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Mending the Breach
Mending the Breach

Love and Power

Monday, October 16, 2023

Father Richard writes about how we can help mend the breach between the world as it is (power) and the world as it could be (love).

Both love and power are necessary building blocks of God’s peaceful realm on earth. Love utterly redefines the nature of power. Power without love is mere brutality (even in the church), and love without power is only the sentimentality of individual lives disconnected from the Whole. The gospel in its fullness holds love and power together, creating new hope and healing for the world. [1]

Power assumes that life is lived from the top down and from the outside in. It draws its strength from elites and enforcement. As such it is efficient, clean, practical, and works well on many short-term goals. The gospel offers us the inefficient, not-so-clean, multi-layered, long-haul way of love. Love is lived much more from the bottom up and from the inside out. It’s easy to see why even churches don’t believe in it. It does not give ego or institution any sense of control. Often it doesn’t even “work.”

Perhaps one way of stating the “spiritual emergency” that Christianity faces is that many clergy and church membership were trained from the top down and the outside in. Love was the message, but power/control was the method. Holiness was in great part defined as respect for outer mediating structures: the authorities that “knew,” the rituals that were automatic, the laws that kept you if you kept them, the Tradition that was supposed to be the unbroken consensus of many centuries and cultures. I am convinced that the best top-down Christianity can do is get us off to a good start and keep us inside the ballpark, which isn’t bad! But it is not close to satisfactory for the great struggles of faith that people today face in family, morality, and society.

The very depth and truth of the gospel has led people to a more daring and necessary conclusion: Human life is best lived from the inside out and the bottom up. Now love is both the message and the method. Somehow our experiences, our mistakes, our dead ends are not abhorrent to God but the very stuff of salvation. There is no other way to make sense of the Bible or of every human life. Are we secure enough now to admit that there is just as much truth, maybe even more, inside our own journeys and for those living on the margins? So-called “tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). Mature Christianity is perhaps when the inside meets the outside and the bottom is allowed to teach the top.

Authentic power is the ability to act from the fullness of who I am, the capacity to establish and maintain a relationship with people and things, and the freedom to give myself away. Sounds like pure gospel to me. [2]


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, preface to Near Occasions of Grace (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993), xvi.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Mending the Breach: Love and Power,” in Grace in Action, eds. Terry Carney and Christina Spahn (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1994), 18–19.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Alma Thomas, Snoopy—Early Sun Display on Earth (detail), 1970, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Alma Thomas, Snow Reflection on Pond (detail), 1973, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Loïs Mailou Jones, Jeune Fille Français (detail), 1951, oil on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image.

We accept the breach as an invitation to repair: piece by piece, thread by thread, we heal together.

Story from Our Community:  

After a childhood of religious trauma and a young adulthood of struggling with addiction, I was heartbroken again in 2016 to hear the hateful things tumbling out of mouths of the Christians in my family and in my church community. This was my final break from the church. I found myself adrift, isolated from my family and struggling with addiction again. It took me 5 more years to find Richard Rohr’s work. When I did, it felt like coming home. I have not yet found a church that reflects my new beliefs, but it doesn’t matter. I finally feel that the fences of my Christian faith have been mended. —Michelle G.

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