Disorder, Re-order and Re-birth into New Paths and New Life

From Richard Rohr, August 2020

If we are granted this first stage of Order (and not all are), we feel innocent and safe. Everything is basically good, it all means something, and we feel a part of what looks normal and deserved. It is our “first naïveté.” Everything has an explanation, and thus feels like it is straight from God, solid, and forever. This is probably why we are so reluctant to relinquish our innocence; it often feels like a loss of faith.

Most worldviews have encouraged this perspective. We, in the United States, are a “first half of life culture,” largely concerned about surviving successfully. Probably most cultures and individuals across history have been situated in the first half or “Order” stage, because it is all they had time for. We try to do what seems like the task that life first hands us: establishing an identity, a home, relationships, friends, community, security, and building a proper platform for our only life.

But this is only the first task! When we try to stay in this first satisfying explanation of how things are, we tend to avoid any conflict, inconsistencies, suffering, or darkness and therefore opportunities for transformation. The familiar and habitual are so falsely reassuring, we make our homes there permanently. The ego believes that disorder or change is always to be avoided, so we hunker down and pretend that our Order is entirely good, should be good for everybody, and is always “true” and even the only truth. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push—usually a big one—or we will not go. Even many Christians do not like anything that looks like “carrying the cross,” no matter how piously they use the phrase.

Most of us are never told that we can set out from the known and familiar to take on a further journey. Our institutions, including our churches, and our expectations are almost entirely configured to encourage, support, reward, and validate the tasks of the first half of life. We are more struggling to survive than to thrive, more just “getting through” or trying to get to the top than finding out what is really at the top or even at the bottom.

Most of us in the first half of life suspect that all is not fully working, and we are probably right! Many, if not most, will settle for first-stage survival, and never get to “the unified field” of life itself. As Bill Plotkin, a wise guide, puts it, many of us learn to do our “survival dance,” but we never get to our actual “sacred dance.”

Last week’s Daily Meditations focused on Order as 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.

To grow toward love, union, salvation, or enlightenment, we must be moved from Order to Disorder, and then ultimately to Reorder. (Sunday)

Law, tradition, and boundaries—what I call Order—seem to be necessary in any spiritual system both to reveal and to limit our basic egocentricity. Such containers make at least some community, family, and marriage possible. (Monday)

This process of moving from innocence to knowledge is never finished. Always there is the realm of innocence, always there is the realm of knowledge. —Rev. Howard Thurman (Tuesday)

For Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), love is at the physical heart of the universe. He viewed love as the attraction of all things toward all things. We could say that love is the universal ordering principle. (Wednesday)

We can look upon the face of anyone or anything around us and say—as a moral declaration and a spiritual, cosmological, and biological fact: You are a part of me I do not yet know. —Valarie Kaur (Thursday)

The ego believes that disorder or change is always to be avoided, so we hunker down and pretend that our Order is entirely good, should be good for everybody, and is always “true” and even the only truth. (Friday)

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. (Sunday)

We must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern. (Monday)

Our only chance at dismantling racial injustice is being more curious about its origins than we are worried about our comfort. It’s not a comfortable conversation for any of us. —Austin Channing Brown (Tuesday)

Jesus was calling for a radical disruption of his religion, a great spiritual migration, and a similar disruption and migration are needed no less today in the religion that names itself after him. —Brian McLaren (Wednesday)

Life-threatening illness may cause people to question what they have accepted as unchanging. Values that have been passed down in a family for generations may be recognized as inadequate; lifelong beliefs about personal capacities or what is important may prove to be mistaken. —Rachel Naomi Remen (Thursday)

We only become enlightened as the ego dies to its pretenses, and we begin to be led by soul and Spirit. (Friday)

Beyond rational and critical thinking, we need to be called again. This can lead to the discovery of a “second naïveté,” which is a return to the joy of our first naïveté, but now totally new, inclusive, and mature thinking. —Paul Ricœur (1913–2005)

People are so afraid of being considered pre-rational that they avoid and deny the very possibility of the transrational. Others substitute mere pre-rational emotions for authentic religious experience, which is always transrational. —Ken Wilber

These two epigraphs are not precise quotations; they’re summaries drawn from my reflections on two great thinkers who more or less describe for me what happened on my own spiritual and intellectual journey.

Our recent Daily Meditations have been focusing on what seems to me a universal pattern of spiritual transformation that takes us from Order, through Disorder, to Reorder. Order, by itself, normally wants to eliminate any disorder or diversity, creating a narrow and cognitive rigidity in both people and systems. Disorder, by itself, closes us off from any primal union, meaning, and eventually even sanity in both people and systems. Our focus of this week is Reorder, or transformation of people and systems, which happens when both are seen to work together.

Like most other kinds of growth, this spiral probably happens over and over throughout our lives, and reveals itself in the Bible:

Garden of Eden —> Fall —> Paradise.

Walter Brueggemann teaches three kinds of Psalms: Psalms of Orientation —> Psalms of Disorientation —> Psalms of New Orientation. [1]

Christians call the pattern Life —> Crucifixion —> Resurrection.

Many now speak generally of Construction —> Deconstruction —> Reconstruction.

We are indeed “saved” by knowing and surrendering to this universal pattern of reality. Knowing the full pattern allows us to let go of the first order, accept the disorder, and, sometimes hardest of all—to trust the new reorder.

Every religion in its own way is talking about getting us to the reorder stage. Various systems would call it “enlightenment,” “paradise,” “nirvana,” “heaven,” “salvation,” “springtime,” or even “resurrection.” It is the life on the other side of death, the victory on the other side of failure, the joy on the other side of birthing pains. It is an insistence on going through—not under, over, or around. There is no nonstop flight to reorder. To arrive there, we must endure, learn from, and include the Disorder stage, transcending the first naïve Order—but also still including it! It amounts to the best of the conservative and the best of the liberal positions. People who have reached this stage, like the Jewish prophets, might be called “radical traditionalists.” They love their truth and their group enough to critique it; and they critique it enough to maintain their own integrity and intelligence. These wise ones have stopped overreacting but also over defending. They are usually a minority of humans.

Based on years of spiritual direction, I have observed that conservatives must let go of their illusion that they can order and control the world through religion, money, war, or politics. True release of control to God will show itself as compassion and generosity, and less boundary keeping. Liberals, however, must surrender their skepticism of leadership, eldering, or authority, and find what is good, healthy, and deeply true about a foundational order. This will normally be experienced as a move toward humility and real community.


Trajectory of human life toward mutuality and care of self and neighbor

Matter is the common, universal, tangible setting, infinitely shifting and varied, in which we live. . . . By matter we are nourished, lifted up, linked to everything else, invaded by life. —Teilhard de Chardin

The physical structure of the universe is love. —Teilhard de Chardin

For Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955), a French Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist, love is at the physical heart of the universe. He viewed love as the attraction of all things toward all things. We could say that love is the universal ordering principle. In this passage from Liberation and the Cosmos, CAC faculty member Dr. Barbara Holmes imagines a conversation between Civil Rights lawyer and educator Barbara Jordan (1936–1996) and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908–1993). It captures the essence of what is good and possible about Order—in both the laws of cosmos and the land.

Marshall: How about this, Barbara? Suppose, just for argument’s sake, that we consider the law to be a reflection of the order of the cosmos? Although there is chaos and synchronicity, there is also the potential for creative genesis.

Jordan: I remember reading the work of Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, mystic, and paleontologist who did a good deal of work on consciousness and the laws of the universe. . . .

The laws of nations give clues as to the state of mind of a populace, and sometimes they provide a history of our processive movement toward our highest good. That’s all of the science that I know. But from what I understand, there are laws of the universe as well as laws of nation-states. Matter and spirit are intertwined so that the “quanta of matter and spirit that once permeated the early universe become fibers of matter influenced by gravity and threads of spirit drawn by love.” [1] . . .

Marshall: Let me say a few cosmological things. While our laws are in place to prevent, proscribe, and punish, the laws of the universe seem to be focused on connection, attraction, and a cosmic holding mechanism. . . . Where was Teilhard when I needed him? The idea that we are connected to a future good, and moving toward something better, would have been a breath of fresh air . . . . Now that I am on this side of the continuum, I’m certain that the trajectory of human life is toward mutuality and care of self and neighbor. [2]

I wish more of us understood and accepted the “laws of the universe,” which include disruption, dynamism and evolution, instead of clinging so tightly to the “law and order” of church and country. Jesus himself indicated that “heavenly” and “human” laws are not on equal footing. He refused to enforce or even bother with what he considered secondary issues like ritual laws, purity codes, and membership requirements. He regarded them as human commandments, which far too often took the place of love (see Matthew 15:3, 6‒9).


Hildegard of Bingen was far ahead of her place and time, a Renaissance woman before the Renaissance, who led a monastery north of the Alps. She combined art, music, poetry, ecology, medicine, community, healing, and early feminism. (Sunday)

In Hildegard’s holistic understanding of the universe, the inner shows itself in the outer, and the outer reflects the inner. The individual reflects the cosmos, and the cosmos reflects the individual. (Monday)

Hildegard was forty-three years old when her visions finally became so insistent that she could no longer contain the secret she had harbored since early childhood: the Holy One, identifying itself as “the Living Light,” spoke to her. —Mirabai Starr (Tuesday)

Meister Eckhart stressed God as a ground of being present throughout creation—including in the human soul—and that each Christian is invited to give birth to Christ within one’s soul. —Carl McColman (Wednesday)

In being the image of God, we owe no allegiances to anything but the Infinite Love in whose image we are made. —James Finley (Thursday)

Mysticism begins when we start to make room for a completely new experience of God as immanent, present here and now, with us and within all of us. (Friday)


Gandhi’s spirit of non-violence sprang from an inner realization of spiritual unity in himself. —Thomas Merton (Sunday)

Authentic spirituality is always first about you—about allowing your own heart and mind to be changed. (Monday)

Nonviolence is the greatest and most active force in the world. The more you develop it in your own being, the more infectious it becomes till it overwhelms your surroundings and by and by might oversweep the world. —Mohandas Gandhi (Tuesday)

When you understand, you love. And when you love, you naturally act in a way that can relieve the suffering of people. —Thich Nhat Hanh (Wednesday)

We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own—indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. —Wangari Maathai (Thursday)

Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives. —Martin Luther King, Jr. (Friday)

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