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Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic
Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic

Nondual Faith

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Today Father Richard examines a specific example of Paul’s nondual, “both-and” thinking. Paul saw Christ’s cross as a third way beyond the cultural-religious conflicts of his time.

One of the dialectics that Paul presents is the perennial conflict that today we call conservative and liberal. In his writings, Paul’s own people, the Jews, became the stand-in for pious, law-abiding conservatives; the Greeks provided his metaphor for intellectuals, cultural critics, and people we would call liberals. Paul sees the Jews trying to create order in the world by obedience to law, tradition, and kinship ties. The Greeks try to create order by reason, understanding, logic, and education.

Paul insists that neither of them can finally succeed because they do not have the ability to “incorporate the negative,” which will always be present. He recognizes that the greatest enemy of ordinary daily goodness and joy is not imperfection, but the demand for some supposed perfection or order. There seems to be a shadow side to almost everything; all things are subject to “the powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6:12). Only the unitive or nondual mind can accept this and not panic, but, in fact, grow because of it and grow beyond it.

Neither the liberal pattern nor the conservative pattern can deal with disorder and misery. Paul believes that Jesus has revealed the only response that works. The revelation of the cross, he says, makes us indestructible, because it says there is a way through all absurdity and tragedy. That way is precisely through accepting and even using absurdity and tragedy as part of God’s unfathomable agenda. If we can internalize the mystery of the cross, we won’t fall into cynicism, failure, bitterness, or skepticism. The cross gives us a precise and profound way through the shadow side of life and through all disappointments.

Paul allows both conservatives and liberals to define wisdom in their own ways, yet he dares to call both inadequate and finally wrong. He believes that such worldviews will eventually fail people. “God has shown up human wisdom as folly” on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:21), and this is “an obstacle that the Jews cannot get over,” and which the Gentiles or pagans think is simple “foolishness” (1:23).

For Paul, the code words for nondual thinking, or true wisdom, are “foolishness” and “folly.” He says, in effect, “My thinking is foolishness to you, isn’t it?” Admittedly, it does not make sense unless we have confronted the mystery of the cross. Suffering, the “folly of the cross,” breaks down the dualistic mind. Why? Because on the cross, God took the worst thing, the killing of the God-human, and made it into the best thing, the very redemption of the world. The compassionate holding of essential meaninglessness or tragedy, as Jesus does on the cross, is the final and triumphant resolution of all the dualisms and dichotomies that we face in our own lives. We are thus “saved by the cross”! Does that now make ultimate sense? 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 71–76; and

A New Way of Seeing . . . a New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2007). Available as CD and MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, “Bum blockade.” (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study II (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The images on the left and right may not be immediately clear upon first glance. Perhaps there is room for our questions to stay with us gently, taking their time, until understanding slowly emerges as we walk along.

Story from Our Community:

After young life characterized by zeal and certainty, for years I have been on what felt like a descent deeper into doubt. What an affirmation to read that letting go of certain ways of knowing is a normal and even necessary way to travel to greater faith.
—Stefan L.

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Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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