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 Journey of Conversion (Richard Rohr)

Surely the biblical writer who most helps us discover the Christ Mystery is the Apostle Paul. Letters by Paul or influenced by him form one third of the New Testament. Paul is a foundational teacher for what became Christianity. [1] Yet he hardly ever quotes Jesus. Paul never met Jesus. He did, however, encounter the risen Christ.

This is not as strange as it may seem at first. After all, the Jesus that you and I participate in, are graced and redeemed by, is the risen Christ who is no longer confined by space and time. God raised up Jesus and revealed him as the “Anointed One” or the Messiah (Acts 2:36). I believe it was not until the Resurrection that Jesus’ human mind fully realized he was the Christ. It seems to have been an evolving awareness, as “he grew in wisdom, age, and grace” (Luke 2:52) and lived in faith just as we do.

The entire biblical revelation involves gradually developing a very different consciousness, a recreated self, and eventually a full “identity transplant” or identity realization, as we see in both Jesus and Paul. The sacred text invites us, little by little, into a very different sense of who we are: We are not our own. Your life is not about you; you are about Life! We gradually find ourselves part of the Great Vine, eventually realizing that we have never truly been separate from that Source (John 15:1-5). Once we are consciously connected to the True Vine, our life will bear much fruit for the world.

Paul seems to understand this well because it happened rather dramatically to him. He writes, “I live no longer, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Like Paul, the spiritual journey leads us to know that Someone Else is living in us and through us. We are part of a much Bigger Mystery. We are recipients, conduits, and gradually become fully willing participants in the Christ Mystery (which is not to be equated with simply joining the Christian religion).

No biblical writer had yet named what theologians now call “Trinity,” but Paul has a deep intuitive conviction about the Trinitarian flow—Love—passing through him. He comes to know that he is hardly “initiating” anything, but instead it is all happening to him. This is the same transition we all must make. Like the divine conception in Mary, we will eventually realize it is being done to and within us much more than us doing anything. All God needs is our “yes,” it seems, which tends to emerge progressively as we grow in inner freedom.

This understanding gives us an utterly different sense of self; this person is truly a “sounding through” (per-sonare) much more than an autonomous being. This identity transplant is true conversion. It is not about joining a new group or church; it is coming to know a new and essential self that is interconnected with everyone and everything else. Just as in Paul’s conversion, it takes quite a while for the scales to fall from our eyes (see Acts 9:18), with plenty of help from friends like Ananias (Acts 9:17) and others, lots of failures (1 Corinthians 11:17-22), and long quiet retreats in “Arabia” (see Galatians 1:17). His is the classic pattern of real but gradual transformation.

Practical Christianity (Richard Rohr)

When the Christian tradition chose an imperial Christ, living inside the world of static and mythic proclamations, it framed belief and understanding in a very small box. The Christ of the creeds is not tethered to earth—to the real, historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, this image is mostly mental abstraction with little heart, all spirit, and almost no flesh or soul. Sometimes it seems like Christianity’s only mission is to keep announcing its vision and philosophy. This is what happens when power and empire take over the message.

Did you know that the first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both East and West, were all either convened or formally presided over by emperors? This is no small point. Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, service, or nonviolence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.

Mere information is rarely helpful unless it also enlightens and transforms your life. In Franciscan theology, truth is always for the sake of love—not an absolute end in itself, which too often becomes the worship of an ideology. In other words, any good idea that does not engage the body, the heart, the physical world, and the people around us will tend to be more theological problem solving and theory than any real healing of people and institutions. Ironically, healing is what Jesus was all about!

The word “healing” did not return to mainline Christian vocabulary until the 1970’s, and even then it was widely resisted, which I know from my own experience. [1] In the Catholic tradition, we had pushed healing off to the very last hour of life and called the sacrament “Extreme Unction,” apparently unaware that Jesus provided free health care in the middle of life for people who were suffering, and it was not just an “extreme” measure to get them into the next world.

You wouldn’t guess this from the official creeds but, after all is said and done, doing is more important than believing. Jesus was clearly more concerned with what Buddhists call “right action” (“orthopraxy” in Christianity) than with right saying or right thinking. You can hear this message very clearly in his parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-31: One son says he won’t work in the vineyard, but then does, while the other says he will go, but in fact doesn’t. Jesus told his listeners that he preferred the one who actually goes, although saying the wrong words, over the one who says the right words but does not act. How did we miss that?

Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life, physical and concrete, like we are. A Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does. A Jesus we can imitate in practical ways and who sets the bar for what it means to be fully human.

Centering Prayer: A Prayer for Living and Dying

A friend and former CAC Board Member, Susan Rush, has served many years on hospice and palliative care teams. She has also worked closely with Contemplative Outreach, an organization founded by Thomas Keating and others to renew the Christian contemplative tradition by teaching Centering Prayer. She reflects on the gift of this practice, which she says is key to spiritual resilience:

A wise person once said, “Find a spiritual practice and do it as if your life depends on it.” In my case, that practice is Centering Prayer. Centering Prayer is a prayer of intention, a prayer of consent, a prayer of surrender. It is a prayer that allows us to touch the Divine Ground of our Being, a prayer that helps us see our true self and get a glimpse of the Love that lives within us and in all creation. It is a prayer for living and a prayer for dying.

One comes to the practice of Centering Prayer with only one intention—to consent to God’s presence and action within. Because of that intention, commitment to the contemplative journey through a daily practice of Centering Prayer involves more than just setting aside time to pray; it also means opening ourselves up to a conversion of our will and total transformation.

When we first start Centering most of us are amazed at how busy our minds are. The silence we long for eludes us. We can’t hear God. But as we continue to practice—time and time again letting our thoughts go and returning ever so gently to our intention—we realize that this is all an Ultimate Mystery and requires a graced trust. With committed practice, gradually we are able to embrace the Divine Dwelling within us. There is a knowing, a conviction, that we are with God.

If we stay faithful to the practice, our false self begins to be dismantled and we live more and more from our center, from that Divine Ground of Being, from our true self. We are transformed. As the beloved Thomas Keating, who spent his life conceptualizing and teaching this prayer form, wrote, “By consenting to God’s creation, to our basic goodness as human beings, and to letting go of what we love in this world, we are brought to the final surrender, which is to allow the false self to die and the true self to emerge. The true self might be described as our participation in the divine life manifesting in our uniqueness.” . . . [2]

I once heard a patient say that her dying process was an “ego-ectomy.” The contemplative life through the practice of Centering Prayer can be an ego-ectomy, too. We come closer to our dying every day of our living, so let us live our lives to the fullest, for God’s sake. Let us do our spiritual practice as if our lives depended on it—because they do. Let us welcome our ego-ectomy through the dismantling of the false self now—in life—in order to experience each day as a sacred gift.

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.