By Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Tuesday, January 1, 2019
We’re calling this year’s theme “Old and New: An Evolving Faith.” The term “evolution” may be challenging for some Christians who believe that science and the Bible contradict each other. We’ll look more closely at the Bible (and how Jesus interpreted it) next week, and later this year we’ll focus on Creation and science. For now, let’s simply consider how the inner process of change and growth is fundamental to everything, even our bodies. Having undergone several surgeries, cancer, and a heart attack, I’ve been consoled by the way my body takes care of itself over time. The miracle of healing comes from the inside—but with help from doctors and nurses!
In religion, however, many prefer magical, external, one-time transactions instead of the universal pattern of growth and healing—which is always through loss and renewal. This is the way that life perpetuates itself in ever-new forms: through various changes that can feel like death. The pattern disappoints and scares most of us, even many clergy who think death and resurrection is just a doctrinal statement about the lone Jesus.
There is not a single discipline today that does not recognize change, development, growth, and some kind of evolving phenomenon: psychology, cultural anthropology, history, physical sciences, philosophy, social studies, drama, music, on and on. But in theology’s search for the Real Absolute, it imagined a static “unmoved mover,” as Aristotelian philosophy called it, a solid substance sitting above somewhere. Theology has struggled to imagine that once God includes us in the narrative then God is for sure changing! Is that not what the Bible—at its core—is saying? We matter to God and God thus allows us to change the narrative of history . . . and the narrative of God.
Religion tends to prefer and protect the status quo or the supposedly wonderful past, yet what we now see is that religion often simply preserves its own power and privilege. God does not need our protecting. We often worship old things as substitutes for eternal things. Jesus strongly rejects this love of the past and one’s private perfection, and he cleverly quotes Isaiah (29:13) to do it: “In vain do they worship me, teaching merely human precepts as if they were doctrines” (Matthew 15:9). Many of us seem to think that God really is “back there,” in the good ol’ days of old-time religion when God was really God, and everybody was happy and pure. This leaves the present moment empty and hopeless—not to speak of the future.
God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. This is the generative force implanted in all living things, which grow both from within—because they are programmed for it—and from without—by taking in sun, food, and water. Picture YHWH breathing into the soil that became Adam (Genesis 2:7). That is the eternal pattern. God is still breathing into soil every moment!
Evolutionary thinking is actually contemplative thinking because it leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and agrees to humbly hold the present with what it only tentatively knows for sure. Evolutionary thinking must agree to both knowing and not knowing, at the same time. This is hard for the egoically bound self. It wants to fully know—now—which is never true anyway