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Center for Action and Contemplation

Finding the Real Purpose of the Law

Friday, June 17, 2016

Two Halves of Life: Week 1

The Purpose of the Law
Friday, June 17, 2016

The language of the first half of life and the language of the second half of life are almost two different vocabularies, known only to those who have been in both of them. The advantage of those on the further journey is that they can still remember and respect the first language and task. They have transcended but also included all that went before. In fact, if you cannot include and integrate the common sense lessons of the first half of life, I doubt if you have moved to the second. Never throw out the baby with the bathwater. People who know how to creatively break the rules also know why the rules are there in the first place. Matthew 5 quotes Jesus six times, “The law says . . ., but I say. . . .” Jesus doesn’t throw out the law. He just goes further with it. Often it takes an initial reliance on some outer authority to send us on the path toward our own inner authority. This is what Paul is saying in Romans and Galatians. Paul brilliantly holds the law and freedom together. It’s never either/or thinking for him, although Paul is often read that way.

We must love and use the law not for its own sake, but for the sake of getting us started on the journey. What is the law’s goal? What is it leading us toward? Paul says, “The law was our babysitter until the Christ came, and then we could be legitimated by faith” (see Galatians 3:24). It’s a daring line. We must learn the first half of life’s lessons and internalize them before moving on to the second half of life.

The point is not to get rid of the law, nor is it to glibly obey the law. The purpose of the law is to make us struggle with it long enough so that we can find its real purpose. It’s in the struggle that we learn. Ask yourself, “What is the message in this for me? Why do I continually have difficulty following this law? Where is this desire or addiction coming from? What is it telling me about the nature of my soul?” The point is to bring awareness to the struggle, to let it teach you, and to let it lead you to a new place.

A growing discrimination between means and ends is the litmus test of whether you are moving in the right direction. All the world religions at the mature levels say similar things. For some reason, religious people tend to confuse the means with the actual goal. In the beginning, you tend to think that God really cares about your exact posture, the exact day of the week for public prayer, the authorship and wording of your prayers, and other such things. Once your life has become a constant communion, you know that all the techniques, formulas, sacraments, and practices were just a dress rehearsal for the real thing—life itself—which can actually become a constant intentional and loving prayer. Your conscious and loving existence gives glory to God.

Gateway to Silence:
Guide me on the further journey.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), xxvii-xxix, xxxiv;

A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Franciscan Media: 2004), disc 1 (CD); and

The Two Major Tasks of the Spiritual Life (CAC: 2004), CD, MP3 download.

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