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Center for Action and Contemplation

A Deepening Intimacy

Monday, January 31, 2022

Father Richard shares that right relationship is the central theme of most biblical stories:

It seems that this YHWH who is uncovering and showing Godself in the Bible desires not just images or ideas, but even persons with whom God can be in very concrete and intimate relationship. God is creating, quite literally, some friends for God! Jesus became the full representation of one who accepted and lived that friendship. In fact, he never seemed to doubt it. That must be at the core of our imitation of Jesus, and exactly how we become “partners in his triumph” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

Yet God does not settle for mandated or fear-based relationships, but rather desires willing and free relationships with “friends” (John 15:15). It is called a “new covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31; Luke 22:20), but one that is still a quite new and unbelievable possibility for most people.

One way to read the entire Bible is to note the gradual unveiling of our faces, the gradual creating of “persons” capable of relationship with God and all others. We grow from infants totally receiving love, to teenage love, to infatuation, to adult communion. Biblical spirituality has the potential of creating persons who can both receive and give out of love, and love that is perfectly free.

We all fear and avoid intimacy, it seems. It is too powerful and demands that we also “have faces,” that is, self-confidence, identity, dignity, and a certain courage to accept our own unique face. Then we have a greater challenge—once we have discovered our own face, we must be willing to give it away to another.

The biblical tradition says that truth is found not in abstract concepts, but in an encounter with otherness. As in the Trinity, trust is a relationship of love with what we gaze upon. Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas (1906–1995) said the only thing that really converts people is “the face of the other.” [1] The face of YHWH for Moses, the face of a lover for Jacob, the face of an accuser for David, the face of the enemy for Judith, these change people’s “truth.” It is relationship, “the face of the other,” that transforms us, converts us, and gives us our deepest identity. Not book knowledge!

In the philosophical traditions in which Western Christians have been educated up to now, truth is formed and found by the private mind and its collections of agreed-upon ideas. Identity can be achieved autonomously, with a certain kind of self-sufficiency. Thus, we speak of the “self-made person” and familiar cultural truth.

Jesus instead defines truth itself as relational rather than conceptual. He says “I am the truth” (John 14:6) and then immediately describes himself as one who is in absolute relationship with his “Father” (14:7, 9–10) and the Spirit who is in relationship to both (14:16–18). This rearranges the world of religion from arguments over ideas and concepts into a world of encounter, relationship, and presence to the face of the other. That changes everything.

References:
[1] See Is It Righteous to Be? Interviews with Emmanuel Lévinas, ed. Jill Robbins (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001) for an introduction to his work. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality  (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2008), 53–54, 56, 61. 

Explore Further. . .

Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 17 & 20 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Warren K. Leffler, Civil rights march on Washington, D.C., 1963 (detail), Photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The Bible reveals the ongoing work of liberation by God and God’s people. It is a bridge to our understanding of God moving through the ordinariness of time and space. Just like this river: symbolizing the continuing story of the struggle for justice as it flows around and through this freedom fighter of the 1960s.

Story from Our Community:

I became a believer at a young age, fully involved in evangelical church life. However, I increasingly felt conflict with literalist readings of the Bible. After personal difficulties, I sat in a church listening to Evening Prayer, which rekindled my faith. I realized that God’s providence and purposes were much larger than I could comprehend. God was and is there and waiting for me.
—Rob B.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

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