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Center for Action and Contemplation

Going Up the Down Escalator

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Path of Descent

Going Up the Down Escalator
Thursday, October 20, 2016

As Christianity evolved in the centuries following Jesus’ death and resurrection, it naturally drew ideas from the surrounding Mediterranean culture. Roman and Greek mythology and philosophy used a great deal of Promethean, heroic, ascent images. The ego is naturally attracted to heroic language. To the ego, heroism feels like the way to go to God. No wonder Christian martyrs were immediately canonized. We placed our focus on the heroic instead of the transformative, on achieving rather than serving.

If the Promethean is heroic expression, stoic spirituality is heroic repression. We thought depriving ourselves or doing something contrary to nature, will, or body would somehow please God, whereas it only made us feel “strong” and significant. Jesus never advocates either asceticism or heroism. In fact, Jesus says, “John the Baptist came along fasting and living an ascetic life and you were upset with him. Now I come along eating and drinking and you don’t like me either” (see Matthew 11:18-19). Jesus is neither a rigorist nor a legalist. He is scandalously free from these ego games!

We must acknowledge that much of Christian spirituality comes from other sources than Jesus’ teaching. That’s not necessarily wrong, but we have to admit when we’re listening to Western culture rather than Jesus. The ideas and practices we usually associate with religion are not at all what Jesus emphasizes. Jesus is the most unlikely founder of a religion. Religion normally begins by making a distinction between the pure and the impure, the good and the bad. Yet Jesus does the opposite: he finds God among the impure instead of among the pure! He entertains the lost sheep instead of comforting those who think they are not lost.

Humans are so hardwired to think dualistically, to divide the pure from the impure, that in spite of Jesus’ clear example and teaching, Christianity went right back to the same old pattern. The ego desperately wants to feel pure, saved, moral, significant, and superior. We cannot allow God to come down to us, which is the meaning of the Incarnation (see Philippians 2:5-8); we think we’ve got to go up to God. We’re usually going up the down escalator! And we miss Jesus on the way—as he de-escalates into our so very ordinary world.

Gateway to Silence:
The way up is down.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Path of Descent (CAC: 2003), disc 3 (CD, MP3 download); and
Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 80-81.

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