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The Way of Jesus
The Way of Jesus

The Descending Path

Friday, February 24, 2023

For Richard Rohr, discipleship ultimately and unavoidably leads to the cross and to identifying with the pain of the world.  

My assumption is that Jesus’ totally counterintuitive message of the “cross” had to be sent to earth as a dramatic and divine zinger, because God knew we would do everything we could to deny it, avoid it, soften it, or make it into a theory (which is exactly what we did anyway). Yet this is the Jesus message that cannot, and must not, be allowed to be pushed into the background. We believe in a Jesus kind of Christ—a God who is going to the mat with humanity and not just presenting us with a heavenly, cosmic vision. If Christ represents the resurrected state, then Jesus represents the crucified/resurrecting path of getting there. If Christ is the source and goal, then Jesus is the path from that source toward the goal of divine unity with all things.  

It is not insignificant that Christians chose the cross or crucifix as their central symbol. At least unconsciously, we recognized that Jesus talked often about “losing your life.” Perhaps Ken Wilber’s distinction between “ascending religions” and “descending religions” is helpful here. He and I both trust descending religion much more, and I think Jesus did too. Here the primary language is unlearning, letting go, surrendering, serving others, and not the language of self-development—which often lurks behind our popular notions of “salvation.” Unless we’re careful, we will again make Jesus’ descending religion into a new form of climbing religion, as we have done so often before.  

“Blessed are the poor in spirit” are Jesus’ first words in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3). And although Jesus made this quite clear throughout his life, we still largely turned Christianity into a religion where the operative agenda was some personal moral perfection, our attaining some kind of salvation, “going to heaven,” converting others rather than ourselves, and acquiring more health, wealth, and success in this world. In that pursuit, we ended up largely aligning with empires, wars, and colonization of our planet, instead of with Jesus or the powerless. All climbing and little descending, and it has all caught up with us in the twenty-first century. [1]  

A spirituality of “descent” frees us to surrender to God our often-messy lives.  

Spirituality is about honoring the human journey, loving it, and living it in all its wonder and tragedy. There is nothing really “supernatural” about love and suffering. It is completely natural, taking us through the deep interplay of death and life, surrender and forgiveness, in all their basic and foundational manifestations.…  

Authentic Christianity is not so much a belief system as a life-and-death system that shows us how to give away our life, how to give away our love, and eventually how to give away our death. Basically, how to give away—and in doing so, to connect with the world, with all other creatures, and with God. [2]  


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent Books, 2019, 2021), 216–217. 

[2] Rohr, Universal Christ, 212–213. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 6. Jenna Keiper, Taos Snow. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 2. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.  

Like ever-changing light in snow, we open to surprises on the way of Jesus. 

Story from Our Community:

Knowing that a community like the CAC exists gives me hope in this crazy world. I feel supported knowing that people of one heart are surrounding me near and far. It’s grounding to me—in spirit and soul. —Anne H. 

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The Prophetic Path

It can be easier to turn away from suffering than face it with an open heart. That’s why our 2023 Daily Meditations theme, The Prophetic Path, empowers us to not avoid or fear the pain of the world, but turn toward it with compassion.

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