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Edge of the Inside
Edge of the Inside

Letters from outside the Camp 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

In fall 2020, Richard began sending out occasional letters that he called “Letters from outside the Camp,” a reference to the many usages of “outside the camp” in the Hebrew Bible.  

“Outside the camp” is a prophetic position on the edge of the inside, which is described by the early Israelites as “the tent of meeting outside the camp” (Exodus 33:7). Even though this tent is foldable, moveable, and disposable, it is still a meeting place for “the holy,” which is always on the move and out in front of us. It inspires me to wonder how we might maintain that same sense of prophetic freedom outside the contemporary political and religious “encampments” of our day. For those of us who are sincerely and devotedly trying to camp elsewhere than in any political party or religious denomination, we know full well that we must now avoid the temptation to become our own defended camp. 

The prophets exercise their imagination from that place of freedom, as my favorite Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann describes so well: “Because the totalism [that is, the system] wants to silence, banish, or eliminate every such unwelcome [prophetic] intrusion, the tricky work is to find standing ground outside the totalism from which to think the unthinkable, to imagine the unimaginable, and to utter the unutterable.”  [1] 

The free and graced position found in the tent of meeting is what allowed Jesus and all prophets in his lineage to speak from the privileged minority position. It is always less desirable, compared to the comfortable and enjoyable places at the center and the top; yet it is the Jesus stance, and the place where all Franciscans follow after him. 

The “tent of meeting” is the initial image and metaphor that eventually became our much later notion of “church.” The greatest prophet of the Jewish tradition, Moses, had the prescience and courage to move the place of hearing God outside and at a distance from the court of common religious and civic opinion—this was the original genius that inspired the entire Jewish prophetic tradition. It is quite different than mere liberal and conservative positions, and often even at odds with them. Prophecy and Gospel are rooted in a contemplative and non-dual way of knowing—a way of being in the world that is utterly free and grounded in the compassion of God. 

Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this time must be to first restore the Divine Center by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. If contemplation means anything, it means that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves” as Etty Hillesum describes it. [2] What other power do we have now? 


[1] Walter Brueggemann, Tenacious Solidarity: Biblical Provocations on Race, Religion, Climate, and the Economy (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2018), 384. 

[2] Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941–1943; and, Letters from Westerbork, trans. Arnold J. Pomerans (New York: Henry Holt, 1996), 178. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Letters from outside the Camp, November 2, 2020; January 19, 2021; September 21, 2020.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, momentary peace (detail), digital oil pastels. Taylor Wilson, Transfiguration (detail), cyanotype. Taylor Wilson, Madonna and Messiah, ink. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Transformation happens on the margins (the edge of the inside), and so, like this bird, we are freed.

Story from Our Community:  

Over the past year, my experience of God and faith have been evolving. I was feeling adrift when I realized that I could no longer pray to the God I had been taught about. I started searching for a new way of understanding my faith. The Center for Action and Contemplation has been my main source for unlearning and new learning in reading the Daily Meditations and listening to various podcasts. The truths the CAC shares have become my anchors. I am so grateful to be on a path that includes a much bigger, more inclusive God than the one I worshipped for so many years. —Hilary L. 

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