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…


  1. Thanks for this. It's something I've been mulling quite a bit in the past months. From that place where sacredness, mercy and compassion pervades everything, the understanding of sin in the common way (like a child's disobedience that will result in punishment) seems far too simplistic, as if it misses the point.

    And yet in its own way sin seems to have become - for me - something ever more worthy of constant attention. To kneel in contrition and to review each day's faults before retiring to bed seems more relevant and right than ever before.

    I find it very comforting to read something like this, and know that others are having a similar experience.

  2. Richard Rohr loves paradox and I share that with him. No one is without sin (except Jesus and his Mother, of course). You are correct in that it is not sin which is holy, but it can lead us to God, if acknowledged as such. To use Rohr's image, we fall upward. Sin does not keep us from God, but rather our rejection of forgiveness holds God at bay. Through his wounds -- which are our wounds -- we are healed. Like Thomas, we must stick our fingers in those wounds, acknowledge them as real and terrible, before we can be embraced in a deeper relationship with God.

  3. Thank you, both! Barbara, I always find Hebrews 4.14-16 very comforting... And while I'm very far from being a Scriptural literalist, it really is important to follow the example of the good old Jews in Beroea!

  4. "Sin does not keep us from God, but rather our rejection of forgiveness holds God at bay. " - Barbara

    Thanks for that Barbara - seems a very succinct and useful way to put it.