The Stumbling Stone — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Stumbling Stone

Two Halves of Life: Week 1

The Stumbling Stone
Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The transition from the first half of life to the second half often involves a stumbling stone. In Greek the word for stumbling block is skandalon, from which the English word scandal also comes. Originally, scandal expressed how you felt about yourself when you tripped over the stone, when you were disappointed in yourself. You wondered, “Why did I do that? What’s wrong with me? What kind of person am I?”

The term stumbling stone is introduced in Isaiah: “[YHWH] is both your sanctuary and your stumbling stone” (see 8:14, The Jerusalem Bible). What an amazing juxtaposition of images. Most of us first experience God as love, security, and the foundational rock that holds everything. But often that very rock seems to get in your way and you stumble over what once sustained you. This is the paradox of the full God encounter. God is the rock that will bring you down. God is a trap that will also snare you, Isaiah goes on to say (8:14). This is not what you expected. This is not what you wanted. But, of course it’s not a snare to destroy you; it’s a snare to save you. It’s not a rock to bring you down into evil; but a rock to bring you down into a larger freedom from your small self—which is not yet big enough to hold even a bit of infinity.

Interestingly, Jesus also says in several places that he is that stumbling stone. Jesus is the “scandal” of God, precisely in his incarnate practicality and service (see Matthew 11:6, John 6:60-61). Because he knows we won’t understand this at the theoretical level, Jesus himself walks this path of being a loser, a failure. He shows us that God isn’t only a winner or a victor but a victim, not just spiritual but material. This is not what we wanted or expected. Paul will strongly build on this (e.g., Romans 9:32-33), and it becomes his theme for “the folly of the cross” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:16).

Until you can trust the downward process, the Great Mystery cannot fully overtake you. It’s largely a matter of timing. Some of us put it off until the last hour of life. But the sooner you can do it, the better. Almost all spirituality teaches you the secret of dying before you die.

If you can face your mortality and let go of this small self early on, you’ll experience heaven here and now. You’ll begin to experience the freedom of the children of God. So the sooner you can trust and allow the precipitating event, the sooner you will understand the resurrected life, and you’ll live by a life not your own. That’s the whole Gospel in a nutshell. None of us can engineer it; we simply wait and watch and surrender to it.

Gateway to Silence:
Guide me on the further journey.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Franciscan Media: 2004), disc 3 (CD).

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