Letting go of old ideas of order, an invitation to metanoia: to turn around or change our minds

Richard Rohr, August 2020

Order is the first stage of healthy development. To continue growing, we must go through a period—or even many periods—of Disorder. The pattern of transformation involves at least some measure of suffering. Part of us has to die if we are ever to grow larger (John 12:24). If we’re not willing to let go of our smaller selves, our norms, beliefs, and preferences, we won’t be able to enter the more expansive and inclusive space of Reorder.

The invitation from Jesus to move from one stage to another seems quite clear in his frequent invitation to metanoia: to turn around or change our minds. I remember having problems with that myself. I thought, “Why should I turn around? I’m baptized, confirmed, have shared the Eucharist, and am even ordained! I’m right!” How foolish and yet how typical of someone in love with Order. That’s precisely the stubbornness Jesus is talking about.

Almost inevitably, our ideally ordered universe—our “private salvation project” as Thomas Merton called it—will eventually disappoint us, at least if we are honest. At some point in our lives, we will be deeply disappointed by what we were originally taught, by where our choices have led us, or by the seemingly random tragedies that take place in all our lives. There will be a death, a disease, a disruption to our normal way of thinking or being in the world. It is necessary if any real growth is to occur.

Some of us find this stage so uncomfortable we try to flee back to our first created order—even if it is killing us. Others today seem to have given up and decided that “there is no universal order,” at least no order we will submit to. That’s the postmodern stance, which distrusts all grand narratives and ideologies, including often any notions of reason, a common human nature, social progress, universal human norms, absolute truth, or objective reality. Much of the chaos that reigns in the American culture and government these days is the direct result of such a “post-truth society.”

But permanent residence in Disorder is rather tragic and certainly unhelpful. It tends to make people negative and cynical, and usually angry. Searching for some solid ground, we can easily become quite opinionated and dogmatic about one form of political correctness or another. While some accuse religious people of being overly dogmatic, this stymied position worships disorder itself as though it were a dogma.

I can see why Christianity adopted the language of being “born again.” The great traditions seem to say the first birth is not enough. We not only have to be born, but remade. The remaking of the soul and the refreshing of the eye has to be done again and again.


Matthew Fox shares this from Thomas Merton, from his Asian Journal, helpful in further awareness:

The deepest level of communication is not communication but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words and it is beyond speech and beyond concept.

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