Drawing from the best and most poetic of Richard Rohr's essays from nearly a quarter of a century, each chapter in this new collection examines one of the seven core mystical truths. Organized according to the mystical paths that every worshiper must follow, Rohr identifies the despair of everyday life, promotes opportunities for change even in the face of pain, and encourages transforming one's deeper self into a beacon of light that aids in the metamorphosis of others. Illuminating these insights with reflections on Christian and Jewish scriptures while citing the greatest religious writers throughout the ages, Rohr offers an unparalleled window into the wisdom of the mystics in this succinct volume that represents the best of his vast library of writing.
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About the Author
Richard Rohr is a well known lecturer who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation. He has been a featured essayist on the NPR program This I Believe, a guest on the radio show Oprah and Friends, and he appeared in the documentary ONE, featuring spiritual teachers from around the world. He is a regular contributor to Sojourners and Tikkun magazines, and he is the author of numerous books, including Adam’s Return, Breathing Under Water, The Enneagram, Everything Belongs, and Falling Upward. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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What the Mystics Know
Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self
By Richard Rohr
The Crossroad Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2015 The Crossroad Publishing Company, Inc.
All rights reserved.
The Enlightenment You Seek Already Dwells Within You
* * *
We don't think ourselves into a new way of living. We live ourselves into a new way of thinking.
HOW DO WE FIND WHAT IS ALREADY THERE?
How do you find what is supposedly already there? Why isn't it obvious? How do you awaken the Center? By thinking about it? By praying and meditating? By more silence and solitude? Yes, perhaps, but mostly by living — and living consciously. The edges suffered and enjoyed lead us back to the Center. The street person feels cold and rejection and has to go to a deeper place for warmth. The hero pushes against his own self-interested edges and finds that they don't matter. The alcoholic woman recognizes how she has hurt her family and breaks through to a compassion beyond her. In each case, the edges suffer, inform, partially self -destruct, and all are found to be unnecessary and even part of the problem. That which feels the pain also lets it go, and the Center stands revealed and sufficient! We do not find our own Center; it finds us. The body is in the soul. It is both the place of contact and the place of surrender.
We don't think ourselves into a new way of living. We live ourselves into a new way of thinking. The journeys around the circumference lead us to life at the Center. Then by what is certainly a vicious and virtuous circle, the Center calls all the journeys at the circumference into question! The ruthless ambition of the businessman can lead him to the very failure and emptiness that is the point of his conversion. Is the ambition therefore good or evil? Do we really have to sin to know salvation? Call me a "sin mystic," but that is exactly what I see happening in all my pastoral experience.
That does not mean that we should set out intentionally to sin. We only see the pattern after the fact. Julian of Norwich put it perfectly: "Commonly, first we fall and later we see it and both are the Mercy of God." How did we ever lose that? It got hidden away in that least celebrated but central Easter Vigil service, when the deacon sings to the church about a felix culpa, the happy fault that precedes and necessitates the eternal Christ. Like all great mysteries of faith, it is hidden except to those who keep vigil and listen.
A TRUE MIRROR
From my first days as a Franciscan, we were told that we were "Christian humanists." I glory in being a humanist. I have no problem seeing the goodness in people as a true mirror of the goodness in God. For me, there is a direct correlation....
We are reflections of the invisible God (Gen. 1:27). And our only way to know God is through this humanity. This is our only road to a little enlightenment. ... We begin here. If I'm created in the image and likeness of God, then anthropology might be just as important as theology to understand the mystery of God....
We must never think we are building up God by putting humanity down. We would, instead, be insulting God, blaspheming, to set ourselves against God's creation.
TO BUILD YOUR OWN HOUSE
To pray is to build your own house. To pray is to discover that Someone else is within your house. To pray is to recognize that it is not your house at all. To keep praying is to have no house to protect because there is only One House. And that One House is everybody's Home. In other words, those who pray from the heart actually live in a very different and ultimately dangerous world. It is a world that makes the merely physical world seem anemic, illusory, and relative. The word "real" takes on a new meaning, and we find ourselves judging with utterly new scales, weights, and standards. Be careful of such house-builders, for their loyalties will lie in very different directions. They will be very different kinds of citizens, and the state will not so easily depend on their salute. That is the politics of prayer. And that is probably why truly spiritual people are always a threat to politicians of any sort. They want our allegiance, and we can no longer give it, our house is too big.
LIKE A MUSTARD SEED
Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.
This parable is instructive for people who want the kingdom to happen right now — they want to be holy after their first year on the journey. For the kingdom to happen, however, we have to walk the entire journey. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It starts small, but it keeps growing. So keep growing. As time goes on, you'll sprout many branches, and you'll look out at the end of your life and say, "God has done it. God has been faithful to the promise. God has made beauty out of my little life."
DYNAMIS, OUR TRUE SELF
A biblical definition of the Holy Spirit is dynamis, which means "power" or "strength." We are talking about the power that gives us the certainty that God is drawing us near and that we are associated with the Holy.
... If we "work our way through" our compulsion and emerge again on the other side, then we stand before the depths of our self. There we find a purified passion, a chastened power, our best and true self. Tradition has called this place the "soul," the point where the human being and God meet, where unity is possible, and where religion consists not only of words, norms, dogmas, rituals, and visits to church, but becomes a genuine experience of encounter.
Self-worth is not created; it is discovered.
SEARCHING FOR WHAT WE HAVE ALREADY TOUCHED
You can only miss something that you have searched for and partially experienced. In fact, you do not even search for it until you have already touched it.
WHEN FAITH CREATES WHAT IT DESIRES
Faith is not a means to something further. It is not what we do in order to get into heaven. Mutual perfect faith would be heaven! Faith is its own end. To have faith is already to have come alive. "Your faith has saved you" is the way Jesus put it to the blind man (Luke 18:42).
Faith is the opposite of resentment, cynicism, and negativity. Faith is always, finally, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Faith actually begins to create what it desires. Faith always recreates the good world. Without faith, you sink into the bad world that you most feared. With faith, you keep trusting, hoping, believing, and calling forth life from stones, which is exactly what Jesus intimates in the chapter that follows his healing of the blind man (Luke 19:40). You can call life forth from anything if you already possess life. You can make a stone breathe, make it live for you, make it shout out in praise of God. As has been so often said, faith is a matter of having new eyes, seeing everything through and even with the eyes of God.
WE ARE ALREADY HOLY
"How can I be more holy?" We don't have to make ourselves holy. We already are, and we just don't know it. In Christian terminology it is called the Divine Indwelling or the free gift of the Holy Spirit. That proclamation, and all that proceeds from it, is the essential, foundational, and primary task of all religion. Thus, authentic religion is more about subtraction than addition, more letting go of the false self than any attempt at engineering a true self. You can't create what you already have.
How can we really be liberated? How can we pass on this freedom to the world? I would like to clarify this question on the basis of a story (from Luke 8) about a miraculous cure.
Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. And as Jesus stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs.
This is a picture of a man who lives among the dead and isn't quite civilized, because he runs around naked. We shall soon see that the city is comfortable with the fact that this man lives out there, and so is he. Because when Jesus comes to him, we are told:
When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said in a loud voice: "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me." The man did not know whether he wanted what Jesus had. His unfreedom was the only world he knew.
We feel much more comfortable with our slavery than with freedom. Freedom means that we have to assume radical responsibility for what we are. To be enslaved means that we always have somebody else to blame for our problems. An evil spirit had already possessed this man for a long time: "He was bound with chains and fetters." In this way people tried to keep him under control. Although they kept him chained, they said the evil spirit was holding him captive. When we project the darkness in us onto another person or other groups, then these people or groups end up accepting our projection. Sooner or later we all believe the world's version of who we are.
TELLING OUR OWN STORY
Why does a story have such power? Because most of us don't think abstractly. We live in a world of images and symbols; that's what moves us. ... Each of us is a story. We were created by God as a story waiting to be told, and each of us has to find a way to tell our story. In the telling of it we come to recognize and own ourselves. People without a place to tell their story and a person to listen to it never come into possession of themselves. ... For many people, "myth" means something that isn't true. Please put aside that understanding. Myth is, in fact, something that is so true that it can be adequately expressed only in story, symbol, and ritual. It can't be abstracted and objectified. Its meaning and mystery are so deep and broad that they can be presented only in story form. When you step into a story, you find it is without limits and you can walk around with it and inside it. It is natural to sing, dance, and reenact a story. It is too big and too deep to be merely "understood" or taught.
AWAKING FROM OUR SLEEP
We long for distant absolutes, perhaps seeking a confirmation of the absolute we already intuit within ourselves. Like Jacob we eventually awake from our sleep and say, "God was in this place, and I never knew it!" (Gen. 28:16).
JULIAN OF NORWICH AND THE FIRST NUMINOUS EXPERIENCE
There is the first numinous experience that opens our eyes. It only needs to happen once. It happened to Julian of Norwich, the English mystic, one May 8, and she lived off of it for the rest of her life. She tried to describe it in her writings, which she called "Showings." That night, God showed her his heart. Nothing more happened. People such as Angela Merici, who founded the Ursulines, and Junipero Serra had religious experiences at seventeen and eighteen that told them what they were going to do, and neither of them did it until they were fifty-five.
From eighteen to fifty-five was the unfolding. Then, when it happened at fifty-five, they knew what they were born for. When that moment comes, it is great and it is all synchronicity. We know then that grace is at work and we are not manufacturing our own lives.
GOD IS CHOOSING US NOW
My starting point is that we're already there. We cannot attain the presence of God because we're already totally in the presence of God. What's absent is awareness. Little do we realize that God is maintaining us in existence with every breath we take. As we take another it means that God is choosing us now and now and now. We have nothing to attain or even learn. We do, however, need to unlearn some things.
To become aware of God's presence in our lives, we have to accept what is often difficult, particularly for people in what appears to be a successful culture. We have to accept that human culture is in a mass hypnotic trance. We're sleepwalkers. All religious teachers have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. That's what religion is for. That's why the Buddha and Jesus say with one voice, "Be awake." Jesus talks about "staying watchful" (Matt. 25:13; Luke 12:37; Mark 13:33–37), and "Buddha" means "I am awake" in Sanskrit. Jesus says further, "If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light" (Luke 11:34).
Thus, we have to learn to see what is there. Such a simple directive is hard for us to understand. We want to attain some concrete information or achieve an improved morality or learn some behavior that will make us into superior beings. Bu there's no question here of meritocracy. Although we have a "merit badge" mentality, prayer shows us that we are actually "punished" by any expectation of merit and reward. For that expectation keeps us from the truly transformative experience called grace....
Experiencing radical grace is like living in another world. It's not a world in which I labor to get God to notice me and like me. It's not a world in which I strive for spiritual success. It's not a cosmic game of crime and punishment. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the world's religions do teach that, if usually indirectly. Religious people are afraid of gratuity. Instead, we want God for the sake of social order, and we want religion for the sake of social controls.
I'd like to say something a bit different about prayer, and therefore about religion. Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather, a stance. It's a way of living in the Presence, living in awareness of the Presence, and even of enjoying the Presence. The full contemplative is not just aware of the Presence, but trusts, allows, and delights in it.
PRESENCE AND NONDUALITY
This brilliant word, nonduality (advaita in Sanskrit), was used by many in different traditions in the East to distinguish from total and perfect absorption or enmeshment. Facing some of the same challenges of modern-day ecology and quantum physics, they did not want to say that all things were metaphysically or physically identical, nor did they want to separate and disconnect everything. In effect, the contemplative mind in East or West withholds from labeling things or categorizing them too quickly, so it can come to see them in themselves, apart from the words or concepts that become their substitutes.
Humans tend to think that because they agree or disagree with the idea of a thing, they have realistically encountered the thing itself. Not at all true, says the contemplative. It is necessary to encounter the thing in itself. "Presence" is my word for this encounter, a different way of knowing and touching the moment. It is much more vulnerable and leaves us without a sense of control. Such panoramic and deeper seeing requires a lot of practice, but the rewards are superb and, I believe, necessary for both joy and truth in this world.CHAPTER 2
God Is Found in Imperfection
WHY THE JOURNEY MATTERS
Suppose a superstar of knowledge moves into your house as a boarder. With three Ph.D.s after his name, he sits at your supper table each evening dispensing information about nuclear physics, cyberspace, and psychoneuroimmunology, giving ultimate answers to every question you ask. He doesn't lead you through his thinking process, however, or even involve you in it; he simply states the conclusions he has reached.
You might find his conclusions interesting and even very helpful, but the way he relates to you will not set you free, empower you, or make you feel good about yourself. His wisdom will not liberate you, it will not invite you to growth and life — indeed, it will in the end make you feel inferior and dependent. That's exactly the way we have used Jesus. We have treated him like a person with three Ph.D.s coming to tell us his conclusions.
We humans don't really want conclusions. We want to experience the process. We want someone to walk with us through all the stages of faith; we want someone to hold our hand, to love us, to support us, and to believe in us while we are in process. You and I are always in process; that's where we live our lives; that's what interests us. Even our faith is in process. The fact is we're really not all that concerned about having perfect conclusions. We need someone to help us make sense of the journey itself.
THE WHEAT AND THE WEEDS
When the new wheat sprouted and then ripened, the darnel [weeds] appeared as well. The owner's servants went to him and said, "Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?"
Excerpted from What the Mystics Know by Richard Rohr. Copyright © 2015 The Crossroad Publishing Company, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 The Enlightenment You Seek Already Dwells within You
How Do We Find What Is Already There? 1
A True Mirror 3
To Build Your Own House 4
Like a Mustard Seed 5
Dynamis, Our True Self 6
Discovering Self-Worth 6
Searching for What We Have Already Touched 6
When Faith Creates What It Desires 7
We Are Already Holy 8
Radical Responsibility 8
Telling Our Own Story 9
Awaking from Our Sleep 10
Julian of Norwich and the First Numinous Experience 10
God Is Choosing Us Now 11
Presence and Nonduality 12
2 God is Found in Imperfection
Why the Journey Matters 14
The Wheat and the Weeds 15
Using Evil for Good 16
God Is an Earthquake 16
Spiritually Starving in the Midst of Plenty 17
Man Guards His Nothing 18
I Am Part of the Problem 19
The Cosmic Egg 19
Principles and Prayer 21
The Depths of Our Emptiness 21
Living in a Broken World 22
All New People 23
We Are the Masks of God 24
Revealing Our Neediness 25
Sin Is Something We Are 26
Worthy and Unworthy 26
A Child's Total Faith 27
The Forgiveness Path of the Saints 28
Missing the Mark 30
A Favorite Vice 31
Our Gift Is Our Sin 32
Recognizing Our Passions 32
The Darkness Is a Part of Us 33
Beyond an All-or-Nothing Outlook 34
The Disguises of the False Self 35
Lasting Love 36
The Result of Excess 37
Contact with the Numinous 37
Stealing the Fire 38
The Center Cannot Hold 39
Jesus Built Circles, Not Pyramids 39
A Self Transformed 40
Anawim: The Poor 41
Acknowledging Your Fear 42
The Three Demons in the Wilderness 42
When Religion Cannot Kneel 43
We Must Love Them Both 44
Finding a Deep Yes 45
Joy in Imperfection 45
3 From Profound Suffering Come Geat Wisdom and Joy
Suffering and Prayer: The Two Golden Paths 46
Whenever We See True Pain 47
You Must Drink of the Cup 49
God Gets Closer Blow by Blow 50
When You Have No Control 50
The Space of Nonanswer 51
Symbols That Heal 51
Resurrection Takes Care of Itself 52
When Someone Carries the Burden with Us 52
Sharing in Suffering 53
When You Cannot Forgive 54
The Story of the Two Sons (The Prodigal Son) 55
Soon We'll All Be Gone 57
Spirituality and Pain 59
Letting Go of Emotions 59
Allowing the Dark Side 60
The Thin Line between Joy and Suffering 61
Joy and Pain: A Lesson from Merton's Hermitage 61
God Is Participating with Us 63
4 The Mystical Path is a Celebration or Paradox
God Is the Light That Dwells in Darkness 64
Perfectly Hidden and Perfectly Revealed 64
Paradoxes in Endless Embrace 65
Who You Think God Is, God Isn't 65
Carrying the Dilemma 66
Words Become Flesh 67
Parables and Koans 67
Parable: A Call to Insight 68
A Quality of Mystery 68
Paradox and Authentic Spirituality 69
How to Win by Losing 69
We Are Christ's Body 70
Conversion to the No-Me 70
Miracles Are Signs 71
Praying Out Loud 71
Limitless Presence 73
The Last Will Be First 74
Our Image of God 74
How God Comes to Us 75
Healing Physical and Spiritual 76
Beyond the Defended Ritual 76
Pontifex: The Bridge Builder 77
I The Sign of Jonah 78
5 Contemplation Means Practicing Heaven Now
Contemplation, The Divine Therapy 79
The Symbol of the Rising Sun 80
Einstein: The New Way of Knowing 81
Thérèse of Lisieux: How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything 82
A River Meditation 83
Meister Eckhart and the Reciprocal Gaze 84
Try to Love a Stone 85
It's All a Matter of Seeing 87
What Really Is 88
The First Stages of Contemplative Prayer 88
Radical Contemplation 89
The Perfect Reflector 90
God Is Carrying Me 90
Contemplative Surrender 91
Our Inner Observer: Fair Witness 91
Different Forms of Prayer 92
Crawling up on the Cloud 94
Making a Place for Christ 95
Conceiving Christ 96
Called to a Deeper Place 97
Faith without Feelings 98
What's Happening in Heaven 99
Mother Teresa: Living without Security 99
Falling in Love with God 101
Belonging to God 101
God Is a Verb or Being Known Through 102
Identifying with the Beloved 103
How the Mystics Know God 103
6 To Discover the Truth, You Must Become the Truth
Truth Is a Person 104
Hearing the Deeper Voice 104
The Fruits of the Spirit 104
The Gift of Inner Authority 105
"To Dwell inside of Things" 106
An Invitation to Live with Him 108
The Discernment of Spirits 109
We Are Co-Creators 110
Jesus' Authority 110
Salus: Inner Clarity 111
Learning How to Be Taught 111
First I Have to Act: The Mysterious Wisdom of Faith 114
Named by God 114
Larger than Life 115
Jesus' Journey and Ours 116
Something New: Holy Fools 113
Ibn al-Arabi: Becoming Transparent 120
7 When you are Transformed, Others Will Be-Transformed Through You
"Dangerously Free": Compassion from Contemplation 121
Plato's Holy Madness 122
"Love Must Be Brought to Earth" 122
The Christ Mosaic 123
The Gospel Calls Us to Community 124
Community: Ideal and Real 125
Sacrifice Is Giving Ourselves to the Other 126
We Should Be the Leaven 126
Saints: Channeling God's Power 127
You Are an Instrument 127
Speaking a Word That Is Truth 128
Truth and Humility 129
God's First Liberation 129
Salvation Happens in Relationship 130
The School and the Lesson 132
The Reign of Heaven 132
The Center for Action and Contemplation 133
The Need for Wisdom in Action 133
Take a Step Backward 135
A New Way of Living 135
Protected Interiority 136
Announcing the Alternative 137
Radical Help 138
Calling Others to Heal 139
Trusting the Masculine Soul 140
Francis of Assisi: Warrior for Love 141
Spirituality Requires Accountability 141
Apocalyptic Prophets: The Absolute Stance 142
Good over Evil: "The Beginning Is Always Happening" 144
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