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Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic
Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic

A Tug-of-War with Truth

Monday, March 21, 2022

Father Richard describes the paradoxical impact that Paul’s revelation of Christ had for him. His way of thinking and being changed completely:  

Meeting the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus changed everything for Paul. He experienced the great paradox that the crucified Jesus was in fact alive! And he, Paul, a “sinner,” was in fact chosen and beloved. This pushed Paul from the usual either/or, dualistic thinking to both/and, mystical thinking.

The truth in paradoxical language lies neither in the affirmation nor in the denial of either side, but precisely in the resolution of the tug-of-war between the two. The human mind usually works on the logical principle of contradiction, according to which something cannot be both true and false at the same time. Yet that is exactly what higher truths invariably undo (for example, God is both one and three; Jesus is both human and divine; bread and wine are both matter and Spirit). Unfortunately, since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, we Western, educated people have lost touch with paradoxical, mystical, or contemplative thinking. We’ve wasted five centuries taking sides—which is so evident in our culture today!

Not only was Paul’s way of thinking changed by his mystical experience, his way of being in the world was also transformed. Suddenly the persecutor—and possibly murderer—of Christians is Christ’s “chosen vessel,” sent “to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). This dissolves the strict line between good and bad, between in-group “Jews” and out-group “Gentiles.” The paradox has been overcome in Paul’s very person. He now knows that he is both sinner and saint, and we too must trust the same. These two seeming contradictions don’t cancel one another. Once the conflict has been overcome in you, you realize you are a living paradox and so is everyone else. You begin to see life in a truly spiritual way.

Perhaps this is why Paul loves to teach dialectically. He presents two seemingly opposing ideas, such as weakness and strength, flesh and spirit, law and grace, faith and works, Jew and Greek, male and female. Dualistic thinking usually takes one side, dismisses the other, and stops there. Paul doesn’t do that. He forces us onto the horns of the dilemma and invites us to wrestle with the paradox. If we stay with him in the full struggle, we’ll realize that he eventually brings reconciliation on a higher level, beyond the essential struggle where almost all of us start.

Paul is the first clear successor to Jesus as a nondual teacher. He creates the mystical foundations for Christianity. It’s a mystery of participation in Christ. It’s not something that we achieve by performance. It’s something that we’re already participating in, and often we just don’t know it. We are all already flowing in this Christ consciousness, this Trinitarian flow of life and love moving in and around and through everything; we just don’t realize it.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A New Way of Seeing . . . a New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2007). Available as CD and MP3 download; and

St. Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2014). Available as CD and MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, “Bum blockade.” (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study II (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The images on the left and right may not be immediately clear upon first glance. Perhaps there is room for our questions to stay with us gently, taking their time, until understanding slowly emerges as we walk along.

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.

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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