1/06/2015

Confusing the Edge with Essence and Claiming the Superficial as Substance

More gems from Richard Rohr (Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer. Chap. 1: Center and Circumference) (italics and bold mine):

We are a circumference people, with little access to the center. We live on the boundaries of our own lives...confusing edges with essence, too quickly claiming the superficial as substance. As Yeats predicted, things have fallen apart and the center does not seem to be holding.

If the circumstances of our lives were evil, it would be easier to moralize about them. But boundaries and edges are not bad as much as they are passing, accidental, sometimes illusory... Our "skin" is not bad; it's just not our soul or spirit. But skin might also be the only available beginning point for many contemporary people. ...we can remain on the circumferences of our lives for quite a long time. So long, that it starts feeling like the only "life" available.

The path of prayer and love and the path of suffering seem to be the two Great Paths of transformation. Suffering seems to get our attention; love and prayer seem to get our heart and our passion. But most of us return (to our center and to our true selves) by a more arduous route... usually three steps forward and two steps backward...

...we must begin somewhere. For most of us the beginning point is at the edges. This reality, felt and not denied, suffered and enjoyed, becomes the royal road to the center. In other words, reality itself, our reality, my limited and sometimes misinterpreted experience, still becomes the revelatory place for God. For some reason we seem to prefer fabricated realities to the strong and sensitizing face of what is.

Yet the great teachers tell us not to stay on the circumferences too long or we will never know ourselves or God. The two knowings, in fact, seem to move forward together. This movement might also be understood as conversion, transformation, or growth in holiness. You cannot make this journey...alone. You must be led.

In God's reign "everything belongs," even the broken and poor parts. Until we have admitted this in our own soul, we will usually perpetuate expelling systems in the outer world of politics and class. Dualistic thinking begins in the soul and moves to the mind and eventually moves to the streets. True prayer, however, nips the lie in the bud. It is usually experienced as tears, surrender, or forgiveness.

...a poor uneducated person might well know and love God more than a great theologian or ecclesiastic. You do not resolve the God question in your head -- or even in the perfection of moral response.

Our skin-encapsulated egos are the only self that most of us know, and this is where we usually get trapped. It is fair to say that the traps of mind and ideology are as toxic and as blinding as the so-called "hot sins" of drunkards and prostitutes, though they are harder to recognize.

(What is the journey to the core?) By praying and meditating? By more silence, solitude, and sacraments? Yes to all, but the most important way is to live and fully accept our reality. This solution sounds so simple and innocuous that most of us fabricate all kinds of religious trappings to avoid taking up our own inglorious, mundane, and ever-present cross.

We do not find our own center; it finds us. Our own mind will not be able to figure it out. We collapse back into the Truth only when we are naked and free -- which is probably not very often. We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.

We do not really know what it means to be human unless we know God. And, in turn, we do not really know God except through our own broken and rejoicing humanity. In Jesus, God tells us that God is not different from humanity. Jesus' most common and almost exclusive self-name is "The Human One," or "Son of Humanity." He uses the term 79 times in the four Gospels. Jesus' reality, his cross, is to say a free "yes" to what his humanity finally asks of him. It seems that we Christians have been worshiping Jesus' journey instead of doing his journey. The first feels very religious; the second just feels human, and not glorious at all.

"First there is the fall, and then there is the recovery from the fall. But both are the mercy of God." Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), the holy English anchoress (Gk "anachoreo" meaning "to withdraw"). Maybe you can't believe that until the second half of life. Julian had an amazing ability to move beyond either-or thinking. She could live with paradox, unanswered questions, immense inner conflicts, and theological contradictions -- and still trust and be at peace.

Only the spacious, contemplative mind can see so broadly and trust so deeply. The small calculating mind wants either/or, win or lose, good or bad. Jesus reminded Julian that his crucifixion was the worst thing that happened in human history and God made the best out of it to take away all of our excuses. The great and merciful surprise is that we come to God not by doing it right but by doing it wrong!

Those who rush to artificially manufacture their own identity often end up with hardened and overly defended edges. They are easily offended and are always ready to create a new identity when the current one lets them down. They might become racists or control freaks, people who are always afraid of the "other." Often they become codependent or counterdependent, in either case living only in reaction to someone or something else. Thus many people, even religious folks, settle for lives of "holier than thou" or lives consumed by hatred of their enemies. Being over and against is a lot easier than being in love.

Traveling the road of healthy religion and true contemplation will lead to calmly held boundaries, which need neither to be defended constantly nor abdicated in the name of "friendship." This is a "narrow road that few travel upon" (Mt 7:14). It is "the Third Way": the tertium quid that emerges only when you hold the tension of opposites.

God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes.

Only when we rest in God can we find the safety, the spaciousness, and the scary freedom to be who we are, all that we are, more than we are, and less than we are. Only when we live and see through God can "everything belong." All other systems exclude, expel, punish, and protect to find identity for their members in ideological perfection or some kind of "purity." The contaminating element always has to be searched out and scolded. Apart from taking up so much useless time and energy, this effort keeps us from the one and only task of love and union. "Rake the muck this way. Rake the muck that way. It will still be muck. In the time you are brooding, you could be stringing pearls for the delight of heaven." the Hasidic masters.