Spirituality of Letting Go: Week 1
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Living in this consumer-driven world, we are all deeply infected by what some call “affluenza,” a toxic and blinding disease with the basic assumption that more is always better and more of self is always good. It is fair to say that such invisible assumptions of any culture are as toxic and as blinding as the so-called “hot sins” of drunkards and prostitutes, though they are much harder to recognize as “sin” because we are all inside the same agreed-upon bubble.
John’s Gospel uses the words “the world” in precisely this way. John does not mean nature or creation; he means “the system”—as humans invariably construct it—which is all about security, status, pleasure, and power. These are not bad as such, but they are only limited goods, and most people let them become absolute goods—and that is when they do us in! They become gods or “idols.” John writes: “God did not come to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved” (see John 3:17).
This is indeed why so many of our saints speak about “leaving the world” or the normal systems of illusions. This dramatic beginning invariably ends up being much more subtle and difficult in real life. We finally have to learn to be “in the world but not of the world.” That is, we must compassionately accept the strange way we humans choose to operate and be willing to work inside it, but never really buy into it. We must see things for what they are and also for what they aren’t. Unless we in some way “leave the world,” I think we can safely assume we are utterly beholding to it.
Mature spirituality creates willing people instead of willful people. We slowly unfold in response to love and grace and freedom, rather than in mere reaction to the illusions of others. Without this insight, religion largely creates rigid, unhappy, and judgmental people. When we try to take charge of our own “enlightenment,” when we try to be fully in control of our own “purity” and superiority, our attitude becomes pushing and demanding—ego assertion, even if it looks like religious ego assertion. I think this is what so many people rightly dislike and mistrust about religious people: in the name of the good, will power creates a well-disguised bad. Jesus was a master and genius at recognizing this problem.
Immature religion creates people who know what they are against, but have a very poor sense of what they are for. They are against sin, always as they narrowly define it; but they are seldom for love or actually for anything except the status quo where they think they are in control. This is indeed “the world” and will never get them very far if they are trapped within it—unless they recognize this same world as pervaded with heaven. For me, this is the genius of the Gospel. The world is good in its wholeness, but our little portion of separated parts is never the whole, so we must leave our addiction to the system to discover the Empire of God. We must always let go of full control over the parts to love and accept the whole.
Gateway to Silence:
Let be. Let love.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003), 17-19; and
Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction (Franciscan Media: 1987, 2005), disc 6 (CD).