Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Author at Center for Action and Contemplation
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Hell, No! Weekly Summary

Hell, No!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Week Thirty-Seven Summary and Practice

Sunday, September 12—Friday, September 17, 2021

Sunday
Your image of God creates you. This is why it is important that we see God as loving and benevolent and why good theology still matters.

Monday
Heaven is not about belonging to the right group or following the correct rituals. It’s about having the right attitude toward existence.

Tuesday
In the first five centuries of Christianity, many of the church fathers believed in universal salvation. It seems we were much more hopeful at the beginning that the Gospel really was universally good news!

Wednesday
The New Testament includes a hope-filled vision of the whole universe pervaded with divine promise. —Elizabeth Johnson

Thursday
God is alive. God is love. Love is pulling us on to do new things and we need to trust the power of God in our lives to do new things. —Ilia Delio

Friday
Maybe it’s not that there are two places beyond the door of death, heaven and hell. Sometimes I wonder if hell is just what heaven feels like for those who haven’t learned in this life what this life is intended to teach. —Brian McLaren

 

A Joyful Mind

St. Catherine of Siena purportedly said, “It’s heaven all the way to heaven,” and I’ve come to believe that “it’s hell all the way to hell” if we choose to make it so. If we can’t experience God and love and happiness and everything that matters today, in whatever moment we find ourselves in, we probably won’t experience it tomorrow either. It isn’t a matter of being “saved,” although that can be an ecstatic experience that gets us started. Rather, it’s a matter of getting in touch with the grace-filled reality that is always available to us. I appreciate how Carlton Pearson puts it:

Getting born again is something we need to do daily as we discover more of our own souls with each new life encounter. For the true Christian, evangelizing should begin with oneself, being born again with each new day, conveying the message of hope, and re-creating this world as a place of love, compassion, preservation of beauty, respect for nature, and peace—peace and love above all else. [1]

I invite you to practice finding your way to “heaven” by engaging this day with a joyful mind. What might a joyful mind be? In my book The Naked Now, I offer some suggestions:

When your mind does not need to be right.

When you no longer need to compare yourself with others.

When your mind can be creative, but without needing anyone to know.

When you can live in contentment with whatever the moment offers.

When your mind does not need to be in charge but can serve the moment with gracious and affirming information.

When your mind follows the intelligent lead of your heart.

When your mind is curious and interested, not suspicious and interrogating.

When your mind does not “brood over injuries.”

When your mind does not need the future to be better than today.

When your mind can accept yourself as you are, warts and all.

When your mind does not divide and always condemn one side or group.

When your mind can critique and also detach from critique.

When your mind can wait, listen, and learn.

When your mind can live satisfied without resolution or closure.

When your mind can forgive and actually “forget.”

When your mind doesn’t need to complain or worry to get motivated.

When your mind can find God in all things.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

References:
[1] Carlton Pearson, The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Religious Fundamentalism to the True Love of God and Self (Atria Books: 2006), 260.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad Publishing: 2009), 178–180.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, La Hija de los Danzantes (detail), 1933, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A portal is an invitation to ponder what lies beyond. This young woman peers into a portal in curious exploration, unsure of what she will find, but still relaxed and open to what comes. In the same way, we are invited to accept that God’s love is constant even beyond our limitations of human knowing. In life and death, God’s love is.

Love Is All There Is

Hell, No!

Love Is All There Is
Thursday, September 16, 2021

We are born out of love. We live in love. We are destined for love. 

—Blessed Raymón Llull, The Book of the Lover and the Beloved

There are few people who teach as passionately about love as scientist, scholar, and Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio. At the CAC CONSPIRE conference in 2014, the audience was able to witness and share Ilia’s enthusiasm for, and trust in, the “love energy of God,” which makes any of our typical notions of hell quite impossible. She said:

Everything that exists speaks of God, reflects that love energy of God. But God is more than anything that exists. God is always the more of our lives. We can’t contain God. If we try to control God, that’s not God; God always spills over our lives. So, God is our future. If we’re longing for something we desire, it’s that spilled-over love of our lives that’s pulling us onward, that’s luring us into something new. But we don’t trust this God [of implanted desire] often. We were pretty sure that God’s there, [and] we’re here, and we just need to keep [on] the straight and narrow path. . . .

What Francis [of Assisi] recognized is God is in every direction. That you might arrive, you might not arrive. You might arrive late; you might arrive early. It’s not the arrival that counts. It’s God! It’s not the direction that counts. It’s just being there, trusting that you will be going where God wants you. In other words, God is with us. Every step of the way is God-empowered love energy. But we tend to break down and start controlling things: “If I go this way, I’m going to get lost. Well, what if it’s wrong? What will happen to me?” Well, what will happen to you? Something will happen. But guess what? Something’s going to happen whether or not you go; that’s the whole point of life. So, it’s all about love.

So, it’s not like we’ve got this, “Here’s God; here’s us. God’s just waiting till we get our act together and then we’ll all be well.” That’s a boring God; that’s not even God. God is alive. God is love. Love is pulling us on to do new things and we need to trust the power of God in our lives to do new things. . . . We need to unwire ourselves to recognize that the God of Jesus Christ is, you might say, the power beneath our feet, the depth of the beauty of everything that exists, and the future into which we are moving. . . .

Every one of us is written in the heart of God from all eternity, born into the stars, born, you might say, into the galaxies, born on this earth in small forms, developing and coming to explicit form in our lives, given a name. It’s a fantastic mystery of love.

Reference:

Ilia Delio, CONSPIRE 2014: A Benevolent Universe, session 9 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), MP4 video download.

Story from Our Community:
I grew up in the Catholic Church of the 1950s, which Richard Rohr describes so well—a judgmental God with rules that could lead me to heaven or hell. I left the Catholic Church and found a Christian community that encourages me to think for myself about my religious beliefs and values. Then several years ago, a friend introduced me to the teachings of Richard Rohr and I will forever be grateful for his wisdom, which has changed my life as well as my faith. —Ted W.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, La Hija de los Danzantes (detail), 1933, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A portal is an invitation to ponder what lies beyond. This young woman peers into a portal in curious exploration, unsure of what she will find, but still relaxed and open to what comes. In the same way, we are invited to accept that God’s love is constant even beyond our limitations of human knowing. In life and death, God’s love is.

Universal Salvation of All Creation

Hell, No!

Universal Salvation of All Creation
Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Elizabeth Johnson, the brilliant theologian, Sister of St. Joseph, and professor at Fordham University, has written extensively about the universal nature of salvation— not only for humans, but for all creation. By focusing our religious conversations on the problem of human sin and “worthiness,” we have often lost sight of the strong scriptural evidence for the universal return of all of creation to God. Dr. Johnson writes:

Biblical writers elaborated the good news using concepts of liberation, reconciliation, justification, victory over the powers, living in peace, fullness of life, being freed from slavery, adoption, and new birth as God’s children to name but a few. These long-untapped resources . . . open doors to understanding more varied dimensions of what is meant by the mystery of redemption.

One result has been renewed awareness of New Testament texts about cosmic redemption that previously just flew by. These texts that extend the promise of a future to all of creation are few in number, but they are strong. . . . The great hymn in Colossians which draws on the Wisdom tradition and the history of Jesus in equal measure, is suffused with this insight:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominations or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. . . . For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15–20)

This passage from Colossians has also been central to my understanding of and teachings on the Universal Christ in recent years.  Johnson continues:

The drumbeat of “all things” repeated five times in this short text, coupled with reference to “all creation,” “everything,” and the encompassing “things visible and invisible,” drives home the blessing that flows to the whole world from the cross. . . .

The visionary writer of the book of Revelation hears “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” singing praises to the Lamb (Revelation 5:13), and perceives a climactic event of transformation where the One who sits on the throne says, “See, I am making all things new” (21:5). . . . The New Testament includes a hope-filled vision of the whole universe pervaded with divine promise.

Would God bring all of creation to heavenly glory, while leaving out most of humanity, who are made in God’s own “image and likeness”? I can’t imagine that this would be so!

Reference:
Elizabeth A. Johnson, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (Bloomsbury Continuum: 2014). 223–224.

Story from Our Community:
I credit Richard Rohr with helping me transition from the dualistic thinking I was exposed to as an evangelical preacher’s kid, to a more forgiving and loving way of thinking and being. His many books helped me rebuild my faith and I learned God has an awesome sense of humor. She used one of those “hell-bound,” “idol worshipping” Catholics to help me find my way. Thank you, Fr. Richard! Your books are treasured like friends. You almost rank up there with my dog. —Sharon D.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, La Hija de los Danzantes (detail), 1933, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A portal is an invitation to ponder what lies beyond. This young woman peers into a portal in curious exploration, unsure of what she will find, but still relaxed and open to what comes. In the same way, we are invited to accept that God’s love is constant even beyond our limitations of human knowing. In life and death, God’s love is.

Universal Good News

Hell, No!

Universal Good News
Tuesday, September 14, 2021

In the first five centuries of Christianity, many of the church fathers affirmed universal salvation. It seems we were much more hopeful at the beginning that the Gospel really was universally good news! A mystical experience led Carlton Pearson, a former evangelical megachurch pastor, to complete a thorough study of the ancient message of universal salvation. He shares that:

The message of Inclusion, also known as Universal Reconciliation, is not new. It was [a] widely held position . . . of respected early church fathers and founders throughout the first five hundred years of church history. . . .

Augustine (354–430), of African descent and one of the four great Latin/Afro church fathers (Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, and Gregory the Great), admitted, “There are very many in our day, who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.” [1]

Origen. . . lived from 185 to 254. He founded a school at Caesarea, and is considered by historians to be one of the great theologians and scholars of the Eastern Church. In his book De Principiis, he wrote: “We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end [that is, salvation], even His enemies being conquered and subdued . . . for Christ must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.” [2]

Universal restoration and salvation was often embraced, as well as widely debated, in early Christianity. Pearson continues, quoting from some of the early church fathers:

In the end and consummation of the universe, all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect [person], and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one. —St. Jerome, 331–420 [3]

For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body. —Gregory of Nyssa, 335–390 [4]

Finally, here is an excerpt from a conversation between St. Silouan (1866–1938), a monk and Orthodox Staretz (elder), and a hermit.

[There was] a certain hermit who declared [to Silouan] with evident satisfaction: ‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’ Obviously upset, the Staretz said: ‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire—would you feel happy?’ ‘It can’t be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit. The Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance. ‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all.’ [5]

References:
[1] Augustine, Enchiridion ad Laurentium (Manual to Laurentius), chap. 29, part 112.

[2] Origen, De Principiis (On First Principles), book 1, chap. 6, part 1.

[3] Jerome, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, Ephesians 4:4.

[4] Gregory of Nyssa, In Illud: Tunc et Ipse Filius (Treatise on First Corinthians 15:28)

[5] Archimandrite Sophrony, The Monk of Mount Athos: Staretz Silouan, 1866–1938, trans. Rosemary Edmonds, rev. ed. (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 1973), 32.

Carlton Pearson, The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Religious Fundamentalism to the True Love of God and Self (Atria Books: 2006), 9, 27–28. The quotes from Augustine, Origen, Jerome, and Gregory of Nyssa are taken from Pearson’s text.

Story from Our Community:
I credit Richard Rohr with helping me transition from the dualistic thinking I was exposed to as an evangelical preacher’s kid, to a more forgiving and loving way of thinking and being. His many books helped me rebuild my faith and I learned God has an awesome sense of humor. She used one of those “hell-bound,” “idol worshipping” Catholics to help me find my way. Thank you, Fr. Richard! Your books are treasured like friends. You almost rank up there with my dog. —Sharon D.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, La Hija de los Danzantes (detail), 1933, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A portal is an invitation to ponder what lies beyond. This young woman peers into a portal in curious exploration, unsure of what she will find, but still relaxed and open to what comes. In the same way, we are invited to accept that God’s love is constant even beyond our limitations of human knowing. In life and death, God’s love is.

Choosing Heaven Now

Hell, No!

Choosing Heaven Now
Monday, September 13, 2021

The shape of creation must somehow mirror and reveal the shape of the Creator. We must have a God at least as big as the universe. Otherwise, our view of God becomes irrelevant, constricted, and more harmful than helpful. The Christian image of a torturous hell and God as a petty tyrant has not helped us to know, trust, or love God—or anything else. If we understand God as Trinity—the fountain fullness of outflowing love, and relationship itself—there is no theological possibility of any hatred or vengeance in God.

Divinity, which is revealed as Love Itself, will always eventually win. God does not lose (see John 6:37-39). We are all saved by mercy. This is an orthodox opinion! In his book Introduction to Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI explains his understanding of the curious phrase in the middle of the Apostles’ Creed: “[Jesus] descended into hell.” Benedict says that since Christ went into hell, that means hell “is hell no longer . . . because love dwells in it.” [1] Jesus Christ and hell cannot coexist; once Jesus got there, the whole game of punishment was over, as it were. A basic principle of nonviolence is that we cannot achieve good by doing bad.

If this is true, any notion of an actual “geographic” hell or purgatory is unnecessary and, in my opinion, destructive of the very restorative notion of the whole Gospel. Pope John Paul II, who certainly was not a liberal, reminded listeners that heaven and hell are not physical places at all. They are states of being in which we dwell either in a loving relationship with God or one of separation from the source of all life and joy. [2] If that’s true, there are plenty of people on earth who are in both heaven and hell right now.

Heaven is not about belonging to the right group or following the correct rituals. It’s about having the right attitude toward existence. There are just as many Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews who live in love—serving their neighbor and the poor—as there are Christians. Jesus says there will be deep regret—“wailing and grinding of teeth” (Luke 13:28)—when we realize how wrong we were. Be prepared to be surprised about who is living a life of love and service and who isn’t. This should keep us all humble and recognizing it’s not even any of our business who’s going to heaven. What makes us think that our little minds and hearts could discern the mind and heart of anyone else?

Further, Jesus never really taught “the immortality of the soul” as we understand it. That was Plato. Jesus taught the immortality of love. If we have never really loved anyone or anything, I doubt we are at all capable of eternity. We simply die. A torture chamber was an unfortunate metaphor to keep people from never loving, trusting, or hoping. I am not sure it ever really worked because you cannot threaten people into love.

References:

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, trans. J. R. Foster (Herder and Herder: 1969), 230.

[2] Pope John Paul II, General Audiences on the topics of heaven, July 21, 1999, and hell, July 28, 1999. These can be found at https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_21071999.html ; and https://www.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_28071999.html

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Today Is a Time for Mercy,” homily, December 10, 2015, https://cac.org/podcasts/today-is-a-time-for-mercy/;

Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CDMP3 download; and

Hell, No! (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CD, MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
The CAC newsletters and Richard Rohr’s writings have been a blessing. I grew up Southern Baptist and was always so afraid of hell and wondering if I was “saved” or not. Now I know that everyone is loved and saved. God loves me and all people and things with an everlasting love. Thank you for your wonderful words of hope and love. —Stacy S.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, La Hija de los Danzantes (detail), 1933, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A portal is an invitation to ponder what lies beyond. This young woman peers into a portal in curious exploration, unsure of what she will find, but still relaxed and open to what comes. In the same way, we are invited to accept that God’s love is constant even beyond our limitations of human knowing. In life and death, God’s love is.

God Is Good

Hell, No!

God Is Good
Sunday, September 12, 2021

Your image of God creates you. This is why it is important that we see God as loving and benevolent and why good theology still matters. One mistaken image of God that keeps us from receiving grace is the idea that God is a cruel tyrant. People who have been raised in an atmosphere of threats of punishment and promises of reward are programmed to operate with this cheap image of a punitive God. It usually becomes their entire view of the universe.

Unfortunately, it’s much easier to organize people around fear and hatred than around love. Powerful people prefer this worldview because it validates their use of intimidation—which is quite effective in the short run! Both Catholicism and Protestantism have used the threat of eternal hellfire to form Christians. I am often struck by the irrational anger of many people when they hear that someone does not believe in hell. You cannot “believe” in hell. Biblical “belief” is simply to trust and have confidence in the goodness of God or reality and cannot imply some notion of anger, wrath, or hopelessness at the center of all that is. Otherwise, we live in a toxic and unsafe universe, which many do.

In his book Inventing Hell, Jon Sweeney points out that our Christian view of hell largely comes from several unfortunate metaphors in Matthew’s Gospel. [1] Hell is not found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. It’s not found in the Gospel of John or in Paul’s letters. The words Sheol and Gehenna are used in Matthew, but they have nothing to do with the later medieval notion of eternal punishment. Sheol is simply the place of the dead, a sort of limbo where humans await the final judgment when God will finally win. Gehenna was both the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem—the Valley of Hinnom—and an early Jewish metaphor for evil (Isaiah 66:24). The idea of hell as we most commonly view it came much more from Dante’s Inferno than the Bible. Believe me on that. It is the very backdrop of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It makes for good art, I suppose, but it’s horrible, dualistic theology. This is not Jesus, “meek and humble of heart,” which is his self-description in life (Matthew 11:29). We end up with two different and opposing Jesuses: one before Resurrection (healing) and one after Resurrection (dangerous and damning).

Jesus tells us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), but the punitive god sure doesn’t. Jesus tells us to forgive “seventy times seven” times (Matthew 18:22), but this other god doesn’t. Instead, this other god burns people for all eternity. Many of us were raised to believe this, but we usually had to repress this bad theology into our unconscious because it’s literally unthinkable. Most humans are more loving and forgiving than such a god, but we can’t be more loving than God. It’s not possible. This “god” is not God!

References:
[1] Jon M. Sweeney, Inventing Hell: Dante, the Bible, and Eternal Punishment, 2nd ed. (Acta: 2017), 111–112.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Today Is a Time for Mercy,” homily, December 10, 2015;

Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking, disc 3 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), CDMP3 download;

Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2007), 162; and

Hell, No! (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CD, MP3 download.

Story from Our Community:
The CAC newsletters and Richard Rohr’s writings have been a blessing. I grew up Southern Baptist and was always so afraid of hell and wondering if I was “saved” or not. Now I know that everyone is loved and saved. God loves me and all people and things with an everlasting love. Thank you for your wonderful words of hope and love. —Stacy S.

Image credit: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, La Hija de los Danzantes (detail), 1933, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: A portal is an invitation to ponder what lies beyond. This young woman peers into a portal in curious exploration, unsure of what she will find, but still relaxed and open to what comes. In the same way, we are invited to accept that God’s love is constant even beyond our limitations of human knowing. In life and death, God’s love is.

Life as Participation: Weekly Summary

Life as Participation

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Week Thirty-Six Summary and Practice

Sunday, September 5—Friday, September 10, 2021

Sunday
After transformation, God is not out there and we don’t look at reality. We look from reality. We’re in the middle of it now; we’re a part of it. This whole thing is a mystery of participation.

Monday
Our lives have meaning and purpose. We either help build this world up in love or tear it apart. —Ilia Delio

Tuesday
For Paul, love is not something we do. It is something that is done to us, and that we participate in.

Wednesday
Paul teaches that we are both saints and sinners on a corporate level. Our holiness lies in participating in the wholeness of the Body of Christ.

Thursday
The good news of an incarnational religion, a Spirit-based morality, is that you are not motivated by any outside reward or punishment but by participating in the Mystery itself.

Friday
Religion as participation constantly recognizes that we are a part of something more than we are observing something or “believing” in something.

 

Finding the Life Underneath Your Life Situation

Earlier this week I shared that we only “fall into” the bigger Life and Love in which we all participate by releasing our attachment to our smaller selves. Here is a practice from Eckhart Tolle that may help us to experience this freedom to “fall.” In this passage, Tolle responds to a reader who has shared how unhappy they are with their “life”:

What you refer to as your “life” should more accurately be called your “life situation.” It is psychological time: past and future. Certain things in the past didn’t go the way you wanted them to go. You are still resisting what happened in the past, and now you are resisting what is. Hope is what keeps you going, but hope keeps you focused on the future, and this continued focus perpetuates your denial of the Now and therefore your unhappiness.

It is true that my present life situation is the result of things that happened in the past, but it is still my present situation, and being stuck in it is what makes me unhappy.

Forget about your life situation for a while and pay attention to your life.

What is the difference?

Your life situation exists in time.

Your life is now.

Your life situation is mind-stuff.

Your life is real.

Find the “narrow gate that leads to life.” It is called the Now. Narrow your life down to this moment. Your life situation may be full of problems—most life situations are—but find out if you have any problem at this moment. Not tomorrow or in ten minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now?

When you are full of problems, there is no room for anything new to enter, no room for a solution. So whenever you can, make some room, create some space, so that you can find the life underneath your life situation.

Use your senses fully. Be where you are. Look around. Just look, don’t interpret. See the light, shapes, colors, textures. Be aware of the silent presence of each thing. Be aware of the space that allows everything to be. Listen to the sounds; don’t judge them. Listen to the silence underneath the sounds. Touch something—anything—and feel and acknowledge its Being. Observe the rhythm of your breathing; feel the air flowing in and out, feel the life energy inside your body. Allow everything to be, within and without. Allow the “isness” of all things. Move deeply into the Now.

Richard again: I realize how counter-intuitive this sitting and being and noticing is for most of us, yet it is only in the “naked now” that we can participate in the fullness of life.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (New World Library: 1999), 51–52.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.

Participation Is the Only Way

Life as Participation

Participation Is the Only Way
Friday, September 10, 2021

Some of the most exciting and fruitful thought in recent theology can be described as the “turn toward participation.” [1] Religion as participation is a rediscovery of the Perennial Tradition that so many saints and mystics have spoken of in their own ways. It constantly recognizes that we are a part of something more than we are observing something or “believing” in something.

Both the work of the German philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883–1969) and the English scholar Owen Barfield have given me a schema for understanding this “turn.” We moved away from deep participatory experience into nonparticipation, the ‘wilderness’ or “null point between original and final participation,” in Barfield’s words. [2] Today each autonomous individual is on his or her own, especially those with economic privilege.

Roughly before 800 BCE, it seems, most people connected with God and reality through myth, poetry, dance, music, fertility, and nature. Although it was a violent world focused on survival, people still knew that they belonged to something cosmic and meaningful. They inherently participated in what was still an utterly enchanted universe where the “supernatural” was everywhere. Barfield calls this state of mind “original participation.” [3]

What Jaspers calls Axial Consciousness emerged worldwide with the Eastern sages, the Jewish prophets, and the Greek philosophers, coalescing around 500 BCE. [4] It laid the foundations of all the world’s religions and major philosophies. It was the birth of systematic and conceptual thought. In the East, it often took the form of the holistic thinking that is found in Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism, which allowed people to experience forms of participation with reality, themselves, and the divine. In the West, the Greek genius gave us a kind of mediated participation through thought, reason, and philosophy. At the same time, many mystics seemed to enjoy real participation, even though it was usually seen as a very narrow gate available to only a few.

Among the people called Israel there was a dramatic realization of intimate union and group participation with God. They recognized the individually enlightened person like Moses or Isaiah, but they did something more. The notion of participation was widened to the Jewish group and beyond, at least for many of the Hebrew prophets. God was saving the people as a whole. Participation was historical and social, and not just individual. It is amazing that we have forgotten or ignored this, making salvation all about private persons going to heaven or hell, which is surely a regression from the historical, collective, and even cosmic notion of salvation taught in the Bible.  Remember, God was always saving Israel and not just Abraham.

Both the Hebrew Scriptures and experience itself created a matrix into which a new realization could be communicated. Jesus offered the world full and final participation in his own very holistic teaching. This allowed Jesus to speak of true union at all levels: with oneself, with neighbors, with outsiders, with enemies, with nature, and—through all of these—with the Divine. The net and sweep of participation was total. What else could truly “good news” be?

References:
[1] Jorge N. Ferrer and Jacob H. Sherman, eds., The Participatory Turn: Spirituality, Mysticism, and Religious Studies (SUNY Press: 2008).

[2] Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, 2nd ed.(Wesleyan University Press: 1988, 1957), 178.

[3] Barfield, 40.

[4] Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (Yale University Press: 1953), 1–6.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey Bass: 2013), 108, 112–114.

Story from Our Community:
I believe in an evolutionary God, so I often relate to what Fr. Richard is saying in his meditation. I often say that vulnerability is another word for incarnation, and we are all called to be incarnate. —Carol C.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.

Participatory Morality

Life as Participation

Participatory Morality
Thursday, September 9, 2021

Jesus’ message of “full and final participation” was periodically enjoyed and taught by many unknown saints and mystics. It must be admitted, though, that the vast majority of Christians made Christianity into a set of morals and rituals instead of an all-embracing mysticism of the present moment. Moralism—as opposed to healthy morality—is the reliance on largely arbitrary purity codes, needed rituals, and dutiful “requirements” that are framed as prerequisites for enlightenment. Every group and individual usually begins this way. I guess it is understandable. People look for something visible, seemingly demanding, and socially affirming todo or not do rather than undergo a radical transformation to the mind and heart of God. It is no wonder that Jesus so strongly warns against public prayer, public acts of generosity, and visible fasting in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1–18). Yet that is what we still do!

Any external behavior that puts us on moral high ground is always attractive to the ego because, as Jesus says, “you have already received your reward” (Matthew 6:2). Moralism and ritualism allow us to think we are independently “good” without the love and mercy of God and without being of service to, or engaging deeply with, anybody else. That’s a far cry from the full and final participation we see Jesus offering or any outpouring love of the Trinity.

Our carrot-and-stick approach to religion is revealed by the fact that one is never quite pure enough, holy enough, or loyal enough for the presiding group. Obedience is normally a higher virtue than love in religious circles. This process of “sin management” has kept us clergy in business. Hiding around the edges of this search for moral purity are evils that we have readily overlooked: slavery, sexism, racism, wholesale classism, greed, pedophilia, national conquest, LGBTQIA+ exclusion, and the destruction of Native cultures. Almost all wars were fought with the full blessing of Christians. We have, as a result, what some cynically call “churchianity” or “civil religion” rather than deep or transformative Christianity.

The good news of an incarnational religion, a Spirit-based morality, is that you are not motivated by any outside reward or punishment but by participating in the Mystery itself. Carrots are neither needed nor helpful. “It is God, who for God’s own loving purpose, puts both the will and the action into you” (Philippians 2:13). It is not mere rule-following behavior; rather, it is our actual identity in God that is radically changing us. Henceforth, we do things because they are true and loving, not because we have to do them or because we are afraid of punishment. Now we are not so much driven from without (the false self method) but we are drawn from within (the True Self method). The generating motor is inside us now instead of either a lure or a threat from outside us. This alone is a converted Christian, or converted anything.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (Jossey-Bass: 2013), 102‒106.

Story from Our Community:
I believe in an evolutionary God, so I often relate to what Fr. Richard is saying in his meditation. I often say that vulnerability is another word for incarnation, and we are all called to be incarnate. —Carol C.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.

Collective Responsibility

Life as Participation

Collective Responsibility
Wednesday, September 8, 2021

In my talks on Paul, I tried to show how Paul teaches that we are both saints and sinners on a corporate level—and at the same time. Our holiness lies in participating in the wholeness of the Body of Christ. As I said in my Great Themes of Paul talks:

Individually and personally, our private egos—which we’ve all been trained to take absolutely seriously—are too small and temporary to really believe Paul’s words about us. He says: “You are God’s work of art” (Ephesians 2:10), “You are God’s temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16), “You are the sweet aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15), “You are saints” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2). What is he talking about? On our own, we have so much evidence to the contrary. We simply can’t bear that much goodness. If we hear his teaching on an individual moral level, we’ll never believe it—nor should we. We almost have to dismiss it as pious nonsense.

On the other, more negative side, Paul says, “You’re all sinners” (Romans 3:23), “You’re slaves to the flesh” (Romans 6:20), and “Your sinful passions bring death,” (Romans 7:5). We stand guilty and shame-based under these words if we hear them as individuals. Or we rebel against Paul’s words, thinking, “I’m not going to sit here and be told I’m terrible and unworthy.” Of course, the little psyche, the little ego, is just too little to carry this great big theater piece of drama and shame on its own.

Paul knew, I believe, that these proclamations were far too huge to be carried by the individual person. He is trying to find words and categories, searching for ever-new language to describe the corporate, historical, larger-than-life body and participative phenomenon we’re all caught up in, which he calls “the Body of Christ.”

Fortunately, we now live in an age where we have a language to describe this. The evidence from science is that the foundational reality of this world is consciousness or what we call spirit, not materiality.

We cannot easily be told that we, on our own, are evil, bad, sinful, or responsible. We’ll block it or deny it. But we cannot deny that we are a part of a species that has killed one hundred million people in wars within the last century. We don’t find ourselves resisting that quite as much because, somehow, we’re carrying this together. There is a level of acceptance as we move toward social accountability and social responsibility. We’re all participating in the evil of unjust systems and it’s at that level that we can and must carry the pain and hear that we are sinners. More positively, we must carry what seems like the complete opposite, that we are saints. Both are true at the same time, and believe it or not, “in Christ” they don’t cancel one another out! They include one another.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Paul’s Corporate Understanding of Everything,” in Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 7 (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2002), CD.

Story from Our Community:
The Daily Meditations are a reflection and a confirmation of my psychological and pathological making. Thanks to Father Richard, I’m able to pinpoint and fix my spiritual understanding so that I have a new mindset. Like Saint Paul said in his letter to the Romans, nothing… “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Elias M.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
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