Richard Rohr and The Universal Christ

Discussion Facilitator: Bruce Cantwell. September 7, 2019.

In March The One You Feed podcast fed me Eric Zimmer’s interview with Father Richard Rohr.

Bio from The One You Feed website: Fr. Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition. He is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.

Condensed Version of Richard Rohr's Comments

We left Christians the freedom to decide where the sacred was and where the sacred wasn't. And we've done it non-stop, beginning with anti-Semitism already incipient in even the New Testament. Then we have heretics being worthy of being burned at the stake. We have women always remaining inferior. Every century has its chosen person or persons where it doesn't have to see the sacred.

Once you leave that free for the individual ego to decide–we now know after 2,000 years–the results are tragic, really tragic.

See, private perfection is very well disguised egotism, very well-disguised narcissism. It doesn't make you a loving person. As if I could be loving apart from loving you, or perfect apart from honoring your gifts.

And then the earth itself, or the animals. You know, nothing was sacred except my group, my Christian group, those who said it just like me. And everybody else was worthy of disdain.

Well, how can Jesus possibly be the savior of the world or the Lord of the Universe if he's always just protecting a little tribe?

This seeing Christ in everything is the key to mental and spiritual health as well as to basic contentment and happiness.

If there's one creator who created all things, how could the imprint not be in a tree, and a dog, and the sky, and the entire universe? Well, that really is a basis for mental health. You live in a world that is good.

It's a thought that you're separate from God that creates the separateness. It isn't objectively so.

I have never been separate from God, nor can I be, except in my mind.

The western civilizations really idealized the mind. And so it had no critique granted it. All we did was fight within the arena of the mind, of different philosophies, and so forth.

"I think therefore I am." There it is. That's western philosophy in one sentence. Our thinking defines us. The mind took on an almost demonic character that demanded total allegiance. And what it did was convict us of our unworthiness, of our shame.

Once you leave the garden of union, reality will tell you you're naked. You're not smart enough, you're not good looking enough, your body isn't perfect enough. You're not moral enough became the equation if you're raised religious, which didn't really mean that we loved God, it just meant a search for some kind of moral perfection.

And the irony was, that ledger of perfection, or morality, was different from culture to culture.

Let's take the classic one for Catholics: eating meat on Fridays: my parents' and grandparents' generations, that was a mortal sin. It isn't even in the realm of evil, and when you trivialize evil, you know what happens? You miss the real evils that are all around you.

We wasted time not eating meat on Friday, and we got away with World Wars. We got away with Nazism.

The only two virtues you need are humility and honesty to move forward on the spiritual life. Thomas Aquinas told us the first question should not be, "Who said it?" The first question should be, "Is it true?" And if it's true, it's always from the Holy Spirit. It doesn't matter if Confucius said it or Muhammad said it.

But, the only people who moved beyond the mind's dominance were people we would call mystics, contemplatives–they didn't throw out the mind. They gave it its due, but it didn't control the whole show.

Anything that draws you out of yourself in a positive way is operating as God for you at that moment. God experience always expands your seeing and never constricts it.

In the rediscovery of the Gospel, we discovered nothing else but that evil is not something you can ever totally eliminate, exclude dismiss, discard, you have to forgive it.

I was teaching last summer in Germany. They took me to several churches and art museums. You're probably familiar with the classic iconography of Saint Michael. Michael is standing heroically on the dragon. That's pretty much where we've been up to now, really assuming that the dragon can be killed.

See, that's a lie. That's not true. God uses evil for your transformation. We now have words for it. We call it integration, reconciliation.

In church after church, always off to the side, they had pictures that were only apparently common for a certain period in the Middle Ages of Saint Martha. This is not biblical. I don't know where it comes from.

St. Martha is never pictured stabbing or spearing the dragon. She's always feeding it, or petting it.

And isn't it interesting, there's the masculine approach to killing evil and there's the feminine approach. And Martha tames the dragon.

Now we'd call that restorative justice. It doesn't punish, it transforms.

Jesus punishes nobody. Check it out. He calls people to responsibility, but the real punishing notion of Christ came after he was gone.

We all have sinned. We're all dying together on the vine. And we bear one another's goodness, and we bear one another's shame. That, I'm convinced, is the Gospel. It calls us much more to solidarity than private perfection.[1]

Discussion

What person or group of persons would you find it hard to think of as sacred?

What is meant by the statement “I have never been separate from God, nor can I be, except in my mind?”

Do you believe evil can always be tamed or are there times when it must be killed?

[1] Zimmer, Eric, and Richard Rohr. “168: Richard Rohr.” The One You Feed, 3 Aug. 2018, https://www.oneyoufeed.net/richard-rohr/.

Bruce Cantwell