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)



One thought on “Reading Chapter 1

  1. REFLECTING ON THE ‘COSMIC EGG’ EXERCISE that Rita King gave us at the end of our first discussion, here’s the surprising – and meaningful – insight that came to me:

    WHAT AM I CALLED TO DO THAT I DON’T FEEL READY TO ACT UPON? Gracefully accepting that I am getting old, and that my my physical abilities are declining.

    HOW MIGHT MY ACTION OR INACTION INFLUENCE OTHERS? If I don’t accept this reality with grace (if I become more grouchy, more focused on myself and my pains) how will this affect the people around me?

    WHAT MIGHT BE THE GREATER MEANING BEHIND THIS INSIGHT? When I was praying with this question, here’s the memory that came to me:

    When we were in our early 20s, Rob and I lost our first baby. Afterwards, to help us deal with our grief, Rob’s parents took us on a long road trip up the coast to Washington. All the way up the coast (especially when Dad was playing music on the car radio) I was mourning our lost child and the loss of my future as I had originally planned it. Eventually we got to the Olympic Peninsula and were walking in the rain forest. That’s where I saw my first ‘nurse tree’ – a fallen log, stretched along the forest ground, covered with moss and forest debris. A dead tree – but amazingly there were new little redwood trees sprouting up from its bark – seeds that got planted in the surface of the decaying tree.

    IS THERE STILL TIME FOR ME TO BECOME A ‘NURSE TREE’? Every creature on earth dies, and so will I. Death is a universal truth – it’s ‘The’ Story for all of us.
    Yet everything in creation is held within God’s embrace, and every piece of creation is connected to everything else, even to the point of fresh life growing out of death.

    When I was 25, I would have fiercely rejected the idea of becoming a ‘nurse tree’ instead of a mother with a living, breathing baby; but now that I am 75, it seems like a glorious goal.

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