Richard Rohr honors how painful transformation can be and reminds us to be patient with ourselves and the process:
The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But the mystery of transformation more often happens not when something new begins, but when something old falls apart. The pain and chaos of something old falling apart invite the soul to listen at a deeper level, and sometimes force the soul to go to a new place. Most of us would never go to new places in any other way. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, dark night, death, emptiness, abandonment, trial, the Evil One. Whatever it is called, it does not feel good, and it does not feel like God.
We will normally do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart, yet this is when we need patience and guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing just this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Not accidentally, he mentions this narrow gate and hard road right after teaching the Golden Rule. He knows how much “letting go” it takes to “treat others as you would like them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12).
Spiritual transformation always includes a disconcerting reorientation. It can either help people to find new meaning or it can cause people to close down and slowly turn bitter. The difference is determined precisely by the quality of our inner life, our practices, and our spirituality. Change happens, but transformation is always a process of letting go, and living in the confusing, shadowy, transitional space for a while. Eventually, we are spit up on a new and unexpected shore. We can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important figure for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
In moments of insecurity and crisis, shoulds and oughts don’t really help. They just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding into unhealthy patterns. It’s the deep yeses that carry us through to the other side. It’s those deeper values we strongly support—such as equality and dignity for all—that allow us to wait it out. Or it’s someone in whom we absolutely believe and to whom we commit. In plain language, love wins out over guilt any day.
It is sad that we settle for the short-term effectiveness of shaming people and shutting them down, instead of the long-term life benefits of true transformation. But then, we are a culture of productivity and efficiency, not terribly patient or even open to growth. God is clearly much more patient—and, finally, much more effective, patiently supporting our inner transformation through all of life’s transitions.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2020), 84–85.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—McEl Chevrier, Untitled. CAC Staff, Exercise in Grief and Lamentation. Jessie Jones, Untitled. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
On retreat, the CAC staff used watercolors to connect to our collective grief. This is one of the watercolor paintings that came from that exercise.
Story from Our Community:
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on my 50-year journey as a follower of Jesus. I grew up in a very conservative denomination, but I hit a profound pivot point that changed everything about my walk with God. In past few years, the Daily Meditations have been a major driver of a similar pivot point — the transition from certainty into wonder. I can no longer imagine a life in which I see things in the dualistic frame so many of my friends continue to hold onto. For me, the sense of wondrous mystery has become the hallmark of God’s presence. Standing in my newfound beliefs can be a lonely experience but finding this CAC “family” of fellow travelers has truly opened a healing and comforting space for me. —Greg L.