This Is an Apocalypse
Monday, April 26, 2021
In April of last year, I was invited by the Call to Unite  to share my thoughts about what we might learn from the COVID-19 pandemic. I knew it might be a risk, but I felt a strong urge to speak about the much-misunderstood meaning of biblical apocalypse. Here is a portion of that conversation:
What apocalyptic means is to pull back the veil, to reveal the underbelly of reality. It uses hyperbolic images, stars falling from the sky, the moon turning to blood. The closest thing would be contemporary science fiction, where suddenly you’re placed in an utterly different world, where what you used to call “normal” doesn’t apply anymore. That perfectly describes this COVID-19 event.
So hear this word rightly—it is meant to shock: this is an apocalypse, happening to us in our lifetime, that’s leaving us utterly out of control. We’re grasping to retake control, by things like refusing to wear masks and defying boundaries at potential superspreader events. But I think we now know in a new way that we can’t totally take control.
There is a giveaway in all of the apocalyptic sections of the three Synoptic Gospels. In Matthew 24:8, hidden there in the middle of the wars and earthquakes it says, “All this is only the beginning of the birth pangs.” Apocalypse is for the sake of birth not death. Yet most of us have heard this reading as a threat. Apparently, it’s not. Anything that upsets our normalcy is a threat to the ego but in the Big Picture, it really isn’t. In Luke 21, Jesus says right in the middle of the catastrophic description: “Your endurance will win you your souls.” Falling apart is for the sake of renewal, not punishment. Again, such a telling line. In Mark 13, Jesus says “Stay awake” four times in the last paragraph (Mark 13:32–37). In other words, “Learn the lesson that this has to teach you.” It points to everything that we take for granted and says, “Don’t take anything for granted.” An apocalyptic event reframes reality in a radical way by flipping our imagination.
We would have done history a great favor if we would have understood apocalyptic literature. It’s not meant to strike fear in us as much as a radical rearrangement. It’s not the end of the world. It’s the end of worlds—our worlds that we have created. In the book of Revelation (also called the Apocalypse, or Revelation to John), John is trying to describe what it feels like when everything falls apart. It’s not a threat. It’s an invitation to depth. It’s what it takes to wake people up to the real, to the lasting, to what matters. It presents the serious reader with a great “What if?”
Our best response is to end our fight with reality-as-it-is. We will benefit from anything that approaches a welcoming prayer—diving into the change positively, preemptively, saying, “Come, what is; teach me your good lessons.” Saying yes to “What is” ironically sets us up for “What if?” Otherwise, we get trapped in the negative past.
 The Call to Unite is a national movement promoting a culture of crossing lines that divide and embracing ideas that unite.
Richard Rohr, “This Is an Apocalypse,” in The Call to Unite: Voices of Hope and Awakening, ed. Tim Shriver and Tom Rosshirt (Viking: 2021), 54–55.
Story from Our Community:
In these times there are so many ways to get “off track” in deed, word, or thought. The real and sustaining light for me has been Richard Rohr and the daily devotions from CAC! These times of unveiling demand a calm, steady, and accepting voice to remind me we are merely experiencing the natural evolution of growth. It can be quite challenging and painful. A true, trusted, insightful guide is appreciated more than words can express. —Jimmy W.