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Oneness

One Life, One Death, One Suffering
Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Universal Christ is trying to communicate at the deepest intuitive level that there is only One Life, One Death, and One Suffering on this earth. We are all invited to ride the one wave, which is the only wave there is. Call it Reality, if you wish. But we are all in this together.

Consider how a “one-lump” awareness of reality upends so many of our current obsessions. Our arguments about private worthiness; reward and punishment; gender, race, and class distinctions; private possessions—all the things that make us argue and compete are not essential, ontological traits. Weighing, measuring, counting, listing, labeling, and comparing only gets us so far.

Of course, we must recognize and respect our differences. “Colorblindness” is actually harmful in the face of measurable inequities for people of color. Pride parades and other cultural celebrations of identity are valuable expressions for many groups whose voices have been silenced. People with privilege and power like myself are called to move to the bottom and to destroy the illusion of our supremacy. Those who have been marginalized and deemed inferior are invited to reclaim their inherent value and belonging. As Jesus said, “The last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).

The Gospel is about learning to live and die in and with God—all our warts and wounds included and forgiven by an Infinite Love. The true Gospel democratizes the world. We are all saved in spite of our mistakes, in spite of our suffering, and in spite of ourselves. We are all caught up in the cosmic sweep of Divine grace and mercy. And we all must learn to trust the Psalmist’s prayer: “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to your name be the glory” (Psalm 115:1).

The freeing, good news of the Gospel is that God is saving and redeeming the Whole first and foremost, and we are all caught up in this Cosmic Sweep of Divine Love. The parts—you and me and everybody else—are the blessed beneficiaries, the desperate hangers-on, the partly willing participants in the Whole. Paul wrote that our only task is to trust this reality “until God is all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). What a different idea of faith! “When Christ is revealed,” Paul writes to the Colossians, “and he is your life—you too will be revealed in all your glory with him” (3:4). Unless and until we can enjoy this, so much of what passes for Christianity will amount to little more than well-disguised narcissism and self-referential politics. We see this phenomenon playing out in the de facto values of people who strongly identify as Christian. Often they are more racist, classist, and sexist than non-Christians. “Others can carry the burden and the pain of injustice, but not my group,” they seem to say.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 166-167.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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Oneness

Corporate Love
Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Humans throughout history have often had a strong appreciation for and connection with their ancestors. I think the collective notion of oneness is what Christians were trying to verbalize when they made a late addition to the ancient Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints.” They were offering us the idea that the dead are at one with the living, whether they’re our direct ancestors, the saints in glory, or even the so-called souls in purgatory.

Sister Catherine Nerney, SSJ illustrates this idea in her book The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness:

I, who once found life within my mother, was in turn responsible for my mother’s ongoing life in me.

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells a beautiful story about an experience he had following his mother’s death which makes this point very powerfully:

The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune in my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut of my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk with her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me. [1]

This kind of mutual interdependence I sense to be true. We live in and through one another. We become ourselves only in and through a process of mutual inter-becoming. It all began in God’s own creative, self-giving love. Much deeper than the inevitability of my [physically] resembling my earthly mother is the reality of my core identity, the core identity of all who bear the same family resemblance, a unique but related face of compassion—the same divine Love has birthed us all. God will never be dead as long as we’re alive. [2]

The whole thing is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being “part of the body,” humble links in the great chain of history. This view echoes the biblical concept of a covenant love that was granted to the Jewish people as a whole, and never just to one individual like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Esther, or David. Similarly, the prophets and Jesus spoke both their judgments and their promises to the collective of the House of Jacob, Moab, Bashan, Gilgal, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Jerusalem (and on and on) much more than they ever did to individuals. Many Christians’ failure to recognize this has led to a major misinterpretation of the entire Bible. 

References:
[1] Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life (Riverhead Books: 2002), 5.

[2] Catherine T. Nerney, The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness (Orbis Books: 2018), 12-13.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 163-164.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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Oneness

Love Is Universal
Monday, September 23, 2019

Every rational creature, every person, and every angel has two main strengths: the power to know and the power to love. God made both of these, but [God is] not knowable through the first one. To the power of love, however, [God] is entirely known, because a loving soul is open to receive God’s abundance. . . . [God’s] very nature makes love endless and miraculous. God will never stop loving us. Consider this truth, and, if by grace you can make love your own, do. For the experience is eternal joy; its absence is unending suffering. —The Cloud of Unknowing [1]

In the fourteenth century, the inspired, anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing taught that God in Christ dealt with sin, death, forgiveness, and salvation “all in one lump.” It is a most unusual, even homely, phrase, but for me, this corporate and mystical reading of history contributes to the unitive vision we are seeking, as we try to understand the Universal Christ. Jesus by himself looks like an individual, albeit a divine individual, but the Christ is a compelling image for this “one-lump” view of reality. In the fourteenth century, The Cloud’s author would’ve enjoyed the last remnants of mystical holism before the Reformation and Enlightenment elevated dualistic thinking. The writer reflected the more Eastern church understanding of the resurrection as a universal phenomenon, and not just the lone Jesus rising from the dead and raising his hands as if he just scored a touchdown, as is depicted in most Western art—and even in a giant mosaic that looms over the University of Notre Dame’s football stadium.

I am convinced that the Gospel offers us a holistic, “all in one lump” understanding of things. We also see this idea everywhere in Pauline passages, expressed in different ways: “in that one body he condemned sin” (Romans 8:3); “He experienced death for all humankind” (Hebrews 2:19); he has done suffering and sacrifice “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:28); or the embodiment language of Philippians, where Jesus is said to lead us through the “pattern of sin and death” so we can “take our place in the pattern of resurrection” (3:9-12). And of course, this all emerges from Jesus’ major metaphor of the “Reign of God,” a collective notion which some scholars say is just about all that he talks about. Until we start reading the Jesus story through the collective lens of Christ, I honestly think Christians miss much of his core message and limit its meaning to individual salvation, reward, and punishment. Without a universal and unifying spirituality, society will remain untransformed.

Only surrendering humbly to the radical path of love will result in the discovery that God is not the object of our longing and love, but is the loving itself. As the author of The Cloud teaches, God is the force that is binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming all of humanity and all of creation with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet.

References:
[1] The Cloud of Unknowing with the Book of Privy Counsel, trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Shambhala: 2009), 14.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 162-163.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
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Oneness

The Suffering of God
Sunday, September 22, 2019

I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life. —Etty Hillesum [1]

Just days before I began writing my book about the Universal Christ, I learned that I would have to put down my fifteen-year-old black Lab because she was suffering from inoperable cancer. Venus had been giving me a knowing and profoundly accepting look for weeks, but I did not know how to read it. Deep down, I did not want to know. After her diagnosis, every time I looked at her, she gazed up at me with those same soft and fully permissive eyes, as if to say, “It is okay. You can let me go. I know it is my time.” But she patiently waited until I, too, was ready.

In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness.

When we carry our small suffering in solidarity with humanity’s one universal longing for deep union, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together. It is just as hard for everybody else, and our healing is bound up in each other’s. Almost all people are carrying a great and secret hurt, even when they don’t know it. This realization softens the space around our overly defended hearts. It makes it hard to be cruel to anyone. It somehow makes us one—in a way that easy comfort and entertainment never can.

Some mystics go so far as to say that individual suffering doesn’t exist at all and that there is only one suffering. It is all the same, and it is all the suffering of God. The image of Jesus on the cross somehow communicates that to the willing soul. A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us—much more than just for us, as many Christians were trained to think.

If suffering, even unjust suffering (and all suffering is unjust), is part of one Great Mystery, then I am willing to carry my little portion. Etty Hillesum (1914–1943), a young, Dutch, Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, truly believed her suffering was also the suffering of God. She even expressed a deep desire to help God carry some of it:

And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. [2]

Such freedom and generosity of spirit are almost unimaginable to me. What creates such altruistic and loving people?

References:
[1] Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork (Henry Holt and Company: 1996), 157.

[2] Ibid., 178.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 160, 161-162.

Image credit: The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner (detail), Edwin Henry Landseer, 1837, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness. . . . Creation is one giant symphony of mutual sympathy. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry
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