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Center for Action and Contemplation

From Naïveté to Wisdom

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Growing in Christ: Week 2

From Naïveté to Wisdom
Sunday, March 24, 2019

To grow toward love, union, salvation, or enlightenment (I use the words almost interchangeably), we must be moved from Order to Disorder and finally to Reorder.

ORDER: At this stage—our “first naïveté,” if we are granted it (and not all are)—we feel innocent and safe. Everything is basically good and has meaning. We have a seemingly God-given, unshakable, and satisfying explanation of how things are and should be. Those who try to stay here tend to refuse and avoid confusion, conflict, inconsistencies, suffering, or darkness. They do not like disorder or change. Even many Christians do not like anything that looks like “carrying the cross.” (This is the huge price we have paid for just thanking Jesus for what he did on the cross, instead of actually imitating him.) The ego compels each one of us to hunker down and pretend that my status quo is entirely good, should be good for everybody, and is always “true” and even the only truth. Permanent residence in this stage tends to create naïve people and control freaks. “Conservatives” tend to get trapped here.

DISORDER: Eventually our ideally ordered universe—our “private salvation project,” as Thomas Merton (1915–1968) called it—will disappoint us, if we are honest. As Canadian songwriter Leonard Cohen (1934–2016) put it, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” [1] Your loved one dies, you lose a job, your children leave the church, or you finally realize that many people are excluded from “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This is the disorder stage, like the “fall” Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). It is necessary in some form if real growth is to occur; but some of us find this stage so uncomfortable we try to flee back to our contrived order. Others today seem to have given up and decided that “there is no universal order,” or at least no order we will submit to. Permanent residence in this stage tends to make people rather negative, cynical, angry, opinionated and dogmatic about one form of political correctness or another. “Liberals” tend to get trapped here.

REORDER: Every religion, each in its own way, is trying to move us to enlightenment, nirvana, heaven, salvation, or resurrection. Mature spirituality points to life on the other side of death, the victory on the other side of failure, the joy on the other side of the pains of childbirth. It insists on going throughnot under, over, or around. There is no nonstop flight to reorder. To arrive there, we must endure, learn from, and include the disorder stage, including the first naïve orderbut also transcending it! That is the hard won secret. Hold on to what was good about the first order but also offer needed correctives. People who have reached this stage, like the Jewish prophets, might be called “radical traditionalists.” They love their truth and their group enough to critique it. And they critique it enough to maintain their own integrity and intelligence. These wise ones have stopped over-reacting and over-defending. This is the real goal.

[1] Leonard Cohen, “Anthem,” The Future (Columbia: 1992).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 243-246.

Image credit: Krishna and Radna Looking into A Mirror (detail), artist unknown, 1800, National Museum, New Delhi, India.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me: my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, and one love. —Meister Eckhart
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