Living in the Spirit (Richard Rohr)

In very real ways, soul, consciousness, love, and the Holy Spirit are one and the same. Each of these point to something that is larger than the individual, shared with God, ubiquitous, and even eternal—and then revealed through us! Holiness does not mean people are psychologically or morally perfect (a common confusion), but that they are capable of seeing and enjoying things in a much more “whole” and compassionate way, even if they sometimes fail at it themselves. [1]

.. Our effort is not a self-conscious striving to fill ourselves with the important Christian virtues; it is more getting out of the way and allowing [Christ’s] Spirit to transform all our activities. Christ will do the rest. His Spirit has joined ours and will never abandon us.

The Kingdom of Heaven

Throughout the Gospel accounts, Jesus uses one particular phrase repeatedly: “the Kingdom of Heaven.” The words stand out everywhere. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is like that,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Whatever this Kingdom of Heaven is, it’s of foundational importance to what Jesus is trying to teach.

So, what is the Kingdom of Heaven? Biblical scholars have debated this question for almost as long as there have been biblical scholars. Many Christians, particularly those of a more evangelical persuasion, assume that the Kingdom of Heaven means the place you go when you die—if you’ve been “saved.” But the problem with this interpretation is that Jesus himself specifically contradicts it when he says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). It’s not later, but lighter—some more subtle quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken into it.

Others have equated the Kingdom of Heaven with an earthly utopia. The Kingdom of Heaven would be a realm of peace and justice, where human beings lived together in harmony and fair distribution of economic assets. For thousands of years, prophets and visionaries have labored to bring into being their respective versions of this kind of Kingdom of Heaven, but somehow these earthly utopias never seem to stay put for very long. Jesus specifically rejected this meaning. When his followers wanted to proclaim him the Messiah, the divinely anointed king of Israel who would inaugurate the reign of God’s justice upon the earth, Jesus shrank from all that and said, strongly and unequivocally, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

Where is it, then? Author Jim Marion’s wonderfully insightful and contemporary suggestion is that the Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from. [1] It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place.

Marion suggests specifically that the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus’ way of describing a state we would nowadays call “nondual consciousness” or “unitive consciousness.” The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. These are indeed Jesus’ two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does.

Richard Rohr: Nearing Death

The Nearing Death Experience implies a natural and conscious remerging with the Ground of Being from which we have all once unconsciously emerged. A transformation occurs from the point of terror at the contemplation of the loss of our separate, personal self to a merging into the deep, nurturing, ineffable experience of Unity.

My experience is that most people who are dying have no conscious desire for transcendence; most of us do not live at the level of depth where such a longing is a conscious priority. And, yet, everyone does seem to enter a transcendent and transformed level of consciousness in the Nearing Death Experience. . . . It is rather profound and encouraging to contemplate these indications that the life and death of a human being is so exquisitely calibrated as to automatically produce union with Spirit.