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Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic: Weekly Summary

Sunday
Paul is probably one of the most misunderstood and disliked teachers in the Church. I think this is largely because we have tried to understand a nondual mystic with our simplistic, dualistic minds. —Richard Rohr

Monday
Paul is the first clear successor to Jesus as a nondual teacher. He creates the mystical foundations for Christianity. It’s a mystery of participation in Christ. It’s not something that we achieve by performance. It’s something that we are already participating in, and often we just don’t know it. —Richard Rohr

Tuesday
Paul recognizes that the greatest enemy of ordinary daily goodness and joy is not imperfection, but the demand for some supposed perfection or order. —Richard Rohr

Wednesday
Paul sings the praises of active love, of charity, inspired by the fire of divine love and outlines a vision of the cosmic Christ, the Christ who “is all, and is in all.”  —Ursula King

Thursday
People like Jesus and Paul were not executed for saying, “Love one another.” They were killed because their understanding of love meant standing against the domination systems that ruled their world, and collaborating with the Spirit in the creation of a new way of life. —Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan

Friday
Without the resurrection to enliven his experience of suffering, Paul would have been both afflicted and crushed, perplexed and driven to despair, struck down and destroyed. But he is not. The Risen Christ illumines everything. —Julia Gatta

The Mind of Christ

We encourage you to create some space this week for intentional silence and stillness, using Father Richard’s description of contemplation and “the mind of Christ” as an entry into prayer:

In contemplative practice, we refuse to identify with any one side, while still maintaining our intelligence. We hold the creative tension of every seeming conflict and go beyond words to pure, open-ended experience, which has the potential to unify many seeming contradictions. We cannot know God the way we know anything else; we only know God subject to subject, by a process of mirroring. This is the “mind of Christ” (see 1 Corinthians 2:16). It really is a different way of knowing, and you can tell it by its gratuity, its open-endedness, its compassion, and by the way it is so creative and energizing in those who allow it.

Truly great thinkers and cultural creatives take for granted that they have access to a different and larger mind. They recognize that a Divine Flow is already happening and that everyone can plug into it. In all cases, it is a participative kind of knowing, a being known through and not an autonomous knowing. The most common and traditional word for this change of consciousness was historically “prayer,” but we trivialized that precious word by making it functional, transactional, and supposedly about problem solving. The only problem that prayer solves is us!

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2017), 38–39.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, “Bum blockade.” (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study II (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The images on the left and right may not be immediately clear upon first glance. Perhaps there is room for our questions to stay with us gently, taking their time, until understanding slowly emerges as we walk along.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

Strength in All Things

For Evelyn Underhill (1875–1941), the renowned writer on mysticism, the impact of Paul’s mystical experience was an all-pervading belief that Christ’s love was with him in all things, especially suffering:

We misunderstand St. Paul’s mysticism if we confuse it with its more sensational expressions. As his spiritual life matured his conviction of union with the Spirit of Christ became deeper and more stable. . . . Its keynote is struck in the great saying of his last authentic letter: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). This statement has long ago been diluted to the pious level, and we have ceased to realize how startling it was and is. But St. Paul used it in the most practical sense, in a letter written from prison after twelve years of superhuman toil, privation, and ill-usage, accompanied by chronic ill-health; years which had included scourgings, stonings, shipwreck, imprisonments, “in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Corinthians 11:26–27). These, and not his spiritual activities and successes alone, are among the memories which would be present in St. Paul’s consciousness when he declared his ability “to do all things.” [1]

Author and professor Julia Gatta describes the heart of the apostle Paul’s ministry as holding the paradox of suffering and new life, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, together:

Suffering and death are everywhere, from roadkill to mass shootings to tsunamis: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now, and not only creation, but we ourselves . . .” (Romans 8:22–23). Paul’s metaphor of “labor pains” implies that suffering is woven into the process of creation from the very start, and it continues through the birth of the new creation. . . .

We experience resurrection, as St. Paul did, embedded in travail itself: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8–10). Without the resurrection to enliven his experience of suffering, Paul would have been both afflicted and crushed, perplexed and driven to despair, struck down and destroyed. But he is not. The Risen Christ illumines everything. . . . According to the gospel accounts, the risen Jesus repeatedly displays his wounds: they are not left behind. Christ is both crucified and risen, and baptism is immersion into both sides of this paschal mystery. The resurrection irradiates present affliction with hope streaming to us from the glory yet to be revealed. [2]

References:
[1] Evelyn Underhill, The Mystics of the Church (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1988), 45–46.

[2] Julia Gatta, Life in Christ: Practicing Christian Spirituality (New York: Church Publishing, 2018), 30–31, 36.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, “Bum blockade.” (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study II (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The images on the left and right may not be immediately clear upon first glance. Perhaps there is room for our questions to stay with us gently, taking their time, until understanding slowly emerges as we walk along.

Story from Our Community:

Right this moment, I have had to let go. The three dearest desires of my heart have reached dead ends. I have even lost my physical mobility from falling while preparing for a birthday gathering. The only thing I am certain of is the faithful love of Christ. I am coming to understand what St Paul means in saying that we are people of the Spirit and not of the flesh. I am coming to know God better by walking with Him through this desert.
—Elise N.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

An Identity Transplant

Feast of St. Oscar Romero of El Salvador

Scholars Marcus J. Borg (1942–2015) and John Dominic Crossan refer to Paul as a “Jewish Christ mystic,” and explore what the phrase “in Christ” meant to Paul:

He was a Jewish Christ mystic because . . . Paul was a Jew and in his own mind never ceased being one. He was a Jewish Christ mystic because the content of his mystical experiences was Jesus as risen Christ and Lord. Afterward, Paul’s identity became an identity “in Christ.” And as a Christ mystic, he saw Judaism anew in the light of Jesus. . .  .

Paul’s transformation involved an “identity transplant”—his old identity was replaced by a new identity “in Christ.” . . . We have in mind an analogy to modern medicine’s heart transplant, in which an old heart is replaced by a new heart. In Paul’s case, his spirit—the old Paul—had been replaced by the Spirit of Christ.

Borg and Crossan view Paul’s mystical teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, from 1 Corinthians 12–14, as an extension of his identity transplant “in Christ.” Here they reflect on the implications of Paul’s reflections on love, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (13:13):

The love of which Paul speaks is a spiritual gift, not simply an act of will, not something we decide to do, not simply good advice for couples and others. Rather, as a spiritual gift, love is the most important result (and evidence) of a Spirit transplant. As the primary fruit of the Spirit, it is also the criterion by which the other gifts are evaluated. . . .

For Paul, love in this text is radical shorthand for what life “in Christ” is like—life in the “new creation,” life “in the Spirit,” life animated by a Spirit transplant. As the primary fruit of a Spirit-filled life, love is about more than our relationships with individuals. For Paul, it had (for want of a better word) a social meaning as well. The social form of love for Paul was distributive justice and nonviolence, bread and peace. Paul’s vision of life “in Christ,” life in the “new creation,” did not mean, “Accept the imperial way of life with its oppression and violence, but practice love in your personal relationships.”

To make the same point differently, people like Jesus and Paul were not executed for saying, “Love one another.” They were killed because their understanding of love meant more than being compassionate toward individuals, although it did include that. It also meant standing against the domination systems that ruled their world, and collaborating with the Spirit in the creation of a new way of life that stood in contrast to the normalcy of the wisdom of the world. Love and justice go together. Justice without love can be brutal, and love without justice can be banal. Love is the heart of justice, and justice is the social form of love.

Reference:
Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary behind the Church’s Conservative Icon (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 26, 138, 204–205.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, “Bum blockade.” (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study II (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The images on the left and right may not be immediately clear upon first glance. Perhaps there is room for our questions to stay with us gently, taking their time, until understanding slowly emerges as we walk along.

Story from Our Community:

Right this moment, I have had to let go. The three dearest desires of my heart have reached dead ends. I have even lost my physical mobility from falling while preparing for a birthday gathering. The only thing I am certain of is the faithful love of Christ. I am coming to understand what St Paul means in saying that we are people of the Spirit and not of the flesh. I am coming to know God better by walking with Him through this desert.
—Elise N.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Living in Christ

Theologian Ursula King sees Paul as a forerunner of the Christian mystics. Here she summarizes his key mystical themes:  

Paul’s great mystical experience on the road to Damascus, which changed him from an enemy into an ardent supporter of the early Christians, made him into one of the strongest witnesses to the power of the spirit of Christ, “in whom we live, move and have our being” [Acts 17:28]. While the Gospels describe Christ’s life, his death and resurrection, the Pauline Epistles bear witness to an intense and deeply transforming faith, rooted both in powerful personal experience and in the community of the early disciples, which later became the Christian Church.

Paul describes himself as “a man in Christ,” affirming a deep union with the Divine which does not negate his own identity but enables him to live within the divine nature itself: “I live, now not I; but Christ lives within me” [Galatians 2:20]. He also sings the praises of active love, of charity, inspired by the fire of divine love and outlines a vision of the cosmic Christ, the Christ who “is all, and is in all” [Colossians 3:11]. [1]

Jesuit scholar Harvey Egan likewise views Paul as a mystic who gave himself fully to the love of God in Christ, and who believed others could do likewise:

From the very depths of his being, Paul experienced and surrendered to the love of God in Christ. For him the Lord was the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17). Pauline mysticism is emphatically Christ-directed; “to live,” for Paul, “is Christ” (Philippians 1:21).

Paul considered it almost self-evident that all Christians, because of Christ and his Spirit, had relatively easy access to an experience of God in their lives. Although he spoke of the “mature” in faith (1 Corinthians 2:6) and the “spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:15), he expected mature faith of all Christians. The Holy Spirit granted all Christians a “surpassing knowledge” (Ephesians 3:19), the “fullness of knowledge” (Ephesians 1:17), and in this way proved to us that we are “[children] of God” (Romans 8:14) who can also call God, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). Christ’s Spirit would pray in us “with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).

Linked intimately to a loving knowledge of the crucified and risen Christ is a “secret and hidden wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 2:7), a peace beyond all understanding (Philippians 4:7), and a supreme consolation (2 Corinthians 1:5). Those living in Christ’s Spirit experience a richer way of life (Ephesians 1:8–9) filled with love, joy, peace, self-control, gentleness, patience, and kindness (Galatians 5:22) that enables them to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). As Paul said: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the [human] heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him, God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9–10). . . .

Time and again, Paul spoke of being “in Christ.” For him, moreover, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). [2]

References:
[1] Ursula King, Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages (Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, 2001), 13.

[2] Harvey D. Egan, Christian Mysticism: The Future of a Tradition (New York: Pueblo Publishing, 1984), 26–27.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, “Bum blockade.” (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study II (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The images on the left and right may not be immediately clear upon first glance. Perhaps there is room for our questions to stay with us gently, taking their time, until understanding slowly emerges as we walk along.

Story from Our Community:

After young life characterized by zeal and certainty, for years I have been on what felt like a descent deeper into doubt. What an affirmation to read that letting go of certain ways of knowing is a normal and even necessary way to travel to greater faith.
—Stefan L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

Nondual Faith

Today Father Richard examines a specific example of Paul’s nondual, “both-and” thinking. Paul saw Christ’s cross as a third way beyond the cultural-religious conflicts of his time.

One of the dialectics that Paul presents is the perennial conflict that today we call conservative and liberal. In his writings, Paul’s own people, the Jews, became the stand-in for pious, law-abiding conservatives; the Greeks provided his metaphor for intellectuals, cultural critics, and people we would call liberals. Paul sees the Jews trying to create order in the world by obedience to law, tradition, and kinship ties. The Greeks try to create order by reason, understanding, logic, and education.

Paul insists that neither of them can finally succeed because they do not have the ability to “incorporate the negative,” which will always be present. He recognizes that the greatest enemy of ordinary daily goodness and joy is not imperfection, but the demand for some supposed perfection or order. There seems to be a shadow side to almost everything; all things are subject to “the powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6:12). Only the unitive or nondual mind can accept this and not panic, but, in fact, grow because of it and grow beyond it.

Neither the liberal pattern nor the conservative pattern can deal with disorder and misery. Paul believes that Jesus has revealed the only response that works. The revelation of the cross, he says, makes us indestructible, because it says there is a way through all absurdity and tragedy. That way is precisely through accepting and even using absurdity and tragedy as part of God’s unfathomable agenda. If we can internalize the mystery of the cross, we won’t fall into cynicism, failure, bitterness, or skepticism. The cross gives us a precise and profound way through the shadow side of life and through all disappointments.

Paul allows both conservatives and liberals to define wisdom in their own ways, yet he dares to call both inadequate and finally wrong. He believes that such worldviews will eventually fail people. “God has shown up human wisdom as folly” on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:21), and this is “an obstacle that the Jews cannot get over,” and which the Gentiles or pagans think is simple “foolishness” (1:23).

For Paul, the code words for nondual thinking, or true wisdom, are “foolishness” and “folly.” He says, in effect, “My thinking is foolishness to you, isn’t it?” Admittedly, it does not make sense unless we have confronted the mystery of the cross. Suffering, the “folly of the cross,” breaks down the dualistic mind. Why? Because on the cross, God took the worst thing, the killing of the God-human, and made it into the best thing, the very redemption of the world. The compassionate holding of essential meaninglessness or tragedy, as Jesus does on the cross, is the final and triumphant resolution of all the dualisms and dichotomies that we face in our own lives. We are thus “saved by the cross”! Does that now make ultimate sense? 

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2014), 71–76; and

A New Way of Seeing . . . a New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2007). Available as CD and MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, “Bum blockade.” (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study II (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The images on the left and right may not be immediately clear upon first glance. Perhaps there is room for our questions to stay with us gently, taking their time, until understanding slowly emerges as we walk along.

Story from Our Community:

After young life characterized by zeal and certainty, for years I have been on what felt like a descent deeper into doubt. What an affirmation to read that letting go of certain ways of knowing is a normal and even necessary way to travel to greater faith.
—Stefan L.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

A Tug-of-War with Truth

Father Richard describes the paradoxical impact that Paul’s revelation of Christ had for him. His way of thinking and being changed completely:  

Meeting the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus changed everything for Paul. He experienced the great paradox that the crucified Jesus was in fact alive! And he, Paul, a “sinner,” was in fact chosen and beloved. This pushed Paul from the usual either/or, dualistic thinking to both/and, mystical thinking.

The truth in paradoxical language lies neither in the affirmation nor in the denial of either side, but precisely in the resolution of the tug-of-war between the two. The human mind usually works on the logical principle of contradiction, according to which something cannot be both true and false at the same time. Yet that is exactly what higher truths invariably undo (for example, God is both one and three; Jesus is both human and divine; bread and wine are both matter and Spirit). Unfortunately, since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, we Western, educated people have lost touch with paradoxical, mystical, or contemplative thinking. We’ve wasted five centuries taking sides—which is so evident in our culture today!

Not only was Paul’s way of thinking changed by his mystical experience, his way of being in the world was also transformed. Suddenly the persecutor—and possibly murderer—of Christians is Christ’s “chosen vessel,” sent “to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). This dissolves the strict line between good and bad, between in-group “Jews” and out-group “Gentiles.” The paradox has been overcome in Paul’s very person. He now knows that he is both sinner and saint, and we too must trust the same. These two seeming contradictions don’t cancel one another. Once the conflict has been overcome in you, you realize you are a living paradox and so is everyone else. You begin to see life in a truly spiritual way.

Perhaps this is why Paul loves to teach dialectically. He presents two seemingly opposing ideas, such as weakness and strength, flesh and spirit, law and grace, faith and works, Jew and Greek, male and female. Dualistic thinking usually takes one side, dismisses the other, and stops there. Paul doesn’t do that. He forces us onto the horns of the dilemma and invites us to wrestle with the paradox. If we stay with him in the full struggle, we’ll realize that he eventually brings reconciliation on a higher level, beyond the essential struggle where almost all of us start.

Paul is the first clear successor to Jesus as a nondual teacher. He creates the mystical foundations for Christianity. It’s a mystery of participation in Christ. It’s not something that we achieve by performance. It’s something that we’re already participating in, and often we just don’t know it. We are all already flowing in this Christ consciousness, this Trinitarian flow of life and love moving in and around and through everything; we just don’t realize it.

References:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, A New Way of Seeing . . . a New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2007). Available as CD and MP3 download; and

St. Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2014). Available as CD and MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, “Bum blockade.” (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study II (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The images on the left and right may not be immediately clear upon first glance. Perhaps there is room for our questions to stay with us gently, taking their time, until understanding slowly emerges as we walk along.

Story from Our Community:

The Daily Meditations are a reflection and a confirmation of my psychological and pathological making. Thanks to Father Richard, I’m able to pinpoint and fix my spiritual understanding so that I have a new mindset. Like Saint Paul said in his letter to the Romans, nothing… “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
—Elias M.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

An Enlightening Experience

Spring Equinox

In this week’s Daily Meditations, Father Richard Rohr focuses on Saint Paul as a mystic, beginning with Paul’s transformative encounter with the Risen Christ:

Paul is probably one of the most misunderstood and disliked teachers in the Church. I think this is largely because we have tried to understand a nondual mystic with our simplistic, dualistic minds. 

It starts with Paul’s amazing conversion experience, described three times in the Book of Acts (chapters 9, 22, and 26). Scholars assume that Luke wrote Acts around 85 CE, about twenty years after Paul’s ministry. Paul’s own account is in his letter to the Galatians: “The Gospel which I preach . . . came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:11–12). Paul never doubts this revelation. The Christ that he met was not exactly identical to the historical Jesus; it was the risen Christ, the Christ who remains with us now in Spirit as the Universal Christ.

In Galatians, Paul describes his pre-conversion life as an orthodox Jew, a Pharisee with status in the Judean governmental board called the Sanhedrin. The Temple police delegated him to go out and squelch this new sect of Judaism called “The Way”—not yet named Christianity. Saul (Paul’s Hebrew name) was breathing threats to slaughter Jesus’ disciples (see Acts 9:1–2). He says, “I tried to destroy it. And I advanced beyond my contemporaries in my own nation. I was more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers than anybody else” (Galatians 1:13­–14). At that point, Paul was a dualistic thinker, dividing the world into entirely good and entirely bad people.

The Acts account of Paul’s conversion continues: “Suddenly, while traveling to Damascus, just before he reached the city, there came a light from heaven all around him. He fell to the ground, and he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:3–5).

Paul must have wondered: “Why does he say ‘me’ when I’m persecuting these other people?” This choice of words is pivotal. Paul gradually comes to his understanding of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12–13) as an organic, ontological union between Christ and those whom Christ loves—which Paul eventually realizes is everyone and everything. This is why Paul becomes “the apostle to the nations” (or “Gentiles”).

This enlightening experience taught Paul nondual consciousness, the same mystical mind that allowed Jesus to say things like “Whatever you do to these least ones, you do to me” (Matthew 25:40).

Until grace achieves the same victory in our minds and hearts, we cannot really comprehend most of Jesus and Paul’s teachings—in any practical way. It will remain distant theological dogma. Before conversion, we tend to think of God as “out there.” After transformation, as Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) wrote, “The soul . . . never doubts: God was in her; she was in God.” [1]

References:
[1] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, trans. Mirabai Starr (New York: Riverhead Books, 2003), 123.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, St. Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2014). Available as CD and MP3 download.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study I (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Dorothea Lange, “Bum blockade.” (detail), 1936, photograph, public domain. Jenna Keiper, Trash Can Study II (detail), 2020, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image Inspiration: The images on the left and right may not be immediately clear upon first glance. Perhaps there is room for our questions to stay with us gently, taking their time, until understanding slowly emerges as we walk along.

Story from Our Community:

The Daily Meditations are a reflection and a confirmation of my psychological and pathological making. Thanks to Father Richard, I’m able to pinpoint and fix my spiritual understanding so that I have a new mindset. Like Saint Paul said in his letter to the Romans, nothing… “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
—Elias M.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.

 

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Our theme this year is Nothing Stands Alone. What could happen if we embraced the idea of God as relationship—with ourselves, each other, and the world? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.