You do what’s right, not because it’s easy or because it’s hard. You do it because you are alert to the guidance that comes to you.
When we speak about the path, we should keep in mind that there is only one path, and everyone who is going is on that one path. It may look as if people were going in different directions; but as long as they are going, they are just on the path.
I have tried to find the simplest characteristics of the path, and I come up with two. One is inclusiveness and the other is narrowness. If your notion of the path is inclusive enough – I don’t mean just a mental notion, I mean your whole approach – if your approach is inclusive enough to include every other path, then you are on the one path.
That’s really all that needs to be said about it. Wherever you come across anything that is exclusive in your path, well, that doesn’t mean that the path is wrong, it just means that to that extent you still haven’t completely discovered your own path.
The Narrowness is the Path
As for narrowness, when we are really alert to the guidance that leads us on the path, we find ourselves again and again confronted with what we call straits. It is tough; it is difficult. In the Christian context we say it is the Cross. “The one who takes up my Cross and follows Me is my disciple.” That is what is meant by narrowness.
You see immediately that this narrowness is by no means a contradiction to inclusiveness. It is not one of those paradoxes that sometimes you find in the spiritual way. These two really come from two different directions. The narrowness of the path means that if it is truly your path – the one meant for you – you will have to find it narrow sooner or later.
That is very important, because if we are not alert to the fact that the very narrowness is the path, we are apt to say, “Oh well, this is getting too tough; this must not be my path. I’d better try something else.” The more difficult it gets – in the right sense – the more truly you can be sure you are on the path.
Of course, there is also a danger of turning this into some sort of idol and saying, “I always do the more difficult thing.” That would be just as wrong as saying, “I always do the easier thing.” There’s no difference between the two. You do what’s right, not because it’s easy or because it’s hard. You do it because you are alert to the guidance that comes to you.
Now I come to something which may at first sight seem specifically Christian – or Biblical, I should rather say. But when you listen very carefully, you will see that we speak about a reality which is quite universal: faith. Faith and the path are inseparable from one another. Faith is that dynamism of going on the path. Faith is what makes it possible for you to go on.
Now, you see immediately that faith in this sense must mean something other than believing something. Faith includes believing in something, because life includes believing something. But the emphasis on believing something, which we have connected with faith in recent Christian tradition, is lopsided, even dangerous, because in the full concept, faith is not primarily believing something, but is primarily trusting someone. Faith is not giving your signature to a list of beliefs and dogmas. That will come in eventually – but what faith is, from the very start, is courageous trust. It may start simply with trust in life, and eventually open its way toward trust in the Source of all life.
Complexity and Simplicity
All of you, I’m sure, are struggling for simplicity of life. But there’s a way of settling for simplicity that is simplistic, a kind of childish oversimplification. You haven’t really dared to face the complexity of life. That’s the danger. And that’s where my recent experience started.
External life is tremendously complex. The more you become alert to things, the more you realize how complex they are. And I’m not even talking about natural things – just about something like switching on the light. If you ever switch on a light, with a minimum degree of awareness, you would just be staggered by the complexity with which you are in touch. Not only the people who work in the generators but the people who built the switch. Those who did the wiring in the building. Those who mined the metal. And this is just the thinnest crust of complexity on this incredibly complex universe.
I have been aware for a long time of this outer complexity. But you become aware, one day, of your inner complexity – of what has to happen when you take a piece of bread, what has to happen in your body so that you don’t die from that little piece of bread. A hundred thousand little processes have to go on within your body to digest that piece of bread, over which you have absolutely no control and which you have never understood and which you never will understand. And that’s supposedly you!
I haven’t even spoken about the psyche and the unconscious and all the complexities we find there. In other words, what I call “me” and what I experience in living is somehow at the crossroads of that external and that internal complexity in which I am immersed. And somehow I can find simplicity there. I can find a still point there.
I’m not quite clear how this happens, but it’s much more important that it happens than that I understand how it happens. I do understand that it has something to do with finding order, finding harmony in your world.
The Courage to Let Go
It’s a tremendous thing that every time we venture out, we find more and more complex order. When we investigate that complexity – in biology or in chemistry or even in psychology – we find that it is a structured complexity. It is harmony. It is something like music, which includes discords, but the discords are somehow part of a greater harmony and make the harmony more interesting, complex, and beautiful.
Every time we look out, we find order. And then comes the moment when something new is thrown at us. For instance, in science, new findings. Or in life, new experiences. They suddenly seem to shatter the order we have established, to put the order we are familiar with into crisis. And then comes the point where all spiritual life begins, where you begin to move on the path or not. That’s the moment of decision. Because that is the moment where either we hang on for dear life (which is death) to that order we have already found, or we let go in the courageous trust that we will find a greater order. And that letting go is possible only through faith. That is what faith is: the courage to let go.
We practice that from the beginning in our spiritual life in little things. But it gets more and more difficult as we go on, and that is the narrowness of the path; that difficulty, those straits in which we get because we have to let go and let go and let go. And the further we go, the more everything seems to be chaos. Yet we trust that through this chaos we will find order.
The Courage to Be Yourself
Nobody can give you a guarantee. Nobody can say, “Yes, you will pull through. Yes, there is order there.” No, the only thing you have to fall back on is your courage and also your memory – your memory that every time you did that in the past, every time you died, you were born to a greater, more comprehensive order.
So the path is really this going on from harmony to greater harmony, always through periods of disharmony and discord, or from life to life, always through periods of death. That is the path; and the dynamism of that is faith, is courage.
So you need faith. You need faith in yourself, in that inner voice, the voice of circumstance that tells you what is the right thing for you and the courage to do it, to really enter into it. And in the last analysis, really, the courage to be yourself.
Question by a retreatant: When you are on the part of the path which is inclusive, and you hear a voice, but you are not completely sure – is there some way to tell?
That’s a very important question and it is really the question of self-deception. “How can I be sure I am not deceiving myself?” The answer is, you can’t.
That is what faith is all about – that you trust and you go on even though you are not absolutely sure that you are not deceiving yourself; you trust that it will fall in place eventually if you go on trying not to deceive yourself. The wrong answer would be, “Well, since I can’t be sure that I’m not deceiving myself, let’s go on deceiving myself.” No, that’s not the answer. The answer is, “I can’t ever really be sure.” Only when you feel, “Now I’m sure that I’m not deceiving myself” – that’s the one moment you can be sure that you are deceiving yourself.
At any other time, you are suspended precisely in that vacuum that is necessary for the path. Otherwise there wouldn’t be anywhere to go. You’d just be stuck. It’s the space that makes room for doubt and only in that space of doubt can faith move.
There is no other way. There is no other space for faith, except doubt. Doubt is the vacuum into which faith moves. And the doubt, “Am I not deceiving myself?” is the vacuum into which my total dedication not to deceive myself – trusting that God will help me and teach me – moves.
That’s as much of an answer as I can give, because the question is an existential one. It is not a matter of answering it so that you can write it down and take it home with you. The answer must be something that challenges you to live it out.
Originally given as a talk at a yoga retreat during the summer of 1974. Reprinted from Integral Yoga, Vol. VII, No. 1, 1975, pp.9-12.
The life and death of a human being is so exquisitely calibrated as to automatically produce union with Spirit.
--Kathleen Dowling Singh
I want to talk about notions of maturity, eldership, staging, sequencing, growth and direction or, what I will call, ripening. Where is this thing we call "life" headed? Who sets the standard? Is there any standard?
Beginning with Jesus' four kinds of soil and receptivity (Mt 13:4-9), to John of the Cross' "nights" and Teresa of Avila's "mansions," through the modern schemas of Jean Piaget, James Fowler, Lawrence Kohlberg, Eric Erickson, Abraham Maslow, Carol Gilligan and Bill Plotkin, each clarify that there is a clear direction and staging to maturity and therefore to human life. We live inside of some kind of coherence and purpose, a believer might say.
Unless we can somehow chart this trajectory, we have no way to discern growth or maturity, and no ability to discern what might be a full, fuller or fullest human response. Neither do we have any criteria for discerning an immature, regressive or even sick response. When pluralism itself becomes the goal, a postmodern dilemma is created. There must be a direction to ripening -- one that moves us beyond any exclusive concern with physical aging, because our concerns are much broader than that. We must also recognize that any steps toward maturity are, by necessity, immature. An understanding of ripening basically teaches us the wisdom of timing, love and patience, and allows us to be wise instead of judgmental.
Having said that, and if I am to believe the novels, myths, poems and people that I have met in my life, old age is almost never described as an apex of achievement, hardly ever sitting atop a summit with the raised arms of a victorious athlete. It is something else, almost always something else -- usually something other than what was initially imagined, or even hoped for.
Ripening reveals much bigger or very different horizons than we realize. The refusal to ripen leads to what T.S. Eliot spoke of in "The Hollow Men," lives that "end not with a bang but with a whimper." I trust that you are one of those who will move toward your own endless horizons and not waste time in whimpering. Why else would you even read this article? Hopefully to help you trust that you are, in fact, being led. Life, your life, all life, is going somewhere and somewhere good. You do not need to navigate the river, for you are already flowing within it.
Ripening, at its best, is a slow, patient learning, and sometimes even a happy letting-go -- a seeming emptying out to create readiness for a new kind of fullness -- which we are never sure about. If we do not allow our own ripening, and I do believe it is a natural process, an ever-increasing resistance and denial sets in, an ever-increasing circling of the wagons around an over-defended self. At our very best, we learn how to hope as we ripen, to move outside and beyond self-created circles, which is something quite different from the hope of the young. Youthful hopes have concrete goals, whereas the hope of older years is usually aimless hope, hope without goals, even naked hope -- perhaps real hope.
Such stretching is the agony and the joy of later years, although one can avoid both of these rich experiences too. Old age, as such, is almost a complete changing of gears and engines from the first half of our lives, and does not happen without slow realization, inner calming, inner resistance, denial and eventual surrender, by God's grace, working with our ever-deepening sense of what we really desire and who we really are. This process seems to largely operate unconsciously, although we jolt into consciousness now and then, and the awareness that you have been led, often despite yourself, is experienced as a deep gratitude that most would call happiness.
This movement is the natural and organic inner work of the second half of our lives, especially if we are granted the full "70 years, or 80 if we are strong" (Ps 90:10). Of course, for many the whole process of ripening, and the deepening of desire, is cut short by tragic, untimely death. Yet we have all seen much younger people accelerate the entire process through an early, perhaps fatal, illness. (If the dying process occurs consciously, it is an extremely accelerated ripening, as in a hot house.) Why would any of us ripen until it is demanded of us? For some the demand comes early. Maybe God knows that most of the rest of us are slow learners and need more time to ripen.
Reality, fate, destiny, providence and tragedy are slow but insistent teachers. The horizon of old age seems to be a plan that God has prepared as inevitable and part of the necessary school of life. What is gratuitously given is also gratuitously taken away, just as Job slowly came to accept. And sometimes we remember that his final pained response was "Blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Jb 1:21). We all live in the same cycle of unrequested birth and unrequested death. Someone else is clearly in control, yet most of our lives are spent accepting and surrendering to this truth, and in trusting that this "someone" is good and trustworthy besides. It is the very shape of faith and the entire journey of faith.
If we are to speak of a spirituality of ripening, we need to recognize that it is always (and I do mean always) characterized by an increasing tolerance for ambiguity, a growing sense of subtlety, an ever-larger ability to include and allow, a capacity to live with contradictions and even to love them! I cannot imagine any other way of coming to those broad horizons except through many trials, unsolvable paradoxes, and errors in trying to resolve them.
Without such a gradually-renewed mind and heart, we almost certainly will end with a whimper, not just our own but also the whimpering of those disappointed souls gathered around our sick bed or gravestone. Too many lives have indeed been lives of "quiet desperation" and God must surely rush to console and comfort all humans before, during, and after their passing. Many put off enlightenment as long as they can. Maybe this whole phenomenon is what Catholics actually mean by purgatory. Without such after-death hope, I would go crazy with sadness at all the lives which appear to end so unripened. The All-Merciful One is surely free to show mercy even after we die. Why would God be all-loving before death but not after death? Isn't it the same God? I've seen no one die perfectly "whole." We are all saved by mercy, "wound round and round," as Merton said. Some do appear to float into pure love in their very final days among us.
A ripening mind and heart is most basically a capacity for non-dual consciousness and contemplation. Many might just call it growth in compassion, but surely no growth in compassion is likely unless one learns how to forgive as a very way of life, and to let go of almost everything as we first imagined it had to be. This is possible as we grow in the more truly Jewish, and eventually Christian, notion of faith, where not-knowing (the apophatic way) must be carefully paired with knowing (the kataphatic way). The Judeo-Christian tradition balanced our so-called knowing with trust, patience, allowing, waiting, humility, love, and forgiveness, which is very nearly the entire message and surely the core message necessary for the possibility of ripening. Otherwise, we all close down, and history freezes up with all of its hurts, memories, and resentments intact.
Non-dual consciousness was largely lost after the in-house fighting of the Christian reformations (16th century) and the defensive posturing of the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries). Henceforth we thought we had to know or, at least, pretend that we did know to prove the others wrong. We deemed full certitude as a total need, and even a right and obligation! How strange and impossible it is when you think about it.
We now study the Scriptures, but only with great difficulty do we share in the actual consciousness of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Job, Jesus, and the many Marys of the New Testament. They became pious stories of an idyllic time rather than reflecting a level of consciousness. In between, there have been thousands of years of history, religious reformations, and rational thinking. For the most part, we no longer "understand spiritual things in a spiritual way" (1 Cor 2:13) -- which is truly the only way to understand them. A non-dual way of knowing in the moment gives us a life process and not simply momentary dualistic answers, which always grow old because they are never totally true.
So my guidance is a simple reminder and recall to what we will be forced to learn by necessity and under pressure anyway -- the open-ended way of allowing and the deep meaning that some call faith. To live in trustful faith is to ripen, it is almost that simple. Let's start practicing now, early in our life, so we do not have to take a crash course in our final years, weeks, and days. The best ripening happens over time.
Adapted from Richard Rohr's Introduction to the Fall 2013 edition of Oneing, the publication of the Rohr Institute, copyright © 2013, Center for Action and Contemplation.
Meister EckhartMeister Eckhart was born to a German family of landowners. At age 15, he joined the Dominican order at Erfurt, Germany, and later spent years in Paris, Cologne and Strasburg teaching, writing, and preaching. His sermons emphasize God's presence in the individual soul, an awareness which awakens dignity and a natural outpouring of honest deeds. His radical ideas and unusual images disturbed church authorities so much that he was eventually brought to inquisitional proceedings for suspected heresy. Eckhart claimed that while he might have made some errors, he was not a heretic and his intent was to inpire listeners to do good. He died before there was a verdict to his case. His followers then and now regard his unorthodox writings as profound expressions of Christian mysticism.
- Margaret Wakeley
If Eckhart lived today, who would he be? Would he
be at the forefront of interreligious dialogue?
Meister Eckhart’s mysticism came from his own interior life, formed by the nuances of his intellectual training, his originality as a teacher, and his ability to reach people from all backgrounds through his unique use of language. He wrote in both Latin and German. The Latin works contain his more scholarly treatises and sermons, whereas the German vernacular sermons reveal a man’s soul able to stir his “readers and hearers from their intellectual and moral slumber….Meister Eckhart was not only a highly trained philosopher and theologian, but also a preacher, a poet, and a punster who deliberately cultivated rhetorical effects, bold paradoxes, and unusual metaphors.” (1)
The irony of Meister Eckhart’s life was that he was always loyal to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church as a Dominican teacher and preacher. Perhaps because of his time, his culture, and his church’s fears, Eckhart’s individuality of expression was not seen for what it truly was: a master’s ability to express thoughts and intuitions into the stages of spiritual growth and the very composition of God beyond the limiting cultural expressions of his time. If Eckhart lived today, who would he be? How would he make a living? Would he be at the forefront of international interreligious dialogue?
According to Eckhart, “God is ‘No-thing’ – but rather the Being that undergirds all reality – and we must become no-thing to be one with God.” (2) Eckhart’s “no-thing” is similar to the Buddha-nature that pervades all reality but cannot be circumscribed by one name or form. For Eckhart, the path of detachment teaches one how to let go of a thought, definition, or goal and open oneself to the God in all life who is Wisdom. He appeals to Buddhists because of his emphasis on detachment as the way to this experience of the subject as sacred. When we cling to a mental projection, we may become incapable of perceiving reality as it is. The entire focus on detachment in Buddhism witnesses, through watchful meditation, the Buddha-nature, the dharma of the universe (the rightness of the universe’s intrinsic law). The following poem, “This Mind Is Buddha,” well describes the subjective state, appreciating the suchness, the Buddha, in all natural processes:
Under blue sky,
in bright sunlight,
One need not search around.
Asking what Buddha is
is like hiding loot
in one’s pocket and declaring oneself innocent. (4)
Eckhart’s “God beyond God” describes the reality in one’s deepest soul: “God’s being is my being and God’s being is my primordial being.” (5) When the unconscious is purified – that is, made conscious – we begin to live life clearly through our original, primordial being. We become childlike, innocent, free of the encumbrances of the unconscious ego-projections that often smoke our minds. When the unconscious is cleared, God’s being has room to grow in our minds, souls, and lives. We open to life as we knew it when we were very young children.
Evelyn Underhill speaks of Meister Eckhart as a mystic philosopher and considers the rebirth of which Eckhart speaks to be the birth of the Word in the soul:
Since the soul, according to mystic principles, can only perceive Reality in proportion as she is real and know God by becoming God-like, it is clear that this birth is the initial necessity. The true and definitely directed mystical life does and must open with that most actual, though indescribable phenomenon: the coming forth into consciousness of [the human’s] deeper spiritual self, which ascetical and mystical writers of all ages have agreed to call Regeneration or Re-birth. (6)
There is a connection between childhood characteristics and connection to God inwardly. Mystical rebirth later in life means consciously choosing to unify oneself to the sacred within and without. Once you experience this enlightenment of rebirth into deification, Eckhart states:
All things are simply God to you, who see only God in all things. You are like someone who looks for quite a while at the sun, and afterwards sees the sun in what ever he looks at. (7)
The words of Meister Eckhart:
“Do not think that saintliness comes from occupation; it depends rather on what one is. The kind of work we do does not make us holy, but we may make it holy.”
“People ought not to consider so much what they are to do as what they are; let them but be good and their ways and deeds will shine brightly.”
“If a person were in such a rapturous state as St. Paul once entered, and he knew of a sick man who wanted a cup of soup, it would be far better to withdraw from the rapture for love’s sake and serve him who is in need.”
“Do not cling to the symbols, but get to the inner truth!”
“The shell must be cracked apart if what is in it is to come out, for if you want the kernel you must break the shell. And therefore if you want to discover nature’s nakedness you must destroy its symbols, and the farther you get in the nearer you come to its essence. When you come to the One that gathers all things up into itself, there you must stay.”
From the book Christian Mysticism East and West: What the Masters Teach Us, by Maria Jaoudi.
1. From the Foreword to Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defencse, translated by Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn (New York: Paulist Press, 1981) Theological Summary, p. 24.
2. Quoted in Jill Raitt, ed., Christian Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest (New York: Crossroad, 1987), p. 28.
3. Quoted from Commentary on the Book of Wisdom #154, in Meister Eckhart: Teacher and Preacher, edited by Bernard McGinn (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), p. 169.
4. Paul Reps, ed., Zen Flesh, Zen Bones (London: Doubleday, 1989),p. 115.
5. Schurmann’s translation in Meister Eckhart: Mystic and Philosopher: “Gotes sin min sin und gotes isticheit min isticheit.” From the sermon, “Justi vivent in aeternum” (see pp. 87 and 240).
6. Evely Underhill, Mysticism (New York: New American Library, 1974), p.122.
7. The Best of Meister Eckhart, p.35.
Sincere thanks to Robert Ellsberg
Quotes from his book All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses From Our Time. "Since soon after it came out; I have used this book for daily spiritual reading and still find it inspiring." —Br. David
Meister Eckhart: A Modern Translation, trans. Raymond Blakney (New York: Harper & Row, 1941); Meister Eckhart, trans. Edmund Colledge, and Bernard McGinn, Classic of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist, 1981)
---“Transgression Gray” by Frank Steinbeck
The following article by Richard Rohr’s introduction to"Transgression," an issue of CAC's journal Oneing. The full journal is available at store.cac.org.
After this surely-shocking Scripture, I begin these remarks on transgression with a poem from my favorite metaphysical poet, George Herbert, Welsh-born Anglican priest and mystic of the 17th century. In “Easter Wings,” as in others of his poems, he seems to deeply comprehend the precise and astounding nature of how spiritual transformation happens. He has learned that you must fall or fail before you know what reunion, or even union, really is, and only “then shall the fall further the flight in me.” God makes it rather certain that we will all fail, if we are honest about ourselves. The bar and goal of unconditional, divine love is set so high that no one can ever honestly say, “I have fulfilled the law!” or “I am a totally good person.”
I quote only the first stanza of George Hebert’s poem. (Please note that he actually printed it in its entirety on the page in the form of two wings—and you see one of them here—so we could symbolically fly with this hard-won wisdom, even on paper.)
Lord, who created man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Oh let me rise
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in
As in his well-known and beloved poem, “The Pulley,” Herbert believed that God created a “repining restlessness,” a de facto distance and incompleteness in the heart of all humans, which keeps them forever open to transcendence, always longing for more from a seemingly remote and mysterious God. He believed that the soul lives and grows through longing and restlessness—which “tosses him to the breast” of God.
It seems that we must fail, and even “transgress,” and then desire mercy and love because of that very transgression. It is the way humans test divine love, just as children do with their parents. Otherwise we have no way of knowing that the long, lonely distance between God and ourselves can be—and is—spanned from the other side. Divine oneness is always twoness overcome, not twoness denied or even avoided. We all seem to live in a terror of twoness after having come from our primal and perfect oneness in God. Some say it is the very urgency of all sexuality (sectare = to divide).
What is sometimes called the “myth of transgression” has been seen to operate on many levels: social, psychological, legal, and literary. Our interest here is precisely how the Gospel itself reveals this to be the deepest pattern of transformation, because the old must always die for the new to be born, and our first attempts to love God by following rules are eventually revealed to be much more love of self and love of some kind of order (But we can’t know that yet!). It is our failure to live up to our first man-made attempts at love that drives us toward an ever-higher love where we are not in The law was given to multiply our opportunities for falling. —St. Paul to the Romans (5:20) charge. To paraphrase St. Augustine: “Seek God, but once you find him it will send you on a search of never finding him (because God is infinite).”
This whole trajectory was set in motion with the original Genesis story of “the fall,” where a commandment of dubious quality was given to Adam and Eve. It set up an arbitrary line in the sand that begged for transgression and, in fact, is assured in literary terms. Children already know this intuitively when you read them fairy tales. When it says “You must not do this,” a child somehow knows the princess or peasant will do exactly that! It sets the whole story in a dynamic direction and creates a needed tension for actual moral development, insight, and compassion. But we forget how to read with the common sense of children as soon as we see that a book says “The Bible” on the cover. There seems to be an inherent need in humans for crossing boundaries, testing limits, and even “testing the gods” to find out who these gods really are and who we really are in relationship to them.
The mythic figure here is what some call the Trickster, the clown, the anti-hero and, in Biblical literature, “the sinner” who is again and again shown to be the hero, especially by Jesus. “Her many sins must have been forgiven her or she would not have shown such great love,” says Jesus of “the woman who was a sinner” (Lk 7:47). The law-abiding Pharisee is deemed ridiculous while the grasping tax collector, with no spiritual resume whatsoever (but who is nevertheless honest about himself), goes home “justified” (Lk 18:9-14).
This myth made less and less sense to later Western Christian history which came to think that religion largely existed to teach and maintain social and imperial order. God did not become incarnate to be a divine policeman or a courtroom judge, but instead a “bridegroom” who invites us to his wedding party (Mk 2:19-20). The Western mind eventually had little respect for the ubiquitous disorder in the universe—so different than the Pueblo Indian clown who breaks the perfect symmetry and seriousness of the sacred dance, or the intentional imperfection sewn into the Navajo rug. After forty-some years as a priest, I believe that many if not most people are attracted to religion because they want order in their own lives and in the world. This is not bad; it is a first-half-of-life need and task, and it is nothing but the early warm-up act for the Gospel (Gal 3:24).2 Today even science demonstrates rather convincingly that asymmetry is what breaks the dead patterns and moves all elements, species, and ages forward. It is called “chaos theory.”
This is how the transgression myth was revealed through the Gospel. Jesus, who is judged to be a sinner/offender/failure/transgressor by both high priest and Roman Empire—and truly is by their “objective” criteria—is, in fact, the one who “redeems the world”! Paul repeats this message and calls it the “mystery of the crucified,” which forever discounts both “the Law” (his Jewish religion) and “reason” (Greek philosophy) as ways to achieve order in this world.
The Gospel and the cross say that the only honest and healing order is the acceptance of disorder. This is God’s surprising and scandalous plan. It is much of the import of Paul’s letters to the Romans and the Galatians and, as some scholars now recognize, Paul presaged the “good cynicism” of postmodernism by two thousand years: All the big story lines [“metanarratives”] are wrong, and the one that is right is the one you do not want to hear! Both Jesus and Paul believed that necessary and predictable transgression—and the need for mercy that follows—is the pattern of transformation. This is the way God “justifies,” or executes divine justice. This is how God re-aligns reality inside the only Absolute there is: the eternal love of God. Pope Francis is the first Pope I am aware of who has had the insight and courage to say that Divine Love is the only absolute, and not law, or the church, or morality. Law and reason can never achieve their own goals perfectly, but love and mercy can and do. “Where are your philosophers now? Where are the scribes?” (1 Cor 1:20), Paul shouts. Love alone is the “fulfillment” of the Law (Rom 13:8-10, Gal 5:14).
I will choose such a bridegroom and his wedding banquet any day. We have had too many centuries of ecclesiastical policemen and church courtrooms which have futilely tried to suppress all transgressions, instead of using them as the very springboard which tosses us into the breast of God.
1 John Tobin, ed., George Herbert: The Complete English Poems (London: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1991), 38.
2 Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), Ch. 3.
This article was published in "Transgression," Oneing, Vol. 2 No. 1. "Transgression" includes additional original articles by Rob Bell, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Danaher, Russ Hudson, Diarmuid O'Murchu, Bill Plotkin, Robert Sardello, Avideh Shashaani, and others. The print journal is available from CAC Bookstore, store.cac.org.