"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." -Mark Twain
As our broken, disconnected world dances on the precipice of widespread civil unrest, The Divine Dance, by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell, is quietly and gently calling us toward another dance - and ultimately a reflective, spiritually transforming revolution.
In this latest installment of wisdom from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan teacher and man I'm increasingly finding myself a willing disciple of, readers are challenged to take a fresh look at the mystery of the Trinity.
This book is extremely timely given the sharp left-right political, economic and religious divisions which presently exist - as well as the tendency of Christians to ignore or ridicule the other major wisdom traditions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and especially Islam.
Rather that seeking to divide, Rohr is calling Christians to find areas of agreement and unity without compromising our core beliefs. This is so entirely refreshing that this book deserves a place in your library. Even if you do not agree with all of his conclusions, I promise you will be challenged to rethink things you thought you knew "for sure."
The Divine Dance is calling the entire faith community to embrace contemplation and a major restoration of the mystery and majesty of participatory Christianity, which thrived during the first three centuries of the Christian faith, and he believes is leading up to a "Trinitarian Revolution." This mostly internal revolution has the potential to help heal and bring together our fragmented world.
"What if changing our perception of God has the potential to change everything?" asks Rohr. "We might still be in the infancy stage of Christianity...Mystery isn't something you can't understand, but rather something you endlessly understand."
Rohr believes, "God has become a very contested idea today...debates argued, wars waged and hearts broken trying to own, define or even relate to this being." Gaining more intimacy and relationship with a loving God can help serve as a bridge over today's cultural impasse. He bravely leads seekers on a journey of self-discovery of what's going on inside the Godhead.
"God is relationship itself...absolute relatedness...salvation is the readiness, capacity and willingness to stay in relationship," declares Rohr. "When you don't give other people any power in your life, when you block them, I think you're spiritually dead. And not far from evil...The Way of Jesus is an invitation to a Trinitarian way of living, loving and relating - on earth as it is in Godhead."
Rohr is announcing the end of spectator spirituality which today still dominates the church, Catholic and Protestant. In its place, Rohr teaches readers how to flow into participation with the Trinity so that heaven is reflected in us, on earth, as we prepare for eternity.
Rohr's premise, running through all of his books, is simply: "The way down is the way up." This requires letting our self-guard down and permitting God's spirit to rule our hearts, minds, words and actions.
When Jesus prays in John 17 that believers are taken "out of the world", He is speaking of being taken out of the world's system of thinking and values, which Rohr says are "almost always going in the opposite direction of the mystery of the Trinity." And I would add, the opposite direction of the Kingdom of God.
Rohr is not talking about just a slight adjustment in our view of God, but rather a major paradigm shift; "from Supreme Monarch living in isolation as a Critical Spectator," to "the Ultimate Participant in everything - both the good and the painful...The Trinitarian Revolution reveals God as being with us in all of life instead of on the sidelines."
If you're like me, likely you'll find yourself underlining key statements for future reference and reflection. Below are 35 of my biggest takeaways from my first read of this important book. My prayer is that these short quotes will help give you a glimpse of why this may be Rohr's most transformational book yet - and what you might gain (and lose) by reading it yourself.
PART I: WANTED: A TRINITARIAN REVOLUTION
1. RESTORING CONNECTEDNESS
"The greatest dis-ease facing humanity right now is our profound sense of disconnectedness - from God, ourselves, each other and the world."
2. POSITIVITY'S DIRECTION
"If God is the great I AM, then we would have to say that evil/satan is the I AM NOT, who is forever accusing others, denies humans their substance and makes negativity, opposition and the creation of separateness his primary task. The Trinity beautifully undoes the negativity by a totally positive movement that never reverses direction."
3. INTERFAITH INCLUSIVITY
"Our new appreciation of the Trinity is giving us a new grounding for interfaith understanding. Trinitarian theology is going to offer us perhaps the best foundation for interfaith dialogue and friendship we've ever had."
4. MIND/HEART UNITY
"...something beautiful is afoot - the reversal of a century-long lover's quarrel between science and spirituality, mind and heart."
5. ATOMIC TRINITY
"The atom is the basic building block of the universe (proton, electron, neutron)... describing Trinity mystery is similar to atomic energy...as it is within, so it is without...the shape of the cosmos - from quasar to quark - is triune...when atoms are destabilized, we created a bomb of death and destruction."
6. CHOOSING GRATITUDE
"Neuroscience now tells us fear, negativity and hatred stick like Velcro to our nerves... while positivity, gratitude and appreciation slide away like Teflon from those same nerves until we savor them or choose them for a minimum of 15 seconds - only then do they imprint."
7. RESTORING HOPE
"Trinity is the ultimate paradigm shift... we cannot separate Jesus from the Trinity... God as Trinity gives hope to society as a whole."
8. EMPTY, THEN INFILLED
"Emptiness alone is prepared for fullness - Father, infinite one, Son, imminent one, Spirit intimate one - when we are at home with all three, we are living inside Trinitarian spirituality."
9. CIRCULAR POWER
"The law of Three changes everything - the magic of three breaks us out of our dualistic impasses. Trinitarian theology says true power is circular, not hierarchic."
PART TWO - WHY THE TRINITY? WHY NOW?
10. CONTEMPLATION TRAINING
"Contemplation is training yourself to see things overlooked, the wholeness in all things."
11. A LOVING FATHER
"We feared the Father more than loved Him. We're currently suffering from a Trinity Deficit Disorder ... Here's why; Absentee Father. When God as a loving Father is missing, there is a fundamental scariness and insecurity to our whole human journey...you'll believe anything and do anything to feel dignity and meaning ... in a fatherless society you've got to save yourself."
12. TRINITARIAN BIRTHING
"Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity? In the core of the Trinity, the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit. The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us." -Meister Eckhart, 14th cent. German Dominican
13. DIVINE ACCEPTANCE
"If you ascribe negativity on to God, you're really in trouble spiritually because you've got no way out...without traversing four stages of grief and dying - denial, anger, bargaining & depression - before reaching divine acceptance."
14. EMBRACING BOTH PATHS
"Two paths that allow people to have a genuinely new experience: the path of wonder and the path of suffering."
15. STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS
"Suffering is the only thing strong enough to break down your control systems, explanatory mechanisms, logical paradigms, desire to be in charge and carefully maintained sense of control."
16. THE UN-COMFORT ZONE
"Let pain bring its gift of vulnerability. Let some of it change you, let some it call you outside your comfort zone to this bigger place where we are all one. (at-one-ment)"
17. SPIRITUAL REBIRTH
"Maybe our Christian religion in its present formulation has to die for a truly cosmic and love-centered spiritual path to be born."
18. SUFFERING LOVE
"Whenever we love, we are in some way participating in the very suffering of God, the necessary self-emptying that must precede and make room for every infilling."
19. PARADOXICAL FORGIVENESS
"To forgive you have to be able to see the other person - at least momentarily - as a whole person, as an image of the Divine, containing holiness and horror at the same time...You have to learn to live well with paradox or you can't forgive."
20. MATURE SPIRITUALITY
"The Bible is the best book in the world, but has often been the worst book - not because of its content - but because of the spiritual maturity of those reading it." "Corruption of the best is the worst" -Thomas Aquinas
21. SHARED SPIRITUAL HERITAGE
"In Hindu theology, there are 3 qualities of God and all reality, 1. 'Sat' - Father, being, 2. 'Chit' - Son, consciousness, knowledge, 3. 'Ananda' - Spirit, bliss, happiness - Now more than ever, we need to draw from or shared spiritual heritage to better understand our own belief."
22. KNOWING LIGHT & DARK
"In the long tradition of Christian mysticism, there are two great strains of knowing; 'kataphatic' (seen according to the light) or a positive way and 'apophatic' (seen against the light) or a negative way...The apophatic has largely disappeared over the last 500 years...this has resulted in an eclipse of the Father."
23. ALL VULNERABLE GOD
"We haven't realized that God has forever redefined divine power in the Trinity. The Christian God's power comes through his powerlessness and humility. Our God is much more properly called all-vulnerable than all-mighty."
24. AN INCLUSIVE SAVIOR
"We made Jesus Christ into an exclusive savior instead of the totally inclusive savior he was meant to be."
25. A FEAR-LESS FAITH
"Once Christians learn to honor the Cosmic Christ as a larger ontological (the nature of being) identity than the historic Jesus, then Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and spiritual-but-not religious people have no reason to be afraid of us."
26. LOSS AND RENEWAL
"The Divine pattern revealed in Trinity is loss and renewal, self-emptying and living on an expanded level, surrender and receptivity, death and resurrection, darkness and light. The Pascal pattern is always loss and renewal. There is no renewal without loss."
27. RESURRECTION REQUIRES DEATH
"By and large, what human beings want is resurrection without death, answers without doubt, light without darkness, the conclusion without the process."
28. IMPLANTED HOPE
"Let's call Holy Spirit Implanted Hope. When God the Holy Spirit is missing, there's no inner momentum...no inner aliveness that keeps people from dying from their wounds."
29. FROM HURTING TO HEALING
"We move from hurting people hurting others to wounded healers healing others."
30. KNOWING GOD'S HEART
"God refuses to be known except through trustful loving relationship. You cannot know God with your mind alone."
31. SEEING WHOLENESS
"A mystic is precisely one who sees things in wholes and not just in parts ... Big truth must be presented on small stages for humans to get the point."
PART 3 - THE HOLY SPIRIT
32. HOLY SPIRIT HEALING
"The Holy Spirit sustains and heals all things into Love by slowly unveiling the inherent goodness, truth and beauty in everything."
33. TRINITY OF LOVE
"The Holy Spirit is the love relationship between the Father and the Son."
34. DESTINATION LOVE
"Love is not something you do; love is someone you are, your True Self. Love is where you come from and where you are going."
35. HEAVEN ON EARTH
"Your job is simply to exemplify heaven now... the remedy when you find it hard to exemplify heaven now, to let love happen."
P.S. Lastly, here is a short poem by Richard Rohr from the book which in many ways sums up his central message and mission. I felt inspired to set this simple poem to music to help memorize it and share it with others.
God for us, we call you Father
God alongside us, we call you Jesus
God within us, we call you Holy Spirit
You are the eternal Mystery,
that enables, enfolds and enlivens all things,
Even us, and even me.
Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness,
We can only see who You are in what is.
We ask for such perfect seeing,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
P.P.S. For more of the inclusive wisdom of Richard Rohr, below Trinity event summary are 4 more Rohr book reviews...
Trinity: The Soul of Creation
Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Wm Paul Young
Insights on the foundational pattern of reality: loving relationship
"If these are the creatures, what must the Creator be like?" -Francis of Assisi, First Life of Francis of Assisi, Thomas of Celano
Session 1 - Rohr Introduction
-Christianity and all wisdom traditions and teachers share a common vision of the importance of the displacement of our small 'self' in order to live in the larger flow of God.
-The Trinity is the unique gift Christianity brings to the world to model a loving relationship which thrives on self-emptying love which offers dignity to all of creation.
-The contemplative mind offers the solution to a world of disconnected individuals, who feel alienated from God, others and our self. Trinity love attracts love. Like knows like.
CAC Panel - Practical Benefits of Contemplation
-Contemplative practice is a doorway to experiencing unity with the Trinity
-Trinity is the template for everything created (Gen. 1:26-27) God is absolute love.
-Contemplation helps us slow down and be more present. I can let go because I trust God
-Components of Contemplative Practice;
Vulnerability - openness to God's flow in me
Holistic Presence - aware of unity through body, head and heart
Surrender - Stay aware, but surrender any specific focus
Moments of Rest - Truth that I am helped and guided by Absolute Love
Compassion - watch myself compassionately from a distance (Lk 24) Losing oneself to find oneself.
Sample Chant "Speak through the earthquake of wind and of fire. ooohhh - still small voice of love."
Session 2 - Roundtable
-God loves things by becoming them. God is a circle dance (perichoresis)
-Science confirms the universe is ever expanding, illustrates God's evolutionary growth
-Moving from transactional theology to transformational theology
-The Greek pagan view of Zeus as angry, violent God is programmed into society
-In John 17 Jesus reveals God as participator, not critical spectator
-Enlightened salvation and transformation come when we move from an economy of merit to an economy of grace. This is a major paradigm shift which is now under way.
-Jesus primary metaphor for eternal life was a banquet table to which all are invited.
-Gen. 1:26-27 confirm Trinity "Let us create...in our image" We all have inherent dignity, goodness.
-I woke up to discover I was inside the Trinity, the living stream of love that Catholic and Evangelicals can agree on.
-I was raised Christian Science, taught to pray to a principle, a rational God - later learned the centrality of relationship. When you enter a mystery you lose control.
-Difference between shame and guilt; shame is 'I am' something wrong, guilt is 'I've done' something wrong.
-"For God to be good He must be one. For God to be love He must be two. For God to be joy He must be three." Richard of Vicor, 11th Century
-In the Shack Trinity was needed for Mack to find healing. Missy represents something that died in us as children - a nearly universal identification with loss. Most view Jesus as coming to save us from angry Father God.
-When we run to our head, it is usually a sign of a broken heart. In life women show up to throw us a lifeline.
-There is no hierarchy in God. If God is alone, there is no basis for relationship and love.
-He is in agreement with atheists who don't accept the reality of a God that has been presented to them by some Christians.
-Wholeness is when the way of your being matches the truth of your being.
Session 3 - Contemplative Practice - Paul Young
Intro Chant "Lord as you will, Lord as you know, have mercy, have mercy"
-God does not heal us so he can use us, God heals us because He loves us...then He invites us to play.
-I wrote the Shack during tough financial times, I learned the opposite of more is enough.
-Often we are so afraid of truth that we are attracted to religion.
-image of Trinity [Three Chairs turned toward each other, face-to-face-to-face ... and One chair by itself]
-The problem with religion is that it begins with separation, from creation and loving God.
-Does anything not good originate in God? No. It originates in us. Separation and aloneness is the first lie. Jesus can to expose that lie, first to ever call God Abba Father.
-The fruit of the spirit is the truth about who you are, not something to ask God to give us.
-Christians resort to 'magic' when we believe in ritual/religion more than relationship/mystery of trust.
-Trinity has never been a religious being. All religion created by man instead of relationship.
-If God can turn his face away from His creation in judgment, you can never trust Him. In Trinity there is never abandonment. (Ps. 24)
-God is against child sacrifice. Abraham discovers Jehovah Jirah, God provides, If you need a sacrifice, God will provide Himself.
-Jesus did not sacrifice to appease an angry God, it was "God in the hands of angry sinners"
-Inside Trinity love is unconditional. Relationship is conditional, a choice.
-There is no problem, darkness, sorrow, tragedy or crisis so powerful that God will not climb into it with you, and with my participation, transform it into a monument or icon of grace.
Session 4 - Contemplative Practice - Richard Rohr
-The nature of being is relationality, not rationality, as Aristotle taught, which place the highest quality of being upon "substance".
-5th Century Boetheis took further; "Human beings are individual substance of a rational nature." No!
-Aristototelian thinking major force into the enlightenment and beyond - It is still not true today!
-We are substance relationality - our personhood is mirrored early in life by our parents - if done well we develop mirror neurons in our brain which give us the capacity to feel connection.
-Shared identity vs. individual identity - self knowledge and God knowledge rise simultaneously.
-Bonaventure's vision of Trinity - 3 buckets on the waterwheel of love, constantly emptying out because of the perfect trust of being refilled. In contrast to worldview of scarcity, never enough.
-Religion is almost always right about what they affirm - and wrong about what they deny.
-Re-spect - to look at something a second time. To see it's naked existence as worthy of love.
-"Draw the warm compress closer to your chest, God wants to draw close to that you are." -Cloud Unknowing
-Trinity is like electricity - it only operates in a circuit, it is not one directional.
-God's first creation was light (Gen 1:2) Science now tells us all light is connected in universe.
-We need to move from my personal story, to our shared cultural story to the story (big picture) truth is always transformational rather than tranactional.
-The future of Christianity is ecumenical, undivided, unseparated - like the Trinity.
-Love cannot bear the torture of man for eternity - "Hell? No!" CD
-Universal is definition of "Catholic", but unliked term for evangelicals.
-The mystery of communion with God comes down to you capacity for presence, mind, heart, body.
-Mind must stop reliving past or worry about the future, needs to be present in the moment.
-How do we bring our head into our heart? The soul/heart cannot live without meaning/purpose.
-Body is when word become flesh, must overcome shame unhealthy to carry in our body.
-What mind, heart and body come together you will know what you need to know.
Session 5 - Cynthia Bourgeault
-Let's now examine Trinity from a different practical perspective; as a cosmological principle, (how) vs. a theological perspective (why). Like 5 blind men describing an elephant.
-The Law of Three - helps explain how the world operates, introduced to West by Girgeff (1866-1949)
-Girgeff introduced Enneagram in 1924 to understand personality. He sought to find the missing piece within radically inclusive Christian love. Frank Lloyd Wright was a student of Law of Three.
-"In any new arising (domain/scale) is the result of three independent forces or lines of action."
1. Affirming - initiates
2. Denying - resists - push back
3. Reconciling - permits 1 & 2 to come together.
-When an impasse is encountered between 1 & 2, the 3rd is missing or undiscovered.
-Note this interaction is morally neutral and #4 is the new unique arising that results from 1,2,3.
-Examples; The Shack - 1. Papa - love, 2. Mack's sorrow, wounds, 3. Mack choice to surrender his heart and the new arising is the healing made possible for Mack, his family and all lives that they touch.
Gospel - 1. God so loved world, 2. World hatred of God, 3. Jesus surrendered heart. 4. Salvation for all.
-Advantages of application of Law of Three to problems...
1. Spacious, impartial reframing of any situation
2. Paradox tolerance, to endure process and trust messiness.
3. Creative, non-judgmental regarding right/wrong, play, laughter best expander of limitations.
4. Alignment, Trinity is seed of everything, DNA planted in all creation, a template for Christianity.
Session 6 - Contemplative Practice - Cynthia Bourgeault
Intro Chant - "Thou of I, I of Thou, Seek yourself in Me, seek Me in yourself."
-The Future of Wisdom (book) "History is itself an unfolding of Christ"
-Christianity is far more influenced by Plato than by Jesus.
-Trinity is based on goodness of all creation, an Alternative Orthodoxy based on presence of God.
-The modern reclamation of Trinity focus started at a low point in 1950s with Ronner's "God For Us" book
-Cosmo-Theo-Andros - Threefold structure of reality - World, God, Man ... Father, Son, Spirit
-Cosmo-gonic Template by Beatrice Bruteau later added that Trinity is always driving outward and that as a pattern it is repeated in the universe - the manifestation of God, holy, sacred
-God's Ecstasy (book) - symbiotic unity - "clumping" seen as next evolutionary stage - like a romance moving from loving the other to loving what the other loves (infatuation to engulfation)
-Law of Three - 3 takaways showing the advantage of overlaying truth
1. Deeply upholds incarnational theology, God's self-disclosure of love in the world creates dignity.
2. Builds a bridge between scientific and theological truth, exposes false dualism, we become God's ecstasy.
3. Builds a bridge between theology and practice, leaving meditation pillow to reconcile, resolve to see the third force and revealing the divine heart to every heart.
Session 7 - Contemplative Practice - Paul Young
-Don't be con-formed to the world (schema), but be trans-formed (morphe) by renewal of mind. This is an unveiling from the inside out of what is going on inside the Trinity - which is everything!
-Monkey story with shock collars reveals how we are all limited by our habits and traditions.
-In Gospel of John 8 there are 7 "I Am" statements by Jesus "I am the light of the world" etc.
-In John 9 story of man born blind, represents us. Religion seek to blame on parents or his sin. Note Jesus heals the man and then leaves, later reunites to declare He can so all blind may see and those who think they see will become blind.
-Universalism? Do all roads lead to Papa God? No, but God will mean us on all roads. The salvation that Jesus brings is to the whole world. "If I be lifted up I will draw ALL men unto myself."
-The beauty of Trinity is we see a God willing to submit, but wants to dismantle all that is not of love's kind in favor of an authentic relationship.
-The Four Spiritual Flaws - God loves you and has a plan for your life, either perfect of permissive, but this teaching from Ro. 3:23, ignores 3:24 "all justified freely by grace..." we participate in plan.
-God takes ownership of chaos, but not authorship. No plan is needed in a relationship of trust to co-create.
-Martin's violin - the artist seeks the most resilient and resonate wood, the "singer trunk" in which every hardship forces the roots deeper. When adjacent trees fall it forces the trunk to twist in very unique ways. Once tree is chosen, it must season for years before violin construction begins. The art of violin creating is not forcing but cutting and preserving the lines in the fiber of the wood.
-The perfectionist seeks to fulfill the law, the artist seek to fulfill the sound.
-Ro. 8:28 Called - wood is chosen, justified - work with texture of life, glorified - despite flaws we are all given a voice.
-It is not the wood that yields to the Master, it is the Master that yields to the word. Seeing the world as a creation vs. a construction site. God has the heart of a creative artist not a construction engineer. Each of us is a work of art in the making. Each makes a unique sound in God's orchestra.
-"Wisdom House" book story of cloning Beethoven, not possible due to all of his unique life struggles.
-Your life matters to God! You are a singer trunk - to the praise of His glory!
Session 8 - Rohr, Bourgeault, Young Audience Q & A
1. How do we use the Law of Three to deal with evil? - What is the origin of evil? Because God has given up the freedom of choice there are consequences, such as evil. Evil is often created collectively so it must be solved collectively and reconfigured by love. Evil, pain and suffering is unjust. God is light. Light can exist without darkness. Freedom can exist without bondage.Life can exist without death. Darkness and evil originates in man's turning from light, love, relationship and Trinity. So, Trinity is the solution to darkness, hatred and evil. True definition of sin is not being true to your nature of of a loving relationship with God, your self and others.
2. Is there only one path to salvation? An alternative orthodoxy says Jesus did not come to change God's mind about man, but rather to change man's mind about God. The target of crucifixion was to end death, the ultimate goal and focus is upon Jesus ascension and transfiguration. In His lifting we are lifted.
3. Millennials leaving the Church? They find no meaning in rituals of organized religion devoid of relationship. The juices are not flowing in many organized churches. Rather than abandon, we need to stay on the edge of inside, realizing institutions never last forever, learn to be in it, not of it.
4. Paradigm shift, in-between moment spaces? Liturgies can be reinfused with new energy if relationship is focus. Rituals always reveal the shadow side, recognition that Lord I am unworthy. Ceremony allows no expression of shadow side and thus can become a lifeless expression of our pure goodness. "Aren't we wonderful?"
5. Stay faithful, don't try to understand everything? The contemplative mind grows gradually. Be patient with the rewiring of your operating system. Learn how to stay inside of the grace of just one day. Be present, childlikeness and trust are vital. No future-tripping. Joy is in the presence of God!
Other titles referenced by presenters:
Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling
Beatrice Bruteau, God's Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World
Baxter Kruger, The Shack Revisited
Catherine LaCugna, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life
George MacDonald, Robert Falconer
Ian McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World
Mary Oliver, "To Begin With, the Sweet Grass," Evidence
Raimon Panikkar, The Trinity and the Religious Experience of Man
Rob Parsons, The Wisdom House
Last Friday the majority of Americans were delighted to hear President Trump's inaugural speech focus on transferring the seat of power to the people and away from the ruling elite in Washington D.C. Fifty-three percent of those who watched the inaugural ceremony, rated the president's address as "excellent" or "good." Only 20 percent said they were less than impressed, according to a Gallup poll.
To the 20% unimpressed, I get it. Our nation is very divided on many issues. Many feel the need to express pent up anger and skepticism, which is understandable. Trump campaigned on restoring America pride and now citizens are anxious to find out if his proud political promises will translate into humble statesmanship now that he's in office.
-Will Trump's world order be any better than Obama's, or Bush's, or Clinton's?
-Will his policies positively impact the poor, jobless and those at the edges of society?
-Can a world of centralized political and economic power be turned back over to the citizens?
-Will the previous power structure which embraced progressive dreams of equality allow it?
Stay tuned for the answers to these important questions over the days, weeks, months & years ahead.
Meanwhile, I just read a book about another inaugural address - even more radical and inspiring than Donald Trump's!
'Jesus' Plan For a New World' by Richard Rohr - a big thinker and scholarly Fransiscan teacher - written two decades ago, with co-author John Feister. I stumbled on the book while reading his daily meditations from Center for Action and Contemplation, which I find challenging and transformational.
For several years I have felt the message and mission of Christ is most concisely laid out in the Sermon on the Mount - which begin with the so-called Beatitudes, or "Happy Attitudes" as Rohr refers to them. (A few years ago I even put the Beatitudes to music, 10 New Commandments of God's Kingdom).
Part One of the book, "Getting Ready to Hear Jesus," delves into the the cultural context of Jesus' message, which reveals the rich historical and cultural canvas on which Jesus painted his simple, yet profound message of how to join heaven with earth in a most counter-intuitive manner - which ultimately could only be fully validated by living it out in his own death and resurrection.
For example, I had always assumed Jesus was preaching from the mount to the masses, yet I discovered Jesus' sermon was primarily targeted at his inner circle of disciples, who were best equipped to grasp his revolutionary new teaching. Here are a few of the major takeaways from this excellent book:
-Jesus sought to reveal the Kingdom of God's new order by upending, then rewiring the existing religious, political and economic order.
-He revealed God as a loving Father intimately involved in our lives and world - not to be feared.
-His emphasis was on reaching the outcast and downtrodden of the world from the inside out and bottom up.
-He demonstrated how and why the powerful must seek to help the powerless or they become destructive and self-serving.
-He used metaphors to illustrate how we can and should imitate God - who is always and forever merciful and loving.
-He demonstrated how to strike a perfect balance between having a 'conservative' mind and yet a very 'liberal' heart.
As Rohr puts it, "Jesus holds onto the foundation and the center of the old (conservatism, exclusivity), while moving the boundaries out (liberalism, inclusivity) much farther than almost anyone expected...Exclusivity at its extreme would have been the Law of Holiness (Lev. 17-25)... But inclusivity at its extreme, where all boundaries are thrown out...very often can mean standing for nothing, betrayal of central and essential truths....Wisdom is knowing how to hold both inclusion and exclusion in ideal tension...Jesus is really a master at that."
If you are interested in getting inside Jesus' worldview and grasping the most radical inaugural speech ever delivered, The Sermon on the Mount, I highly recommend this book. I feel strong that both my conservative and liberal friends could find lots more to agree with each other about during this present season of strong political division in our nation.
I've been a fan of Richard Rohr since reading "Falling Upward" in 2013 and "Eager To Love" in 2014. Richard Rohr is an authentic spiritual teacher who promotes balancing Christian contemplation with action. His views are a unique blend of orthodox, yet iconoclastic (meaning he's an equal opportunity religious offender in a good way).
So, what exactly is a Christian mystic? Since the word mystic has some negative baggage, as in "so heavenly minded they're of no earthly good", I was interested to read what the widely respected Franciscan Friar had to say on the subject.
Rohr defines a "Christian mystic" is anyone who places experiencing God personally as their number one priority, as opposed to simply knowing about God in Scripture, church doctrine and theology. Rohr advocates prioritizing God-centeredness to rule over self-centeredness, a basic Kingdom principle.
THE SIMPLE TRUTH
I like reading Rohr because he prompts me to rethink instead of react. I admire his love of Scripture as well as vast historical knowledge of the early church Fathers and important Saints, something most Protestants are rarely exposed to - even in a lifetime of Sunday sermons.
Jesus said his disciples are called to be salt and light - preservers and illuminators - and that His Kingdom requires some things old and some things new. Our Lord warned us that our biggest obstacles in this life would include our; old self, hardness of heart, a thirst for power and position and the spiritless traditions of men.
2,000 years later, it's clear we have complicated Christianity in such a way that has confused both believers and non-believers alike. How else can we explain the dramatic rise of American Christians who now identify themselves as "Dones" - those who have given up on religious affiliation.
What is needed is a simplification of the pure Gospel message, an amplification of our loving God's deepest desires for us, and a fresh revelation of where we fit in His plan - moment by moment.
Tom Ehrich, founder of MorningWalk, offers a visionary perspective on tomorrow's faith community ... "Enough about churches that are dying. Let's imagine something that lives, breathes, serves, makes a difference. It would be God's incarnate presence in human life. Not the only presence, but one that many people could enter into. It would see people wanting to draw closer to God. It would see human needs such as grief and tragedy, hunger and hopelessness. The community would have a bias toward action. Welcoming the stranger, providing care and food, supporting people in transition, working for justice. This faith community would teach about God, not by formulating doctrines, but by telling the stories people are living with God."
Speaking of telling God-stories, Doug Sherman, founder of TradingUp.org says, "The ability to see God's hand, hear His voice, converse with Him, to make fresh starts, to see His heart and then represent Him by sharing our story is the central mission of TradingUp.org and Letters From God."
RE-CENTERING ON GOD
Knowing what the mystics know means choosing to re-center upon God more frequently and thereby de-centering our old selves. As Rohr puts it, "Thy Kingdom Come, My Kingdom Go." This is a process and journey of a lifetime. Richard Rohr is on the same journey and invites us all along for the ride of a lifetime.
This latest book by Friar Rohr offers nearly 200 short devotional essays divided into seven core mystical truths - most of which, like the words of Jesus, can at first appear counter-intuitive. Below are the book's seven chapter headings with a few sample devotional story quotes which struck me as important ...
1. THE ENLIGHTENMENT YOU SEEK ALREADY DWELLS WITHIN YOU
- "We don't think ourselves into a new way of living, we live ourselves into a new way of thinking."
- "Self worth is not created; it is discovered."
- "Each of us are a story. We were created by God as a story waiting to be told..."
2. GOD IS FOUND IN IMPERFECTION
- "God is an earthquake...the preaching of the Gospel pulls the rug out from under us. We have to put life on a new footing."
- "The ability to stand back and calmly observe my inner dramas, without rushing to judgement, is foundational for spiritual seeing."
- "Three demons Jesus faced in the wilderness...the compulsion to be; successful, right and powerful...until confronted presume they are still in charge."
3. FROM PROFOUND SUFFERING COME GREAT WISDOM AND JOY
- "It is the things that you cannot do anything about or with that do something with you."
- "It's not that we have a message then suffer for it. It is much more the opposite: We suffer, come through it transformed, and then we have a message!"
- "The Prodigal Son might also be better called the story of the Merciful Father, a proclamation of the nature of God's love and mercy."
4. THE MYSTICAL PATH IS A CELEBRATION OF PARADOX
- "Untested faith tends to produce a very mechanistic and impersonal spirituality. Mature faith, however, almost always has a quality of paradox and mystery about it - as if to leave room for the freedom of God."
- "Truth isn't where we suppose. As Jesus says, be prepared for the surprise that 'the first will be last, and the last will be first" (Matt. 19:30)
- "You pay a price for being a bridge - people walk over you from both sides."
5. CONTEMPLATION MEANS PRACTICING HEAVEN NOW
- "By contemplation we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image and the false promises of this world."
- "What's happening in the heavenly kingdom is communion, unity, family...Union and communion are the goal of what God is doing on earth."
- "It is much easier to belong to a group than to belong to God. To belong to a group one usually has to be convinced the group is 'right'; to belong to God, one always knows one is as wrong as everybody else."
6. TO DISCOVER THE TRUTH YOU MUST BECOME THE TRUTH
- "The Spirit confers the gift of inner authority. Only people of inner authority will use the outer authority correctly."
- "Happiness is finally an inside job...drawing life from within. They're not letting other people name them. They are named by God..."
- "First I have to act, and then I'll understand...Then I'll know what I know. But I really won't know why...it's the mysterious wisdom of faith."
7. WHEN YOU ARE TRANSFORMED, OTHERS WILL BE TRANSFORMED THROUGH YOU
- "The effect of contemplation is authentic action, and if contemplation doesn't lead to action, then it remains only self-preoccupation."
- "Sacrifice comes from the words sacrum facere - to make sacred or holy. We make something holy by reconnecting it to the whole - in our case by giving ourselves."
- "The Gospel is before all else a call to live differently, so that life can be shared with others...simplicity, vulnerability, dialogue, powerlessness and humility."
"SOMETHING NEW: HOLY FOOLS", page 118
Those who will lead into the future will have some hard-won virtues that I will try to describe here. But there is one character type that we cannot do without. Those who name and exemplify what God is doing will be "holy fools".
By holy fool I mean what the Bible and mythic literature have always presented as the "savior." They are persons who are happily, but not naively, innocent of everything that the rest of us take for granted. They alone an trust and live the new work of God because they are not protecting the past by control (conservatives) or reacting against the past by fixing (liberals). Both of these are too invested in their own understanding to let go and let God do something new on earth:
Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
- Isaiah 43:18-19
According to pattern, the wise fools are always formed in the test ground of exile when the customary and familiar are taken away and they must go much deeper and much higher for wisdom. As a result, they no longer fit or belong among their own. Yet they alone can point the way to the ever new Jerusalem. Conventional wisdom is inadequate, even if widely held by good people. It is Paul, isolated but enthralled by vision of universal Gospel, who can say,
"Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become 'fools' so that you may become wise." - I Cor. 3:18
The holy fool is the last stage of the wisdom journey. It is the man or woman who knows his or her dignity and therefore does not need to polish or protect it... these alone can be trusted to proclaim the Reign of God.
"This book is grounded in the Christian tradition, but - and because of this - it can reach considerably beyond it to enhance and expand that faith. Too many spiritual leaders dabble in mysticism, cafeteria-style. The result is a potpourri of 'this and that.' It may sound good, but it lacks grounding - as well as perspective and true breadth. Because this book is written by an experienced mystic, you will avoid a lot of the pitfalls of so much 'junk spirituality' floating around out there," writes Dr. Wayne Holst, professor of religion and culture at the University of Calgary.
I agree. The goal then of the true Christian mystic is to become so heavenly-minded that we become some earthly good. "What The Mystics Know" will help you do just that.
My prayer is that this book review has been helpful, if so, please forward this link to family and friends. FYI, my reviews of Rohr's "Eager To Love" and "Falling Upward" follow below this story. May we all learn to re-center our lives upon our God this day ... and forever more!
"As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do."
"Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words."
-Francis of Assisi
In Eager To Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi Friar Richard Rohr, founder of The Center for Action and Contemplation, weaves together a beautiful and healing spiritual tapestry revealing the 'secret' of Francis of Assisi's way of simplicity born eight centuries ago.
Eager to Love offers us important revelations and reflection upon the living legacies of Francis of Assisi and the courageous followers of his simple yet profoundly inclusive "sidewalk spirituality".
My attraction to Rohr's latest work is from the perspective of a seasoned believer seeking to learn more about Francis' "experiential knowledge of spiritual things" (aka first-hand revelation) which Rohr refers to as Christian "mysticism" in a most positive way.
My spirit tells me that this Franciscan way of love, paved by history's most famous and beloved "Saint" Francis, may also serve as a fresh path for many to explore today.
Rohr's passion and life mission is to help others develop a holistic worldview patterned after Jesus Christ simple, yet counter-intuitive, message embodied in the Sermon on the Mount, as walked out in Francis of Assisi's amazing life of contemplation and action.
"Only when we are eager to love can we see love and goodness in the world around us ... Integrity is often a willingness to hold the dark side of things instead of reacting to them, denying, or projecting our anxiety elsewhere," says Rohr in the Introduction.
THE ORIGINAL PROTESTANT
"Francis of Assisi has been called the original protestant," says Rohr, reflecting on the his positive influence upon believers and unbelievers alike.
The words and life of Jesus and Francis challenge us to live in a world without sacred vs. secular distinctions, to see "everything as a revelation of the divine - from rocks to rocket ships," as Rohr puts it.
"Both Jesus and Francis did not let the old get in the way of the new, but like all religious geniuses, revealed what the old was saying all along," writes Rohr.
Readers who accept the death and resurrection of Jesus are called to move beyond mere understanding and thankfulness of this "Divine Mystery" to the next level of setting out on this same path of servant leadership for themselves.
THY KINGDOM COME, MY KINGDOM GO
"Our Christ 'reigns from the cross, but with a new kind of power that looks and feels like total weakness, just as all human suffering and humiliation does. Only those who have joined him there and come out the other side, like Francis and his authentic followers, will understand this. They 'rule' from the edges and reign from what is no longer the bottom," Rohr concludes in Chapter 2, "A Happy Run Downward."
I agree with Rohr's conclusion that most Christians at best split their loyalties between God and Caesar - with our minds controlled by seeking money, status and power. This can distract us from seeking first His Kingdom in our lives, day by day, moment by moment.
"When you agree to live simply, you have time for spiritual and corporal works of mercy because you have renegotiated in your mind and heart your very understanding of time ... time is not money anymore, time is life itself," challenges Rohr.
LOVING THIS DIRTY OLD WORLD
Our worldview frames everything we see, think and believe. If our worldview is clouded with a perspective that the world is evil, we will see evil all around us. If we can learn to see the world (and all the people on it) as sacred and lovable to God, it will change our mindset forever. Our world is no longer "us vs. them", but rather, "us and them".
Francis of Assisi strongly held this inclusive worldview of the 'sacramentality' of nature and all God's creatures. While much of the religious/evangelical world can hardly wait to escape this "dirty old world" to arrive in heaven, Francis saw the splendor of God's present earth as a reflection of the heavenly goodness and love to come later.
"Franciscans, Amish and Quakers are the Christian groups with the least negative baggage in Western civilization," says Richard, due to their emphasis on "contemplative, simple living and peacemaking foundations."
PARTICIPATIVE SEEING & ABIDING
Chapter Five, "Contemplation: A Different Way of Knowing" was one of my favorites. Echoing Doug Sherman's message of "Trading Up" from a self-centered to a God-centered life, Rohr writes "contemplatives surrender some of their own boundaries and identity so that God an see through them, with them, and in them - with a larger pair of eyes."
"Francis told us that we needed to 'give people reasons for spiritual joy' and not just quote commandments to them, write Rohr. "Francis and Clare exemplify a truly 'beautiful morality' ... which shines forth when someone does an imperfect thing," in sharp contrast to rigid moral conclusions so often held by Christians.
"Franciscan poverty" is not just a life of simplicity, but also the practice of letting go of our small vantage point," writes Rohr, recognizing we are powerless and ineffective unless we are abiding in the vine of Christ (John 15:6).
SAYING "YES" TO PARADOXES
"In the practical order, contemplation gives us an inner capacity to live with paradoxes and contradictions ... a new way of processing the moment ... the ability to incorporate the negative ... accepting absurdity and tragedy as part of God's unfathomable agenda," says Richard.
Rohr views the ability to hold and overcome life's many paradoxes as the beginning of training in Francis inclusive, unified or contemplative living, as opposed to denying paradoxes. "Conversion, therefore, is not joining a different group, but seeing with the eyes of the crucified."
"Neither logic nor law can fully achieve this, but participation with and in God can. (This does not make logic or law unnecessary; they are simply inadequate to the work of transformation) ... this mean we all must learn to offer life a foundational 'yes' before we offer our critical 'no'. If we start with no, it almost impossible to ever get back to a full yes."
Rohr quotes one of Francis most articulate followers, Bonaventure (1217-1274) who sums up how contemplatives "know" things: "The soul itself is an image of God, to which God is so present that the soul can actually grasp God, and is capable of possessing God and of being a partaker in God."
In fact, the book devotes an entire chapter to discussing how Bonaventure "was to Francis what Paul was to Jesus," providing the church with a complete theology and systematic worldview based on integrating contemplation with an extremely active life.
FROM WORSHIP TO IMITATION
"You only know as much as you do," Francis told his first friars. "For Francis and Clare, Jesus become someone to actually imitate and not just to worship. Francis starting place was human suffering instead of human sinfulness," reveals Rohr.
The writing of Francis reflect this; using the word 'doing' rather than 'understanding' 175 times to five. 'Heart' is used 42 times to one use of 'mind'. Love is used 23 times vs. 12 uses of 'truth'.'Mercy' is used 26 times while intellect is used only one time.
"This is a very new perspective and different from the highly academic theology that would hold sway for the next thousand years," explains Rohr. "Francis knew what many educators have now proven - that humans tend to live themselves into new ways of thinking more than think themselves into new ways of living."
FRANCISCAN SPIRITUALITY - THE THIRD WAY
"The Franciscan worldview is not heretical, nor is it a threat, except to the comfortable and the careerists ... Francis put almost all of his attention on issues of daily practice, humble relationships, and a way of life rather than on Sunday recitations of creeds. When you honor both power and powerlessness, you quite simply come up with a third something, a very different kind of power," says Rohr.
"Good Franciscan spirituality always tries to maintain three freedoms; 1) God's freedom to do what God wills, 2) Maintenance of structural freedom, and 3) Contemplative prayer to maintain inner, psychological freedom to do the first two."
"Our emphasis on orthopraxy (simplicity, nonviolence, living among the poor) and in our thought ('univocity' of all being, freedom of conscience) found Franciscans on the invisible edge of the Church, which is exactly where Francis wanted us to be."
Rohr systematically reveals the heart of Francis. "I hope you now see more clearly how Francis cannot be written off as a mere soft and sweet figure ... he was deliberately and consciously undercutting the entire 'honor/shame system' on which so much of culture, violence, false self-esteem and even many of the ministrations of church totally depend."
"This message of simplicity, smallness and downward mobility is rather clear in the Christian scriptures (Phil. 2:7, II Cor. 8:9) ... No wonder Francis called water 'Sister Water, so useful, lowly, precious and fair!' Water always and forever seeks the lower, and even the lowest, place. We let water - the simple universal element necessary for all life - be our teacher here."
DRAWING OUT 'SISTER WATER'
Proverbs 20:5 says "The purposes of a person's heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out."
The insight from wise Christians, such as Richard Rohr, helps to draw out our deep waters and a deeper sense of purpose. We are all called to serve the purposes of God in our spheres of influence, including family, friends, neighbors, and community. The first way we draw the hidden purposes out of others is by learning to be a good listener ourselves, as we see modeled by Francis of Assisi.
Spiritual leaders and practitioners on the front lines of helping transform our "serve me" culture into a "serve others" culture, seek to dig into our rich history to reveal our deepest calling - the pearl of great price - which is to fall in love with our loving Creator and all of His creation anew daily.
In Matthew 5:3-9 Jesus offers us eight basic rules for Kingdom living on earth ...
1 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
2 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
3 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
4 Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
5 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
6 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
7 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
8 Blessed are the persecuted: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Francis of Assisi based his 'rules' upon this solid foundation and so should we. Notice Jesus 'rules' carry a special blessing and promise. The power to live like Jesus (and Francis) is never generated by our own efforts, but rather upon the finished work of the cross. Humility, empathy, meekness, righteousness, mercy, purity and peacemaking are all unmerited gifts of God. Praise His name!
Millions of Christians around the world - catholic, orthodox and protestant - today are seeking fresh ways to reach this generation with the message of God's unconditional love. We are called to reach up, reach out and reach back over two millennium to discover what has gone beautifully right ... even when we think it has gone terribly wrong. Richard Rohr's writings are a gift to the body of Christ to prepare for a great season of Kingdom expansion ahead.
Thanks Richard! Your book has made me more eager to love!
P.S. Here is a link to watch a good movie version of Francis of Assisi.