Necessary Boundaries — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Necessary Boundaries

Order, Disorder, Reorder: Part One

Necessary Boundaries
Monday, August 10, 2020

Law, tradition, and boundaries—what I call Orderseem to be necessary in any spiritual system both to reveal and to limit our basic egocentricity. Such containers make at least some community, family, and marriage possible. Boundaries seem to be the only way that human beings can find a place to stand, a place to begin, a place from which to move out. Even those who think they don’t have any boundaries usually do. We discover them when we trespass against them. The human soul flourishes on solid ground, especially in the first years of life.

As Paul belabors in his Letter to the Romans (see especially chapters 2–7), the law is given for the sake of information, education, and transformation, but is not itself enlightenment. Even though allegiance to boundaries, limits, and laws is almost universally confused with religion and even salvation itself, “the law will not save anyone” (Galatians 3:11). Law has to do with the pattern of how transformation happens—and that’s all. The struggle with boundaries and law creates the wrestling ring, but is not, itself, the encounter or the victory.

Human beings seem to need to fight and engage with something before they can take it seriously—and before they can discover what they really need or want. The people who never fight religion, guilt, parents, injustice, friends, marriage partners, and laws usually don’t respect their own power, importance, and freedom. They remain content with the external values of the first “lawful” container, instead of working to discover their own.  

I am trying to hold us inside a very creative tension, because both law and freedom are necessary for spiritual growth, as Paul says in both Romans and Galatians. He learned this from Jesus, who says seven times in a row, “The law says . . . but I say” (Matthew 5:21–48), while also assuring us that he “has not come to throw out the law but to bring it to completion” (5:17). Despite having been directly taught to hold this creative tension, rare is the Christian believer who holds it well.

The psyche cannot live with everything changing every day, everything a matter of opinion, everything relative. There must be a sound container holding us long enough so we can move beyond survival mode. There has to be solid ground, trust, and shared security, or we cannot move outward. There has to be a foundational hope, and for hope to be a shared experience there must be agreed-upon meanings and shared stories that excite and inspire us all. If there are truly stories from the great patterns that are always true, they will catapult us into a universal humanity and pluralistic society. We will both stand on solid ground and, from that solid ground, create common ground. If it does not support our movement outward, then it is not solid ground at all.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 28–29, 35–36; and

The Wisdom Pattern (Franciscan Media: 2020), 115–116, 118.

Image credit: Last Tangle (detail), Leo Valledor, 1976.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We need a very strong container to hold the contents and contradictions that arrive later in life. —Richard Rohr
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