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Posted by on Apr 9, 2010

Great Love or Great Suffering – Two Paths to Non-duality

Great Love or Great Suffering – Two Paths to Non-duality

Richard Rohr, OFM

Recently I’ve been listening to Fr. Richard Rohr’s three CD set, Exploring and Experiencing The Naked Now, a recording of two webcasts in which he talks about his work on non-dual thinking and the insights of the contemplative/mystic tradition of Christianity. Rohr’s work provides a fine background for the last couple of weeks of Lent and moving into Easter.

A central insight of Rohr’s work is that non-dualistic thinking is central to experiencing the mystery of Christ and the Trinity. God is One, yet we know God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The contrast boggles the mind when we try to explain, define or otherwise pin down the mystery. Our minds, trained to make logical distinctions and put all we experience into categories of “this/not that,” find it hard to deal with the “yes/and”  of combining such seemingly irreconcilable statements. Nevertheless, Jesus calls us into the mystery and teaches through example, images and stories that seem to contradict each other. In one place, for example, he says that his followers are to turn the other cheek when someone strikes them. In another, he counsels that it’s time to take swords along to the place where he and is friends planned to spend the night. At yet another, he turns over the tables of the money-changers in the temple and drives them out. Then when the chips are down, he heals the ear of the servant of the High Priest in the Garden of Gethsemane and goes to his death without offering resistance. So which is it? Non-violent always or Violent sometimes? Do we simply choose one meaning – the one that suits what we want to do – or are we supposed to try to make some logical sense of the contrasting statements/actions or must we somehow live in the mystery, without needing to explain it logically. And if we do that, won’t we be seen as somehow immature and childish?

Rohr suggests that a return to the contemplative mindset is essential in the long-run. It is the ultimate goal of the spiritual life. Union with God, a return to the non-duality of the Garden of Eden, is the final goal of our lives and quest. We start non-dualistically as infants and small children. We move away from non-dualism around the age of reason and begin to be able to separate from God, make wrong choices, and, dare I say it, to sin. We learn what is right and what is wrong. We learn to make distinctions. Then we think we’ve got it all set for the rest of our lives. But we’re right smack dab in the middle of a dualistic world and mindset. So everything gets phrased in terms of win/lose or “limited good” (a concept from anthropology) — what is good for you will take something from me. We forget, or perhaps haven’t consciously experienced, that God’s love comes to us like water flowing through a pipeline or electricity flowing down a wire. As long as there’s no blockage, it just keeps coming. The critical thing is to keep the pipe open, the transmission line unbroken. But that gets scary. The “what ifs” start raising their ugly heads. And we fight against anyone or anything that seems to threaten the way things are now, even if it’s not ideal. And so we block the flow, partially or totally.

Rohr argues that the only way we can move beyond dualism in our thinking and again enter non-dualistic reality is through the path of great love or the path of great suffering.  In both situations, the normal ways of coping or experiencing reality fall away.  We don’t have the energy to block the flow. We’re too deeply in the joy or sorrow. “Everything’s coming up roses …” as the song says. Or, alternatively, we cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Where are you when I need you God? In either condition, we are open to experience the wonder of God’s love and compassion without trying to (or even being capable of) splitting it into dualistic compartments or categories. The experiences are too overwhelming, too all encompasing, too intense to allow for separation and dualism. And then we can grow in wisdom. And we experience redemption – a return to union with our God – set free from the normal ties that hold us bound in worry of losing our “secure” duality.

Meanwhile, “back at the farm,” the troubles and tragedies of world events continue through Holy Week.  A small group of people are arrested for plotting to kill a police officer and then kill more officers at his funeral, all in the name of Christ. What madness is this? Bombs explode in crowded places around the world, in the name of God. What madness is that? How can religious people believe that the creator of all of us and of all of the wonders of the universe could want us to be killing each other? And how could we dare to think we do it in his name, by his authorization? How can Christians be terrorists, as Leonard Pitts notes in a recent column? Is our God really so helpless or so impotent that he could condone such action, such dualistic us/them action?

Jesus went to the cross rather than try to force God’s hand to free his nation from the Romans by inciting a rebellion, as some would have liked. He went to the cross rather than deny the truth that God is more interested in the way we treat each other than in the sacrifices we bring to the altar. He went to the cross rather than run away and deny that he had experienced a very special relationship with his Father, one that the Father wants to share with the rest of us too. And redemption came out of that great passionate love and suffering. Easter came to all the world and our separation from God came to a resounding end.

May each of us move forward in this Easter season in joy and trust, building on the faith of our younger years and beginning to enter into the world of contemplation, of not dividing the “real” from the “ideal,” of really believing the Good News, that love is all that really matters, and love will make all the suffering lead to the peace and deep, deep joy of the children of God.

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Posted by on Apr 5, 2009

Great Love or Great Suffering – Two Paths to Non-duality

Celibacy – An Unhealty Practice?

photo by Rachel J Allen

photo by Rachel J Allen

The following is a substantial excerpt from Franciscan Richard Rohr’s article in the July August 2002 issue of Sojourners Magazine “Beyond Crime and Punishment” dealing with the clerical sex abuse scandal. Fr. Rohr is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation and is a contributing editor at Sojourners

“The Myth of Male Celibacy”

THE REVELATIONS OF the last year seem to be the beginning of the end of what some call “the myth of celibacy.” It’s not that male celibacy was always false or deceitful, but it was in great part an artificial construct. Men, with the best of original intentions, found out that they were not the mystics that celibacy demanded. That is exactly the point. Celibacy, at least in the male, is a most rare gift. To succeed, it demands conscious communion with God at a rather mature level, it demands many transitions and new justifications at each stage of life, and it demands a specific creative call besides. Many who have ostensibly “succeeded” at it have often, by the second half of life, actually not succeeded—in the sense of becoming a God lover, a human lover, and a happy man besides.

Practically, however, the demand for celibacy as a prerequisite for ministry is a setup for so many false takers. Not bad men, just men who are still on a journey: young men who need identity; insecure or ambitious men who need status; passionate men who need containment for their passions; men who are pleasing their pious mothers or earning their Catholic father’s approval; men who think “the sacred” will prevent their feared homosexuality, their wild heterosexual hormones, or their pedophilia; men with arrested human development who seek to overcompensate by identification with a strong group; men who do not know how to relate to other people and to women in particular.

None of these are bad men; they are just on a many-staged journey, and we have provided them an attractive way-station that often seems to work—for a while. But then they go on to the next stage and find themselves trapped, searching, conflicted, split, acting out, or repressing in, and often at variance with their now public and professed image.

The process lends itself to a Jekyll-and-Hyde syndrome, even among men who are very honest and humble in other areas. The price is far too high once you have committed your life publicly and sacredly. I know how hard it continues to be for me, my closest priest friends, and many that I have counseled and confessed. Many of us stay in not because we believe the official ideology of celibacy anymore, but because we believe in our work, we love the people, and we also know God’s mercy. But that loss of belief in the very ideology is at the heart of the whole problem now. We cannot prop up with law and social pressure what the Spirit does not appear to be sustaining. The substructure has collapsed. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1).

Add to that a rather large superstructure of ascribed status and security, and we have a system that is set up for collapse. Studies of male initiation say it is dangerous to give ascribed status to a man who has not journeyed into powerlessness. He will likely not know how to handle power, and may even abuse it, as we have now seen.

In general, I think healthy male celibacy is rare, and it probably is most healthy as an “initiation” stage to attain boundaries, discipline, integrity, depth, and surrender to God. In the long run, most men, as the Buddha statues illustrate, need to have one hand touching the earth, the concrete, the physical, the material, the sexual. If they do not, the other hand usually points nowhere.

WE SHOULD MOVE ahead reaffirming our approach to grace, healing, mercy, solidarity with sinners, patience, and transformation—while also cooperating with the social system whenever there are true victims’ rights to be redressed. We should do this generously, magnanimously, and repentantly.

We Catholics should also see celibacy as primarily an intense initiation course of limited (one to 10) years, much like the monks in many Asian countries. Celibacy has much to teach the young male about himself, about real passion, prayer, loving others, and his True Self in God. We dare not lose this wonderful discipline and container. (Who knows, maybe both Jesus and Paul were still in that early period of life?!) It could be a part of most Catholic seminarians’ training, and during that time much personal growth could take place. Some would likely choose it as a permanent state. Most would not.

How differently the entire process of priestly formation would be configured. What a gift to the religious orders (where celibacy is essential). Our precise charism would become clear, although we would surely become much smaller. What an opening to the many fine men who are attracted to a marriage partner. And what focused intensity this could give to spiritual formation during that celibacy period, instead of all of the hoop games, telling the directors what they want to hear, mental reservations, non self-knowledge, acting out, and “submarine” behavior that make many seminaries a haven for unhealth. Seminaries would not drive away sincere spiritual seekers, but would attract them. Not men looking for roles, titles, and uniforms to disguise identity, but men looking for holiness and God through which to express identity.

Male sexuality does not go away. It is not easily sublimated or integrated. It is either expressed healthily or it goes underground in a thousand different ways. Sex is and probably always will be a central issue for most males, and it can never develop honestly inside of a “hothouse” of prearranged final conclusions.

We should not be looking for a system where mistakes can never happen, but just a system that can distinguish health from unhealth and holiness from hiding. Like no other institution, the church should be the most prepared to deal with mistakes. That is our business. The steps to maturity are necessarily immature. Let’s start by mentoring the good and the true, and also surrendering to that mystery of grace, forgiveness, and transformation that is our birthright as Christians. Many priests and seminarians have always done this, and I hope this gives them the courage to know why and how they are both “sons and heirs” of a true wisdom tradition. Such disciplined sons, and only such sons, have earned the authority of “fathers.”

Richard Rohr, OFM, is founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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