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Turning toward the Good

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Alternative Orthodoxy: Week 2

Turning toward the Good
Thursday, February 18, 2016

Christianity is not a moral matter; it’s a mystical matter. Yet we turned the Gospel into “Monday washing day” and neglected the other days—e.g., “Thursday baking day” and “Sunday feasting day.” Humans seem to prefer the six stone cold jars of water for ritual purification to the ecstatic wine of a wedding feast (John 2:1-10). The ego pattern never changes. The mystical mind is the non-dual, spacious, non-counting mind. The ordinary dualistic mind is consumed by counting and measuring how moral I am or you are. It weighs everything up and down—mostly down. The dualistic mind moves toward quick resolution and too easy closure. It is very judgmental. That’s why all great spiritual teachers say, “Do not judge.” Franciscanism is nothing other than what Francis calls in his Testament “the marrow of the Gospel”—which is love, always choosing the positive over the negative.

Dan O’Grady, a psychologist and Living School student, told me recently that our negative and critical thoughts are like Velcro, they stick and hold; whereas our positive and joyful thoughts are like Teflon, they slide away. We have to deliberately choose to hold onto positive thoughts so that they can “imprint.” Observing my own habits of thought and in counseling others I see this to be profoundly true. The implications are enormous for individuals and for society.

Neuroscience can now demonstrate the brain indeed has a negative bias; the brain prefers to constellate around fearful, negative, or problematic situations. In fact, when a loving, positive, or unproblematic thing comes your way, you have to savor it consciously for at least fifteen seconds before it can harbor and store itself in your “implicit memory;” otherwise it doesn’t stick. We must indeed savor the good in order to significantly change our regular attitudes and moods. And we need to strictly monitor all the “Velcro” negative thoughts.

Anything which the dualistic mind doesn’t understand, it quickly names as wrong, dangerous, sinful, or heretical. The dualistic mind is responsible for most of the disputes, wars, and violence on earth. The dualistic mind sees most opposition as highly justified and necessary, because it judges one side to be superior and one side to be inferior. It always takes sides! The non-dual, contemplative mind abides in God, the Ultimate Positive. It wants the good, the true, and the beautiful so much that it’s willing to leave the field of the moment open and to hold onto all parts of it, the seemingly good and the seemingly negative, and waits for them to fully show themselves.

In some ways, the Gospel of love is so hard to live because it is so very simple. We strangely assume that God has to be complicated. The mind seems to insist on making everything complicated. It wants a job to keep busy. The mind is so biased toward fear and negativity that the common way we try to get control is to descend into some dualistic, right-or-wrong system of morality. We find the perfect excuse for avoiding the wedding banquet that is right in front of us (Luke 14:15f), a reason to not sit at the table with “both good and bad” (Matthew 22:10). We would rather slouch in the corner and criticize, all the while feeling moral and superior.

Franciscanism is sometimes called an alternative orthodoxy because it invites us all to sit at God’s One Abundant Table, while much of the Christian tradition has set a scarce table for very few. The Church too often assumed that people were very simple and so we had to make the laws complex to protect them from themselves. Jesus and Francis recognized that people are endlessly diverse, complex and mysterious, and we had best make the law very simple. Just love your neighbor exactly as you love yourself.

Gateway to Silence:
A long loving look at the real

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of Saint Francis (Sounds True: 2010), disc 4 (CD);
Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 155-157;
and Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), disc 3 (CD, MP3 download).

Image Credit: Habit of St. Francis of Assisi (detail), Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, Assisi, Italy.
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