Introduction to Christian Mysticism

If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.

When you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. I call this the “Principle of Likeness.” From this frame you stop judging and start loving unconditionally, without asking whether someone is worthy or not. The breakthrough occurs at once, although the realization deepens and takes on greater conviction over time.

As I mentioned earlier this week, mystics are nondual people who see things in their wholeness and call forth the same unity in others, simply by being who they are. Wholeness (head, heart, and body, all present and positive) sees and calls forth wholeness in others.

Dualistic or divided people, however, live in a split and fragmented world. They cannot accept that God objectively dwells within them or others (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17). They cannot accept or forgive certain parts of themselves. This lack of forgiveness takes the forms of a tortured mind, a closed heart, or an inability to live calmly and humbly inside their own body. The fragmented mind sees parts, not wholes, and invariably it creates antagonism, fear, and resistance.

What you see is what you get. What you seek is also what you get. We mend and renew the world by strengthening inside ourselves what we seek outside ourselves, not by demanding or forcing it on others.

Mystics are human like the rest of us, and none of us are perfect. We are inconsistent creatures with blind spots and cultural limitations. Outside of flashes of insight and unitive experience, mystics are products of their place in time. For example, they may have sexist, anti-Semitic, or other biases common for that period, as we see even in the much-idealized Desert Fathers. In spite of momentary glimpses of universal and unconditional grace, they may still be rooted in a retributive understanding of God. It takes more than a lifetime for us to grasp the Mystery that we experience during moments of deep presence and surrender. [1]

What mystics finally do, it seems to me, is heal in themselves the fragmentation that is evident in the world. Instead of hating, excluding, or dismissing it over there in others, they heal it in themselves. This healing is God’s Spirit working in us. Mystics see the whole—good, bad, ugly, and beautiful—in themselves and others, refusing to hate or ignore any of it. This allows them to have immense sympathy, empathy, and compassion and to work in service of the world’s healing. I am not sure if you can come to such empathy in any other way.

One in Love (Richard Rohr)

The primary problem is that our identities are too small. We tend to rely most on our smaller, cultural identities and ignore our larger, common identity as members of the body of Christ. . . . Indeed, adopting a common identity is the key to tearing down cultural divisions and working toward reconciliation. —Christena Cleveland [1]

The dualistic mind, upon which most of us were taught to rely, is simply incapable of the task of creating unity. It automatically divides reality into binary opposites and does most of its thinking inside this limited frame. It dares to call this choosing of sides “thinking” because that is all it knows how to do. “Really good” thinking then becomes devising a strong argument for our side’s superiority versus another country, race, group, political party, or religion.

It seems we must have our other! We struggle to know who we are except by opposition and exclusion. Eucharist was supposed to tell Christians who we are in a positive and inclusionary way. But many Catholics, particularly clergy, have made the Holy Meal into a “prize for the perfect” and a “reward for good behavior” instead of medicine for sickness—which we all equally need. Now I see what our real sickness is. Our sickness or “sin” is the illusion of separateness, a completely mistaken identity which is far too small and too boundaried. The Eucharist is made to order to remind us that we are all one body of Christ. Even those in “other flocks” (see John 10:16)—other religions or no religion at all—are still part of the one body of God, which is, first of all, creation itself.

Christianity’s long history of anti-Semitism is one example of this. Throughout Europe, leaders at the highest levels of church and culture, and even canonized saints, thought Jews were a problem—while their own leader Jesus, his mother Mary, and all the apostles were fully Jewish! Figure that one out. Anti-Semitism only lessened for a time during the Crusades when Christians directed their negative energy toward Muslims. Later, when there were no obvious “others” around, we Christians divided into warring denominations and did our fighting there.

Humans are wired to scapegoat and project our shadow elsewhere. Being able to recognize our own negativity takes foundational conversion and transformation of the egoic self. Unitive consciousness—the awareness that we are all one in Love—lays a solid foundation for social critique and acts of justice. I hope we will let God show us how to think and live in new ways, ways that meet the very real needs of our time on this suffering planet.

Beginner’s Mind (Richard Rohr)

I’d like to offer some spiritual advice so that you can read Scripture the way that Jesus did and use it for good purposes.

Offer a prayer for guidance from the Holy Spirit before you make your interpretation of an important text. With an open heart and mind, seek the attitude of a beginner and learner. Pray as long as it takes to feel any certitudes loosen.

Once you have attained some degree of openness, try to move to a position of detachment from your own egoic will and its goals and desires—to be correct, to be secure, to stay with the familiar. This might take some time, but without such freedom from your own need for control, you will invariably make a text say what you need and want it to say.

Then you must listen for a deeper voice than your own, which you will know because it will never shame or frighten you, but rather strengthen you, even when it is challenging you. If it is God’s voice, it will take away your illusions and your violence so completely and so naturally that you can barely identify with such previous feelings! I call this God’s replacement therapy. God does not ask and expect you to do anything new until God has first made it desirable and possible for you to do it. Grace cannot easily operate under coercion, duress, shame, or guilt.

If your understanding of Scripture leads you to experience any or several of the fruits of the Spirit—

  1. love,
  2. joy,
  3. peace,
  4. patience,
  5. kindness,
  6. goodness,
  7. trustfulness,
  8. gentleness, and
  9. self-control

(Galatians 5:22-23)—I think you can trust that this interpretation is from the Spirit, from the deeper stream of wisdom.

As you read, if you sense any negative or punitive emotions like

  1. morose delight,
  2. feelings of superiority,
  3. self-satisfaction,
  4. arrogant dualistic certitude,
  5. desire for revenge,
  6. need for victory, or
  7. a spirit of dismissal or exclusion,

you must trust that this is not Jesus’ hermeneutic at work, but your own ego still steering the ship.

Remember the temptation of Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:3-10). Three temptations to the misuse of power are listed:

  1. economic,
  2. religious, and
  3. political.

Even Jesus must face these subtle disguises before he begins his public ministry. Only when he has found freedom from his own egoic need for power can Jesus teach with true inner authority and speak truth to the oppressive powers of his time.

Richard Rohr: An Unequivocal Call to Justice

Note that Jesus reserves his most damning and dualistic statements for matters of social justice where power is most resistant: “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24); “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24); or the clear dichotomy in Matthew 25 between sheep (who feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned) and goats (who don’t). The context is important. Jesus’ foundational and even dualistic bias is against false power and in favor of the powerless. If you do not make such points absolutely clear (and even if you do, as Jesus did), history shows that humans will almost always compromise on issues of justice, power, money, and inclusion.

.. The United States always has all the money it needs for war, weapons, and bailing out banks, but never enough for good schools, low cost housing, universal health care, or welcoming refugees. Has this not become obvious? No wonder Jesus dared to be dualistic and dramatic first! He offers clear, contrasting statements about issues of ultimate significance and calls us to decide between them. His point is always transformation.

Unfortunately, Christians have managed to avoid most of what Jesus taught so unequivocally: nonviolence, sharing, simplicity, loving our enemies.

.. Over the next couple weeks, I will explore how we might embrace Jesus and the prophets’ calls to “do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with God” in this world (see Micah 6:8).

Richard Rohr Meditation: Wholeness

In the Hebrew Scriptures, prior to the influence of the Platonic dualism that deemed body as bad and spirit as good, there is a much more integrated notion of the human being. The biblical writers believed that the divine breath, breathed into Adam and Eve, indwells the soul, mind, and body. Each of these are expressions of the divine Spirit.

The great example of this integration is the beautiful Song of Songs, which somehow was accepted into the officially recognized Scriptures. Over time, various Christian writers interpreted it as an allegory or a metaphor of God’s love for God’s people. It’s fine to read Song of Songs in this way, but the book is clearly, from beginning to end, unapologetic erotic poetry.

.. This is the Bible—talking about lips and navels, delighting in human sensuality! Why did God let us get so excited about one another’s bodies and beauty? Could God be playing a trick on us, saying, “I’m going to create sexual attraction and arousal in you, but don’t you dare think, feel, or act upon it!” Of course not! That can’t be what God intended when God said over and over about Creation: “It is good! It is very good!” (see Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). How much harm we’ve caused by repressing and shaming this good and natural part of our being.

Richard Rohr: Body and Soul

“Just remember, on the practical level, the Christian Church was much more influenced by Plato than it was by Jesus.” He left us laughing but also stunned and sad, because four years of honest church history had told us how true this actually was.

.. For Plato, body and soul were incompatible enemies; matter and spirit were at deep odds with one another. But for Jesus, there is no animosity between body and soul. In fact, this is the heart of Jesus’ healing message and of his incarnation itself. Jesus, in whom “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14), was fully human, even as he was fully divine, with both body and spirit operating as one. Jesus even returned to the “flesh” after the Resurrection; so, flesh cannot be bad, as it is the ongoing hiding place of God.

.. In the Apostles’ Creed, which goes back to the second century, we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” I want to first point out what it is not saying and yet what most people hear. The creed does not say we believe in the resurrection of the spirit or the soul! Of course it doesn’t, because the soul cannot die. We are asserting that human embodiment has an eternal character to it.

.. Christianity makes a daring and broad affirmation: God is redeeming matter and spirit, the whole of creation. The Bible speaks of the “new heavens and the new earth” and the descent of the “new Jerusalem from the heavens” to “live among us” (Revelation 21:1-3). This physical universe and our own physicality are somehow going to share in the Eternal Mystery. Your body participates in the very mystery of salvation.

.. Many Christians falsely assumed that if they could “die” to their body, their spirit would for some reason miraculously arise. Often the opposite was the case. After centuries of body rejection, and the lack of any positive body theology, the West is now trapped in substance addiction, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, plastic surgery, and an obsession with appearance and preserving these bodies.

.. The pendulum has now swung in the opposite direction, and the fervor for gyms and salons makes one think these are the new cathedrals of worship. The body is rightly reasserting its goodness and importance. Can’t we somehow seek both body and spirit together?

When Christianity is in any way anti-body, it is not authentic Christianity. The incarnation tells us that body and spirit must fully operate and be respected as one. Yes, Fr. Larry, our Platonic Christianity is now feeling the backlash against our one-sided teaching.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Evolutionary Thinking

The Scopes Monkey Trial might symbolize the beginning of the culture wars we still suffer today, with naïve presentations of two seeming opposite positions—neither well-defined, but simply providing banners and loyalty tests for both groups. In my parents’ generation, when many people often had fewer years of formal education, this false dilemma was commonly presented as, “Did we come from monkeys or did God create us?” Good Christians righteously shouted “God!” thinking God needed their support, and scientific-minded people who had a bone to pick with religion shouted “Monkeys!” What a waste of good minds and hearts!

.. For most of the last century, in many Christian circles, the very term evolution was a code word used to expose and condemn enemies and infidels. It was a false test-case.

.. What if God creates things that continue to create themselves?

.. God “turns everything to good by working together with all things. . . . The ones God chose so long ago, which God intended to become true images of God’s Son” (Romans 8:28-29).

.. The contemplative person can observe and love with their mind, heart, and body at the same time. The reduction to purely rational knowing didn’t begin until the seventeenth century. Now science can observe neural activity, revealing that there is a “heart mind” and a “body mind.

.. Evolutionary thinking is actually contemplative thinking because it leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and agrees to humbly hold the present with its current, tentative knowledge. Evolutionary thinking agrees to both knowing and not knowing, at the same time.

.. Evolutionary thinking sends us on a trajectory, where the ride is itself the destination, and the goal is never clearly in sight. To stay on the ride, to trust the trajectory, to know it is moving somewhere better is just another way to describe the biblical notion of faith.