An Invitation to ‘Things Hidden’

Rohr picture  Franciscan priest Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque,
New Mexico.  He is the author of numerous books, including Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. 

Rohr cover things hidden

Richard Rohr introduces Things Hidden by writing:

The Bible can be confusing because it records a very human history of our struggles with faith and doubt.  But since it continues to give us amazing new revelations from the Spirit, we need to sift through it to find what really matters.

The goal of Things Hidden is not to teach us ‘what the Bible says’
but to help us grow in our own relationship with God.

Things Hidden will help us see: 

The Bible’s primary themes: Who is God? and Who are we?
The development of very human characters, from Abraham to Jeremiah to Paul.
The earthly ministry of Jesus, and the meaning of our encounter with him.
The God who is always with us: the deepest  meaning of Emmanuel.

In the next post, Introduction: Connecting the Dots, you can read Rohr’s own introduction to Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality.


Introducing ‘Things Hidden’

Rohr pictureRichard Rohr writes…

The complete introduction to Things Hidden is reproduced below, to give readers a  glimpse of Richard Rohr’s writing. Some of the book’s themes are also highlighted here.


We teach not the way that philosophy is taught, but in the way that the Spirit teaches.  We desire to teach spiritual things spiritually.” 1 Corinthians 2:13

“In your goodness, you let the blind speak of your light.” Nicholas of Cusa

I am writing this book based on a set of talks I gave in 1998, the twenty-fifth anniversary of my first taped talks, The Great Themes of Scripture, given in 1973 at Mount St. Joseph College, in Cincinnati, Ohio. The editors at St. Anthony Messenger Press asked me to reflect again on what I thought were the “great themes” twenty-five years later. This book is my attempt.

I dare to write not because I strongly trust in my own ability to write, but with a much stronger faith in the objective presence of the ‘Stable Witness’ within, who “will teach you everything” (John 14:26) and whose “law is already written on your hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). All that a spiritual teacher really does is “second the motions” of the Holy Spirit.

The first motion is already planted within us by God at our creation (Jeremiah 1:5; Isaiah 49:1), and that is probably what gives spiritual wisdom both such inner conviction and such outer authority. I have always said that the best compliment I ever get is when people tell me something to this effect: “Richard, you did not teach me anything totally new. Somehow I already knew it, but it did not become conscious or real for me until you said it.”

That is the divine symbiosis between mutual members of the body of Christ, or the ‘midwifery’ of Socrates, who believed that he was merely delivering the baby that was already inside the person. On some level, spiritual cognition is invariably experienced as ‘re-cognition.’ Even Peter said that his work was largely ‘recalling’ and ‘reminding’ his people (see 2 Peter 1:12:15). For some reason, we have forgotten that. It makes us preachers and teachers take ourselves far too seriously, and it makes believers far too reliant upon external authority.

I am also convinced by what Malcolm Gladwell, in his 2006 best-seller, Blink, calls the phenomenon of ‘thin slicing’ in our human search for patterns and wisdom. He believes that what we call insight or even genius comes from the ability of some people to “sift through the situation in front of them, throwing out all that is irrelevant, while zeroing in on what really matters. The truth is that our unconscious is really good at this, to the point where thin-slicing often delivers a better answer than more deliberate and exhaustive ways of thinking.”

I would hope that I am doing some sort of thin-slicing here, and that it will open you to real spiritual transformation and “what really matters.” Frankly, my disappointment in so much scriptural preaching and teaching is that it never seems to get to this level of patterning, but often just remains on the level of anecdote, historical and critical analysis. It’s often inspiration and even good theology, but it seldom seems to connect the dots and see the developing tangents. Connecting those dots is absolutely necessary, or we will have no markers by which to recognize the regressive passages that back away from those same tangents. We must see where the dots are leading us.

Our unwillingness, or our inability, to thin-slice the texts and then discern the tangents has created widespread fundamentalist Christianity, Judaism and Islam, which, ironically, usually miss the ‘fundamentals’!   If you do not know the direction and the momentum, you will not recognize the backpedaling. You will end up making very accidental themes into ‘fundamentals’ while missing the biggies! One dot is not wisdom: You can prove anything you want from a single Scripture quote.

My assumption throughout this book is that the biblical text also mirrors the nature of human consciousness itself. It includes within itself passages that develop the prime ideas, and passages that fight and resist those very advances. You might even call it faith and unfaith –both are locked into the text.

The journey into the mystery of God is necessarily a journey into the ‘unfamiliar.’ While much of the Bible is merely a repetition of familiar terrain, where nothing new is asked of history or nothing new given to the soul, there are also those frequent breakthroughs, which we would rightly call ‘revelations’ from the Spirit (because you would never come to them by your own ‘small mind’).

But once you observe the trajectory, you are always ready to be surprised and graced by the Unfamiliar, which is why it is called ‘faith’ to begin with. That is what we will attempt to do here. It might first feel scary, new or even exciting, but if you stay with the unfolding texts, you will have the courage to know them also as your own deepest hopes or intuitions. Such is the dance between outer authority and inner authority, the Great Tradition and inner experience. This is the balance we will seek here.

Unlike many who might go book by book through the Bible, I’m going to try to show the prime ideas of Scripture already indicated in (1) capsulated form at the beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures. From that early statement of the theme, we will proceed with something akin to a (2) character or theme development through the whole middle part of the Bible. By the end, especially in the Risen Christ and in Paul’s theology of the Risen Christ, we have sort of the (3) crescendo, the full revelation of One we can trust to be a nonviolent and thoroughly gracious God, who is inviting us into loving union.

It takes all of the Bible to get beyond the punitiveness and pettiness that we project onto God and that we harbor within ourselves. But for now we have to keep connecting the dots.  Remember, how you get there determines where you will finally arrive. The process itself is important and gives authority to the outcome. The medium does become the message, as Marshall McLuhan famously said in the 1960s. The two-steps-backward texts give us even deeper urgency to go forward and much deeper understanding when we get there.

My desire here is to make some clear connections with what I perceive to be the prime ideas in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures with a practical and pastoral spirituality for believers today. Although my tangent definitely coalesces in Jesus, whom we Christians call the Christ, I would like to believe that a lover of the Hebrew Scriptures will also find much to relish here.

I love the clear continuities between the two Testaments and clearly see Jesus as first of all a Jew, who brilliantly thin-sliced his own tradition and gave us a wonderful lens by which to love the Jewish tradition and keep moving forward with it in an inclusive way (which became its child, Christianity).

Although I am clearly a Catholic, I would hope that my Protestant and Anglican brothers and sisters would also find much to guide and inspire them here. There is clearly an ’emerging church’ that is gathering the scriptural, the contemplative, the scholarly and the justice-oriented wisdom from every part of the Body of Christ.

The ecumenical character and future of Christianity is becoming rather obvious. It is really the religious side of globalization. We cannot avoid one another any longer, and we do only at our own loss (1Corinthians 12:12-30), and to the loss of the gospel.

Finally, you will note that l use many Scripture citations with only a small comment, hoping that such a small comment will tease and invite you into deeper involvement with the text and context for yourself. I would love to make you love Scripture, and go there for yourself, to find both your own inner experience named, and some outer validation of the same.

Only when the two come together, inner and outer authority, do we have true spiritual wisdom. We have for too long insisted on outer authority alone, without any teaching of prayer, inner journey and maturing consciousness. The results for the world and for religion have been disastrous.

I am increasingly convinced that the word prayer, which has become a functional and pious thing for believers to do, is, in fact, a descriptor for inner experience. That is why all spiritual teachers mandate prayer so much. They are saying, “Go inside and know for yourself!” We will understand prayer and inner experience this way throughout this book. As Jesus graphically puts it, prayer is “going to your private room and shutting the door and [acting] in secret” (Matthew 6:6). Once you hear it this way, it becomes pretty obvious.

My citations are paraphrased from any number of excellent Bible translations, and to be honest, some of them are my own, but not without study, and, I hope, inspiration.

I offer these reflections to again unite what should never have been separated: Sacred Scripture and Christian spirituality.

Father Richard Rohr, O.F.M.
Center for Action and Contemplation (
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Springtime 2007

Some questions for your reflection: 

(1)  Rohr contrasts ‘inner conviction’ with ‘outer authority’:

He writes, “Only when the two come together, inner and outer authority, do we have true spiritual wisdom. We have for too long insisted on outer authority alone, without any teaching of prayer, inner journey and maturing consciousness. The results for the world and for religion have been disastrous.”

As you look back over your spiritual journey, do you sense that your own ‘authority’ has moved beyond ‘outer’ sources – such as your parents, clergy, church – to your own ‘inner’ convictions?

(2)  Rohr speaks of ‘breakthroughs’ or ‘revelations from the Spirit’:

He writes, “The journey into the mystery of God is necessarily a journey into the ‘unfamiliar.’ While much of the Bible is merely a repetition of familiar terrain, where nothing new is asked of history or nothing new given to the soul, there are also those frequent breakthroughs, which we would rightly call ‘revelations’ from the Spirit… “

As you look back over your spiritual journey, when did you experience a ‘breakthrough’ that gave you new spiritual insight?

(3)  Rohr re-defines prayer as the inner experience of our relationship with God:

He quotes Jesus’ familiar teaching about prayer: “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

Jesus’ words in this passage are usually interpreted as a mandate to do our prayer practices privately, not where others can see our piety. (Some familiar prayer practices might be spontaneous or written prayers, intercessions or thanksgivings, journaling, centering prayer or meditation, etc.)   But Rohr interprets Jesus’ teaching quite differently; he says Jesus means, “Go inside and know for yourself!”

What are your prayer practices?  What helps you ‘go into your room’ to explore your relationship with God?


Reading for next time:
Chapter 1, Information is not necessarily transformation

* NOTE:  Order your own copy of Things Hidden

from Amazon at

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Reading Chapter 1

Rohr pictureRichard Rohr writes,


The Bible offers us a new set of eyes:

We don’t turn to the Bible for a set of correct beliefs. Instead, the Bible invites us to see with a new set of eyes – because God is actually very different from what we imagine.

Instead of condemning us, God is inviting us into a world of mutuality and vulnerability.  We know this because the God of Israel, and of Jesus, is consistently “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6)   But the Bible doesn’t just tell us this truth about God; it shows us how people found this truth. The Bible takes us all the way from Abraham in the Old Testament (who trusted God to lead him to a new land, Genesis 12) to the Christians of the New Testament (who are described as “strangers and foreigners on the earth, who have found a homeland in God.” Hebrews 11).

So it’s not that God has changed in the New Testament (or that the Old Testament God is different from the Christian God), but that we have been changed as we have moved through the text, deepening our experience as we go along.

Think of the spiritual life as a dance:

Rohr says spiritual maturity is always characterized by a trustful dance between inner and outer authority.  Both movements of the dance are necessary: when we are dancing, we are moving under our own power (inner authority) – but we also are reacting to our partner’s steps (outer authority).  Whenever we take a dance step, we can feel our partner’s response; and whenever our partner takes a step, we have to change our own steps accordingly.

When building a personal theology, conservatives tend to rely more on outer authority – “What does my religion say is true?”; liberals tend to rely upon their own inner authority – “What do I  think is true?”

But the Bible tells us that we are in a spiritual dance not just with outer authorities or inner convictions, but with Someone Infinite.   Revelation is not some things to understand, but Someone you meet!

So the Bible moves us from sacred places (the Jewish Temple; our own churches) and sacred actions (the Jewish Law; our own religious regulations) to time itself as sacred Time.

With our new set of eyes, God always becomes manifest in ordinary time, and in concrete and specific events.

But we have created a terrible kind of dualism between the spiritual and the so-called non-spiritual, even though God uses the very wounded lives of very ordinary people to reveal the extraordinary – that is, the Holy within human life.

The Bible incorporates negative and self-critical thinking:

Throughout the Bible, we find people – including the People of Israel – who have an  extraordinary capacity for self-critical thinking.  Learning self-critical thinking is the first step out of the dualistic mind, because it teaches us  to be patient with ambiguity and mystery.

Stepping out of the dualistic mind also teaches us to experience the negative as well as the positive.  Rohr sees this capacity in the Jewish people:  “They made a religion out of their worst moments, which is probably when they have lasted so strongly to this day, even after the Holocaust.”

Yet we are always drawn back to dualistic thinking:  “Our temptation now and always is not to trust in God but to trust in our faith tradition of trusting in God.  They are not the same thing!”

But faith is not knowing, but trusting even while not-knowing.

The cosmic egg

Rohr Cosmic Egg
Click on the picture to enlarge 

The Cosmic Egg: The Bible takes all three levels of human experience seriously:

(1) The egg’s innermost dome (the yolk) =  my story
(my life and experience, my truth)

(2) The egg’s middle dome (the egg white) =  our story
(the community’s life and experience, my tradition’s truth)

(3) The egg’s outer dome =  The Story
(experienced as true always and everywhere)

The first two levels of human experience (my story and our story) will take on transcendent meaning when they are connected to themes in The Story, such as:

Pain and suffering:  One of the themes that develops through the Old Testament – reaching its fullness in the crucified Jesus – is the significance of human pain and suffering; The Story tells us that somehow God can always be found within our own pain.  (And healthy religion shows you how to transform your pain – because if you don’t transform it, you will pass it on to others.)

Forgiveness is another theme woven through The Story, from Joseph in Egypt (Genesis 50) to Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:34).  This is not just our story, it is The Story; it doesn’t matter if you are Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic, or Jewish – if you are able to forgive and receive forgiveness, you are connected to The Story – the sacred experienced always and everywhere. (And healthy religion shows you how to forgive the hurts you have experienced – because if you don’t forgive, you will be forever bound to those hurts.)

Some questions for your reflection: 

(1)  Learn to see with new eyes:  Richard Rohr notes that God turns out to be very different from what we have expected; rather than condemning us, God invites us into a world of mutuality and vulnerability.  That is, the God of the Bible – the God of Israel and Jesus – is consistently “merciful, gracious, faithful, forgiving, and steadfast in love.”

Can you remember a time in your life when you experienced God as merciful, forgiving, and steadfast in love?

(2) Learn the steps of the spiritual dance:  Rohr says that spiritual maturity is always characterized by a trusting ‘dance’ between inner and outer authority.

In your own spiritual life, when have you ‘danced’ with the way you were taught growing up?  When have you ‘danced’ with your own religious tradition?  When have you ‘danced’ with the God of mercy, forgiveness, and love?

(3) Learn from pain and suffering:  The Story tells us that God always feels and participates in our pain.  But when we are in pain (or when someone we love is in pain), it is very hard to know that God is still close to us.  We always expect to feel God in peace, not in the ‘sacred wounding’ that Richard Rohr describes.

When you have been in deep pain, have you felt all alone?  Was there a point when you realized you were not alone, but had a Companion in the dance?

As life (and pain) goes on, what helps you dance? …. What makes the dance more difficult?

(4) Learn that faith is trusting in the mystery:  Traditional religion (of all varieties) believes it has certain knowing, and complete assurance about whom God likes and whom God does not like.  Traditional religion has turned the biblical idea of faith (trusting in the mystery) into its exact opposite (we know everything we need to know).

As you look at your own religious tradition, where does it point you to the Mystery?  Where does it close the door to Mystery?

(5)  A personal exercise, the Cosmic Egg: When we look at our own life stories…

What times or events or people have formed us into the person I am today? (my story, my truth)
How does my story relate to our story?
(my faith tradition’s story, my community’s truth)
How does my story relate to The story?
(truth experienced always and everywhere)



Reading Chapter 2

Rohr picture Richard Rohr writes,


Who are we? 

Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…”
(Genesis 1:28) 

We may be made in the image of God, yet Rohr notes that to be human is a ‘mixed blessing’ (see Things Hidden, p. 33).  We have high hopes, yet we fall short again and again; we want to be close to God, but we also want to be in charge of our own lives.

The old, old story of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2–3) illustrates the universal human dilemma. As Adam and Eve reach out toward the forbidden fruit, they are choosing to think for themselves, and choosing to make their own decisions without God’s guidance.

Beyond the Garden of Eden, the full Biblical story tells us that the primary human problem is not doing things we know to be wrong (our actions – like eating the forbidden fruit) but our alienation from God (our attitudes – like choosing to go our own way). We want something so badly that we ignore God…. or don’t even ask God. Then one day we realize that we are now feeling far away from God, and we ask ourselves, ‘Where did God go?’

When we become aware that we have chosen separation rather than union, we are ashamed of ourselves: In spite of the fine clothing we think we’re wearing, we are actually naked.  Rohr says this is not our original sin, but our original shame – our nakedness doesn’t come from things we have done (guilt), but from our awareness of who we have turned out to be (shame).

And yet, even in their shamefulness,  God still finds Adam and Eve lovable.  Genesis presents God as a divine seamstress, tenderly sewing clothes for her children. (Genesis 3:21)  And so Rohr concludes the story, “There will be no medicine for our primal shame, except for Someone who knows all of us and yet loves us anyway….”  (see p. 41)

Noah’s Ark of forgiveness

In Rohr’s interpretation, “The ark is an image of the people of God, sailing on the waves of time: The ark carries all the contradictions, opposites, tensions and paradoxes of creation.” (see p. 36)

God tells Noah to bring all the opposites into the ark; but once inside, the original differences – between one human and another, between people and animals, between kinds of animals – remain. So the ark becomes the place where humans and animals must do the messy work of living together. The ark becomes a school of salvation and a school of love.

The story of the ark is more than a story of a great primeval flood. It challenges us to live in relationship – striving to be accepting and forgiving, even willing to change ourselves for the sake of others.

The Garden of knowledge

Rohr asks, why shouldn’t we eat of the tree of knowledge? Isn’t knowledge good for us? Yes, of course! But we demand the impossible: absolute knowledge.

In our search for absolute knowledge about God, we have changed the very meaning of faith (trust in God) into its opposite (absolute knowing). Indeed, rather than accepting that we cannot know all about God, our religious traditions have insisted that they do know.

But if we can let go of our desire to know all about God and accept the Mystery, we can be opened up to a deeper consciousness – a deeper knowing that we might call ‘the mind of God’.  And so all great spiritual traditions teach some form of contemplation – which leads us to a different way of ‘knowing’.

We humans need our brains (without brains, for instance, we would have no science, no medicine, no modern technology), and we learn to use our brains very early in life.  Think of a little girl in pre-school.  Her teacher distributes a worksheet and asks the class, ‘Can you find the differences?’ Looking carefully, the girl sees that three birds are red, and one bird is blue. So she circles the blue bird –  and her teacher marks her paper with a ‘happy face’. This is how our brain works, comparing and contrasting so we can notice the fine details. And our culture rewards us for this.

The ability to compare and contrast is very necessary, but it also leads us into dualistic thinking – looking for how things are different, rather than looking for what they have in common.  What if the teacher had also asked a different question: ‘How are they the same?’ This question would point the children to a different kind of knowledge, a knowledge that includes rather than separates.

We might also say this about the mind of God – because God includes rather than separates. God’s mind is wholistic, not dualistic.

How do we ‘fall’?

Rohr now interprets the Garden story on a deeper level.  He says that when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened – not only to their own nakedness, but to a dualistic universe. 

We humans begin our lives in undivided consciousness. Before we are born, we develop within the embrace of our mother’s body; after we are born, we are carried in that same embrace. But soon our minds begin to experience the world, and we begin to question what it all means. 

For Rohr, here is the ‘snake’: the questioner, the divider, who works in the mind. The temptation to see the part rather than the whole starts with noticing differences all around us; then comes suspicion and the planting of doubt…which leads to separation, and then to our sense that we are alone. 

Once humans are out of union with God (which the Bible symbolizes with the expulsion from by the garden) the human pattern of fear, hatred, violence, and envy begins.  Yet even after the story takes Adam and Eve out of the garden, there will always be God’s constant invitation – come back into union.


After its early stories, the rest of the Bible tells the stories of individuals (from Moses, Jeremiah, and Isaiah…to Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul…).  Each of these stories begins with an experience of election or ‘chosenness’.   God calls these individuals to draw close to him, and then calls them to invite others into the same close relationship.

Rohr adds, “If we don’t understand that God ‘elects’ us for communication with others, we live in an exclusionary system between the pure and impure.  It becomes ‘our belonging system’ instead of good news for the world.  We can only transform people to the degree that we ourselves are transformed.”  (see p. 44)

Rohr gives us three ‘bookmarks’ to use when reading Scripture.

Wherever you find these ‘bookmarks’ in a text, you are invited into a very, very different sense of who you are – and who God is.

Bookmark 1 – look for water, the symbol of God’s constant invitation into union: God flows out toward us, God chooses us before we ever choose back.  When we respond to God’s invitation, we are led to a new way of seeing God and ourselves.

Bookmark 2 – look for blood, the symbol of sacrificial dying. In human history, almost all religions thought blood sacrifice was the only way to gain God’s favor. But the story of Jesus turns this symbol around – God spills his blood to reach out to us. When we see the meaning of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are led to a new way of seeing God and ourselves.

Bookmark 3 – look for bread, the symbol of nourishment and of the God who provides for us.  As the angel said to Elijah – hiding in the wilderness and sure he was about to die –  “Get up and eat, or else the journey will be too much for you.” (1 Kings 19:1-12)   When we recognize and receive from God’s overflowing generosity, we are led to a new way of seeing God and ourselves.

Some questions for your reflection:

The story of the garden: In the traditional interpretation, Adam and Eve ‘fall’ because they disobey God’s commandment; then God punishes them by casting them out of the Garden. Their disobedience was the original sin; because of their actions, all humans must live outside the Garden. But in Rohr’s interpretation, the human problem isn’t original sin, but shame: we come to believe that we are worthless – unloved and unlovable.  Yet God still loves Adam and Eve, tenderly making them clothing for the life they have chosen.  What do you think of Rohr’s interpretation?

The story of Noah’s Ark:  In the traditional interpretation, God condemns a disobedient world to a devastating flood, and only those in the ark survive.  But in Rohr’s interpretation, this becomes a new story about forgiveness. God tells Noah to bring all species into the ark, in all their variations and differences, and then closes the door upon them all.  Shut inside, with all their messy differences, the ark becomes “a school of forgiveness”.  Inside the ark, God calls all beings to be in relationship with him – and with each other.  After the ark, God calls us to live together in spite of our differences, to find ways to work towards harmony.  What do you think of Rohr’s interpretation?

The story of Creation: Rohr writes: “The first day [of creation] is the separation of darkness from light, and the second day is the separation of the heavens above from the earth below. The Bible does not say that is good – because it isn’t! … The rest of the work of the Bible will be about putting those seeming opposites of darkness and light, heavens and earth, flesh and spirit, back together in one place.” (See p. 32-32)  What do you think of Rohr’s conclusion?

Reading Chapter 3

Rohr pictureRichard Rohr writes, 


How hard it is for God to give us a ‘face’,
to create a partner for conscious relationship…
(See Things Hidden, p. 54)

The whole Bible is a school of relationship…
it is giving us a face capable of receiving divine dignity…
(see p. 57)

Mystery is not something you can’t understand,
but something that is endlessly understandable…
(see p. 62)

Trusting in the Mystery of God is the difference
between a belief system and a living faith…
(see p. 63)

Learning to live in relationship

Rohr writes that human consciousness began in the tribe (see p. 55-56).  I take him to mean that human wisdom – our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in – is collective: it was in the early tribes that human languages, music, art, and religion all developed to build and support the life of the community.

But to grow spiritually, each of us needs to grow out of the tribal mind into our own mind. (“God has no grandchildren,” the South African preacher David duPlessis used to say – because each person has to experience God’s reality for themselves.)

And so, in our own lives, we see the gradual evolution of our personhood – the unveiling of our own individual ‘faces’, as Rohr puts it.   We all start with tribal thinking (simple consciousness, trusting in what the group teaches us); we gradually move towards individuation (complex consciousness, as we blend our own experiences with the group’s thinking).  Only then can we break through the boundaries of group and self to unitive consciousness.

Experiences of unitive consciousness lead us to understand that there is one coherent world, and one ‘Significant Other’ in relationship with the world (“You shall have one god before you” – Exodus 20:3).  Without this ‘Significant Other’ (which Rohr also calls the ‘Face’ of God), each of us becomes our own center and circumference, bound into our own narrow boxes.

Being ‘possessed’

One way to think of being ‘possessed’ is that there is an unhealthy ‘other’ who defines who we are.  That ‘other’ might be a parent, a boss, a spouse, a political leader, or anyone we allow to have power over us.  (Rohr points out that we may even be influenced by one person after another.)  In contrast, encounters with the ‘Significant Other’ center us, transform us, and give us our deepest and truest identity.

And so the Gospels tell the stories of encounters with Jesus. Each person he meets is invited into a relationship with him.  When people respond to him, they not only begin a relationship with Jesus, but through him a relationship with God.  Along the way, each person who encounters Jesus – and starts to follow him –  begins to grow into their true self. (For a wonderful example of how an encounter with Jesus brought personal growth, see the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4.) 

Inclusive language for God: Is God ‘He’ or ‘She’?

We live in a time when we want more than masculine words and images for God.  Over the past half century an astounding variety of feminine images for God has emerged from study of the Old Testament – a document once seen as exclusively patriarchal.  But the God of the Bible is far more than masculine or feminine.

Rohr tells us that the Bible’s real pronoun for God is ‘YOU’ – not HE or SHEGod invites us into an ‘I-Thou’ relationship – a personal relationship with a living God, who invites us into a living faith.  (see p. 60). 

Some questions for your reflection:

Rohr says that the Bible shows God working through persons (not just ideas and images). God has a relationship with these persons – and through these persons God invites others into relationship as well.  Rohr writes, “We find the mystery of presence in encounters where one person’s self-disclosure evokes deeper life in another. This is actually a transference and sharing of Being” (see p 64).  

In your encounters with other people,
have you sometimes experienced ‘a transference and sharing of being’? 

In your meditations,
have you experienced ‘a transference and sharing of Being’ with the Holy?

In your prayers,
does it make a difference to talk to God as ‘YOU’? 

Reading Chapter 4

Rohr pictureRichard Rohr writes, 


There is always a creative tension
between religion as requirements
and religion as transformation:

Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37f;
cf Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18))

But how can we love as Scripture (and Jesus) command us?

The Hebrew Scriptures: Law, prophets, and wisdom

The Hebrew Scriptures can be divided into three major categories – Law, Prophets, and Wisdom. Rohr points out that these biblical divisions also illustrate the normal pattern of human spiritual development:

The Law:  In the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) we find the commandments that bind the people of Israel to God and to each other.  (In human development, every child needs established order to survive and grow.)

The Prophets: In the Prophets we find critical thinking – the prophets question and chastise the nation’s political and religious leaders.  (In human development, adolescents start to question and criticize the established order, beginning with their own parents.  Without critical thinking, we can’t move to a deeper level of consciousness.)

Wisdom: In the Wisdom books we see the emergence of non-dualistic thinking. God, for example, answers none of Job’s questions, but questions Job instead – leading him deeper into Mystery.  (Without critical thinking, humans can’t move to a deeper level of consciousness, the broader vision that can hold both order and critique in question.)

The ‘actor’ with a plank in his eye

Jesus called the ego the ‘actor’ (the meaning of the Greek word hypocrite). The ego always needs to be important, and to feel important, it tries to eliminate the negative wherever it finds it – in its own self, or in others.

In modern psychology, the negative has been called the’ shadow’ – that part of us that the ego doesn’t want to see (and certainly doesn’t want others to see). The shadow itself is not evil, but it allows us to do evil without recognizing it as evil.

Rohr writes that most religions have seen the shadow as the problem – and have developed rules to govern and even eliminate negative actions and attitudes. But the shadow is only the symptom; Jesus and the prophets deal with the cause: our over-defended ego, which always sees and hates its own faults in other people and thus avoids its own transformation.

Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye”:

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the plank is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3f)

Jesus knows that our attempts to repress our shadow won’t lead us into personal transformation (with growing empathy, compassion, and patience with others), but into denial – or disguise and hypocrisy.

Jesus addresses the radical cause of evil, and not its symptoms. He clearly sees pride, self-sufficiency and its resultant hypocrisy as the primary moral problems (see Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount).

The real sin

Growing up, many of us were given this definition of sin: “a thought, word or deed contrary to the law of God.”

But this definition focuses on external behaviors that can be measured, defined and controlled. The qualities of ‘mercy, justice, and good faith ‘ (see Matthew 23:23) can’t be measured, defined or controlled – but these are what Jesus calls the “weightier matters of the law”.

Paul’s contribution to understanding the Law

Morality, which first appears to be the goal and test of all religion, is merely the playing field where the deeper rhythm, the dance of love, shows itself (see Things Hidden, p. 81).  We want law for the sake of order, obedience and ‘moral purity’; but God wants law to channel us toward divine union.

We all grow up with clear expectations from authority figures, which put needed limits on our natural egocentricity. But then we trivialize the Law into smaller rules that we think we can obey, instead of moving toward union with God.

Until we have had some level of inner religious experience, we won’t be able to follow the ethical ideals of Jesus; instead, we want clear guidelines and clear consequences.

And so, even in the first century, the human ego’s need for purity codes and rules began to win again – in the old hope that proper behavior would lead to personal salvation. This focus on rules is what Paul aggressively attacked in his letters to the Romans and Galatians – saying that God gave us the Law not to demand perfect obedience but to get us involved in the real issues.

In Rohr’s metaphor, we are all in a boxing ring – which is the Law, surrounding us, holding us up, showing us where the boundaries are. But the rules and the boundaries are not the real issue. Instead, once we are inside the boxing ring, we have a much better chance of discovering what the ring was built to contain (wisdom).

The stumbling block: thinking we can be obedient through willpower

There is so much more we can give God than obedience. ( If we could have come to God by obedience to laws, there would have been no need for God’s revelation of love in Jesus.)

So what is the law really for? It’s not to make God love us because we are obedient; God already loves us, and has shown us that once and forever in Jesus. The purpose of spiritual law is simply to sharpen our awareness about who we are and who God is, so we can become aware of our own need and then turn to God for fulfillment.

There is so much more we can give to God than obedience; in fact, the ‘stumbling stone’ in our relationship with God is thinking we can be obedient through our own willpower.  Rohr writes, “If we can overcome this stumbling stone, we will have moved to the third section of the Hebrew Scriptures, the wisdom level of consciousness.  The quid-pro-quo mind, dualistic thinking, has broken down in the presence of grace and failure, and finally God’s mercy is in charge.”

Questions for your reflection:

Richard Rohr believes the traditional division of the Hebrew Scriptures into three major sections also reflects the the pattern of human development.  As infants and small children we need established order (the Law) simply to survive; as we mature we begin to criticize the established order (the Prophets); finally, we seek a broader vision that can hold both order and critique in tension (Wisdom).

Looking back over your life, does this pattern illustrate your own development?

Karl Rahner wrote, “Where men and woman have not begun to have the experience of God and of God’s Spirit who liberates us from the most profound anxieties of life, and from our endless guilt, there is really no point in proclaiming to them the ethical norms of Christianity.” (Rahner, The Shape of the Church to Come)

In your life, when have you experienced the presence of God’s liberating Spirit?



Reading Chapter 5

Rohr pictureRichard Rohr writes,


From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible moves the reader to see the difference between ‘bad power’ and ‘good power’.

‘Bad power’ tries to force others to change:  Untransformed people always seem to think that problems can be solved by external force.  But it’s an illusion that one person can actually change another person.  Domination is domination, not transformation; those who are dominated will eventually become sad victims, or climb the ladder of power to become dominators themselves.

‘Good power’ changes us:  Transformed people have learned to use power to protect and care for the powerless. For examples of good power, see the stories of Joseph (Genesis 50), and Moses (Exodus 18).

The prophet Ezekiel contrasts ‘bad power’ with ‘good power’:  One of the strongest comparisons of ‘good power’ and ‘bad power’ comes from the prophet Ezekiel when he denounces Israel’s religious and political leaders:

As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey… and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but have fed themselves… therefore, you shepherds, hear the Word of the Lord:  No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves.  I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them…. I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out… I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered… I will feed them with good pasture… I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep… (Ezekiel 34:7-16)

Centuries later, Jesus would echo Ezekiel’s prophecy:

The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the world coming and leaves the sheep and runs away… The hired hand runs away because he does not care for the sheep… I am the good shepherd … and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:1-16)

Jesus’ life and death give us the Bible’s best example of good power – and he teaches servant leadership to his disciples (see Mark 8:31f, 9:35f, and 10:41f).

God sets the tone

But we will never find the courage to trust spiritual power until we have actually experienced the power of the God who is willing to wait, allow, forgive, trust and love unconditionally.   So Jesus’ life and teachings show us the mystery of surrender and trust – and then it will be done unto us, through us, with us, and in us (and often in spite of us).

From the very beginning the Bible is teaching us this kind of power. Those people at the bottom, the edge, the outside, are always in the privileged spiritual position.  It seems that until you are excluded from any system, you are not able to recognize the idolatries, lies, and shadow side of that system. It is important to know that people can be personally well-intentioned and sincere, but structurally they cannot see certain things.

Barren women and rejected sons

First the Bible gives us God’s choice of Israel, an enslaved people on the bottom of Egyptian society. And then comes a series of stories about barren women and rejected sons.

Barren women: it’s seldom the fertile woman who is special in the Bible, but the woman who is empty and then graced by God’s power. Hannah (1 Samuel 2) is a beautiful example. In Hannah’s story, the theme of themes (grace, free election, bias toward the bottom) is taking shape. In Hannah (and her child Samuel) God is turning the world’s values upside down.

Rejected sons: In the Bible, it is the rejected sons who know what sonship is really about, perhaps because they have desired it for so long.  (Jesus will illustrate this beautifully in his parable of the Prodigal Son. ) It’s always the forgotten ones, like Jeremiah or Job, who come understand things more deeply through their pain, and then break through to enlightenment.

Seeing through power’s illusions:  It seems that God won’t risk giving spiritual power to anyone unless they can see through power’s illusions and placed their identity elsewhere. Even Jesus’ temptations in the desert are all temptations to the misuse of power (see Matthew 4:1-11).

Power in the Psalms

Like the Old Testament itself, the psalms can be divided into three categories: Law, Prophets and Wisdom. Many psalms reaffirm the guidance of Law and tradition (for example, psalm 1); other psalms contain the critical voice of the Prophets (see psalm 50); and Wisdom psalms point to the unfathomable Mystery of God, whose spiritual power works at the center of Israel’s existence (see psalm 139).

All the psalms – even those psalms we can call ‘negative’ – are worthy to be called the ‘songbook’ of God’s people  Yes, just like human beings, the psalms are full of anger, fear and even hatred as well as praise and joy; they reveal diverse stages of faith and diverse understandings of power.

Almost a third of the psalms are psalms of lament. These allow us to feel, express, and publicly own the downside of things; they allow us to complain to God – and trust that God will receive our complaints (for example, see psalms 123 and 131.)

Good power

The New Testament word for power, dynamis, is actually a name used for the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:8 and 10:38). God wants to plant a little bit of the Holy Spirit inside us – just as Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied (see Jeremiah 31:31f and Ezekiel 36:25f), and as Jesus taught (see John 14:15f). The dynamis of the Holy Spirit is the meaning of the New Covenant: the Holy Spirit is God with us and God within us.

Before Christianity became the established religion, Christians were on the bottom of society – the ‘unpowerful’ place that is actually the easiest place to understand the gospel. But in the 4th century Christians suddenly moved from the bottom of Roman society to the top.

The failing Roman Empire needed an emperor, and Jesus was used to fill the gap. The loving relationships of the Trinity were largely lost as the shape of God; the Father became angry and distant, Jesus became the needed emperor, and the Holy Spirit was mostly forgotten.

Spiritual power needs to be understood as something larger than force. In the Bible, God looks for adult partners who can handle power. God takes people like Moses, Jesus, and Paul, builds upon their powerful egos, and then transforms them into his servants. But this Biblical pattern has not always been honored by the Christian church.

Rites of passage

Over the centuries, the Bible has been used and taught by people on the inside and at the top. But if we read the Bible with Jesus’ words and practice in mind, we will find a new viewpoint from which to read the world.

Groups always want to circle the wagons around themselves. But Jesus knew that there is a better way of knowing – we can call it ‘the wisdom of the outsider’ –  which comes from those who are in any way marginalized, excluded, disabled or on the ‘outside’.

So Jesus sent his disciples out, away from the group, and often in pairs. Their journey forced them to become ‘outsiders’ – to look from the outside in – and taught them Jesus’ way of humble love and trust.  This journey was a rite of passage, a training course in vulnerability and community.

Jesus and all the prophets wanted us to know what it means to be on the losing side – because that place is where transformation and conversion are much more likely to happen. And so Jesus begins his public ministry by declaring, “I have come to preach good news to the poor(Luke 4:18).

Architectural theology

Simply looking at the structure of the Temple in Jerusalem, we can see what a radical reformer Jesus was.  In the first century there were seven distinct groups who were to be kept outside the Temple precincts: lepers; the disabled; gentiles; menstruating women; men after seminal discharge; those in ‘unclean’ occupations; the bastard sons and daughters of priests (Leviticus 11-24).  Jesus saw that the Temple had been captured by a religious system that was putting customs and human laws before people.

Try making a two-column list: looking through the Gospels, list the people who fight Jesus in one column and the people who respond to Jesus in the other column. The people who respond to Jesus are almost always members of those seven groups declared unworthy to come into the Temple.

Here, just under the surface, is the Gospel’s critique of power systems and their capacity for self-serving illusions.


Some questions for your reflection:

Rohr writes that the Bible critiques the human drive for power from Genesis all the way to Revelation.  The Bible is moving us toward spiritual power – which does not merely change us on the outside, but really transforms us on the inside.  This transformation is the work of a lifetime of grace, surrender, and prayer.

‘Bad’ power:  Where do you see ‘bad power’ being used in the world today? … in American society?   … in the church?  …in your own relationships? … in yourself?

‘Good’ power:  Can you find ‘good power’ being used in the world today? … in American society? …. in the church? … in your own relationships?

To continue reading these notes on Things Hidden, go to Things Hidden 2. 

Thoughts after our meeting – January

better door
We reflected on this passage from Isaiah:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
(The first Servant Song – Isaiah 42:1-4)

Here’s how one person responded to the reading:

Identify a word or phrase that catches your attention…

• My servant…
• I have put my spirit upon him…
• and the coastlands wait for his teaching….

How does this passage touch your life today?

• That I may become open to the Holy Spirit….

What does God want me to do or be? Is God inviting me to change in any way?

• In becoming open to the Holy Spirit, that I may work at being non-judgmental of others…
• That I may have a better understanding of myself, and try not to be hypocritical…
• Take the plank (the shadow) out of my eye, in order to clearly see the splinter in my brother’s eye…
• That I may be open to help others who are in need…

Here’s how the group responded to the reading:

• We are overwhelmed by the constant news of the darkness in our world today. The whole world, and our own nation, is crying out for justice.

• And how do we work for justice? Almost always we humans (and especially our nations) turn to the use of force. But Jesus was profoundly influenced by the passage above and by Isaiah’s other Servant Songs, and he understood power in a different way.

• Note that Isaiah 42 not only describes what the Servant is called to do – bring forth justice to the nations – but how the Servant will do that: a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench.

• The Servant will not rely on force, but will turn to another kind of power – the spiritual power of compassion and servant love.

We too, are called to be servants…. but first we need to look at our shadow.

The personal response (above) mentions the shadow – the plank – in the eye. Here’s what Rohr says about the shadow:

The actor with a plank in his eye (chapter 4, p. 75-77)

Jesus called the ego the ‘actor’ (which the New Testament translates as ‘hypocrite’). The human ego always needs to be important, so it tries to eliminate the negative wherever it finds it – in itself, as well as in other people. Modern psychology has given a name to the negative – the shadow – that part of us that the ego doesn’t want to see (and certainly doesn’t want others to see). The shadow itself is not evil, but it allows us to do evil without recognizing it as evil.

Most religions have seen the shadow as the problem, and have developed rules to govern and even eliminate negative actions and attitudes. But the shadow is only the symptom; Jesus and the prophets deal with the cause – our over-defended ego always sees and hates its own faults in other people and thus avoids its own transformation.

Jesus’ phrase for the denied shadow is “the plank in your own eye”:

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the plank is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. (Matthew 7:3f)

Jesus knows that our attempts to repress the shadow never lead us into personal transformation, empathy, compassion, or patience with others – but into denial or disguise, repression or hypocrisy. And so he addresses the cause of evil, and not its symptoms. He clearly sees pride, self-sufficiency and its resultant hypocrisy as our primary moral problems (see Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount).

All the human darkness of this world emerges from the shadows within each of us:

Refusing to see the plank in our own eye… which prevents us from seeing the world (and ourselves, and our motivations) clearly…

Working to get our own way, usually by “lifting our voices” (Isaiah 42:2, above) and, if a strong voice doesn’t get the results we want, moving on to manipulation and finally to force…

So how can we bring forth justice to the nations?

Each of us must begin with personal experience – opening ourselves to the Spirit and hearing the call to work for justice. (Think of Jesus’ experience at his own baptism).

We must respond to the Spirit through hard inner work – recognizing and then wrestling with the shadow side of ourselves. (Think of Jesus’ own temptations in the desert).

Then, through prayerful study of Jesus’ actions and teachings, we may come to a new understanding of God’s power – Jesus’ power was not force, but compassionate, servant love. (Think of Jesus’ constant emphasis on servant ministry – Mark 8:31f. 9:33f; 10:35f; John 13:34f).

Only when we are ready to be Jesus’ kind of servant – only when we’re ready to use compassionate, servant love instead of force or manipulation – will we be able to work effectively for justice.