Richard Rohr and “Falling Upward”…

ContemplativeI'm going to post two of my most recent email blast devotionals…why?  Because I'm thinking them through again and I thought it would be good to share with my "broader audience" some of the truths I've been wrestling with in my personal life.  I find Rohr's writings extremely helpful…the reason? Rohr comes from the contemplative tradition, one that is steeped in silence, contemplation and listening.  Most of the people I read burn up the moments of life like I do…massive movement and stress.  Because of that fact I have a tendency to listen a bit more intently to those who have heard the voice of "still" and share insights gathered more in silence than in proactivity.  When I was in grad school, I purposely took a course from a Franciscan monk on the Gospel of John.  It was one of the most life-changing experiences in my journey with Jesus.  This man "knew" the gospel in a manner I couldn't understand because he wrote and studied it within the crucible of contemplation.  I find Rohr's writing provocative for the same reason.  

So, here are a couple of reflections from two of the chapters in Rohr's book, Falling Upward…a book I highly recommend:

 “We would rather be ruined than changed.  We would rather die in our dread than climb
the cross of the present and let our illusions die.”
  W.H. Auden

“Sooner or later, if
you are on any classic ‘spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea,
or relationship will enter your life that you simply cannot deal with using
your present skill set, your acquired knowledge, or your strong willpower…you
will be, you must be, led to the edge of your own private resources.  At that point, you will stumble over a
necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it…you will and you must lose at
something…there must be at least ONE situation in our lives that we cannot fix,
control, explain, change or even understand.”
  Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

“Any attempt to engineer
or plan your own enlightenment is doomed to failure because it is ego driven.”
  Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

“Until we are led to
the limits of our present game plan, and find it to be insufficient, we will
not search out or find the real SOURCE.”
Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

I’ve read the above words numerous times.  In fact, I have spent the last two months
pouring over four of Rohr’s books, so I’ve had to face them on a number of
occasions.   Each has challenged me in
its own way…each has surfaced important truths but, most importantly, important
“growth edges” in my life.  I am never
surprised, nor do I cease to be amazed, at the shortcomings of my wisdom and
knowledge of life.  You would think after
58 years, innumerable relationships, an intimate marriage and in-depth
connections with my children and grandkids that I would “know” better.  But alas, I don’t.  I have experienced what Auden states above, I
would rather be ruined than changed.” 
Don’t take me wrong, I want to live a transformed and transforming life
but I am constantly amazed at how I lack the courage or wherewithal to embrace
that which I would need to embrace in order to dive deeper into healing waters.

When Rohr says that there will come a time in all of our
lives when we get to the “end of our rope” all I can say is “amen.”  I’ve stumbled, crashed, tripped and fallen.
I’ve tried to fix, glue, nail and correct all my mistakes and shortcomings
without doing the ONE THING that would bring consistent hope and help…submit
myself to the grace of God.  It seems to
me that I have always been more interested in my “game plan” than God’s.  I SAY and DESIRE to live by God’s plan and to
“rest” (perpetual life experience of Sabbath, see the book of Hebrews) but
inevitably I pick up the old game plan and dust it off OR simply go to another
game plan of my own making.  Yes, I know
that there are many things that I cannot “fix, control, explain, change, or
even explain” but that doesn’t keep me from trying.  People who have journeyed the 12 steps of
recovery would know like the back of their hands that until we have REACHED out
and GRASPED with all our might the end of our own resources, we will never be
able to have the room in our hands (and hearts) to reach out to God. 

What’s the situation in your life right now where you are at
edge of your “private resources?”  You
know, I’ve got some places of undeniable “stuckness” in my life at these
moments.  I know I’m good at one thing –
trying to play savior.  I’m often more
into SELF-redemption than Jesus redemption. 
I’m often more apt to spend much more time building my OWN kingdom than
LIVING God’s Kingdom.  Self-obsession is
not just a disease of those who would admit that they feel or choose to be far
from God.  Self-obsession is that one
reality that continues to place its fingerprints all over our lives…I know;
it’s a reality for me.  The words, “I can
do this” are much more apt to be heard coming from MY mouth than the words, “I
can’t and only God can.”  We’ve all been
pretty well trained in our culture to be self-sufficient.  Even those who say that we have paired our
lives with the Kingdom of God have spent more of our time depending on
ourselves than on the Lord.  The result?  Instead of getting to the end of our own
“skill set” and falling into Almighty Arms, we go back to the drawing board and
come up with OUR next and best life scheme. 

The Bottom line? 
Until we really get to the end of our resources we cannot really KNOW
the love of God.  We can hear about
it…but there is always “SELF-LOVE” that is our safety net and not God’s
love.  So on a cognitive level, yeah,
God’s love and grace sounds good…but it never is something that is truly life
changing until all you have in your life is God.  Someone once told me, “you never know Jesus
is all you need until Jesus is all you got.” 
Give that some thought…why?  
Because NEXT week I’m going to share with you what INEVITABLY must
happen in order for us to loose our grip on our own life agenda.  Yes, we always come to the end of our
ropes…but then, instead of looking for God, we look for another rope.  But that’s another story for another time.  

who wants to save his life, must lose it. 
Anyone who loses her life will find it. 
What gain is there if you win the whole world and lose your very
self?  What can you offer in exchange for
your one life?  Matthew 16

“…in many
ways it has been the church that has taught me – in ways that I did not plan –
the message of necessary suffering.”
  Richard Rohr, Falling Upward

the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.”
Rohr, Falling Upward

NO BODY LIKES TO SUFFER!  Nobody likes personal pain.  Like you, I’ve had to learn how to deal with
reality…and frankly, you know as well as I do that at times reality sucks.  Last week’s devotional put us before a hard
truth that sooner or later we were going to have to face a situation,
circumstance, relationship, or issue that was going to force us to wrestle with
our lack of personal resources.  Sooner
or later, some issue will take down our self delusion that we are god.  Something is going to hit us that puts us on
a level playing field with everyone in the world…for everyone has pain.  Everyone has problems.  Everyone suffers. 

I’ve often commented to people that you will never
get “even” in the “comparison game” of pain. 
Get any two people together and from their specific vantage point in
life they have NEVER suffered as much as anyone else in the world with that
which they are enduring.  You see,
everyone’s pain is just that – every ONE’s pain.  What may seem like a walk in the park to one
person could be, and often will be, devastating to others.  You know how I came to that conclusion?  My God taught be as I watched my
granddaughter Abby negotiate her battle with leukemia.  I thought often while Abby fought cancer for
over five years how I would have changed positions with her time and
again.  If I could only something like
that – “take her pain upon myself.”  And
then it struck me…that’s already been done. 
Truthfully, Abby has the personal character to endure what she did.  For some reason unknown to me she was able to
heroically and patiently endure what would have wiped out many of us.  You know what does get to Abby though?  She has a very “sensitive” scalp (every since
her cancer treatments).  She HATES having
her hair brushed because of the pain. 
Now, you might be thinking, “what a wimp.”  But you haven’t endured what she has and her
pain is real to her…in some respects MORE real than the leukemia battle.  You see, you can’t compare pain…everyone has
it, everyone suffers and everyone endures. 

Think of it this way – necessary suffering goes on
every day, seemingly without question. 
Richard Rohr gives an example of that reality when he writes,

“I just
read that only ONE saguaro cactus seed out of a quart of a million ever makes
it even to early maturity, and ever fewer after that.  Most of nature seems to totally accept major
loss, gross inefficiency, mass extinctions, and short life spans as the price
of life at all”
  Falling Upward

The issue with suffering is not why or even when or
how to escape it?  It is embedded in our
world from the realms of creation into the sphere of human experience.  OUR issue has more to do with HOW we live in
the midst of this suffering.  In other
words, with the freedom that comes to us as a gift, saying “no” to suffering,
avoiding any talk of death, stumbling, admitting mistakes or falling only sets
us up for the further pain of avoidance. 
You see, denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.  Denial, avoidance, and addictions in all
shapes and sizes are often our preferred way of dealing with reality.  By saying “NO” to reality we have a hard time
saying “YES” to God and to His healing.

Suffering is often the ONLY WAY that your attention
can be pried away from the obsession of self. 
As Rohr writes,

false self is your role, title, and personal image that is largely a creation
of your own mind and attachments.  It
will and MUST die in exact correlation to how much you want to be made real.”

What that means to me is that suffering is what God
uses (not causes but uses) to be able to bring us into transformation.  Just as many images in the scripture proclaim
this truth (Potter and Clay – romans 9:21 and Isaiah 64:8 as well as the Vine
and Vinedresser in John 15 to name just two) we must admit that we would rather
edit them out of the bible than embrace them.  
And any spiritual “system” (religious thinking) that does not adhere to
this necessary truth isn’t telling the truth. 
A good spiritual teacher deals with reality from a framework of the
eternal character, nature and grace of God…but make no mistake about it, they
must deal IN reality.  And remember,
necessary suffering will always feel like dying and dying is the ONLY WAY to
new life.  You can do a scriptural search
for affirmation on that one…it just so happens to summarize the grand story of

I love this from NT Wright,

“Just when
God seems most dead, He may be coming back to life. It certainly was so for the
disciples. It may be for you. I love a sentence from the German theologian,
Jurgen Moltmann. He said this, "God weeps with us so that we may one day
laugh with him." The disciples wept on Good Friday. They laughed on Easter
Sunday. I believe, and my faith rests on that same pattern, that what He did on
a cosmic scale at Calvary He is doing in a very small and personal scale in my
life.  God weeps with us so that we may
some day laugh with Him. The disciples wept on Good Friday. They laughed on
Easter Sunday. So will we. It's good to remember that we live out our days on
earth, on the in-between day, on Saturday, in the midst of the unfairness,
believing in Easter Sunday that is to come.”

Below are some “Lessons from Wilderness
Journeys.”  I wrote these a few years
back as I was traversing a personal wilderness. 
What I learned is outlined in these lessons. 

Lessons we can learn from the wilderness journeys
(Mark 1, and the book of Numbers)

#1-We need to remind ourselves that we believe in
God…no toothless, passive, powerless entity

#2-We need to see reality…the "wilderness or
exile time" in our life was most likely brought about as a result of our
own actions.  Don't blame God…that will
not be helpful though it is our tendency.

#3-We need to see that God sometimes will use other
people to minister to us in times of trial. 
We want to "cocoon". 
Others can help pull us out even if they do not know they are being used
of God.  Be on the lookout for these

#4-We need to remember that the wilderness or exile
may have a purpose in God's plan for our lives that we do not see, understand
or even appreciate.  Seek God for
understanding.  Instead of yearning for a
way out, walk the wilderness for the “appointed time.”  Desire to learn the lessons of the
wilderness/exile for they are there for your growth in Christ.

#5-We need to let God out of the box and not expect
Him to act in as He has in our past.  Though
God may act in a similar manner, He is also ready to do something new in you. 

#6-We need to trust in the grace and goodness of
the Lord.  If you focus on anything while
in the wilderness or in” exile", focus on the truth that God will not
abandon you.  Do not give in to self-pity
for God's promise is that He will provide.

#7-We need to remember that God is more interested
in new life than He is in a spiritual "paint job".  That may be the one lesson that is worthy of
learning while in "exile".  God
uses exiles to change and transform us.

#8-We need to remember that God does not forget you
while you are in "exile". 
Christ has chosen you as His own. 
If you do not forget Him, the Lord will help you remember that you are
precious to Him.

 #9-We need to listen to the Lord when He says that
we have a responsibility to share our deliverance and salvation with
others.  We are to be servants and lights
to the world.



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