We Do What We Are Called to Do

I get daily reflections from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation. This morning I opened my e-mail to find this excerpt from Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, a wonderful book I wrote about when I was reading it a year or so ago.

This morning’s excerpt is a succinct exposition of a state we hopefully are all moving toward

In the second half of life, we do not have strong and final opinions about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us. We no longer need to change or adjust other people to be happy ourselves. Ironically we are more than ever before in a position to change people—but we do not need to—and that makes all the difference.

We have moved from doing to being to an utterly new kind of doing that flows almost organically, quietly, and by osmosis. Our actions are less compulsive. We do what we are called to do, and then try to let go of the consequences. We usually cannot do that very well when we are young.

Now we aid and influence people simply by being who we are. Human integrity probably influences and moves people from potency to action more than anything else. An elder’s deep and studied passion carries so much more power than superficial and loudly stated principles. Our peace is needed more than our anger.

Our growth and maturity is not about caring less about the world and those around us. But it is about letting go of the ego, about acting out of love and not compulsion, and about simply being who we are.


Intimacy and the Shared Self

I receive daily e-mail meditations of Richard Rohr’s from the Center for Action and Contemplation. This morning’s was adapted form Rohr’s Immortal Diamond, a book I’ve written about before (here, here and here).

I love the way Rohr talks about intimacy in today’s passage. He writes

As I studied accounts of the Resurrection, I came to see what is now completely obvious to me: these texts reveal both the Christ and the True Self as a deep capacity for intimacy with oneself and with everything, probably including life itself. Starting with Christ’s “white as snow” robe and his “face like lightning” (Matthew 28:3), we have initial statements of perfect transparency, accessibility, and radiant visibility. The True Self is a shared and sharable self, or it is not the True Self.

In John’s account, Mary Magdalene knows Jesus not by sight but when he pronounces her first name (John 20:16). She completes the exchange by calling him “Master” in return. Jesus’ puzzling “Do not cling to me” (John 20:17) statement is what makes true intimacy possible. Intimacy is possible only between two calm identities and it is not the same as melding or fusing into one. As we say in non-dual teaching, “Not two, but not one either.”

Intimacy occurs when we reveal ourselves fully, reveal what is secret – to ourselves, to others, to God. Intimacy is risky. It is scary. But it is also exciting and true. And when we experience it, we know that we are where we ought to be.

The Search for Our True Self (Note: We Don’t Have to Look Far)

One of the wonderful books I read this summer is Richard Rohr’s latest, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. Although I’ve already mentioned the book here and here, I have been meaning to say a little more about it and am finally getting around to doing so.

In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, which I have recommended to many people (and which I talk about here, here and here), Rohr focuses on the ways in which the ego (part of the False Self) gets in the way of our spiritual maturity. In this book, as the title suggests, the focus is on the True Self).

Rohr calls the True Self, in contrast to our small self or ego (the False Self), is our absolute identity. It is, Rohr suggests “an absolute reference point that is both utterly within you and utterly beyond you at the same time.”

Both within and without. At one level is sounds confusing; at another the truth seems self-evident. I alone is not my total reference point; I think Rohr is absolutely right that to think I am feeds the small I egoic self. Nor, however, is truth totally out there somewhere, completely beyond my experience.

Another way of saying that is to know that “God is both utterly beyond me and yet totally within me. In the first appendix to the book, Rohr has an image of two intersecting circles. The larger one is labeled “God/Reality” and the smaller one is labeled “Me.” I am not totally separate from God (dualsm), but I am also not the same as God (pantheism). Rather I am inherently in union with God.

If we can grasp this, then the Trinity, a concept that is usually difficult for us to grasp, becomes much easier to understand. Rohr writes that good trinitarian theology

says that God is more a verb than a noun: God is three “relations”…God is a process rather than a clear name or idea, a communion, Interbeing itself, and never an isolated deity that can be captured by our mind.

God is relationship itself and known in relationship… The doctrine of the Trinity was made in order to defeat the dualistic mind and invite us into nondual, holistic consciousness. It replaced the argumentative principle of two with the dynamic principle of three. It leaves us inside the wonderfully open space of “not one, but not two either.”

Although we don’t have to look ver far to find the True Self, finding it takes some work. Rohr’s book is a wonderful investigation, relying on Scripture, Tradition and inner experience, to help us uncover it.

Dying Before You Die

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples that “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What does it mean to lose one’s life for Jesus’ sake. Certainly he is not talking about physical death – most of us will not be killed for our faith. So Jesus must be speaking of another form of death.

In Immortal Diamond, Richard Rohr writes:

In one way or another, almost all religions say that you must die before you die, and then you will know what dying means – and what it does not mean! Your usual viewing platform is utterly inadequate to see what it real. It is largely useless to talk about the very ground of your being, your True Self, or your deepest soul until you have made real contact with these at least once. That demands dying to the old viewing platform of the mental ego and the False Self. There is just no way around that….Anything less than death of the False Self is useless religion. The False Self must die for the True Self to live.

I have to die to myself to rise in Christ, to be able to say as Paul does, that it is no longer I but Christ who live in me. (Galatians 2:20)

Receiving Everyone

I recently read a meditation adapted from Richard Rohr’s Radical Grace: Daily Meditations reminding us of the meaning of Jesus’ command that we tend to the needs of “the least of the brothers and sisters.” What Jesus taught, what he demands of us is a radical includion of those who seem to us the most difficult for us to include.

Rohr writes:

When any church defines itself by exclusion of anybody, it is always wrong. It is avoiding its only vocation, which is to be the Christ. The only groups that Jesus seriously critiques are those who include themselves and exclude others from the always-given grace of God.

Only as the People of God receive the stranger, the sinner, and the immigrant, those who don’t play our game our way, do we discover not only the hidden, feared, and hated parts of our own souls, but the fullness of Jesus himself. We need them for our own conversion.

The Church is always converted when the outcasts are re-invited back into the temple. You see this in Jesus’ commonly sending marginalized people that he has healed back into the village, back to their family, or back to the temple to “show themselves to the priests.” It is not just for their re-inclusion and acceptance, but actually for the group itself to be renewed.

The outcasts may be different for each of us. Even with the same church, we don’t all have the same view of who is the stranger.

But the message is the same for each of us: a message of radical inclusion, a place at the table for all. All are invited. And each of us has to be part of extending that invitation.

A God of Allowing

One of the books I’m currently reading is Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (although, given various distractions, he’ll have his next book out before I’m finished reading this one).

In his book, Rohr calls God “the Great Allower.” God allows us to make mistakes and God allows acts of great evil to take place. And this is not something anyone likes. Rohr writes

God’s total allowing of everything has in fact become humanity’s major complaint. Conservatives so want God to smite sinners that they find every natural disaster to be a proof of just that, and then they invent some of their own smiting besides. Liberals reject God because God allows holocausts and tortures and does not fit inside their seeming logic.

Rohr goes on to suggests that if we were being honest, we would admit that “God is both a scandal and a supreme disappointment to most of us.” Despite our professed love and desire for autonomy, “we would prefer a God of domination and control to a God of allowing.”

This was something I struggled with in the first weeks of my prayer when I did the Spiritual Exercises of St. ignatius. I couldn’t see why God couldn’t just “force” me into doing the right thing, rather than risking that I would blow it. It took me quite some time to accept that allowing us our freedom was a great gift.

Rohr speaks of “allowing the Great Allower to allow us, even at our worst.” If we do, he suggests, we learn, as I did during the Exericises, “to share in the divine freedom” and to “forgive God for being too generous.”

Jesus or Christ

Many people speak almost interchangeably of “Jesus” and “Christ.” It is easy to do, and I sometimes find myself doing it. But there is a danger of confusion when we fail to distinguish between the Jesus of history and the Christ.

I think Richard Rohr, in talking about the “Cosmic Christ,” is someone who does a very good job of explaining that distinction. I was watching a video of his the other day in which he pointed out that Jesus has existed for 2000 years, but Christ has existed for all eternity. (For those concerned he was making that up, he cites the Prologue of John, the hymns at the beginning of Colossians and Ephesians and 1 John 1.) Rohr observed that the Christ was born the moment God decided to show himself in the material world – what some refer to as the big bang. The Cosmic Christ was then revealed in a human person we could see and feel and fall in love with (and from whom we could learn who we are meant to be) – the historical Jesus.

Rohr talks about Jesus as the microcosm and Christ as the macrocosm, and reminds us that the movement from Jesus to Christ is one we need to imitate. In a passage I read adapted from one of Rohr’s lectures, he says:

A lot of us have so fallen in love with the historical Jesus that we worship him as such and stop right there. We never really follow the same full journey that he made, which is the death and resurrection journey—Jesus died and Christ rose.

Unless we make the same movement that Jesus did—from his one single life to his risen and transformed state (John 12:24)—we probably don’t really understand, experientially, what we mean by the Christ—and how we are part of that deal! This is why he said, “Follow me.” The Jesus that you and I participate in and are graced by and redeemed by is the risen Jesus who has become the Christ (Acts 2:36), which is an inclusive statement about all of us and all of creation too. Stay with this startling truth in the days ahead, and it will rearrange your mind and heart, and change the way you read the entire New Testament. Paul understood this to an amazing degree, which is why he almost always talks about “Christ” and hardly ever directly quotes “Jesus.” It is rather shocking once you realize it.

We devote a lot of concern to Jesus, and it is fitting that we do. But I think Rohr is right that we often miss the “Cosmic Christ,” the macrocosm. And it is the macrocosm that is The Way for all of us, whether or not we call ourselves Christians.

What it Means to Follow Jesus

I just finished reading Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. Rohr’s aim is to help us get beyond dualistic thinking by encouraging us to live “in the naked now, the ‘sacrement of the present moment,’ that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ungly, and how to let them transform us.” Nonduality is not a principle unique to Christian mystical thought; as Rohr points out in his book, the Hindu, Mahayana Buddhist and Chinese Taoist religions all proceed from a worldview of nonduality. But it takes on a disctinctive form in Christianity.

In a chapter titled How to Celebrate Paradox, Rohr invites us to take two statements as axiomatic:

(1) All statements and beliefs about Jesus are also statements about the journey of the soul (birth, chosenness, ordinary life, initiation, career, misunderstanding and oppoisition, failure, death in several forms, resurrection, and return to God).

(2) All statements about “the Christ” are statements about the “Body” of Christ, too. We are not the historical Jesus, but we are the Body of Christ.

I suspect these are statements that will trouble some people because the way we talk about Jesus as the Son of God tends to separate Him from us. We mouth our understanding that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, but most people tend to downplay the fully human part, which can be a very convenient way to let ourselves off the hook to engage in the tough work of transformation.

I think there is much truth to Rohr’s concern that we worship Jesus rather than follow him. He writes:

One of the most subtle ways to avoid imitating someone is to put them on a pedastal, above and apart from us. When you accept that Jesus was not merely divine but human as well, you can begin to see how you are not separate from Jesus.

It is a lot easier to worship than to imitate. Jesus’ instruction, however, was not “worship me,” but “follow me.” To become one with Him, as he and the Father are one.

The Object of Change in Prayer

I’m reading Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. Not surprisingly, Rohr spends time talking about prayer and he says some very useful thing on the subject, with a focus on the importance of prayer as something intended to deeply transform us.

One of his important reminders has to do with the intended object of change in prayer. Rohr writes

Prayer too easily becomes an attempt to change God and aggrandize ourselves instead of what it was meant to be – an interior practice to change the one who is praying, which will always happen if we stand calmly before this uncanny and utterly safe Presence, allowing the Divine Gaze to invade and heal our unconscious, the place where 95 percent of our motivations and reactions come from. All we can really do is return the gaze.

I know the truth of what Rohr says. But I also know that sometimes my prayer is precisly an effort to persuade God of something. The old debater in me comes out and I try to explain to God why God should give me something I want – ranging from the perhaps noble wish for God to grant healing for a sick friend or relative to the selfish prayer that some problem with my computer disappear. I can come up with all sorts of reasons God should do x or y.

So it is good to get the reminder now and then. It is not about God changing. It is about my transformation.

All we can really do is return the gaze.

Come, And You Will See

Among the e-mails automatically delivered to me each day are daily reflections by Richard Rohr (although I confess they sometimes pile up so that I end up reading them two or three at a time).  The current set of reflections is adapted from Rohr’s Preparing for Christmas.

Yesterday’s reflection makes an important point that it took me a long time to realize.  Rohr writes:

Jesus says, “I am not asking you to just believe my words, look at my actions, or the ‘works that I do.’”…

The longer I have tried to follow Jesus, the more I can really say that I no longer believe in Jesus. I know Jesus.  I know him because I have often taken his advice, taken his risks, and it always proves itself to be true! 

Jesus is not telling us to believe unbelievable things, as if that would somehow please God.  He is saying much more to us, “try this, and you will see for yourself that it is true.”  But that initial trying is always a leap of faith into some kind of action or practice….

Part of my difficulty with Catholicism when I was a teenager was feeling like I was simply being asked to believe a set of propositions about God and Catholicism, that I was expected to take everything on faith, without the need to understand anything. It seemed at the time as thought the answer to any question I had was, “Well, that’s just one of the mysteries. You just have to take it on faith.” That was not all that satisfactory an answer to me.

That discomfort is no small part of the explanation for why Buddhism was initially so appealing to me. The Budddha said, don’t believe anything because I or anyone else says it. Instead, when he taught his Four Noble Truths, he said, practice, meditate, and this is what you will experience.

What I didn’t appreciate then is the chasm between my experience of Catholicism as a youth and what is reflected in the quotation from Rohr above. As I read it, I was reminded of the passage in John’s Gospel, where some followers of John the Baptist start following Jesus. When questions them, they ask where he is staying. He responds, “Come, and you will see,” an invitation that is about much more than learning Jesus’ address. And when the imprisoned John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is “the one who is to come, or should we look for another,” Jesus responds, “tell John what you have seen and heard” of what Jesus has done. Not believe who I am because of what I say, but because of what I do.

The most important thing we can do is to accept Jesus’ invitation to come to know him, more and more. It is from that experience of Jesus that everything else will flow. And that does take a leap – not into blind belief of a set of propositions – but into prayer and action.

You can sign up for Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations here.