Category Archives: Richard Rhor

The Whole World Is Our Cloister

Over the past several years I have been a real advocate of living a monastic life in the place that we are planted. For most of us it  is impossible to escape to a cloistered life. Benedictine Joan Chittister give us her offering in “Monasteries of the Heart.” We longed for peace and escape from the troubled world but are frustrated that we can’t quite pull it off. Joan Chittister offers some ways to accomplish that goal. The article below is offered to us by the Franciscan Richard Rhor and he tells his story. I share it with you today.

In the Franciscan worldview, the Christ can be found everywhere. Nothing is secular or profane. You don’t really “get” the Christ mystery until body and spirit begin to operate as one. Once you see the material and the spiritual working together, everything is holy. The Christ is whenever and wherever the material and the spiritual co-exist—which is always and everywhere! Everything is already “christened”; any anointing, blessing, declaring, or baptizing is just to help us get the point.

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on St. Francis’ break with historic monasticism. When his friars brought up well-established rules for religious life, Francis even went so far as to say “Don’t speak to me of Benedict! Don’t speak to me of Augustine!” [1] (No offence intended to Benedictines or Augustinians.) Francis believed that the Lord had shown him a different way, one which directly implied that the whole world—not just a single building—was our cloister. He did not need to create a sheltered space. We were to be “friars” instead of monks, living in the midst of ordinary people, in ordinary towns and cities. Franciscan friaries are still usually in the heart of major European and Latin American cities. We didn’t live on the edge of town because Christ is found as much in the middle of civilization as is in quiet retreats and hermitages.

Franciscan theologian Bonaventure (1221-1274) soon debated “secular priests” at the University of Paris, because some of them felt that putting together action and contemplation would not work. We became competitors for the affection of the people, I am afraid. Up until Francis of Assisi (1184-1226), most religious had to choose either a life of action or a life of contemplation. Secular priests worked with people in the parishes. The “true” religious went off to monasteries. Francis said there had to be a way to do both.

It’s as if consciousness wasn’t ready to imagine that it could find God in any way except by going into the desert, into the monastery, away from troubles, away from marriage, away from people. In that very real sense, we see a non-dual mind emerging with the Franciscan movement.

Perhaps you can find a place, interior or exterior that will allow you to cloister and moved towards God. Get in the middle of thing and experience the blessing.


PRAYER

Lead me from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.

Lead me from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.

Lead me from hate to love,
from war to peace.

Let peace fill my heart,
my world, my universe.

Amen.

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Bigger than Christianity

I share this meditation from Richard Rhor the founder and director of The Center for Action and Contemplation. I hope you find it as stimulating as I did.

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The “Christ Mystery” is much bigger than Christianity as an organized religion. If we don’t understand this, Christians will have little ability to make friends 00058_christ_pantocrator_mosaic_hagia_sophia_656x800with, build bridges to, understand, or respect other religions or the planet. Jesus did not come to create a country club or a tribe of people who could say, “We’re in and you’re out. We’ve got the truth and you don’t.” Jesus came to reveal something that was true everywhere, for everyone, and all the time.

Many Christians have a very limited understanding of Jesus’ historical or social message, and almost no understanding of the Cosmic Christ—even though it is taught clearly in Scripture (see John 1, Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, 1 John 1, Hebrews 1:1). Christ is often taught at the very beginning of Paul’s and other New Testament authors’ writings, yet we still missed it. But you can’t see what you were never told to look for. Once you do see the shape and meaning of this cosmic mystery of Divine Incarnation, you’ll be able to see that the Presence is everywhere—and the archetypal Jesus will not be such an anomaly, accident, or surprise.

God is saving everything and everybody, it is all God’s emerging victory, until, as Paul says, “God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). If Christ is truly the “savior of the world” (see John 4:42), then God’s shape, form, meaning, and message are all far bigger than any single religion. Talking to the intellectual Athenians, Paul is wise enough to say: “God is not far from any of us. It is in him [sic] that we live and move and have our very being” (Acts 17:28).

St. Augustine writes that through love we come to be in “the frame of the body of Christ” so that in the end “there shall be one Christ, loving himself.” [1] You are chosen in Christ (see Ephesians 1:4), and the purpose of being chosen is to let everyone else know that they too are chosen! We are not making a triumphal statement about the Christian religion here, but we are making a triumphal statement about the nature of Divine Love—which will finally win the day!

Loving both Jesus and the Christ is essential to a Christian’s growth and transformation. You might begin with one or the other, but eventually you should be drawn to love both. Too many Christians have started and stopped with Jesus, never coming to know the Universal Christ. Many who are not Christian have started with the Christ by some other name—after all, there is only One God, One Love. I have met Hindus and Jews who live happily and fruitfully inside this hidden Christ Mystery, and I have met many Roman Catholics and Protestants who are running away from any notion of an all-pervading, loving Presence. Their stinginess and exclusivity gives it away.

You can have the right words and not the right experience, whereas if you enjoy the right experience, the right words are of much less importance. God did not become Incarnate Love in the universe to create “word police” and debating societies.

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Incarnationalism

 

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.James 1:27

 

 

Whenever the human and the divine coexist at the same time in the same person Francis-of-Assisi-Nancy-Earlewe have Christianity. I don’t know that it finally matters what Scriptures you read, liturgies you attend, or moral positions you hold about this or that—as much as “Do you live trustfully inside of God’s one world?”(Richard Rhor) This creates honest people, people who don’t waste time proving they’re right, superior, or saved, but just try to live and love the daily mystery that they are in the loving presence of God. “God comes to you disguised as your life,” as Paula D’Arcy loves to say. Imagine that!

 

There are basically four world views: (Fr. Richard Rhor)

1) Reality is just matter

2) Reality is just spirit

3) Through religion and morality we can work to put matter and spirit together

4) The material world has always been the place where Spirit is revealed.

You cannot put them together. They already are—as in Jesus. Only the fourth position, “incarnationalism,” deserves to be called authentic Christianity. It has to do with the right reality, not the right rituals.

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Suffering

“Might the authority of those who suffer bring the diverse cultural and social worlds together?” –Johann Baptist Metz

I believe this profound question about suffering, from a modern German theologian, succinctly and precisely expresses the religious breakthrough that Christ has offered humanity. It is also foundational to understanding the unique Franciscan view of the world. True gospel authority, the authority to heal and renew things and people, is not finally found in a hierarchical office, a theological argument, a perfect law, or a rational explanation. The Crucified revealed to the world that the real power that changes people and the world is an inner authority that comes from people who have lost, let go, and are re-found on a new level. Twelve-step programs have come to the same conclusion in our time.

Richard-Rohr_home-view

Richard Rhor

Both Francis and Clare had this kind of inner authority that is still part of their essential message for the world. They let go of all fear of suffering; all need for power, prestige and possessions; any need for their small self to be important; and came to know something essential–who they really were in God and thus who they really were. Their house was then built on “bedrock,” as Jesus says .

Such an ability to really change and heal people is often the fruit of suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self does not surrender without a fight to its death. If suffering is “whenever we are not in control” (which is my definition), then you see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God. Then we become usable instruments, because we can share our power with God’s power (Romans 8:28).

Such a counterintuitive insight surely explains why these two medieval dropouts–Francis and Clare–tried to invite us all into their happy run downward, to that place of “poverty” where all humanity finally dwells anyway. They voluntarily leapt into the very fire from which most of us are trying to escape, with total trust that Jesus’ way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong. They trusted that his way was the way of solidarity and communion with the larger world, which is indeed passing away and dying. By God’s grace, they could trust the eventual passing of all things, and where it was passing to. They did not wait for liberation later–after death–but grasped it here and now.

—-Richard Rhor

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The Imagined Self

All mature religion must and will talk about the death of any notion of a separate, and therefore false, self. (Most of the time when you read the word “sin” in the Bible, if you substitute the word “separate” you will understand the core problem being pointed out.) The True Self can let go of any false autonomy and self-sufficiency because it is radically safe at its core.

The True Self is then like a baby that can crawl away from its mother (God), knowing fully she will grab him back if there is any danger whatsoever. What confidence and security that gives the True Self—to actually do whatever it is it has to do. Only the True Self can understand Augustine’s dangerous line: “Love God and do what you will!” To tell that to the False Self would be disastrous. It would be like telling a seventeen-year-old boy to trust his hormones.

self-centeredThe separate self is the False Self, and this fragile identity will need to over-define itself as unique, special, superior, and adequate. What a trap. So Jesus must say, “Unless the single grain of wheat dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it does die, it will bear much fruit” (John 12:24).

Whenever you are loving someone or something else, you have died on some level—and let go of your separate self. As Stephen Levine, the master teacher on dying, said, our fear of death comes from an imaginary loss of an imaginary self.

These seeming losses are not loss at all but actually expansion. Please think and pray about this. It will allow you to overcome your fear of death. Our False Self is precisely our individual singularity in both its “Aren’t I wonderful!” and “Aren’t I terrible!” forms. Each are their own kind of ego trip, and both take the tiny little self far too seriously.

The true saint is no longer surprised at his littleness or her greatness. A mouse in a mansion does not need to take lessons in humility.

—–Richard Rhor

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Goodness and Forgiveness

Candle PrayerPeople who are already good, tend to be good and forgiving to me. People who are already resentful or negative, tend to be that way with me too. Why do I bother to take either the credit or the blame? It is mostly about them! Yet it still has much to teach me too.

—–Richard Rohr

This thought has two messages. First,understand that not all  the bad things that come your way are your doing. Second, are you good or resentful? This brings you and me to a singular question.Have a I taken the time to look at my own behavior through this perspective?

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Protecting Empty Boxes

God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste time protecting the boxes.

—–Richard Rhor from Everything Belongs

Several years ago, when such things appealed to me, I bought a “high quality” counterfit Rolex watch while on a mission trip to Mexico. My fake was so good, it had the sweep second hand, a serial number, and all the rest. After about three months the stem just came off. I hesitated but decided to bring it to a jeweler to be repaired. The clerk treated me very nicely when I brought my watch into his shop. A few days later I received a call that my watch was fixed and ready for pickup. For reasons I can’t remember, my wife went to the store for the pickup. When she arrived and presented the claim ticket, she was told it would be a few minutes because my watch had been put in the safe for security reasons. Imagine that – a fifty dollar fake Rolex locked in the safe with the real ,valuable stuff! I would call that protecting an empty box.

So many of our ideas about God are so far off base, but we defend them to the last breath. Our “boxed” God is further away from the real God that we can ever imagine. Your idea. my idea of God is limited by our ability to understand the supernatural. That’s why it is childish to be so protective of our “boxed” God. Denominations have been formed, people have been imprisioned, all to protect empty boxes.

Today I challenged you to take a look a your “God Box” and determined its value. I think you will find it lacks the true awe and majesty of God, and yet you defend it on a regular basis. Let’s all try to see God as so big that we can never fit him into a box. In doing so, life becomes a journey beyond our imagination, and God becomes more majestic.

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Twisting Reality

We usually see everything through our own egocentric agenda. Our preoccupation is “How will this inconvenience me.” or “How will this make me feel?”  That doesn’t get us very far. We then twist reality so we can feel good.

—-Richard Rohr from Everything Belongs

How often do you twist reality for the sake of your feelings? Such twisting usually involves your need to feel justified or fulfilled in one obligation or another. John the Baptist said: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” The real tricky word in John’s advice is anyone. All of us have someone with whom we are willing to share all that we have. That’s where our agendas come out.

Most of us are taught from a very early age that we are to be responsible and productive. Such teachings and the behavior they produce are very good. The real problem surfaces when we begin to evaluate the worthiness of the recipient of our good will. We don’t want to be inconvenienced or made to feel bad by one of “those” people.

As a result we make excuses and justify our behavior, usually with a spiritualDO-Good-keychain-graphic agenda. Something like Proverbs 12:11, “Those who work their land will have plenty to eat, but those who engage in empty pursuits have no sense.”  How easy it is to turn your back on the poor ,when you can say the Bible tells us that they have no sense. That verse and so many others come from a larger context of spiritual knowledge that can feed our souls with abundant wisdom. When taken alone, however, they feed our egocentric behavior and act as excuses to neglect our ministry to the less fortunate. Be careful not to twist reality to meet your needs.

Prayer Thought

Lord help me not to be so self centered as to make up spiritual realities that really serve as idols to me. Rather teach me to be genuine and open to your message. Let each day be a challenge to me. Allow your word to be my strength. May I never flee from a task because it would inconvenience me. Amen

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God Creates Things that Create Themselves

Some thoughts by Richard Rhor

In Romans 8:22, Paul says, “From the beginning until now, the entire creation as we know it has been groaning in one great act of giving birth.” That is a very feminine notion of creation, giving birth slowly through labor pains. It complements Genesis’ masculine statement: “Let there be light!” (1:3). Just this one line from Paul should be enough to justify a Christian belief in evolution. Yet to this day, the issue of evolution still divides some Christians, questioning what is rather obvious: that God creates things that create themselves. Wouldn’t this be the greatest way that God could create–to give autonomy, freedom, and grace to things to keep self-creating even further? (Non-creative minds tend to not see or allow creativity anywhere else. In fact, that is what makes them so uncreative!)

Healthy parents love their children so much that they want them to keep growing, producing, and performing to their highest potential. Good parents are even excited when their children surpass them, as my uneducated farmer parents were when I went off to higher studies. Mature parents are generative about their children and say, in my paraphrase of Jesus’ words: “Don’t get too excited about the things that we did. You’re going to do even greater things!” (John 14:12). Immature parents only see their children as images and extensions of themselves. True love empowers and delights in the even larger and independent successes of those they love. (It is often would-be successful sons who are most resented and abused by jealous and weak fathers.)

For a long time most people were satisfied with a very static universe. Yet Jesus understands reality as dynamic and evolutionary. Clearly there is an unfolding to the universe (we are literally still expanding!). Reality is going somewhere. It’s moving, until “In the end there will only be Christ. He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 3:11). The One > Multiplicity > Conscious Unity seems to be the underlying pattern. Paul sees history as an ongoing process of ever greater inclusion of every lesser force until in the end, “God will be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). The notion of the Cosmic Christ is precisely “the One” reality that includes everything and excludes nothing. As St. Bonaventure put it, “God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

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Being in God

The Biblical revelation is about awakening, not accomplishing. You cannot get there, you can only be there, but the foundational Being-in-God, for some reason, is too hard to believe, and too good to be true for most people. Only the humble will usually believe it and receive it, because it affirms more about God than it does about us. Proud people are not attracted to such explanations.

Here is what St. Bonaventure tells us about God: “By God’s power, presence, and essence, God is the One whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. God exists uncircumscribed in everything.” In other words, it’s all sacred. You can find God everywhere. You don’t have to go to monasteries. As Francis of Assisi said, “The whole world is our cloister.”

Bonaventure goes on to say, “God is, therefore, all inclusive. God is the essence of everything. God is most perfect and immense: within all things, but not enclosed; outside all things, but not excluded; above all things, but not aloof; below all things, but not debased. Finally, therefore, this God is all in all…. Consequently, from him, through him and in him, all things exist.” That is not simplistic pantheism (everything is God), but it is a much more profound pan-en-theism (everything is in God and God can be found in everything). This is Christianity’s great message, which it has, in large part, found too good to be true and too hard to believe!

Our outer world and its full inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness—and holiness—in our world. The result in the soul and in society is both deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty.

Richard Rhor

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