Going to the Depths — Center for Action and Contemplation

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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

Going to the Depths

Meeting Christ Within Us

Going to the Depths
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Christianity’s foundational belief is always incarnation. Yet Christians in the West have focused on abstract ideas instead of actual transformation into our own incarnate humanity. Now that very humanity has grown tired of disembodied spiritualities that allow no validation or verification in experience. Thus, many religions hide an actual agenda of power and control, obfuscating and distracting us from what is right in front of us. This is exactly what we do when we make the emphasis of Jesus’ Gospel what is “out there” as opposed to what is “in here.”

For example, insisting on a literal belief in the virgin birth of Jesus is very good theological symbolism, but unless it translates into a spirituality of interior poverty, readiness to conceive, and human vulnerability, it is largely a “mere lesson memorized” as Isaiah puts it (29:13). It “saves” no one. Likewise, an intellectual belief that Jesus rose from the dead is a good start, but until you are struck by the realization that the crucified and risen Jesus is a parable about the journey of all humans, and even the universe, it is a rather harmless—if not harmful—belief that will leave you and the world largely unchanged.

Many Westerners today are now reacquiring and accessing more of the skills we need to go into the depths of things—and to find God’s Spirit there. Whether they come through contemplation, psychology, spiritual direction, shadow work, the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs typology, grief and bereavement work, or other models such as Integral Theory or wilderness experience [1], these tools help us to examine and to trust interiority and depth.

One of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life came in 1984 during a journaling retreat in Ohio led by the psychotherapist Ira Progoff (1921–1998). [2] Dr. Progoff guided us as we wrote privately for several days on some very human and ordinary questions. I remember first dialoguing with my own body, dialoguing with roads not taken, dialoguing with concrete memories and persons, dialoguing with my own past decisions, and on and on.

I learned that if the quiet space, the questions themselves, and blank pages had not been put in front of me, I may never have known what was lying within me. Progoff helped me and many others access slow tears and fast prayers, and ultimately intense happiness and gratitude, as I discovered depths within myself that I never knew were there. I still reread some of what I wrote over forty years ago for encouragement and healing. And it all came from within me!

Today we are recovering freedom and permission and the tools to move toward depth. What a shame it would be if we did not use them. The best way out is if we have first gone in. The only way we can trust up is if we have gone down. That has been the underlying assumption of male initiation rites since ancient times but, today, such inner journeys and basic initiation experiences are often considered peripheral to “true religion.”

[1] See, for example, Illuman, Outward Bound, Bill Plotkin’s Animas Valley Institute, New Warrior Training.

[2] See IntensiveJournal.org.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 114-115.

Image credit: Knot the One, by Karen Jacobs, 1993. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Christ’s soul and our soul are like an everlasting knot. The deeper we move in our own being, the closer we come to Christ. And the closer we come to Christ’s soul, the nearer we move to the heart of one another. —John Philip Newell, explaining the teachings of Julian of Norwich
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