Christ Since the Beginning: The First Bible (Richard Rohr)

Sacred writings are bound in two volumes—that of creation and that of Holy Scripture. —Thomas Aquinas (1224–1274) [1]

Ever since God created the world, God’s everlasting power and deity—however invisible—have been there for the mind to see in the things God has made. —Romans 1:20

I think what Paul means here is that whatever we need to know about God can be found in nature. Nature itself is the primary Bible. The world is the locus of the sacred and provides all the metaphors that the soul needs for its growth.

If you scale chronological history down to the span of one year, with the Big Bang on January 1, then our species, Homo sapiens, doesn’t appear until 11:59 p.m. on December 31. That means the written Bible and Christianity appeared in the last nanosecond of December 31. I can’t believe that God had nothing to say until the last moment of December 31. Rather, as both Paul and Thomas Aquinas say, God has been revealing God’s love, goodness, and beauty since the very beginning through the natural world of creation. “God looked at everything God had made, and found it very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Acknowledging the intrinsic value and beauty of creation, elements, plants, and animals is a major paradigm shift for most Western and cultural Christians. In fact, we have often dismissed it as animism or paganism. We limited God’s love and salvation to our own human species, and, even then, we did not have enough love to go around for all of humanity! God ended up looking quite miserly and inept, to be honest.

Listen instead to the Book of Wisdom (13:1, 5):

How dull are all people who, from the things-that-are, have not been able to discover God-Who-Is, or by studying the good works have failed to recognize the Artist. . . . Through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author.

Sister Ilia Delio writes in true Franciscan style:

The world is created as a means of God’s self-revelation so that, like a mirror or footprint, it might lead us to love and praise the Creator. We are created to read the book of creation so that we may know the Author of Life. This book of creation is an expression of who God is and is meant to lead humans to what it signifies, namely, the eternal Trinity of dynamic, self-diffusive love. [2]

All you have to do today is go outside and gaze at one leaf, long and lovingly, until you know, really know, that this leaf is a participation in the eternal being of God. It’s enough to create ecstasy. The seeming value or dignity of an object doesn’t matter; it is the dignity of your relationship to the thing that matters. For a true contemplative, a gratuitously falling leaf will awaken awe and wonder just as much as a golden tabernacle in a cathedral.

Nature, Joy, and Human Becoming: Michael McCarthy

It was the way in which, at the age of seven, in a time of great trauma in my family, I personally became attached to nature. And this was a day in August, 1954, when my mother had gone away to hospital because she’d had a mental breakdown, and my brother, who was a year older than me, was completely mortified. He was terribly, terribly upset, and yet, I felt nothing whatsoever, which took me 50 years and a certain amount of psychotherapy to discover why.

And we went to my aunt’s in a nearby suburb of the town where I grew up, which was greener than our house, which had been in the inner city, and there was a garden, two doors away. And over the wall of this garden hung a buddleia bush. And in those days, when wildlife was far more numerous in the U.K., as indeed all around the world, than it is now, on the first morning, as I ran out into the road to play, this bush was just simply covered in butterflies. And it was, very particularly, very colorful ones, the most colorful of all the British butterflies, four of them, in particular — the peacock, the red admiral, the small tortoiseshell, and the — what’s the other one? Vanessa cardui. And I was very taken by them. I was lost in contemplation of them. I thought they were remarkable. And it was a time when I should have had terrible feelings, but I had no feelings, and the feelings for the butterflies filled this hole, as it were. And from that moment on, I began to love the natural world, albeit in fairly strange circumstances.

.. But it all came crashing down in 1982, when I was 35, because my mother died at the age of 68, and I found, then, to my absolute amazement, that I could not mourn her and that, just as I felt nothing when she went away in 1954 when I was seven, now, when she went away forever, I couldn’t feel anything either. And I did not know how to react to this; it was — to have your grief taken away from you is a very, very strange situation.

And I came to understand what had happened, and the fact was that when my mother had gone away when I was seven, I had hated her for that. I had hated her because she hadn’t said farewell to us or anything like that; she’d just gone away and left me, although my psyche did not allow me to admit that, so it turned into indifference. And similarly, when she went away forever, when she died, the same feeling kicked in. I hated her because she had gone away again. I hated my mother because she was dead. And these are the sorts of tangled bits of your psyche that psychotherapy — which has lots of critics, but sometimes can help you actually sort out, and it did in my case. And so I was greatly thrilled to have recovered my feelings for my mother and to have understood what happened in my childhood, which had seemed so confused.

But I had no way of marking that. I didn’t have a way of commemorating this really big thing in my life. We like meaning-making, don’t we; that’s why we have ceremonies. We have ceremonies for christening; most of all, we have ceremonies for marriage, and we have ceremonies for funerals. We don’t let people be buried or cremated, just like that. We want to have some sort of solemnity, some sort of meaning-making. But I did not have one.

.. MS. TIPPETT: You do, of course, realize how — that the metaphor there, the allusion of that love for your mother and where we come from and how we can’t feel our grief at the loss of our insects and our birds and our blossoms, it’s — I don’t know; I hear it now more, having you tell the story, than I did when I read it, even.

MR. MCCARTHY: I hadn’t — I think, instinctively, but I didn’t make the explicit connection. I’ll make it now that you say it.

At Home in the World: Primal and Indigenous Spirituality

.. oriented to a single cosmos, which sustains them like a living womb. Because they assume that it exists to nurture them, they have no disposition to challenge it, defy it, refashion it, or escape from it. It is not a place of exile or pilgrimage, though pilgrimages take place within it. Its space is not homogenous; the home has a number of rooms, we might say, some of which are normally invisible. But together they constitute a single domicile. Primal peoples are concerned with the maintenance of personal, social, and cosmic harmony. But the overriding goal of salvation that dominates the historical religions is virtually absent from them.

.. Primal and indigenous spiritualities are not primarily concerned with salvation as a way to escape from a sinful world and go to heaven or the next world. Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon write, “They make it clear that we humans are not here simply as transients waiting for a ticket to somewhere else. The Earth itself is Christos, is Buddha, is Allah, is Gaia.” [2] As Jesus taught, heaven is here and now, within us (Luke 17:21).

Richard Rohr Meditation: Kinship with All Life

The conventional notion of the self with which we have been raised and to which we have been conditioned by mainstream culture is being undermined. What Alan Watts [1915-1973] called “the skin-encapsulated ego” . . . is being replaced by wider constructs of identity and self-interest—by what philosopher Arne Naess [1912-2009] termed the ecological self, co-extensive with other beings and the life of our planet. It is what I like to call “the greening of the self.” . . .

Among those who are shedding these old constructs of self . . . is John Seed, director of the Rainforest Information Centre in Australia. One day . . . I asked him: “You talk about the struggle against the lumber companies and politicians to save the remaining rain forests. How do you deal with the despair?”

He replied, “I try to remember that it’s not me, John Seed, trying to protect the rain forest. Rather, I am part of the rain forest protecting itself. I am that part of the rain forest recently emerged into human thinking.” This is what I mean by the greening of the self. It involves a combining of the mystical with the pragmatic, transcending separateness, alienation, and fragmentation. It is . . . “a spiritual change,” generating a sense of profound interconnectedness with all life. . . .

.. By expanding our self-interest to include other beings in the body of the Earth, the ecological self also widens our window on time. It enlarges our temporal context, freeing us from identifying our goals and rewards solely in terms of our present lifetime. The life pouring through us, pumping our heart and breathing through our lungs, did not begin at our birth or conception. Like every particle in every atom and molecule of our bodies, it goes back through time to the first splitting and spinning of the stars.

.. We were present in the primal flaring forth, and in the rains that streamed down on this still-molten planet, and in the primordial seas. In our mother’s womb we remembered that journey, wearing vestigial gills and tail and fins for hands.

.. Beneath the outer layer of our neocortex and what we learned in school, that story is in us—the story of a deep kinship with all life, bringing strengths that we never imagined. When we claim this story as our innermost sense of who we are, a gladness comes that will help us to survive.

Richard Rohr: Every Being Is of God’s Making

If you would learn more, ask the cattle,
Seek information from the birds of the air.
The creeping things of earth will give you lessons,
And the fishes of the sea will tell you all.
There is not a single creature that does not know
That everything is of God’s making. 

God holds in power the soul of every living thing,
And the breath of every human body.

—Book of Job 12:7-10

.. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, it is clear that a loving God includes all of creation in God’s Kingdom.

.. In the Genesis story, God’s love, beauty, and goodness overflow into creation; and all creatures, including humans, are living peacefully in God’s presence. Isaiah prophesies the “peaceable kingdom” to come (11:1-9; 65:17-25), which is symbolized by animals living in peace. In Revelation, John hears “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe” giving God “blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). Finally, John sees “a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1) and the Bible ends with a new garden, complete with “the river of life-giving water” and “the tree of life” (22:1-2).

God shows authentic, primal concern for all animals by directing Noah to take a male and female of every species onto the ark to be saved (see Genesis 7:2-3).  Apparently, animals matter and are worth “saving.” After the flood, God makes a covenant, not just with people but with all of creation (stated five times in 9:10-17). How did we miss that? Sadly, if we are self-centered, even if we say the Bible is the “inerrant” word of God, we will hear only what we want to hear! God’s salvation—and every biblical covenant—is clearly a social, historical, and universal concept rather than the merely human and individualistic version of salvation that most of us were taught.

This made Christianity into a largely ineffective religion. The notion of salvation became so guarded and so stingy it was finally not available to the vast majority of humans!

Richard Rohr Meditation: Nature Reflects God’s Goodness

How could humans think we were the only or even the main event? Not only did we think that the Earth was the center of the universe; we were certain our human species was the only one that God really cared about. All of creation was just a stage set for the human drama. Normally that is called narcissism. We extracted the soul from everything else. Nature was simply here for our utilitarian purpose, to be used for our consumption. With this belief system, we entered into a state of profound alienation from our own surroundings. We no longer belonged to this world because there was nothing worth belonging to. It was no longer naturally sacred, deserving our reverence or respect. We could rape, plunder, and misuse the earth. We could torture animals and destroy ecosystems because we thought they had no inherent value. We acted as though we were fully in charge.

.. Every day we have opportunities to reconnect with God through an encounter with nature, whether an ordinary sunrise, a starling on a power line, a tree in a park, or a cloud in the sky. This spirituality doesn’t depend on education or belief. It almost entirely depends on our capacity for simple presence.

How Democracies Perish

Everybody agrees society is in a bad way, but what exactly is the main cause of the badness?

Some people emphasize economic issues’

People like me emphasize cultural issues. If you have 60 years of radical individualism and ruthless meritocracy, you’re going to end up with a society that is atomized, distrustful and divided.

Patrick Deneen ..  new book, “Why Liberalism Failed,”

.. democracy has betrayed its promises.

  • It was supposed to foster equality, but it has led to great inequality and a new aristocracy.
  • It was supposed to give average people control over government, but average people feel alienated from government.
  • It was supposed to foster liberty, but it creates a degraded popular culture in which consumers become slave to their appetites.

.. “Because we view humanity — and thus its institutions — as corrupt and selfish, the only person we can rely upon is our self. The only way we can avoid failure, being let down, and ultimately succumbing to the chaotic world around us, therefore, is to have the means (financial security) to rely only upon ourselves.”

..  Greek and medieval philosophies valued liberty, but they understood that before a person could help govern society, he had to be able to govern himself.

People had to be habituated in virtue by institutions they didn’t choose — family, religion, community, social norms.

.. Machiavelli and Locke, the men who founded our system made two fateful errors.

  1. First, they came to reject the classical and religious idea that people are political and relational creatures. Instead, they placed the autonomous, choosing individual at the center of their view of human nature.
  2. Furthermore, they decided you couldn’t base a system of government on something as unreliable as virtue. But you could base it on something low and steady like selfishness. You could pit interest against interest and create a stable machine. You didn’t have to worry about creating noble citizens; you could get by with rationally self-interested ones.

.. Liberalism claims to be neutral but it’s really anti-culture. It detaches people from nature, community, tradition and place. It detaches people from time. “Gratitude to the past and obligations to the future are replaced by a nearly universal pursuit of immediate gratification.”

.. Once family and local community erode and social norms dissolve, individuals are left naked and unprotected. They seek solace in the state. They toggle between impersonal systems: globalized capitalism and the distant state. As the social order decays, people grasp for the security of authoritarianism.

“A signal feature of modern totalitarianism was that it arose and came to power through the discontents of people’s isolation and loneliness,” he observes. He urges people to dedicate themselves instead to local community — a sort of Wendell Berry agrarianism.

.. Every time Deneen writes about virtue it tastes like castor oil — self-denial and joylessness.

.. Yes, liberalism sometimes sits in tension with faith, tradition, family and community, which Deneen rightly cherishes. But liberalism is not their murderer.