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Center for Action and Contemplation

Stumble and Fall

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Dying Before You Die

Stumble and Fall
Sunday, March 31, 2019

Something in you dies when you bear the unbearable. And it is only in that dark night of the soul that you are prepared to see as God sees and to love as God loves. —Ram Das [1]

Sooner or later, if you are on any classic “spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter your life with which you simply cannot cope using your present skill set, acquired knowledge, or willpower. Spiritually speaking, you will be led to the edge of your own private resources. At that point, you will stumble over a necessary “stumbling stone” (see Isaiah 8:14). You must “lose” at something, and then you begin to develop the art of losing. This is the only way that Life/Fate/God/Grace/Mystery can get you to change, let go of your egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.

We must stumble and fall, I am sorry to say. We must be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. Until we are led to the limits of our present game plan and find it to be insufficient, we will not search out or find our real Source. Alcoholics Anonymous calls it the Higher Power. Jesus calls this Ultimate Source the “living water” at the bottom of the well (see John 4:10-14).

The Gospels teach us that life is tragic but then graciously added that we can survive and will even grow from this tragedy. This is the great turnaround! It all depends on whether we are willing to see down as up or, as Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) put it, “where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” [2] Lady Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) said it even more poetically, and I paraphrase: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall—and both are the mercy of God!” [3]

The Prayer of Abandonment by Brother Charles de Foucauld (1858–1916) expresses openness and intention to give up control to God in the middle of life, even before our physical death:

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me
and in all your creatures—
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father. [4]

[1] Ram Das, in Stephen and Ondrea Levine, Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying (Anchor Books: 1982, 1989), 89.

[2] Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, ed. Diane K. Osbon (Harper Perennial: 1995), 24.

[3] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, chap. 61.

[4] Charles De Foucauld, from a retreat meditation he shared in Nazareth (November, 1897). See Charles de Foucauld: Writings, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1999), 104. Brother Charles assigned these words to Jesus in Gethsemane, calling them “the last prayer of our Master, our Beloved.” This became a favorite prayer of Fr. Thomas Keating (1923–2018) toward the end of his life and was read at his memorial service last year.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spring Within Us: A Book of Daily Meditations (CAC Publishing: 2016), 114-115.

Image credit: The Gulf Stream (detail), Winslow Homer, 1899, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Those who follow life to where it resides in the heart live life fully. —Stephen Levine
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