GETTING THE ‘WHO’ RIGHT
Who are we?
“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…”
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?