A Weekend with Richard Rohr, Franciscan

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Just finished sitting with Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan.  He is one of our living luminaries, who helps thousands to navigate the waters of spirituality, CAC.org.  His topic this weekend was on the Trinity, a daunting subject made most enjoyable by his affable presence.   His new book, Divine Dance: Trinity and your Transformation, is focused upon the question of the meaning of the Trinity.


What he makes clear at the outset is that all religious language about Deity is by necessity metaphorical or symbolic, not literal.   Using Kuhn’s notion of a paradigm shift, he suggests that it is time to jump into the sea of such a shift religiously, recognizing that most of our images of God are archaic and no longer functional, recognizing that many of our youth are fleeing the God of our Fathers!  Why?  Because of the static, imperial, monarchial, patriarchal image associated with that God.  That image of God is a dualistic image, creating not only heaven but also hell, not only saints but also sinners.  Such a dualism leaves the mind confused, uncertain and in a state of fear.  Not attractive to the searching soul.


Among Richard’s many great points is that: if God is love, then there is no room for Hell and the punishing judgment of sinners.  Have we fallen short of the glory of God, for sure, does God still love us unconditionally, for sure!  Such a realization requires unity consciousness, an awareness of divine unity.


In the evolution of consciousness, dualistic or binary thinking is the lowest level of thinking.  Such thinking splits the world into good and evil, good people and evil people, saved people and unsaved people, our tribe and them!  Richard points out that Jesus never spoke in such terms, that his great stories are all about “sinners,” at least those viewed as sinners by the orthodox tradition.


The Trinity as an image suggests that the essential point of all creation is that we were created for relationship.  Within the Trinity there is a movement of divine energy and of respect that infinitely values “the other.”  He used the image of a Water Wheel of Love in speaking about the Trinity.  He reminded the audience that God is met in our deepest subjectivity; God is not met as an object or as an “It!”  All real relationship occurs in the deepest recesses of subjectivity.  Within that space there is a self-emptying, a humility, that establishes room for the relationship, the inflow and outflow of God’s love.

Those who resist that Water Wheel of Love are oftentimes the very people who should be encouraging its movement within the institution of the church.  “We become what we behold,” he said.  When we behold God as an emperor, like the old Roman emperor, then that is what becomes of us and our institutions.  There is an unsatisfying restless search for power that is never fulfilled.  The institutional image of a hierarchical pyramid must shift to an eternal circle, a Water Wheel of Love.  In that circle we are transformed by God’s grace.

He suggested that we look for the prayers and hymns in our Abrahamic traditions that begin with “Almighty God” and realize that such an image can at best be only half true.  We have missed the “All Vulnerable God” and the recognition that it is in self-emptying and vulnerability that we discover the subjective reality of the most objective fact in the universe.  The cross is the powerful symbol of the vulnerability of God.


Consistent with all mystical teaching, the idea is that God can only be known by loving, by the movement of the Water Wheel of Love through our hearts and souls.  For this reason, a contemplative practice is vital to the spiritual journey, emptying ourselves to make room for this inrush of love.


He asked us to look at the basic building block of life, the atom, with its three elements, neutron, proton and electron, dancing around each other to give rise to all physical substance.  From Acts, he quoted Paul who suggests that in God “we move and live and have our being.”  He spoke of the impersonal, transpersonal and personal nature of God in which all creation adheres.  Within these three realms there is a movement of divine energy that creates, sustains and upholds existence.


When a paradigm shift begins to occur there is an opening of “awe and wonder,” what Einstein called the basic religious emotion.  Rohr clearly shared that mystery does not mean “unknowable;” it means eternally knowable!  The question is whether we have put ourselves in the current of the Water Wheel of Love, or are we resisting!  Instead of “transactional religion,” he called for “transformational religion” that puts us in the flow of God’s love.  This is the basic template for all existence.  But, unlike other species, humans are able to resist this flow.




As we look around, we see still see a predominantly “tribal consciousness,” low level consciousness that keeps seeing “good guys” and “bad guys,” “republicans” and “democrats,” “good” and “evil.”    Such thinking leads to narcissism and ego-inflation.  “Compassion is the only proof that you’ve met God,” he said.


Referring to our Biblical illiteracy, he suggested that we adopt a hermeneutic or interpretation of the Bible that empowers an evaluation based upon Jesus’ gospel: God is love.  In the New Testament, the only time Jesus quotes the Book of Leviticus, the Book of the Law in the Torah, is the positive injunction to love our neighbors as ourselves.  He never quotes the many, “Thou shalt not”s.  As well, in the gospel stories, he is never upset with sinners only with those who are proud and unwilling to acknowledge their limitations.


God suffers with the sufferer.   We read in Study Group today:  “The endowment of imperfect beings with freedom entails inevitable tragedy, and it is the nature of the perfect ancestral Deity to universally and affectionately share these sufferings in loving companionship.” (110:0.1)   Those who do not experience suffering suffer from superficiality.  The quest to ignore suffering is the quest of ignorance.  Compassion only emerges through our ability to share in the suffering of our humanity.


In the Kingdom of God “there is nothing to earn or lose,” he suggested due to the incredible depth of God’s love.  If God is love, then there has to be at least two in relationship.  The supreme joy comes when the basic formula of three emerges. God is love, the Son is mercy and the Infinite Spirit is ministry.             The supreme joy of two parents is in the child, the third.  For that love to be experienced a contemplative self-emptying is required, a movement through disorder to a reordering, a metanoia, of our existence.


When we experience a humiliation, through anger, anxiety or fear, it is a lesson to be learned about the Trinity, an opportunity to not resist the Water Wheel of Love.  So, when you are moved to anger, anxiety or fear, know that you have a choice, to embrace and be embraced by the divine Trinity, or not!  Be thankful for the wonderful lessons you are learning to shift and dance!