This past year or so has been an apocalyptic time for our planet—and for all of us humans at the same time!
Today, the word “apocalyptic” means catastrophic, huge, disastrous, of Biblical significance, etc. It is never something good. However, this is different than how I understand the word from my own scriptural education.
The Greek word apocalypsis literally means to unveil something and thus to reveal its true form and colors. There is nothing inherently negative about it. It simply evokes more of an “Aha!” moment. It does seem to assume that many things are at least half hidden in their in-depth meaning, and they need someone to pull back the veil for us before we can understand. It is almost a form of mystery novel, waiting for Agatha Christie (1890–1976) or Father Brown to put together the clues.
…Many things are at least half hidden in their in-depth meaning, and they need someone to pull back the veil for us before we can understand.
That is often the true role of a prophet or a truth teller, much more than someone literally foretelling the future. The Bible seems to have little interest in the latter. Foretelling exact times and places might be necromancy or divination, against which many Bible verses actually warned us. This is not Biblical style prophecy. Wanting to know exact future events was considered a serious lack of trust in Yahweh, and thus a major sin. Yet this expectation of religion has lasted through to present times.
One classic image of being unveiled occurs in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy’s dog, Toto, pulls back the curtain on the poor old Wizard, showing Dorothy and others what is really going on behind the scenes. Toto reveals nothing sinister or menacing at all, just a big, “Oh!”
Apocalyptic literature became a genre of the Hebrew Prophets (the Book of Daniel being the obvious example), and there it did become conflated with our negative image of a prophet who was perceived as a doom-and-gloom messenger, which is only a bit of the truth. The old does have to fall apart before something new can be born. The prophet was, much more importantly, the announcer of a Messianic future, Jubilee, upcoming grace, and restorative justice, and only in a more general way.
The old does have to fall apart before something new can be born.
Even more dangerously, apocalyptic literature became a type of esoteric science fiction, like the entire Book of Revelation. The reason I call it dangerous is because, again, we confuse apocalyptic literature with the prophet’s supposed foretelling of the future, and then we take it literally and historically instead of reading it as an unveiling of always true cosmic patterns. We usually don’t take science fiction, historical fiction, novels, or movies as literally prophetic, but we do take them as symbolically prophetic. Think of films such as 1984, The Matrix, Citizen Kane, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and Dr. Strangelove.
We confuse apocalyptic literature with the prophet’s supposed foretelling of the future, and then we take it literally and historically instead of reading it as an unveiling of always true cosmic patterns.
This symbolism is the function of the liturgical readings— usually beginning in the weeks before Advent, at the end of the church year. We read of stars falling, people seeking escape, and cosmic collapse. Most people leave church thoroughly confused and threatened, but it feels so unreal, they tend to quickly forget about it— in the same manner we forget about climate change, for instance. But if it is a true unveiling of what is really and always happening, then it is important not to forget.
Some of the ways in which we are experiencing an apocalyptic time are symbolized by the universal pandemic, seeing democracy seriously questioned around the world, many politicians being in- capable of rational planning or thought, and organized Christianity either being widely abandoned or regressing into its most fundamentalist forms. There is no way around this hard message. We see violence both on the Left and the Right, and humans are tossed back and forth in this dualistic ping pong game.
A time of great unveiling is happening now, and it is indeed an apocalypse for those who know how to see and listen.
The small human ego appears to control almost everything now, as Christianity has wasted its time attacking the shadow self instead of the imperial “I” or ego—which both Jesus and Buddha said must die! There is no way around this. A time of great unveiling is happening now, and it is indeed an apocalypse for those who know how to see and listen.
Unveiling is a gift for those who are ready to see more fully. Unveiling is a disaster for those who do not want you to see.
Established in 2013, ONEING is the biannual journal of the Center for Action and Contemplation. Renowned for its diverse and deep exploration of mysticism and culture, ONEING is grounded in Richard Rohr’s teachings and wisdom lineage. Each issue features a themed collection of thoughtfully curated essays and critical perspectives from spiritual teachers, activists, modern mystics, and prophets of all religions.