Richard Rohr Meditation: Transcendence

God, it seems, cannot really be known, but only related to. Or, as the mystics would assert, we know God by loving God, by trusting God, by placing our hope in God. It is a nonpossessive, nonobjectified way of knowing. It is always I-Thou and never I-It, to use Martin Buber’s wonderfully insightful phrases. God allows us to know God only by loving God. God, in that sense, cannot be “thought.” [1]

Our scientifically oriented knowledge seeks to master reality, explain it, and bring it under the control of reason, but a delight in unknowing has also been part of the human experience. Even today, poets, philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists find that the contemplation of the insoluble is a source of joy, astonishment, and contentment.

.. One of the peculiar characteristics of the human mind is its ability to have ideas and experiences that exceed our conceptual grasp. We constantly push our thoughts to an extreme, so that our minds seem to elide naturally into an apprehension of transcendence. .

..  People practice their faith in myriad contrasting and contradictory ways. But a deliberate and principled reticence about God [talk] and/or the sacred was a constant theme [at the more mature levels] not only in Christianity but in the other major faith traditions until the rise of modernity in the West. People believed that God exceeded our thoughts and concepts and could be known only by dedicated practice. We have lost sight of this important insight, and this, I believe, is one of the reasons why so many Western people find the concept of God so troublesome today. . . .

.. We are seeing a great deal of strident dogmatism today, religious and secular, but there is also a growing appreciation of the value of unknowing [and unsaying].

.. There is a long religious tradition that stressed the importance of recognizing the limits of our knowledge, of silence, reticence, and awe. . . . One of the conditions of enlightenment has always been a willingness to let go of what we thought we knew in order to appreciate truths we had never dreamed of. We may have to unlearn a great deal about religion before we can move on to new insight.

Richard Rohr Meditation: Prayer Beyond Words

These all point toward what many today call contemplation—openness to and union with God’s presence; resting in God more than actively seeking to fully know or understand.

Given Jesus’ clear model and instruction, it seems strange that wordy prayer took over in the monastic Office, in the Eucharistic liturgy, and in formulaic prayer like the Catholic rosary and Protestant memorizations. It’s all the more important that these be balanced by prayer beyond words.

Much of Buddhism’s attraction for so many people today is that Buddhism is absolutely honest about the theology of darkness—about our inability to know. It is much more humble than the monotheistic religions are about the possibilities of words and formulas. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam took a great risk in relying on words.

In the Christian tradition this “Word became flesh” (John 1:14), but we didn’t want flesh. We didn’t want an embodied relationship with God. Instead we wanted words with which we could proclaim certainties and answers. The price the three “religions of the book” have paid for a certain idolatry of words is that they became the least tolerant of the world’s religions. Both Buddhism and Hinduism tend to be much more accepting of others than we are.

At their lower levels, the three monotheistic religions insist on absolute truth claims in forms of words, whereas Jesus’ truth claim was his person (John 14:6), his presence (John 6:35), his ability to participate in God’s perfect love (John 17:21-22). Emphasizing perfect agreement on words and forms (which is never going to happen anyway!), instead of inviting people into an experience of the Formless Presence, has caused much of the violence of human history. Jesus gives us his risen presence as “the way, the truth, and the life.” At that level, there is not much to fight about, and in fact fighting becomes uninteresting and counter-productive to the message. Presence is known by presence from the other side. It is always subject to subject knowing, never subject to object.

This is the new GOP: Angry and afraid

One of the unpleasant surprises of your 50s (among many) is seeing the heroes and mentors of your 20s pass away. I worked for Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame, who became, through his work with prisoners, one of the most important social reformers of the 20th century. I worked for Jack Kemp, who inspired generations of conservatives with his passion for inclusion. I worked against John McCain in the 2000 Republican primaries but came to admire his truculent commitment to principle.

Perhaps it is natural to attribute heroism to past generations and to find a sad smallness in your own. But we are seeing the largest test of political character in my lifetime. And where are the Republican leaders large enough to show the way?

President Trump’s recent remarks to evangelical Christians at the White House capture where Republican politics is heading. “This November 6 election,” Trump said, “is very much a referendum on not only me, it’s a referendum on your religion.” A direct, unadorned appeal to tribal hostilities. Fighting for Trump, the president argued, is the only way to defend the Christian faith. None of these men and women of God, apparently, gagged on their hors d’oeuvres.

.. “It’s not a question of like or dislike, it’s a question that [Democrats] will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they will do it quickly and violently. And violently. There is violence.” Here Trump is preparing his audience for the possibility of bloodshed by predicting it from the other side. Christians, evidently, need to start taking “Onward, Christian Soldiers” more literally.

.. This is now what passes for GOP discourse — the cultivation of anger, fear, grievances, prejudices and hatreds.

.. “the true populist loses patience with the rules of the democratic game.” He comes to view himself as the embodied voice of the people, and opponents as (in Trump’s words) “un-American” and “treasonous.”

.. As Robert S. Mueller III continues his inexorable investigation of Trump’s sleazy business and political world — and if Democrats gain the House and begin aggressive oversight — a cornered president may test the limits of executive power in the attempt to avoid justice. If the GOP narrowly retains control of the House, Trump and others will take it as the vindication of his whole approach to politics. The president will doubtlessly go further in targeting his enemies for investigation and other harm. He will doubtlessly attack the independence of the FBI and attempt to make it an instrument of his will. He will doubtlessly continue his vendetta against responsible journalism and increase his pressure on media companies that don’t please him. On a broad front, Trump’s lunacy will become operational.

.. But at length he was asked to retreat from that final area where he located his self. And there this supple, humorous, unassuming and sophisticated person set like metal, was overtaken by an absolutely primitive rigor, and could no more be budged than a cliff.”

Republican leaders may dread it, but they will eventually be forced to identify that final area where they keep themselves — or find there is no one there.

Introducing The On Being Project

I feel like the world has changed so much. So, in the mid-’90s, late-’90s, having been a journalist, coming out of divinity school — so this was the Moral Majority — this was this moment where a lot of very loud, strident religiosity had claimed its place and was everywhere. And actually, religion was in the headlines. And then, in the years I was creating the show, we went through September 11. We had an evangelical president in the White House. So there was a lot of religiosity in the headlines, and a lot of new curiosity about it, but also, a lot of religious people getting quiet because they didn’t want to be associated with —

MS. PERCY: With the loud voices.

MS. TIPPETT: And journalists, I felt, colluding with handing over the microphones and cameras to the loudest voices.

MS. PERCY: What time period would this be? This is the early 2000s?

MS. TIPPETT: This would be like mid- to late-’90s…

MS. PERCY: Got it.

MS. TIPPETT: …and then, into the turn of the century. And I just felt that this is such an important part of life, this huge part of life which we call religion — where religion happens, spirituality, moral imagination, and that we didn’t have any places where we were talking about the sweep of that. And even when these voices hit the news, you didn’t get the spiritual content of this part of life, much less the intellectual content of this part of life, and the nuance and really, the breadth of the ways this is lived. And so that was my desire, to do that, and I thought public radio would be a place to do that.

But I think what we started doing, from the very beginning, was drawing out a different kind of conversation, voices that weren’t being heard. It was very focused on religion per se, and then we moved through the backlash to that, which is what I think the New Atheist was, New Atheist movement. What was interesting to me about all of that, this kind of very strident anti-religion — coming through all of that, this new conversation that’s happening across these lines; across religious lines, across boundaries of religious and non-religious, all kinds of scientific inquiry, and theology and spiritual inquiry. And so, when you ask me what this is and what it’s become, it’s been so fluid and evolving.

.. here we are in 2018, in a fractured world, in a hurting world — and yet, we’re in this moment of passage, and we’re in this moment of generational change. And I think we’re in a moment where there’s huge culture shift happening, and right now the destructive aspects of that are really on display and better-covered; but there’s a lot that’s new that’s being created; there’s a lot of denial that’s dying. There’s a lot of generative possibility and people living into it, and I think the Impact Lab is just gonna equip us that much more intentionally and practically to meet that.

.. we’re really exploring this, in some ways, very old-fashioned word of “formation,” of becoming the kind of people that we are meant to be, in some way; that we are called to be, especially in this moment, and thinking about what are the spiritual technologies that can help us develop those virtues.

MS. TIPPETT: And a way of even being with strangers.

MR. TER KUILE: Absolutely. We had these long tables where people sat down at meals, and it made me realize, dinner is one of our spiritual technologies.

.. MS. PERCY: I love that you mention, Erinn, two things, which is hospitality and, also, community. As a Hispanic person, that is the tenets of being Hispanic, is — eating, as well; so it’s community, hospitality, and food. But I think those are two key things to everything that we do at The On Being Project. And community, in particular, is something that I feel so proud of, that we engage with our community in the way that we do.

.. Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche. And somewhere he writes that if a community is only for itself, it will die — which I thought was so striking, because I think that’s one of the things that I’m most passionate about, as we think about building community and building relationships, is that it isn’t just for itself; it’s for a world transformed in some way.