of ourselves. One reason why I am so attracted to Jesus and then to Francis is that they found God in disorder, in imperfection, in the ordinary, and in the real world—not in any idealized concepts. They were more into losing than winning. But the ego does not like that, so we rearranged much of Christianity to fit our egoic pattern of achievement and climbing.
Isn’t it strange that Christians worship a God figure, Jesus, who appears to be clearly losing by every criterion imaginable? And then we spend so much time trying to “win,” succeed, and perform. We even call Jesus’ very “losing” the redemption of the world. I think Christians have yet to take that message seriously. Religion has largely become “holding on” instead of letting go. God, it seems to me, does the holding on (to us!), and we must learn the letting go.
It is good to remember that a part of you has always loved God. There is a part of you that has always said yes. There is a part of you that is Love itself, and that is what we must fall into. It is already there. Once you move your identity to that level of deep inner contentment, you will realize you are drawing upon a Life that is much larger than your own and from a deeper abundance. Once you learn this, why would you ever again settle for scarcity in your life? “I’m not enough! This is not enough! I do not have enough!” I am afraid this is the way culture trains you to think. It is a kind of learned helplessness. The Gospel message is just the opposite—inherent power.
Thomas Merton said the way we have structured our lives, we spend our whole life climbing up the ladder of supposed success, and when we get to the top of the ladder we realize it is leaning against the wrong wall—and there is nothing at the top. To get back to the place of inherent abundance, you have to let go of all of the false agendas, unreal goals, and passing self-images. It is all about letting go. The spiritual life is more about unlearning than learning, because the deepest you already knows (1 John 2:21).
The important and fundamental question we must ask is this: “When is the real life?” “Now!” the modern materialist would say—the good life, the real life is now and then it ends. Many reincarnationists, pious Christians, and mainline religious people in all denominations believe that the real life is later, after death. This falsehood has framed the Christian religion more than anything else, despite the fact that Jesus clearly said the kingdom of God is now, and in the Lord’s Prayer, we ask it to “come” here!
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.
Isn’t it strange that a religion that began with a call to change or letting go has become a religion that has been so impervious and resistant to change? Many people think that what it means to be a Christian is to be in love with the 13th century or, if you are Protestant, the 16th century, thinking that “this is when Christians were really Christians!” There is no evidence that this is really true but it allows us to create “religion as nostalgia” instead of religion as transformation.
What healthy religion is saying is that the real life is both now and later. You have to taste the Real now, you have to experience God now—and if now, then also then—both now and later. Now becomes the pledge and guarantee of forever. The full now is always an eternal now. We are just practicing for heaven.
What does letting go on the practical level tell us? Letting go is different than denying or repressing. To let go of something is to admit it. You have to own it. Letting go is different than turning it against yourself; different than projecting it onto others. Letting go means that the denied, repressed, rejected parts of yourself, which are nonetheless true, are seen for what they are; but you refuse to turn them against yourself or against others. This is not denial or pretend, but actual transformation.
The religious word for this letting go is forgiveness. You see the imperfect moment for what it is, and you hand it over to God. You refuse to let any negative storyline or self-serving agenda define your life. This is a very, very different way of living; it implies that you see your mistakes, your dark side, but you do not identify with either your superiority or your inferiority.
Forgiveness is of one piece. Those who give it can also receive it. Those who receive it can pass forgiveness on. You are a conduit, and your only job is not to stop the flow. What comes around will also go around. The art of letting go is really the secret of happiness and freedom.
I would like to offer you a form of prayer so you can practice letting go and practice what seems like losing but is actually finding.
“The Welcoming Prayer” encourages you to identify in your life, now or in the past, a hurt or an offense: someone who has done you wrong, or let you down.
Feel the pain of the offense the way you first felt it, or are feeling it in this moment, and feel the hurt in your body. (Why is this important? Because if you move it to your mind, you will go back to dualistic thinking and judgments: good guy/bad guy, win/lose, either/or.)
Feel the pain so you don’t create the win/lose scenario. Identify yourself with the suffering side of life; how much it hurt to hurt. How abandoned you felt to be abandoned.
Once you can move to that place and know how much it hurts to hurt, you would not possibly want that experience for anybody else.
This might take a few minutes. Welcome the experience and it can move you to the Great Compassion. Don’t fight it! Don’t split and blame! Welcome the grief and anger in all of its heaviness. Now it will become a great teacher.
If you can do this you will see that it is welcoming the pain, and letting go of all of your oppositional energy against suffering, that actually frees you from it! Who would have thought? It is our resistance to things as they are that causes most of our unhappiness—at least I know it is for me.
I don’t understand the physics of this, but it is said that the reason a bird sitting on a hot wire does not get electrocuted is quite simply because it does not touch the ground to give the electricity a pathway. That is what the welcoming prayer is doing, and that is what I am asking you to do. Stay like a bird, sitting on the hot wire, holding the creative tension, but do not ground it in a bad way by thinking of it, by critiquing it, by analyzing it. Actually welcome it in a positive way. Hold on to it. As a Christian, I think that is what Jesus was doing on the cross. He was holding all the pain of the world, at least symbolically or archetypically; and though the world had come to hate Jesus, he refused to hate back.
Jesus revealed to us how to bear the pain of the world instead of handing on the pain to those around us. When you stop resisting suffering, when you can really do something so foolish as to welcome the pain, it leads you into a broad and spacious place where you live out of the abundance of Divine Love. I can’t promise you it will leave that quickly or that easily. To forgive is not the same as to forget.
Forgiveness has the power to lead you to your True Self in God. Because the hurts of life are so great, you cannot let go of the pain on your own. At that point, you need to draw from a Larger Source. What you are doing with forgiveness is changing your egoic investment in your own painful story—which too often has become your ticket, and sometimes your very identity. Forgiveness is one of the most radically free things a human being can do. When we forgive, we have to let go of our own feelings, our own ego, our own offended identity, and find our identity at a completely different level—the divine level. I even wonder if it is possible to know God at all—outside of the mystery of forgiveness (Luke 1:77).
Adapted from The Art of Letting Go
Prayer: May I learn to let go.