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Transcend and Include

Everything Belongs: Week 2

Transcend and Include
Wednesday, December 7, 2016

David Benner, a friend and wise teacher, has been a part of several Christian traditions over the years, including fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and now contemplative Anglicanism. Of the spiritual journey he writes:

Identifying and embracing your lineage is an important part of any pathway to greater wholeness because it involves remembering your own story. All the parts of your journey must be woven together if you are to transcend your present organization and level of consciousness. For myself, the great challenge was re-embracing traditions that I have grown beyond and that offered—even at the time—an oppressively small worldview. I did not want to be an ex-evangelical or an ex-fundamentalist. Too many people live that life of dis-identification, and I did not want to share their anger and “stuckness.” It was essential, therefore, for me to identify and embrace the gifts that had come to me from these traditions. This was the way in which I came to know that everything in my life belongs, that every part of my story has made important contributions to who I am. And the same is true for you. [1]

When I speak about the failings and limitations of the church or of low level religion, I hope you know that I am not throwing out the important beginning stages of structure and obedience. They have a relative importance as scaffolding, but they are not the building itself. We don’t need to continue protecting the scaffolding once it’s served its purpose. But we still honor and respect it.

In the first half of life, our task is to build a container. Eventually we realize that life isn’t primarily about the container, but the contents. As Jesus said, wineskins are for the sake of holding the wine (Luke 5:37-39), not for the sake of themselves. It doesn’t serve us to argue about whose wineskins are best. If they hold the precious contents, they are good!

There is room for immense diversity inside healthy Catholicism, usually exemplified by the satellite communities—Religious Orders—of women and men. The seeming monolith of Catholicism recognized, after the great Constantinian compromise of 313 AD, that there were many historical, temperamental, theological, and cultural differences in the world and that we had to make room for much diversity to survive. God is not threatened by differences, as we see in the three persons of the Trinity. It’s we who are.

On his deathbed, St. Francis freed his brothers by saying, “I have done what was mine to do, may Christ now teach you what you are to do.” [2] He knew the Franciscans would try to copy him—as indeed we have done in a few externals. But he gave us radical permission to do what was ours to do, and not to slavishly idealize him. If we cannot include the raw materials of each of our lives (and indeed they are often raw!), I do not believe we have truly transcended to higher levels of consciousness and holiness. False transcendence tries to fly high without realizing it was the lower tail winds that got it there.

Gateway to Silence:
All things work together for good. —Romans 8:28

[1] David G. Benner, Human Being and Becoming: Living the Adventure of Life and Love (Brazos Press: 2016), 118-119.
[2] Bonaventure, The Life of Saint Francis, trans. E. Gurney Salter (London: J. M. Dent, 1904), 150.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, How Do We Get Everything to Belong? disc 1 (CAC: 2004), CD, MP3 download; and
Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 112, 128.

Image credit: Photograph by Domenico Salvagnin, Springtime II (detail), taken near Padua, Italy,