Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Faith and not imagination…

It is faith and not imagination that gives us supernatural life, faith that justifies us, faith that leads us to contemplation.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions, p.154

Faith is not the same as imagination—in fact it is in some ways the diametrical opposite. Faith means looking at the truth the heart knows, and not blinking; standing before God in the utter silence, and listening.

Somehow I think it is faith, and not imagination, which is the work of poets and musicians, and the best of painters and sculptors. We need to look at truth without blinking if we are going to produce work that is likely to last; even if lasting is in the heart of one person who truly listens to an improvised bass fill, played live, and hears the heart of the one who played it, and is different afterwards, perhaps for the rest of their life.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Singleness of heart…

Mysticism begins when the totally transcendent image of God starts to recede; and there’s also a deepening sense of God as imminent, present, here, now, within me. Augustine’s line was “God is more intimate to me than I am to myself” or “more me than I am myself.” St. Catherine of Genoa shouted it in the streets, “My deepest me is God!” In other words, the One Beyond is also one with me…

You must overcome your primary alienation to know truthfully—and what you learn is that the Beyond One is doing the knowing through you! You are not alone. The gap has been overcome from the other side. God is no longer “out there.” At this point, it’s not like one has a new relationship with God; it’s like one has a whole new God! “God himself is my counsellor, and at night my innermost being instructs me,” says the Psalmist (Ps. 16.7).

After the beginnings of mystical experience, one finds that what makes something secular or profane is precisely to live on the surface of anything. It’s not that the sacred is over here and the profane is over there. Everything is profane if you live on the surface of it, and everything is sacred if you go into the depths of it—even your sin. Jesus lived and loved the depths of things, as all mystics do.

So the division for the mystic is not between the secular and the sacred, but between the superficial and the profound. Karl Rahner, the German Jesuit, who was an expert at Vatican II, loved to call this “the mysticism of ordinary life.”

Richard Rohr, excerpted from Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self (due for publication February 2013)

We must be careful how we read this. Rohr is writing very much from inside the experience he is describing, and statements like, “everything is sacred if you go into the depths of it—even your sin” are easily misunderstood. Rohr is not saying that sin is in itself holy; merely that our own sin, if we are truly open to the grace God gives to us through the Cross, is the sacred ground from which our holiness grows, like wheat from the muck that is spread on the land. But the muck of sin must be well ploughed in for it to nourish the grain that falls into the earth and dies (John 12.24).

Jesus himself said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God…” Matthew 5.7-8) That purity is singleness of heart, that longing for mercy Paul wrote of in Romans 8.18-24.

Once again, it is the Jesus Prayer that pulls all this together, makes (to the heart, at least) sense of its contradictory truth:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

Saturday, October 27, 2012

God wastes nothing…

The Perennial Tradition invariably concludes that you initially cannot see what you are looking for because what you are looking for is doing the looking. God is never an object to be found or possessed as we find other objects, but the One who shares your own deepest subjectivity—or your “self.” We normally called it our soul. Religion called it “the Divine Indwelling…”
For the True Self, there is nothing to hate, reject, deny, or judge as unworthy or unnecessary. It has “been forgiven much and so it loves much” (Luke 7.47). Compassion and mercy come easily now, once you live from inside the Big Body of love. The detours of the False Self were all just delaying tactics, bumps in the road, pressure points that created something new in the long run, as pressure does to carbon deep beneath the earth. God uses everything to construct this hard and immortal diamond, our core of love. And diamonds, they say, are the hardest substance on this earth. It is this strong diamond of love that will always be stronger than death.
Richard Rohr, excerpted from Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self (due for publication February 2013)
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8.28)
It’s hard to write about things like this without making oneself out to be more than one is – or I find it so, anyway. But what experience I do have does bear out what Rohr is saying here. It was Julian of Norwich who wrote, “Lord Jesus, I have heard you say: ‘Sin is behovely, but all will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well’.”

God wastes nothing. The human heart is built to feed on pain, even as it lives in joy, much as we might like not to admit it; from that nourishment grow some of the loveliest flowers of our kind. After all, on that soil grew the great Tree of the Cross…

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

On knowing…

In the first aborted ending to Mark’s Gospel—the oldest Gospel—the text ends on a very disappointing and thus likely truthful note: “They ran away from the tomb frightened out of their wits. They said nothing to a soul, for they were afraid” (16:5-8).

Such running from resurrection has been a prophecy for Christianity, and much of religion, just as in these early Scriptures. I interpret this as the human temptation to run from and deny not just the divine presence, but our own true selves, that is, our souls, our inner destiny, our true identity. Your True Self is that part of you that knows who you are and whose you are, although largely unconsciously. Your False Self is just who you think you are—but thinking doesn’t make it so.

We are made for transcendence and endless horizons, but our small ego usually gets in the way until we become aware of its petty preoccupations and eventually seek a deeper truth. It is like mining for a diamond. We must dig deep, and yet seem reluctant, even afraid, to do so.

We are not so at home with the resurrected form of things despite a yearly springtime, healings in our bodies, the ten thousand forms of newness in every event and every life. The death side of things grabs our imagination and fascinates us as fear and negativity always do, I am sad to say. We have to be taught how to look for anything infinite, positive, or good, which for some reason is much more difficult.

We have spent centuries of philosophy trying to solve “the problem of evil,” yet I believe the much more confounding and astounding issue is “the problem of good.” How do we account for so much gratuitous and sheer goodness in this world? Tackling this problem would achieve much better results.

Somehow resurrection—which I am going to equate with the revelation of our True Selves—is actually a risk and a threat to the world as we have constructed it. After any “raising up” of our True Selves, we will no longer fit into many groups, even much of religious society, which is often obsessed with and yet indulgent of the False Self, because that is all it knows.

Richard Rohr, excerpted from Immortal Diamond: the Search for Our True Self (due for publication February 2013)

It seems to me, deeply scary though it sounds, as though we must die to the idea of God, the idea of Christ as the Jesus of countless retold stories, in order to meet him at all. As Cynthia Bourgeault points out in her book Wisdom Jesus, his early disciples did not meet the Jesus we know, the crucified and risen Saviour of the world. They met a most unusual Man, and they weren’t sure who he was, or where his life really began… and yet they knew, they knew something so profound that they would give up everything to follow him, be near him, listen to his words and witness the things he did.

“Your True Self is that part of you that knows who you are and whose you are, although largely unconsciously.” We do know, if only we will stop thinking about how we know. The encounter with Christ takes place beyond all boundaries of history and geography, and our hearts will know him, as surely as we know our own breathing, even as our minds struggle even to name the truth we have just walked into.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

On the Feast of St Francis...

On our great feast day of Francis, let me elaborate a little further on what we Franciscans believe to be “the Univocity of all Being.” Univocity, in Latin, means “one voice.” When you speak of God, when you speak of angels, when you speak of humans, when you speak of animals, when you speak of trees, when you speak of fish, when you speak of the earth, you are using the word “Being” univocally, or with one foundational and common meaning.

They all participate in the same Being to varying degrees. And being is One, as is God. It might seem like an abstract philosophical position, but I hope you can see how life-changing it is. Now we have an inclusive and consistent universe where everything is sacred, where you can’t divide the world into the sacred and profane any more. God is revealed in everything and uses everything without exception (1 Corinthians 15.28; Colossians 3.11).

Thus later biographers have brilliantly called Francis “an authentic spiritual genius” and “our one sincere democrat” (lowercase “d”). Today we bless all the creatures in his honour!

Richard Rohr, from an unpublished talk in Assisi, Italy, May 2012

Interestingly, in the verses Rohr has quoted here, it is in Christ that this unity comes about. This, as much as anything, seems to be what the Incarnation is all about: creation itself, matter, is drawn into God, is of one being with him, just as Christ himself is described in the Nicene Creed.

This always reminds me of the concept of Buddha-nature, of which Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche writes: "It is because this ground or sugatagarbha or potential is common to all beings that they are capable of attaining enlightenment. If they did not have such a ground then they could never become buddhas."

Of course all this is implicit in Scripture, especially in the first chapter of St John's Gospel, and in the "farewell discourses" of our Lord that John records in chapters 13-17. It took St Francis, with his clear sight and extraordinary openness, to show the Church what it might look like in the "actually loved and known", as David Jones put it.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Sinking down to the seed…

Give over thine own willing, give over thy own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything and sink down to the seed which God sows in the heart, and let that grow in thee and be in thee and breathe in thee and act in thee; and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of Life, which is its portion.

Isaac Penington,1661, from Quaker Faith & Practice

This sinking down to the seed is the heart of our prayer, who are called to this odd way of relating to God. When we pray through the darkness, holding to the way we’ve been called into, whether the Jesus Prayer, centring prayer, or any other contemplative way, then a knowledge of God grows in us, opening very slowly, till we become aware of it not by any direct perception, but by seeing it reflected in all that is loved. That way, it is shared, and with it the grace and mercy that Christ is, with creation itself, and with each separate and longing creature that has been made.