Inner Authority

Experience

Inner Authority
Sunday, January 22, 2017

This week we will focus on the third wheel of our tricycle of transformation: Experience. [1] The other two wheels, Scripture and Tradition, can be seen as sources of outer authority, while your personal experience is your inner authority. I am convinced you need and can have both. Both Scripture and Tradition help name and validate your inner experience, if you are willing to do your homework here. 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 third wheel of inner experience, which of course was at work all the time but was not given credence. In fact, we were told not to trust it! If you were Catholic, you were told to trust the Tradition as interpreted by the authorities; if you were Protestant you were told to trust the Bible, also as interpreted by your denominational authorities.

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 here to separate you from your own astonishment or to provide you with a substitute for your own inner experience. Theology has done that for too many. I hope these daily meditations can invite you on your own inner journey rather than become a substitute 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 you to “pray,” they are in effect saying, “Go inside and know for yourself!” My dear friend, Father Thomas Keating writes:

The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from Him. If we get rid of that thought, our troubles will be greatly reduced. We fail to believe that we are always with God and that He is part of every reality. The present moment, every object we see, our inmost nature are all rooted in Him. But we hesitate to believe this until our personal experience gives us confidence to believe in it. This involves the gradual development of intimacy with God [through contemplative prayer]. God constantly speaks to us through each other as well as within. The interior experience of God’s presence activates our capacity to experience Him in everything else—in people, in events, in nature. We may enjoy union with God in any experience of the external senses as well as in prayer. [2]

So there is the mysticism of ordinary experience, the mysticism of true friendship, the mysticism of suffering—and each of these can only be sustained and deepened by an ongoing mysticism of prayer.

Gateway to Silence:
Awaken me to Love this day.

References:
[1] I am grateful to Carolyn Metzler for this helpful analogy, a dynamic improvement upon the traditional three-legged stool model for Scripture, Tradition, and Experience (or Reason, as most commonly used).
[2] Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (Amity House: 1986), 44.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 5, 7.

Image credit: Stigmatizzazionedi San Francesco (fresco detail), 1297-1300, Legend of St. Francis, Giotto di Bondone, Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Assisi, Italy.
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