In Sunday school, I learned to think of God as a very old white-bearded man on a throne, who stood above creation and occasionally stirred it with a stick. When I am dreaming quantum dreams, what I see is an infinite web of relationship, flung across the vastness of space like a luminous net. It is made of energy, not thread. As I look, I can see light moving through it as a pulse moves through veins. What I see “out there” is no different from what I feel inside. There is a living hum that might be coming from my neurons but might just as well be coming from the furnace of the stars. When I look up at them there is a small commotion in my bones, as the ashes of dead stars that house my marrow rise up like metal filings toward the magnet of their living kin.
Where am I in this picture? I am all over the place. I am up there, down here, inside my skin and out. I am large compared to a virus and small compared to the sun, with a life that is permeable to them both. Am I alone? How could I ever be alone? I am part of a web that is pure relationship, with energy available to me that has been around since the universe was born.
Where is God in this picture? God is all over the place. God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the energy, the space, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is.
At this point in my thinking, it is not enough for me to proclaim that God is responsible for all this unity. Instead, I want to proclaim that God is the unity—the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that make it all go. This is the God who is not somewhere but everywhere, the God who may be prayed to in all directions at once. This is also the God beyond all directions, who will still be here (wherever “here” means) when the universe either dissipates into dust or swallows itself up again.
(Quoted by Fr Richard Rohf, from Barbara Brown Taylor, The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion (Cowley Publications: 2000), 73–74.)
This week’s meditations in Fr Richard Rohr’s daily newsletter were about freedom – inner and outward.In todays summary he suggests the 7 ways to freedom presented in a book by psychologist Joan Borysenko. Here they are.
Practice: Deepening Our Freedom
Dr. Joan Borysenko, PhD, is a cancer cell biologist, licensed psychologist, and author living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She offers us practices that support our contemplative journey to deepen inner and outer freedom in her book 7 Paths to God: The Ways of the Mystic. I invite you to spend some time with these precepts over the next few days. Which one seems most able to lead you to greater freedom and perhaps even emancipation?
Reflect on love. When you are feeling zealous or righteous about anything, reflect on whether you are doing God’s Will, your own, or someone else’s. Ask the question “Is my belief or action respectful and kind, or is it based on anger or judgement?” If the latter is true, pursue the personal healing required to give up the childish things that St. Paul spoke about.
Act with integrity.Integrity means “wholeness.” Actions are whole when they conform to inner beliefs. . . . The tension that results when actions and beliefs are out of accord leads to anxiety, depression, and loss of will.
Study the Ten Commandments as well as the remainder of the Book of Exodus. Do you, in fact, keep the commandments? [Exodus 20:1–17] Go through each carefully, writing down your reflections on each one. What would it personally mean to you to keep them wholeheartedly?
Study the precepts of a religion with which you are not familiar. . . . Write down the precepts that relate to, and reinforce, the Ten Commandments. Write down other precepts you find valuable. If you are so moved, form the intention to follow these precepts in your life. 
Do not judge other people’s path or lack of a path. The zealous outlook . . . can easily degenerate into the belief that your way is the only way to God. . . . So what if the disciplines you practice have changed your life and brought you closer to God, but others seem uninterested in following your advice that they do likewise. . . . Preaching and proselytizing in order to save others is disrespectful unless they have asked. The slogan “Live and let live” is a wise one.
When you are wrong, promptly admit it. This is part of the tenth step of Alcoholics Anonymous and the other Twelve Step programs. Since self-righteousness is a pitfall . . . you can minimize it by staying scrupulously aware of your actions and words.
Do an active, fun activity daily. Your wonderful capacity for discipline can also breed rigidity and compulsiveness. Refresh yourself on a regular basis by doing something active that is fun, if your physical condition allows it.
Though I deeply admire the Desert Fathers and Mothers, I must be completely honest with you. There is much about them that I do not find attractive or helpful. And it is important to share that here, or you might pick up one of the collections of their “sayings” and throw it out as unreal, dualistic, naïve, and pre-rational—all of which, I think, would be largely true. The desert mystics represent a level of human consciousness and historical development that we have collectively moved far beyond. And yet, I still admire and even need to learn from them! Let me use the desert abbas and ammas to illustrate an important point for understanding many historical personages and traditions (and even the Scriptures themselves).
Contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber offers a helpful distinction between stages and states.  Your stage is your outer awareness. Your state is your inner aliveness. The goal is to be both holy and whole, saintly and wise. But your state and stage don’t always coincide; many of us are stronger in one area than another.
You can be a high-level thinker and be quite astute about psychology, theology, history, or philosophy (a high stage), but do it all from a perspective of individualism and arrogance about that very information (a low state)—because it is still all about “you.” Conversely, you could be quite unified within and with others, in a high state of loving consciousness, but be poorly informed, lacking in exposure and education to helpful and informative knowledge.
Perhaps you know people who are compassionate and kind yet still reveal prejudicial attitudes. They may seem hypocritical but are simply at a high state and a low stage. Love will win out in them and goodness will flow through them, even if they don’t have the gift of teaching or of understanding complex or contradictory issues. They are holy but not whole, saintly but not “smart.”
This describes many Desert Fathers and Mothers: having high states of union but by today’s standards low levels of cultural, historic, or intellectual exposure to coherent thinking. Enjoy them for their state, but do not hate them for their stage! Today we have large segments of the population with the opposite problem: high stages of intellectual exposure with very low levels of unitive consciousness—very smart but without awe, humility, or love, which the Desert Fathers and Mothers had in spades!
Many of the desert sayings may sound naïve, simplistic, and even dangerous, but try to receive the simple wisdom of the desert mystics with an open heart and mind in the coming days and let it lead you to authentic joy. Perceive and enjoy their state of loving union; don’t dismiss them for living in a pre-rational society. Perhaps holding this tension compassionately for them will help us do the same for people in our own time.
Gateway to Action & Contemplation: What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?
Prayer for Our Community: O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.
Jesus’ approach to
interpreting sacred text was radical for his time, yet honored his own
Hebrew Bible (or what Christians call the Old Testament). Even though
Jesus’ use of Scripture is plain enough for us to see in the Gospels,
many Christians are accustomed to reading the Bible in a very different
way. We simply haven’t paid attention and connected the dots! Over the
next couple days, I’ll share some examples that reveal Jesus’
hermeneutic so that we might follow his methodology:
Jesus actually does not quote Scripture that much! In fact, he is criticized for not doing this: “you teach with [inner] authority and not like our own
scribes” (Mark 1:22).
Jesus talks much more out of his own experience of God and humanity instead of teaching like the scribes and Pharisees, who operated out of their own form of case law by quoting previous sources.
Jesus often uses what appear to be non-Jewish or non-canonical sources,
or at least sources scholars cannot verify. For example, “It is not the
healthy who need the doctor, but the sick do” (see Mark 2:17, Matthew
9:12, and Luke 5:31), or the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (see
Luke 16:19-31). His bandwidth of authority and attention is much wider
than sola Scriptura. He even quotes some sources seemingly incorrectly (for example, John 10:34)!
Jesus never once quotes from nineteen of the books in his own Scriptures.
In fact, he appears to use a very few favorites: Exodus, Deuteronomy,
Isaiah, Hosea, and Psalms—and those are overwhelmingly in Matthew’s
Gospel, which was directed to a Jewish audience.
Jesus appears to ignore most of his own Bible, yet it clearly formed his whole consciousness. That
is the paradox. If we look at what he ignores, it includes any
passages—of which there are many—that appear to legitimate violence,
imperialism, exclusion, purity, and dietary laws. Jesus is a biblically formed non-Bible quoter who gets the deeper stream, the spirit, the trajectory of his Jewish history and never settles for mere surface readings.
When Jesus does once quote Leviticus, he quotes the one positive mandate among long lists of negative ones: “You must love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
to many post-Reformation Christians, early centuries of
Christianity—through authoritative teachers like Origen, Cyril of
Alexandria, Augustine, and Gregory the Great—encouraged as many as seven
“senses” of Scripture. The literal, historical, allegorical, moral,
symbolic, eschatological (the trajectory of history and growth), and
“primordial” or archetypal (commonly agreed-upon symbolism) levels of a
text were often given serious weight among scholars. These levels were
gradually picked up by the ordinary Christian through Sunday preaching
(as is still true today) and presumed to be normative by those who heard
different senses of Scripture were sometimes compared to our human
senses of hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching, which are
five distinct ways of knowing the same thing, but in very different
“languages.” After both the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Western
Europeans reduced our ways of knowing to one for all practical
purposes—the supposedly rational/literal/historical. We have largely
compacted and limited the Bible to this single sense for several
centuries now, in both its Catholic and Protestant forms. Our bandwidth
of spiritual access to the Bible was consequently severely narrowed, it
seems to me—and as many would say—to the least spiritually helpful
level. That something supposedly literally
happened in one exact way, in one moment of time, does not, of itself,
transfer the experience to now, me, or us. I believe that such transference is the transformative function of any spiritual text.
narrow, rational/literal/historical approach largely creates an
antiquarian society that prefers to look backward instead of forward. In
my experience, it creates transactional religion much more than transformational spirituality. It idealizes individual conformity and group belonging over love, service, or actual change of heart.
was discredited from the beginning of the New Testament through the
inclusion of four Gospel accounts of the same Jesus event, which differ
in many ways. Which is the “inerrant” one?
earlier centuries of Christianity were much closer to the
trans-rational world of Jesus and his storytelling style of teaching
(which does not lend itself to dogmatic or systematic theology). The
Gospel says, “He would never speak to them except in parables” (Matthew
13:34). The indirect, metaphorical, symbolic language of a story or
parable seems to be Jesus’ preferred way of teaching spiritual
Almost all of Jesus’ parables begin with the same phrase: “The Reign of God is like.
. . .” Jesus fully knows he is speaking in metaphor, simile, story, and
symbol. But in recent centuries, many Christians have not granted him
that freedom, and thus we miss or avoid many of his major messages. We
are much the poorer for it.
More than telling us exactly what to see in the Scriptures, Jesus taught us how to see, what to emphasize, and also what could be de-emphasized or ignored. Beyond fundamentalism or literalism, Jesus practiced a form that the Jewish people called midrash,
consistently using questions to keep spiritual meanings open, often
reflecting on a text or returning people’s questions with more
questions. It is a real shame that we did not imitate Jesus in this
approach. It could have saved us from so many centuries of
righteousness, religious violence, and even single-issue voting.
Rather than seeking always certain and unchanging answers, the Jewish practice of midrash allows
many possibilities, many levels of faith-filled meaning—meaning that is
relevant and applicable to you, the reader, and puts you in the
subject’s shoes to build empathy, understanding, and relationship. It
lets the passage first challenge you before it challenges
anyone else. To use the text in a spiritual way—as Jesus did—is to allow
it to convert you, to change you, to grow you up as you respond: What
does this ask of me? How might this apply to my life, to my family, to
my church, to my neighborhood, to my country?
biblical messages often proceed from historical incidents, the actual
message does not depend upon communicating those events with perfect
factual accuracy. Spiritual writers are not primarily journalists.
Hebrew rabbis and scholars sometimes use the approach of midrash to reflect
on a story and communicate all of its underlying message. Scripture can
be understood on at least four levels: literal meaning, deep meaning,
comparative meaning, and hidden meaning.
The literal level of meaning doesn’t get to the root and, in fact, is the
least helpful to the soul and the most dangerous for history. Deep meaning offers symbolic or allegorical applications. Comparative study combines different texts to explore an entirely new meaning. Finally, in traditional Jewish exegesis, hidden
meaning gets at the Mystery itself. Midrash allows and encourages each
listener to grow with a text and not to settle for mere literalism,
which, of itself, bears little spiritual fruit. It is just a starting
Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver.  This statement from Aquinas was drilled into me during seminary. People at different levels of maturity will
interpret the same text in different ways. There is no one right way to interpret sacred texts. How you see is what you see; the who that
you bring to your reading of the Scriptures matters. Who are you when
you read the Bible? Defensive, offensive, power-hungry, righteous? Or
humble, receptive, and honest? Surely, this is why we need to pray
before reading a sacred text!
consistently ignored or even denied exclusionary, punitive, and
triumphalist texts in his own inspired Hebrew Bible in favor of passages
that emphasized inclusion, mercy, and honesty. For example, referencing
two passages from Exodus (21:24) and Leviticus (24:20), Jesus suggested
the opposite: “You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for
tooth.’ But I tell you . . . turn the other cheek” (see Matthew
5:38-39). He read the Scriptures in a spiritual, selective, and
questioning way. Jesus had a deeper and wider eye that knew which
passages were creating a path for God and which passages were merely
cultural, self-serving, and legalistic additions.
NOTE: As I said a number of times already, I believe that the future of Christianity in general, and that of evangelicalism in particular depends to a critical way on our ability to understand what is the Bible (is it a divine oracle, written by dictation, and requiring a literalistic approach, to be used as a recipe book, as fundamentalists want us to; or is it a purely human book, to be analised as any other piece of literature, as liberals want us to; or, rather, as Fr Rohr says, a divine-human book, ‘ a record of people’s experience of God’s self-revelation’, and, thus, understood according to the rules of a divinely inspired hermeneutic, dialogical, contemplative, paradoxical, in constant conversation with the changing reality around us, as we perceive it, with the help of science, art, culture, religion etc.
* * *
all its inspiration, for all the lives it has changed, the Bible is
undeniably problematic. Put in the hands of egocentric, unloving, or
power-hungry people or those who have never learned how to read
spiritually inspired literature, it is almost always a disaster. History
has demonstrated this, century after century, so this is not an
unwarranted, disrespectful, or biased conclusion. The burning of
heretics, the Crusades, slavery, apartheid, homophobia, and the genocide
and oppression of native peoples were all justified through the
selective use of Scripture quotes.
what are we supposed to do with the Bible? Today’s meditation will be a
bit longer than usual to begin addressing this question. And we’ll
spend the rest of the week unpacking what Jesus did with the Hebrew
Scriptures—the only Bible he knew.
My general approach is to change the seer and not to change the text. Only transformed people can be entrusted with inspired writings. They can operate in a symbiotic (“shared life”) relationship with words and are unlikely to use the Bible to exclude and shame others or as a rationale for their bad behavior.
Christian’s goal is to be transformed by the renewing of our mind into
the mind of Christ (see Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:16; and Philippians
2:5). That is why I try to read the Bible the way Jesus did, following
Jesus’ hermeneutic (a method of interpreting sacred texts).
Just as we are trying to do with this year’s Daily Meditations, Jesus
was a master of winnowing the chaff from the grain (see Matthew 3:12 and
Luke 3:17) and “bringing out of the storeroom new treasures as well as
old” (Matthew 13:52).
The Bible is an anthology of many books.
It is a record of people’s experience of God’s self-revelation. It
is an account of our very human experience of the divine intrusion into
history. The book did not fall from heaven in a pretty package. It was
written by people trying to listen to God. I believe that the Spirit was
guiding the listening and writing process. We must also know that
humans always see “through a glass darkly . . . and all knowledge is
imperfect” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Prayer and patience surrounding
such human words will keep us humble and searching for the true Living
Word, the person of Jesus,which is how the Spirit best
teaches (1 Corinthians 2:10,13)—through living exemplars. This is surely
what it means to know “contemplatively.”
history finally gets to the Risen Jesus, there is nothing to be afraid
of in God. Jesus’ very breath is identified with forgiveness and the
divine Shalom(see John 20:20-23). If the Risen Jesus
is the full and trustworthy unveiling of the nature of God, then we live
in a safe and love-filled universe. It is not that God has changed, or
that the Hebrew God is a different God than the God of Jesus; it is
that we are growing up as we move through the text and deepen
our experience. Stay with the Bible and with your inner life with God
and your capacity for God will increase.
as the Bible takes us through many stages of consciousness and history,
it takes us individually a long time to move beyond our need to be
dualistic, judgmental, accusatory, fearful, blaming, egocentric, and
earning—and to see as Jesus sees. The Bible itself is a “text in
travail,” according to René Girard’s fine insight.  It mirrors and
charts our own human travail. It offers both mature and immature
responses to almost everything. In time, you will almost naturally
recognize the difference between the text moving forward toward the
mercy, humility, and inclusivity of Jesus and when the text is
regressing into arrogance, exclusion, and legalism.
clearly believed in change. In fact, the first public word out of his
mouth was later translated into the Greek imperative verb metanoeite, which
literally means “change your mind” or “go beyond your mind” (see
Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:15). Unfortunately, in the fourth century, St.
Jerome translated the word into Latin as paenitentia (“repent”
or “do penance”), initiating a host of moralistic connotations that have
colored Christians’ understanding of the Gospels ever since. The word metanoeite referred to a primal change of mind, worldview, or way of processing and perceiving—and
only by corollary about a specific
change in behavior. This common misunderstanding puts the cart before
the horse; we think we can change a few externals while our underlying
worldview often remains narcissistic and self-referential.
misunderstanding contributed to a puritanical, externalized, and
largely static notion of the Christian message that has followed us to
this day. Faith became about external requirements that could be
enforced, punished, and rewarded, much more than an actual change of heart and mind, which
Jesus described as something that largely happens “in secret, where
your Father who sees in secret can reward you” (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18).
Jesus invariably emphasized inner motivation and intention.
For example, he taught: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall
not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman
with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew
5:27-28). Jesus made religion about interior change and “purity of
heart” (Matthew 5:8) more than visible behaviors or rituals or anything
that would have a social payoff or punishment.
Jesus didn’t focus on individual sin outside or over there,
where we can point to it,
punish it, and try to change it. That is too easy and mostly
ineffective. Without making light of evil, he showed how to actually
overcome and heal it. Sin, for Jesus, was the very act of accusing (Satan means “the accuser”). Whenever
we try to expel and accuse others, and somehow leave ourselves or our
group out of the equation, we end up “sinning.” We must first recognize
our own complicity in evil before we can transform it. We see this
pattern when Jesus himself was faced with three temptations to power
(Matthew 4:1-11). Until we face our own demons, none of us are prepared
to fight evil elsewhere.
Jesus thus stood in solidarity with individuals who were excluded,
deemed unworthy, or demonized. Why? Because the excluded from any group always reveal the unquestioned idolatries of that group!
He even partied with sinners and tax collectors, and the “pure” hated
him for it (see Luke 15:2). The way Jesus tried to change people was by
loving and healing them, accusing only their accusers. Why did we not
notice that? His harshest words of judgment were reserved for those who
perpetuated systems of inequality and oppression and who, through
religion itself, thought they were sinless and untouchable. Jesus did not so much love people once they changed, but he loved people so that they could change.
calling this year’s theme “Old and New: An Evolving Faith.” The term
“evolution” may be challenging for some Christians who believe that
science and the Bible contradict each other. We’ll look more closely at
the Bible (and how Jesus interpreted it) next week, and later this year
we’ll focus on Creation and science. For now, let’s simply consider how
the inner process of change and growth is fundamental to everything,
even our bodies. Having undergone several surgeries, cancer, and a heart
attack, I’ve been consoled by the way my body takes care of itself over
time. The miracle of healing comes from the inside—but with help from
religion, however, many prefer magical, external, one-time transactions
instead of the universal pattern of growth and healing—which is always
through loss and renewal. This is the way that life perpetuates itself
in ever-new forms: through various changes that can feel like death. The
pattern disappoints and scares most of us, even many clergy who think
death and resurrection is just a doctrinal statement about the lone
is not a single discipline today that does not recognize change,
development, growth, and
some kind of evolving phenomenon: psychology, cultural anthropology,
history, physical sciences, philosophy, social studies, drama, music, on
and on. But in theology’s search for the Real Absolute, it imagined a
static “unmoved mover,” as Aristotelian philosophy called it, a solid
substance sitting above somewhere. Theology has struggled to imagine
that once God includes us in the narrative then God is for sure
changing! Is that not what the Bible—at its core—is saying? We matter to
God and God thus allows us to change the narrative of history . . . and
the narrative of God.
Religion tends to prefer and protect the status quo or the supposedly wonderful past, yet what we now see is
that religion often simply preserves its own power and privilege. God does not need our protecting. We often worship old things as substitutes for eternal things.
Jesus strongly rejects this love of the past and one’s private
perfection, and he cleverly quotes Isaiah (29:13) to do it: “In vain do
they worship me, teaching merely human precepts as if they were
doctrines” (Matthew 15:9). Many of us seem to think that God really is
“back there,” in the good ol’ days of old-time religion when God was
really God, and everybody was happy and pure. This leaves the present
moment empty and hopeless—not to speak of the future.
keeps creating things from the inside out,
so they are forever yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the
good. This is the generative force implanted in all living things, which
grow both from within—because they are programmed for it—and from
without—by taking in sun, food, and water. Picture YHWH breathing into
the soil that became Adam (Genesis 2:7). That is the eternal pattern.
God is still breathing into soil every moment!
Evolutionary thinking is actually contemplative thinking
because it leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and
agrees to humbly hold the present with what it only tentatively knows
for sure. Evolutionary thinking must agree to both knowing and not
knowing, at the same time.
This is hard for the egoically bound self. It wants to fully know—now—which is never true anyway.
I am aware of the phrase “true self” occurring only once in the Bible. Paul used the words to describe what he was desperately trying to locate in the midst of some major trials with his false self. He wrote of it in a telling way: “When I act against my own will, then it is not my true self doing it, but sin which lives in me” (Romans 7:20, Jerusalem Bible). Somehow, he knew there was a part of him that was authentic, steadfast, and true to its God-given and loving nature.
Paul then contrasted the true self with what we are calling the false self and he called “sin” (7:14-25). It is the self that is always passing away. This is our cozy image of ourselves as individual and autonomous, as separate from God and everyone and everything else. When this “separate” self is all we think we are, no wonder we are afraid of dying. Because this is all we know and have—if we have not discovered our soul, that is. The false self is terrified of death because it knows the mental construct that it calls “myself” is indeed passing away because it is merely self-constructed and fragile. The false self has no substance, no permanence, no vitality, only various forms of immediate gratification.Continue reading “Richard Rohr – Do Not Be Afraid”
Hopefully we begin life as “holy innocents” in the Garden, with a conscious connection to Being. The gaze of loving, caring parents can mirror us as the beloved and gives us a primal experience of life as union. But sooner or later we all have to leave the Garden. We can’t stay there. We begin the process of individuation, which includes at least four major splits, ways of forgetting our inherent oneness and creating an illusion of separation.
The first split is very understandable. We split ourselves fromother selves. We see mom and dad and other family members over there, and we’re over here. We start looking out at life with ourselves as the center point. It’s the beginning of egocentricity. My ego is the center; what I like, what I want, what I need is what matters. Please know that the ego is not bad; it is just not all. The development of a healthy, strong ego is important to human growth.
The second split divides life from death. It comes when we first experience the death of someone we know, perhaps a beloved pet or grandparent. The ego begins differentiating those who are alive and those who are gone. We may then spend our whole life trying to avoid any kind of death, including anything that’s negative, uncomfortable, difficult, unfamiliar, dangerous, or demanding. But at some point, we’ll discover that life and death, negative and positive, are part of the same unavoidable reality. Everything is living and dying simultaneously. Continue reading “Richard Rohr – The Illusion o Separation: Four Splits”
All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain, with the absurd, the tragic, the nonsensical, the unjust and the undeserved—all of which eventually come into every lifetime. If only we could see these “wounds” as the way through, as Jesus did, then they would become sacred wounds rather than scars to deny, disguise, or project onto others. I am sorry to admit that I first see my wounds as an obstacle more than a gift. Healing is a long journey.
If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become cynical, negative, or bitter. This is the storyline of many of the greatest novels, myths, and stories of every culture. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us: our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, and, invariably, the most vulnerable, our children.
Scapegoating, exporting our unresolved hurt, is the most common storyline of human history. The Jesus Story is about radically transforming history and individuals so that we don’t just keep handing on the pain to the next generation. Unless we can find a meaning for human suffering, that God is somehow in it and can also use it for good, humanity is in major trouble. Because we will suffer. Even the Buddha said that suffering is part of the deal!
We shouldn’t try to get rid of our own pain until we’ve learned what it has to teach. When we can hold our pain consciously and trustfully (and not project it elsewhere), we find ourselves in a very special liminal space. Here we are open to learning and breaking through to a much deeper level of faith and consciousness. Please trust me on this. We must all carry the cross of our own reality until God transforms us through it. These are the wounded healers of the world, and healers who have fully faced their wounds are the only ones who heal anyone else.
As an example of holding the pain, picture Mary standing at the foot of the cross or, as in Michelangelo’s Pietà cradling Jesus’ body. One would expect her to take her role wailing or protesting, but she doesn’t! We must reflect on this deeply. Mary is in complete solidarity with the mystery of life and death. It’s as if she is saying, “There’s something deeper happening here. How can I absorb it just as Jesus is absorbing it, instead of returning it in kind?” Consider the analogy of energy circuits: Most of us are relay stations; only a minority are transformers—people who actually change the electrical charge that passes through us.
Jesus on the cross and Mary standing beneath the cross are classic images of transformative spirituality. They do not return the hostility, hatred, accusations, or malice directed at them. They hold the suffering until it becomes resurrection! That’s the core mystery of Christianity. It takes our whole life to begin to comprehend this. It tends to be the wisdom of elders, not youngers.
Unfortunately, our natural instinct is to try to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until we are moved by grace to a much deeper level and a much larger frame, where our private pain is not center stage but a mystery shared with every act of bloodshed and every tear wept since the beginning of time. Our pain is not just our own.
Gateway to Presence: If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.
You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. . . . And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. —Matthew 5:10,12, The Message
Today Óscar Romero (1917–1980) will be named a saint by the Catholic Church. As Archbishop of San Salvador for the last four years of his life, Romero was a strong, public voice for the many voiceless and anonymous poor of El Salvador and Latin America. When he preached in the cathedral on Sunday mornings, I’m told that the streets were empty and all the radios where on full volume, to hear truth and sanity in an insane and corrupt world.
Here is a man who suffered with and for those who suffered. His loving heart shines through clearly in his homilies:
The shepherd must be where the suffering is. 
My soul is sore when I learn how our people are tortured, when I learn how the rights of those created in the image of God are violated. 
A Gospel that doesn’t take into account the rights of human beings, a Christianity that doesn’t make a positive contribution to the history of the world, is not the authentic doctrine of Christ, but rather simply an instrument of power. We . . . don’t want to be a plaything of the worldly powers, rather we want to be the Church that carries the authentic, courageous Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, even when it might become necessary to die like he did, on a cross. 
In his homily on March 23, 1980, the day before he was murdered, Romero addressed the Salvadoran military directly:
Brothers, we are part of the same people. You are killing your own brother and sister peasants and when you are faced with an order to kill given by a man, the law of God must prevail; the law that says: Thou shalt not kill. No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. And it is time that you recover your consciences. . . . In the name of God, then, and in the name of this suffering people whose laments rise up to heaven each day more tumultuously, I plead with you, I pray you, I order you, in the name of God: Stop the repression! 
The next day, following his sermon, a U.S.-supported government hit squad shot him through his heart as he stood at the altar.
Only a few weeks earlier, Romero had said:
I have often been threatened with death. I must tell you, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If I am killed, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. I say so without boasting, with the greatest humility. . . . A bishop will die, but God’s church, which is the people, will never perish. 
Romero’s epitaph reads “Sentir con la Iglesia” (“To be of one mind and heart with the Church”); these words were his episcopal motto, his promise to share the suffering and strength of the people he served.
The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation more often happens not when something new begins but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—disruption and chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites and sometimes forces the soul to go to a new place because the old place is not working anymore. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, darkness, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is, it does not feel good and it does not feel like God. We will do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart.
This is when we need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Not accidentally, he mentions this narrow road right after teaching the Golden Rule. Jesus knows how much letting go it takes to “treat others as you would like them to treat you” (7:12). Continue reading “Richard Rohr – When Things Fall Apart”
(HERE is the source of this text. Continued from HERE)
Seventh, a prophet confronts the status quo. With the prophet, there is no sitting back. The powerful are challenged, empires resisted, systemic justices exposed. Prophets vigorously rock the leaky ship of the state and shake our somnolent complacency. . . .
Eighth, for the prophet, the secure life is usually denied. More often than not the prophet is in trouble. Prophets call for love of our nation’s enemies. They topple the nation’s idols, upset the rich and powerful, and break the laws that would legalize mass murder. The warlike culture takes offense and dismisses the prophet, not merely as an agitator but as obsessed and unbalanced. Consequently, the prophet ends up outcast, rejected, harassed, and marginalized—and, eventually, punished, threatened, targeted, bugged, followed, jailed, and sometimes killed.
Ninth, prophets bring the incandescent word to the very heart of grudging religious institutions. There the prophet confronts the blindness and complacency of the religious leader—the bishops and priests who keep silent amid national crimes; the ministers who trace a cross over industries of death and rake blood money into churchly coffers. A bitter irony and an ancient story—and all but inevitable. The institution that goes by the name of God often turns away the prophet of God. Continue reading “John Dear on the Signs of a Prophet – 2”
First, a prophet is someone who listens attentively to the word of God, a contemplative, a mystic who hears God and takes God at God’s word, and then goes into the world to tell the world God’s message. So a prophet speaks God’s message fearlessly, publicly, without compromise, despite the times, whether fair or foul.
Second, morning, noon, and night, the prophet is centered on God. The prophet does not do his or her own will or speak his or her own message. The prophet does God’s will and speaks God’s message. . . . In the process, the prophet tells us who God is and what God wants, and thus who we are and how we can become fully human.
Third, a prophet interprets the signs of the times. The prophet is concerned with the world, here and now, in the daily events of the whole human race, not just our little backyard or some ineffable hereafter. The prophet sees the big picture—war, starvation, poverty, corporate greed, nationalism, systemic violence, nuclear weapons, and environmental destruction. The prophet interprets these current realities through God’s eyes, not through the eyes of analysts or pundits or Pentagon press spokespeople. The prophet tells us God’s take on what’s happening. Continue reading “John Dear on the Signs of a Prophet – 1”
A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. Both of these are much needed and vital tasks. God has been imprisoned and made inaccessible, and far too many people have been shamed and taught guilt to keep us clergy in business. Our job became “sin management.” Sadly the laity bought into this negative story line. That is what happens when priests are not informed by prophets.
The priestly class invariably makes God less accessible instead of more so, “neither entering yourselves nor letting others enter in,” as Jesus says (Matthew 23:13). For the sake of our own job security, the priestly message is often: “You can only come to God through us, by doing the right rituals, obeying the rules, and believing the right doctrines.” This is like telling God who God is allowed to love! The clergy and religious leaders, unintentionally perhaps, teach their disciples “learned helplessness.” Thus the prophets spend much of their time destroying and dismissing these barriers and trying to create “a straight highway to God” (Matthew 3:3). Both John the Baptist and Jesus tried to free God for the people, and it got them killed.
Franciscans never believed that “blood atonement” was required for God to love us. We believed that Christ was Plan A from the very beginning (Colossians 1:15-20, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1:1-18). Christ wasn’t a Plan B after the first humans sinned, which is the way most people seem to understand the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Great Mystery of Incarnation could not be a mere mop-up exercise, a problem-solving technique, or dependent on human beings messing up. The Incarnation was not motivated by a problem but by love.
Did God intend no meaning or purpose for creation during the first 13.8 billion years? Did the sun, moon, and galaxies have no divine significance? The fish, the birds, the animals were just waiting for humans to appear? Was there no Divine Blueprint (“Logos”) from the beginning? This thinking reveals the hubris of the human species and our tendency to anthropomorphize the whole story around ourselves. Continue reading “Richard Rohr – Love at the Core of the Gospel”
Note: See how similar is the Franciscan view of salvation as a nonviolent process to the Orthodox view, and how radically diferent from the juridical emphasis that dominates mainline Catholicand almost all Protestant and Evangelical atonement theories (based on the view of an angry God – as opposed to a loving one, who had to punish his Son in order to be able to, again, reluctanty, love his human creatures).
In the thirteenth century, the Franciscans and the Dominicans invariably took opposing positions in the great debates in the universities of Paris, Cologne, Bologna, and Oxford. Both opinions usually passed the tests of orthodoxy, although one was preferred. The Franciscans often ended up presenting the minority position. Like the United States’ Supreme Court, the Church could have both a majority and a minority opinion, and the minority position was not kicked out! It was just not taught in most seminaries. However, it was taught in some Franciscan formation centers, and I was a lucky recipient of this “alternative orthodoxy” at Duns Scotus College in Michigan from 1962-1966.
I share this background to illustrate that my understanding of the atonement theory is not heretical or new, but has quite traditional and orthodox foundations, beginning with many theologians in the Patristic period.
Thomas Aquinas and the Dominicans agreed with Anselm’s (by then mainline) view that a debt had to be paid for human salvation. But Franciscan John Duns Scotus (c. 1266-1308) said that Jesus wasn’t solving any problems by coming to earth and dying. God did not need Jesus to die on the cross to decide to love humanity. God’s love was infinite from the first moment of creation; the cross was Love’s dramatic portrayal in space and time. That, in a word, was the Franciscan nonviolent at-one-ment theory.
Duns Scotus built his argument on the pre-existent Cosmic Christ described in Colossians and Ephesians. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) who came forward in a moment of time so we could look upon “the One we had pierced” (John 19:37) and see God’s unconditional love for us, in spite of our failings.
The image of the cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God—as if God needed changing! Duns Scotus concluded that Jesus’ death was not a “penal substitution” but a divine epiphany for all to see. Jesus was pure gift. The idea of gift is much more transformative than necessity, payment, or transaction. It shows that God is not violent, but loving. It is we who are violent.
Duns Scotus firmly believed that God’s freedom had to be maintained at all costs. If God “needed” or demanded a blood sacrifice to love God’s own creation, then God was not freely loving us. For the Franciscan school, Jesus was not changing God’s mind about us; he was changing our minds about God. If God and Jesus are not violent or vindictive, then our excuse for the same is forever taken away from us. If God is punitive and torturing, then we have permission to do the same. Thus grew much of the church’s violent history.
Jesus’ full journey revealed two major things: that salvation could have a positive and optimistic storyline, neither beginning nor ending with a cosmic problem; and that God was far different and far better than religion up to then had demonstrated. Jesus personally walked through the full human journey of both failure and rejection—while still forgiving his enemies—and then he said, “Follow me” and do likewise (see John 12:26; Matthew 10:38). The cross was not necessary, but a pure gift so that humanity could witness God’s outflowing Love in dramatic form.
Jesus’ teachings seem to have been understood rather clearly during the first few hundred years after his death and resurrection. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, and love of enemies were common among his early followers. For example, the Didache, written around AD 90, calls readers to “share all things with your brother; and do not say that they are your own. For if you are sharers in what is imperishable, how much more in things which perish.”  At this time, Christianity was countercultural, untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise.
However, when the imperial edict of AD 313 elevated Christianity to a privileged position in the Roman Empire, the church increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning war, money, and class. Morality became individualized and largely sexual. Formal Christianity slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point, which is probably why what we now call “religious life” began, and flourished, after 313. People went to the edges of the church and took vows of poverty, living in satellites that became “little churches,” without ever formally leaving the big church. Continue reading “Richard Rohr – A Nonviolent Atonement”
Contemplative knowing intuits things in their wholeness, with all levels of connection and meaning, and perhaps how they fit in the full scheme of things. Thus, the contemplative response to the moment is always appreciation and inherent re-spect (“to look at a second time”) because I am now a part of what I am trying to see. Our first practical and partial observation of most things lacks this respect. It is not yet contemplative knowing. Frankly, when you see things contemplatively, everything in the universe is a mirror.
The originating mystery of Trinity both names and begins the mirroring process, allowing us to know all that we need to know by the same endless process of mirroring and reflecting. We know things in their depth and beauty only by this second gaze of love. “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what God has made” (Romans 1:20).
A true mirror first receives an image and then reflects it back truthfully—but now so that I can see myself, too. The all-important thing is that you find the right mirror that mirrors you honestly and at depth. All personhood is created in this process, and our job is always to stay inside this mirroring. Our task is to trustfully receive and then reflect back the inner image transmitted to us until, as the apostle Paul expressed, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
This is the whole spiritual journey in one sentence! All love, goodness, and holiness is a reflected gift. You take all things into yourself by gazing at them with reverence, and this completes the circuit of love—because this is how creation is looking out at you. The inner life of the Trinity has become the outer life of all creation. The divine mirroring will never stop; mirroring is how the whole transformation process is personally initiated and finally achieved.
The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation
Take Your Place at the Table
In Genesis we see the divine dance in an early enigmatic story (18:1-8). “The Lord” appears to Abraham as “three men.” Abraham and Sarah seem to see the Holy One in the presence of these three, and they bow before them and call them “my lord” (18:2-3 Jerusalem Bible). Their first instinct is one of invitation and hospitality—to create a space of food and drink for their guests. Here we have humanity feeding God; it will take a long time to turn that around in the human imagination. “Surely, we ourselves are not invited to this divine table,” the hosts presume.
I’d like to offer you a form of contemplation—a practice of accepting paradox and holding the tension of contradictions—called The Welcoming Prayer.
First, identify a hurt or an offense in your life. Remember the feelings you first experienced with this hurt and feel them the way you first felt them. Notice how this shows up in your body. Paying attention to your body’s sensations keeps you from jumping into the mind and its dualistic games of good-guy/bad-guy, win/lose, either/or.
After you can identify the hurt and feel it in your body, welcome it. Stop fighting it. Stop splitting and blaming. Welcome the grief. Welcome the anger. It’s hard to do, but for some reason, when we name it, feel it, and welcome it, transformation can begin.Continue reading “Richard Rohr – The Welcoming Prayer”
The important distinction between the true and false selves is foundational, yet it is often overlooked, perhaps because it is difficult to teach. Over the years, I have resorted to almost simplistic geometric images, and for many it seems to help. It imprints in the imagination better than concepts do. Perhaps this could help:
In the beginning, in our original unwoundedness (“innocence”), we live in an unconscious but real state of full connection. Perhaps you’ve sensed that babies are still in immediate connection with pure being. That’s probably why we can’t take our eyes off of them. But, I am afraid, we must “leave the garden”; and usually around the age of seven, we increasingly “think” of ourselves as separate. This idea of ourselves as separate is the “false self.” This is the essential illusion that spirituality seeks to overcome: “How do I get back to the garden of union and innocence?” Objectively I have never left, but it feels like I have.
Then comes the journey of finding connection and losing it. Picture the small “me” circle being totally outside of the large “God” circle, but hopefully still on the axis of loss and return. This is how we grow. We think we’re separate from God for many compelling reasons and we usually search for the correct rituals and moral responses in order to get God to like us again, and for us to learn to trust and know God. This is the dance of life and death.
Fr. Rohr is sharing this week, and the following, his ideas about the ‘two halves of life’, the topic of his book Falling Upward, and of many of his recorded talks.
This coincides with my intention to share on my blog some quotes and comments from my fifth reading of the book mentioned above, which had a great impact on my life at a time that I most needed it. My providential meeting with Fr Rohr, four years ago has created a bond between us, and I consider him my spiritual mentor at a distance. I hope my reflections on his ideas will be also helpful for you.