Everything Belongs

Alternative Orthodoxy: Week 2

Everything Belongs
Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Like Jesus, St. Francis did not go down the self-protective and exclusionary track. They both knew what they were for—and who they were—not just what they were against. That is the heart of the matter. Jesus and Francis had a genius for not eliminating or punishing the so-called negative side of the world, but incorporating it and using it. Francis, merely imitating Jesus, goes to the edge of town and to the bottom of society; he kisses the leper, loves the poor, and wears patches on the outside of his habit so everyone will know that this is what he’s like on the inside. Francis doesn’t hide from his shadow side, but weeps over it and welcomes it as his teacher.

The history of almost every religion begins with one massive misperception; it begins by making a fatal distinction between the sacred and the profane. Low-level religions put all their emphasis on creating sacred places, sacred time, and sacred actions. While I fully appreciate the need for this, it unfortunately leaves the majority of life “un-sacred.” I remember reading about an Irish missionary’s attempt to teach the Masai people about the Catholic Sacraments. The missionary said that a sacrament is a physical encounter or event in which you experience Grace or the Holy. The people were then confused and disappointed when they were told there were only seven such moments (and all of these just happened to revolve around a priest). One Masai elder raised his hand and said, “We would have thought, Father, there would be at least seven thousand such moments, not just seven.”

In authentic mystical moments, any clear distinction between sacred and profane quickly falls apart. One henceforth knows that all of the world is sacred because most of the time such moments happen in secular settings. For examples, look at the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Elijah, Mary, and Jesus. Our Franciscan official motto is Deus Meus et Omnia—“My God and all things.” Once you recognize the Christ as the universal truth of matter and spirit working together as one, then everything is holy. Once you surrender to this Christ mystery in your oh-so-ordinary self and body, you begin to see it every other ordinary place too. The principle is this:  “Like knows like.” As St. Bonaventure, the philosophical interpreter of Francis, said (quoting Alan of Lille), “Christ is the one whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” [1]

You don’t have to go to sacred places to pray or wait for holy days for good things to happen. You can pray always, and everything that happens is potentially sacred if you allow it to be. Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. “This is the day YHWH has made memorable, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24).

Your task is to find the good, the true, and the beautiful in everything, even and most especially the problematic. The bad is never strong enough to counteract the good. You can most easily learn this through some form of contemplative practice. Within contemplation you must learn to trust your Vital Center over all the passing jerks and snags of emotions and obsessive thinking. [2] Once you know you have such a strong and loving soul, which is also the Indwelling Spirit, you are no longer pulled to and fro with every passing feeling. You have achieved a peace that nothing else can give you, and that no one can take from you (John 14:27).

Divine Incarnation took the form of an Indwelling Presence in every human soul and surely all creatures in some rudimentary way. Ironically, our human freedom gives us the ability to stop such a train and refuse to jump on board our own life. Angels, animals, trees, water, and yes, bread and wine seem to fully accept and enjoy their wondrous fate. Only humans resist and deny their core identities. And so we people can cause great havoc, and thus must be somehow boundaried and contained. But the only way we ourselves can refuse to jump onto the train of life is by any negative game of exclusion or unlove—even of ourselves. If you read the Gospel texts carefully, you will see that the only people Jesus seems to “exclude” are those who are excluding others. Exclusion might be described as the core sin. Don’t waste any time rejecting, excluding, eliminating, or punishing anyone or anything else. Everything belongs, including you.

Gateway to Silence:
A long loving look at the real

References:
[1] Alan of Lille, Regulae Theologicae, Reg. 7, as quoted by Bonaventure, translated by Ewert Cousins, The Soul’s Journey into God, Classics of Western Spirituality (Paulist Press: 1978), 100.
[2] For more on how to move beyond emotional and mental addictions, see Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself (New Harbinger Publications: 2007).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), disc 1 (CD, MP3 download);
Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 10;
and “Franciscan Mysticism,” an unpublished talk, April 12, 2012.

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