Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
The Quest for the Grail
The Quest for the Grail

The Grail Experience

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Richard tells of the maturity necessary for authentic spiritual experience to change us on a deeper level. He calls this the Grail experience:

Zen masters traditionally did not allow a young man to come and study spirituality until he was at least thirty-five. Carl Jung imposed similar restrictions at his institute in Zurich. The Roman Catholic Church has had comparable guidelines in Canon Law; for example, one could not become a bishop before the age of thirty-five.

We are not told Parsifal’s age, but we assume that as the story begins, he is no longer a youth. When we set out on the journey too quickly, we are not likely to know what the questions are, especially if we do not have a mentor to guide us.

Thus, if we have an experience of God—what I am calling a Grail experience—too early in our journey, we are likely to use it for our own ego inflation. If our egos attach us to the holy too quickly, we often do not know what to do with it except to say, “Aren’t I special?”

That’s why, when the Grail enters a young person’s life, it often appears veiled. This became a relevant issue for me in the early years of the New Jerusalem Community in Ohio, where it was basically myself and a thousand younger people. There, I saw the danger of religious experience that is protected, hovered over, and talked about. We had a bunch of eighteen-year-old boys all eager to be holy and right. It doesn’t, of itself, lead to true wisdom.

While heroic stories are always exciting to the young, the Grail myth probably makes more sense for people somewhere in the middle of life. We may recall that Jesus did not have a full Grail experience until he was thirty or so. At his baptism, he hears the voice from heaven say, “You are my beloved son” (Mark 1:11). He then immediately leaves the world of productivity and efficiency and success. He goes into the wilderness, where he fasts and faces suffering, testing, and uncertainty. Knowing he is God’s beloved child changes his life.

The Grail experience is the first numinous experience that opens our eyes. It only needs to happen once. When, finally, we are able to be open and awake—and it takes work—then we are on the true, heroic journey, also made by the ones we usually call saints. What evolves in us is less and less control. More and more we sense that Someone Else is for us, more than we are for ourselves. All we can do is get out of the way. We realize that this is a radically benevolent universe, and it is on our side despite the absurdity, sin, pain, and dead ends. It will be more like letting go than taking on. Maybe this is why it is hard to accept.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, Quest for the Grail (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1994), 97–98, 105, 106.

Explore Further:

Image credit: Katrina Lillian Sorrentino, Entelechy 1, 2 & 3 (details), 2022, photographs, Spain, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

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

Image inspiration: Entelechy: the seeded, coded essence that contains both patterns and possibilities for your life. Ever since I left my Christian marriage, I wanted to do the Camino, a pilgrimage that people from all over the world make to St. James’ tomb in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. In May, I walked it as a ritual in order to shed a previous version of Self and embody a truer one. I walked a total of 333 miles in order to capture entelechy through the photograph. This series is a relic of a ritual that carried me further into being. —Katrina Lillian Sorrentino

Story from Our Community:

As a child I was easily filled with a sense of wonder. But my young curious heart began to slip away in the face of fear and judgement. Eventually, I began to understand my spiritual wound. I longed to be connected again with Great Spirit and recognize my indigenous cultural roots. I delighted in discovering the CAC’s message of original goodness, which has led me home to my spiritual quest. I am now awakening to Sacred Presence. I am grateful for the Grace of Transformation. —Maria D.

Share your own story with us.

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.


Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.