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Experience, Scripture, and Tradition
Experience, Scripture, and Tradition

The Importance of Experience

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Explanation separates us from astonishment. —Eugène Ionesco, Découvertes 

Father Richard continues reflecting on the “tricycle of faith” by emphasizing the importance of inner experience for true spiritual transformation:  

The two wheels of Scripture andTraditioncan be seen as sources of outer authority, while our personal experience leads to our inner authority. I am convinced we need and can have both. Only when inner and outer authority come together do we have true spiritual wisdom. Christianity in most of its history has largely relied upon outer authority. But we must now be honest about the value of inner experience, which of course was at work all the time but was not given credence. 

Information from outer authority is not necessarily transformation, and we need genuinely transformed people today, not just people with answers. I do not want my words in these meditations to separate anyone from their own astonishment or to provide them with a substitute for their own inner experience. Theology (and authority figures) have done that for too many. Rather, I hope my words—written or spoken—simply invite readers on their own inner journey rather than become a replacement for it. 

I am increasingly convinced that the word “prayer,” which has become a functional and pious thing for believers to do, was meant to be a descriptor and an invitation to inner experience. When spiritual teachers invite us to “pray,” they are in effect saying, “Go inside and know for yourself!” We have for too long insisted on outer authority alone, without any teaching of prayer, inner journey, and maturing consciousness. The results for the world and for religion have been disastrous.  

English writer and poet D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930) wrote, “The world fears a new experience more than it fears anything. Because a new experience displaces so many old experiences.” He went on to write that the world “can pigeon-hole any idea” and “dodge” or discount it. [1] Ideas are not a problem. But a true inner experience is something else again. It changes us, and human beings do not like to change. [2] 

Why can I tell you that you can trust your own experience? Well, especially in the last hundred years, we have witnessed the emergence of psychology, therapy, shadow work, ego work, and tools like the Myers-Briggs personality profile, and the Enneagram personality profile. Many of us have been given all kinds of tools by which to critique our own experience. Just because we think it doesn’t make it true. That is contemplation, per se, to critique our thinking by transferring to a more contemplative, non-obsessive mind.  

In our tricycle, experience is constantly balanced and critiqued by Scripture and Tradition. When all three of the “wheels” work together, we have a very wise person. That’s the easiest way to say it. What we’re interested in doing is raising up not argumentative people, not righteous people, but wise people. That’s our first theme. [3] 


[1] D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1923), 1–2.  

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2008, 2022), xv, 1. 

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Good Theology Creates Good Politics,” CONSPIRE 2021 (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2021), video. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 7. Jenna Keiper, Bisti Badlands. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 6. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

The landscape of our own lives informs how we understand Scripture and Tradition. 

Story from Our Community:

I have spent the last 10 years convincing myself that I am an atheist, pretending I did not need God in my life. However, inside my heart, I felt like a child who learned there was no Santa Claus, who desperately wished they could go back to believing in the magic. I recently had a spiritual awakening when I heard it said that “Love is the truest manifestation of God.” I thought, “I believe Love is the answer and if Love is the truest manifestation of God, how can I continue to pretend to be an atheist?” The answer is that I cannot. —Lisa L. 

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