Disciples, Prophets, and Mystics Archives — Center for Action and Contemplation
×

By continuing to browse our site you agree to our use of cookies and our Privacy Policy.

Theme:
Disciples, Prophets, and Mystics

Disciples, Prophets, and Mystics

Inner Experience

Wednesday, March 18

While most Christians consider themselves disciples of Jesus and try to follow his teachings, a much smaller number move toward practical acts of service or solidarity. But I’m afraid even fewer Christians have the courage to go on the much deeper mystical path. Both Catholics and Protestants have failed our people by mystifying the very notion of mysticism. The word itself has become relegated to a “misty” and distant realm that implies it is only available to very few and something not to be trusted, much less attractive or desirable. For me, the word “mysticism” simply means experiential knowledge of spiritual things, as opposed to book knowledge, secondhand knowledge, or even church knowledge.

Most of organized religion, without meaning to, has actually discouraged us from taking the mystical path by telling us almost exclusively to trust outer authority—in the form of Scripture, tradition, or various kinds of experts—instead of telling us the value and importance of inner experience. (I call that trusting the “containers” instead of the “contents.”) In fact, most of us were strongly warned against ever trusting ourselves, told that our personal experiences of the divine were unnecessary and possibly even dangerous.

Discouraging or denying people’s actual experiences of God often created passive people and, more sadly, a lot of people who concluded that there was no God to be experienced! We were taught to mistrust our own souls—and thus the Holy Spirit within us. We can contrast that with Jesus’ common phrase, “Go in peace, your faith has made you whole!” (as in Mark 5:34 and Luke 17:19). He said this to people who had made no dogmatic affirmations, did not think he was “God,” did not pass any moral checklist, and often did not belong to the “correct” group. They were simply people who trustfully affirmed, with open hearts, the grace of their own hungry experience—in that moment—and that God could care about it.

The irony in all of these attempts to over-rely on externals is that people end up relying upon their own experience anyway! Most of us—by necessity—see everything, mystical and otherwise, through the lens of our own temperament, early conditioning, brain function, role and place in society, education, our personal needs, and cultural biases and assumptions. Admittedly, personal experiences are easy to misinterpret, and we shouldn’t universalize from our “moment” to an expectation that everybody must have the same kind of “moment.” We also can’t assume that any experience is 100 percent from God. We must develop filters to clear away our own agenda and ego. Nothing beats a solid understanding of some theology, psychology, and sociology, along with good and wise counsel. We cannot forget Paul’s reminder which was meant to keep us humble: “We know imperfectly and we prophesy imperfectly” (1 Corinthians 13:9).

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 1-3. For more on this theme, join CAC’s online course The Franciscan Way: Beyond the Bird Bathhttps://cac.org/online-ed/franciscan-way-course-description/.

Image credit: Santa Teresa de Jesús (St. Teresa of Ávila) (detail), José Alcázar Tejedor, 1884, Museo del Prado, Madrid, España (currently at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, España).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: [A] notable characteristic of the mystical tradition has been the very large number of women who feature prominently in it, women who wrote extensively about their mystical experiences and acted as advisers and counselors to men and women of all kinds. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry

Disciples, Prophets, and Mystics

Reading the Signs of The Times
Tuesday, March 17

Author and Dominican priest Albert Nolan has written many prophetic works that bring attention to systems of oppression throughout the world. His writings were influential in ending apartheid in his own nation of South Africa. Today he explains the spirals of violence that Jesus would have witnessed and encountered firsthand.

Prophets are typically people who can foretell the future, not as fortune-tellers, but as people who have learned to read the signs of their times. It is by focusing their attention on, and becoming fully aware of, the political, social, economic, military, and religious tendencies of their time that prophets are able to see where it is all heading.

Reading the signs of his times would have been an integral part of Jesus’ spirituality.

In the first place, like many of the Hebrew prophets, Jesus must have seen the threatening armies of a powerful empire on the horizon—in this case the Roman Empire. Imperial power was well known to the prophets. At one time or another the people of Israel had been oppressed by the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, and the Greeks. The prophets warned against collaborating with these power structures and promised that each of them would one day decline and fall—which they did. In this the prophets saw the finger of God.

In Jesus’ view, it would only be a matter of time before the Roman armies felt sufficiently provoked to attack and destroy Jerusalem. . . .

For most Jews, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem would mean the destruction of their worship, their culture, and their nation. Jesus’ concern was not for the future of the temple but for the people of Jerusalem, especially the women and children who would suffer so much at the hands of the Romans (Luke 19:44; 21:21-24).

What Jesus must also have seen was the spiral of violence in which the Galilean peasants were caught up…Jesus himself would have been a peasant…Peasants were not only poor, they were exploited and oppressed—and not only by the Romans, but also by the Herods and the rich landowners.

Jesus, reading the signs of the times from the perspective of a Galilean peasant, would have seen that this spiral of violence held no hope for the poor and the oppressed. The people were powerless and helpless [and the victims of huge structural violence which is largely invisible except to those who are suffering from it. –RR]

Two thousand years later, prophets still raise their voices against the spirals of violence that continue to rob the poor and the oppressed of hope. Do we even hear them? Are we any more likely to act on their wisdom than our biblical ancestors or do we also dismiss them and their message? I’m afraid it’s the latter, but it is only by choosing the former that we play our part as disciples of Jesus.

Reference:
Albert Nolan, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom (Orbis Books: 2006) 65-66.

Image credit: Santa Teresa de Jesús (St. Teresa of Ávila) (detail), José Alcázar Tejedor, 1884, Museo del Prado, Madrid, España (currently at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, España).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: [A] notable characteristic of the mystical tradition has been the very large number of women who feature prominently in it, women who wrote extensively about their mystical experiences and acted as advisers and counselors to men and women of all kinds. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry

Disciples, Prophets, and Mystics

Speaking Out
Monday, March 16

Prophets must first be true disciples of their faith. In fact, it is their deep love for their tradition that allows them to criticize it at the same time. This is almost always the hallmark of a prophet. Their deepest motivation is not negative but profoundly positive. The dualistic mind presumes that if you criticize something, you don’t love it, but I would say just the opposite. There is a major difference between negative criticism and positive critique. The first stems from the need for power; the second flows from love.

Institutions prefer loyalists and “company men” to prophets, even if they are mature institutions. We’re uncomfortable with people who point out our shortcomings or imperfections, but human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow and contradictions. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we are transformed and break into higher levels of consciousness. People who learn to expose, name, and still thrive inside of a world filled with contradictions are what I would call prophets. They are both faithful and critical.

Albert Nolan is a Dominican priest from South Africa and the author of several books that challenge us to consider what it means to be a disciple and follower of Jesus. Today, he describes the role of a prophet and how Jesus fulfilled it.

Prophets are people who speak out when others remain silent. They criticize their own society, their own country, or their own religious institutions. . . . This leads inevitably to tension and even some measure of conflict between the prophet and the establishment. In the Hebrew Scriptures we see how the prophets clashed with kings and sometimes priests too. Jesus was painfully aware of this tension or conflict in the traditions of the prophets. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you . . . for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23). Jesus saw those who killed the prophets in the past as the ancestors or predecessors of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:29-35).

The tension or conflict is between authority and experience. True prophets are not part of the authority structure of their society or their religious institution. Unlike priests and kings, prophets are never appointed, ordained, or anointed by the religious establishment. They experience a special calling that comes directly from God, and their message comes from their experience of God: “Thus says the Lord God.”

We have seen how boldly and radically Jesus spoke out against the assumptions and practices of the social and religious establishment of his time. He turned their world upside down. The conflict that this created became so intense that in the end they killed him to keep him quiet.

Any attempt to practice the same spirituality as Jesus would entail learning to speak truth to power as he did—and facing the consequences. [1]

References:
[1] Albert Nolan, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom (Orbis Books: 2006) 63-64.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1994), audio, no longer available;

Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 download; and

“Rebuilding from the Bottom Up: A Reflection Following the Election” (November 11, 2016), https://cac.org/rebuilding-bottom-reflection-following-election/.

Image credit: Santa Teresa de Jesús (St. Teresa of Ávila) (detail), José Alcázar Tejedor, 1884, Museo del Prado, Madrid, España (currently at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, España).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: [A] notable characteristic of the mystical tradition has been the very large number of women who feature prominently in it, women who wrote extensively about their mystical experiences and acted as advisers and counselors to men and women of all kinds. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry

Disciples, Prophets, and Mystics

Always Listening
Sunday, March 15, 2020

Paul writes, “May the mind that is in Christ Jesus also be in you” (Philippians 2:5). This is the truest depth of our Christian tradition, what it truly means to be a disciple of Jesus. We are called to recognize, surrender to, and ultimately be identified with the mystery of God utterly beyond all concepts, all words, and all designations. This is our destiny. —James Finley [1]

We have to remember that Jesus says nothing to us that he hasn’t somehow heard from God. Jesus is totally faithful to his relationship with God, whom he called “Abba.” It was because of the familial nature of their relationship that he was able to teach, heal, bless, and create the spiritual family we call the church. To be disciples of Jesus, we have to let ourselves be loved as he did. It is in receiving that love that we find our strength and power.

For Jesus, “discipleship” is about being in an intimate, loving, and challenging relationship, much like that between parent and child. There is a unique nature to the healthy parent-child relationship, and each person has a role to play. Ideally, the parent employs the gifts of experience and knowledge to care for, nurture, and protect the child. In turn, the child can depend on and trust the parent for sustenance, well-being, and guidance in a world of unknowing. Discipleship follows that sequence. First, we must learn how to be God’s children, allowing ourselves to receive love, to be loved, to be cared for, and believed in, so that we can be entrusted to go about our “Father’s business” as Jesus did (see Luke 2:49).

In the beginning, Jesus steps into his ministry as a child of God, not as the parent or authority figure. Rather, he lets himself be the recipient, and he trusts God to lead him. Because Jesus is always listening to God and experiencing God’s presence, God is able to continually teach him. Jesus doesn’t begin his life full of power and authority. He is born helpless and vulnerable like all of us, but throughout his life, he continues to grow in love and wisdom (see Luke 2:52). Like every true disciple, Jesus comes into the fullness of his being by faithfully following and listening to his Great Teacher, the unspeakable YHWH.

At the end of prayer in Jesus’ Judaism there is a beautiful and powerful expression of affirmation, “Amen,” which Christians adopted. Yet Jesus, a devout Jew, puts it at the beginning of everything important he says. Why would he do that? When Jesus says “Amen, Amen,” [there are numerous examples in John’s gospel] I believe he is seconding the motion: “Amen” to what he has first heard from God and a second “Amen” to the authority with which he holds and passes on that same message to us. Like good disciples, in loving relationship with God and companions with Jesus, we must pray for the confidence to also say, as it were, “Amen, Amen.” What I have heard from God is now mine to pass on to you—on the level of inner experience more than the level of knowledge.

References:
[1] Adapted from James Finley, Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2008), CD, DVD, MP3 download. See also Jim’s podcast, Turning to the Mystics.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2015) 110, 111-113.

Image credit: Santa Teresa de Jesús (St. Teresa of Ávila) (detail), José Alcázar Tejedor, 1884, Museo del Prado, Madrid, España (currently at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, España).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: [A] notable characteristic of the mystical tradition has been the very large number of women who feature prominently in it, women who wrote extensively about their mystical experiences and acted as advisers and counselors to men and women of all kinds. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry
Join Our Email Community

Stay up to date on the latest news and happenings from Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation.


HTML spacer