Second Naiveté

Simplicity

Second Naiveté
Sunday, October 2, 2016

My life journey began as a very conservative pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic, pious and law-abiding, living in quiet Kansas, buffered and bounded by my parents’ stable marriage and many lovely liturgical traditions that sanctified my time and space. I was a very happy child and young man, and all who knew me then would agree. That was my first wonderful simplicity.

I was gradually educated in a much larger world of the 1960s and 1970s with degrees in philosophy and theology and a broad liberal arts education given me by the Franciscans. I left the garden of innocence, just as Adam and Eve had to do. My new Scriptural awareness made it obvious that Adam and Eve were probably not historical figures, but important archetypal symbols. I was heady with knowledge and “enlightenment,” no longer in “Kansas.” Though leaving the garden was sad and disconcerting for a while, there was no going back.

As time passed, I became simultaneously very traditional and very progressive, and I have probably continued to be so to this day. I don’t fit in with the liberals or the conservatives. This was my first strong introduction to paradox, and it took most of midlife to figure out what had happened—and how and why it had to happen. I found a much larger and even happier garden (note the new garden described in Revelation 22). I thoroughly believe in Adam and Eve now, but on about ten different levels, with literalism being the lowest and least fruitful.

This “pilgrim’s progress” was, for me, sequential, natural, and organic as the circles widened. I was steadily being moved toward larger viewpoints and greater inclusivity in my ideas, a deeper understanding of people, and a more honest sense of justice. God always became bigger and led me to bigger places. If God could include and allow, then why couldn’t I? If God asked me to love unconditionally and universally, then it was clear that God operated in the same way.

This process of transformation was slow, and the realizations that came with it were not either-or; they were great big both-and realizations. None of it happened without much prayer, self-doubt, study, and conversation. I could transcend precisely because I was able to include and broaden.

It seems we all begin in naiveté and eventually return to a “second naiveté” or simplicity, whether willingly or on our deathbed. This blessed simplicity is calm, knowing, patient, inclusive, and self-forgetful. It helps us move beyond anger, alienation, and ignorance. I believe this is the very goal of mature adulthood and mature religion.

Gateway to Silence:
Live simply so that others may simply live.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 105-108.

Image credit: Claude Monet in Argentuil (detail), Édouard Manet, 1874.
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