Suffering and Resurrection Are Universal Phenomena and We Are Saved Together

Richard Rohr, April 9th, 2021

I am convinced that the Gospel offers us a holistic understanding of salvation. If we understand the resurrection as a universal phenomenon, we can see this idea everywhere in Pauline passages, expressed in different ways. Here are some examples: “in that one body he condemned sin” (Romans 8:3); “he experienced death for all humankind” (Hebrews 2:9); he has done suffering and sacrifice “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:27); the embodiment language of Philippians, where Jesus is said to lead us through the “pattern of death” so we can “take our place in the pattern of resurrection” (3:9–12). And of course, this all emerges from Jesus’s major metaphor of the “Reign of God,” a fully collective notion, which many scholars say is just about all that he talks about. Until we start reading the Jesus story through the collective notion that the Christ offers us, I honestly think we miss much of the core message, and read it all in terms of individual salvation, and individual reward and punishment. Society will remain untouched, leaving Christianity little chance of changing the world.

Julian of Norwich was given the gift of seeing in this holistic way. In chapter 9 of the Long Text she writes:

We are all one in love. . . . When I look at myself as an individual, I see that I am nothing. It is only in unity with my fellow spiritual seekers that I am anything at all. It is this foundation of unity that will save humanity.

God is all that is good. God has created all that is made. God loves all that he has created. And so anyone who, in loving God, loves all his fellow creatures [and] loves all that is. All those who are on the spiritual path contain the whole of creation, and the Creator. That is because God is inside us, and inside God is everything. And so whoever loves God loves all that is. [1]

Scholar Mary C. Earle comments on this passage:

Julian sees that each life is part of a glorious whole. Each life, so miniscule in and of itself, is connected to the vast web of life held in being by God.

The oneness of love has clear implications for the ways in which we think about salvation. Julian would be surprised by some of our notions about individual salvation today, such as the question, “Have you been saved?” Following early Christian writers, she understands that it is not a question of individual salvation; we are all saved together. All creatures, and the cosmos itself, originate from one divine source; at our death we all return to that source. In our lives here, moreover, that love indwells all and weaves us together in ways we cannot fathom.

God is within us, at home, patiently and kindly awaiting our recognition. As Maker of all, God is in everything, present in all places and at all times. [2]

[1] The Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation, Mirabai Starr (Hampton Roads: 2013), 23–24. [Italics mine.]

[2] Julian of Norwich: Selections from Revelations of Divine Love—Annotated & Explained, annotation by Mary C. Earle (SkyLight Paths Publishing: 2013), 116.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2021, 2019), 163–164

All Will Be Well

April 4 – April 9, 2021

Sunday
Resurrection and renewal are, in fact, the universal and observable pattern of everything.

Monday
Our sister and ancestor Julian is eager not only to speak to us today but to shout at us—albeit in a gentle way—to wake up and to go deep, to face the darkness and to dig down and find goodness, joy and awe. —Matthew Fox

Tuesday
And so what I saw most clearly was that love is his meaning. God wants us to know that he loved us before he even made us, and this love has never diminished and never will. —Julian of Norwich

Wednesday
We must take comfort in the essential article of our faith that teaches us not to give into our negative impulses, but to draw strength from Christ, who is our defender against all harm. We need to stand up against evil, even if to do so causes discomfort. —Julian of Norwich

Thursday
Julian speaks out about womanhood and about mothering and about the Divine Mother. She insists on the feminine side of God as imbuing not only God the Creator, but God the Liberator, and God the Spirit. —Matthew Fox

Friday
All those who are on the spiritual path contain the whole of creation, and the Creator. That is because God is inside us, and inside God is everything. And so whoever loves God loves all that is. —Julian of Norwich

Loving-Kindness Meditation

Buddhist loving-kindness (or metta) practice counteracts the sense of powerlessness that contributes to the anxiety of not experiencing that “all will be well.” Metta practice also awakens compassion and reminds us of our interdependence. It can be an antidote to the usual selfish sense of happiness which prioritizes our wellbeing and ignores or denies responsibility for the wellbeing of others. I offer this version of loving-kindness practice adapted from meditation teacher Steven Smith.

We begin with loving ourselves, for unless we have a measure of this unconditional love and acceptance for ourselves, it is difficult to extend it to others. Then we include others who are special to us, and ultimately, all living things. Gradually, both the visualization and the meditation phrases blend into the actual experience, the feeling of loving kindness. . . .

Take a very comfortable posture. . . . Begin to focus around . . . your “heart center,” breathing in and out from that area. Next, evoke a kind feeling toward yourself. Drop beneath [any areas of self-judgment or self-hatred] to the place where we care for ourselves, where we want strength and health and safety for ourselves.

Continuing to breathe in and out, use either these traditional phrases or ones you choose yourself. Say or think them several times.  

May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I be safe and protected.

May I be free of mental suffering or distress.

May I be happy.

May I be free of physical pain and suffering.

May I be healthy and strong.

May I be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease.

Next, move to a person who most invites a feeling of loving kindness in you, and repeat the phrases for this person:

“May she/he be free from inner and outer harm and danger. . . . ”

Now move to a neutral person, someone for whom you feel neither strong like nor dislike. As you repeat the phrases, allow yourself to feel tenderness, loving care for their welfare.

Now, repeat the phrases for someone you have difficulty with—hostile feelings, resentments. . . . If you have difficulty doing this, you can say before the phrases, “To the best of my ability I wish that you be. . . . ” If you begin to feel ill will toward this person, return to the benefactor and let loving kindness arise again. Then return to this person. . . .

Finally, extend loving kindness out to all beings, using phrases such as these:

May all beings be safe, happy, healthy, live joyously.

May all living beings be healed and whole, content and fulfilled.

May all individuals have whatever they need.

May all beings in existence have safety, happiness, health, joy, and peace.

Abide in silence for a few more breaths, then journal about your experience, if you like.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

**

When you looked at me

your eyes imprinted your grace in me;

for this you loved me ardently;

and thus my eyes deserved

to adore what they beheld in you. . . .

Let us go forth to behold ourselves in your beauty.

—John of the Cross, “The Spiritual Canticle,” stanzas 32, 36

When we read poetry as beautiful and profound as this verse, we can see why John of the Cross (1542–1591) was far ahead of his time in the spiritual and psychological understanding of how love works and how true love changes us at a deep level. He consistently speaks of divine love as the template and model for all human love, and human love as the necessary school and preparation for any transcendent encounter. Authentic friendship with another person is one way to experience this type of love and will be the focus of this week’s meditations. If you have never experienced such human love or friendship, it will be very hard for you to access God as Love. If you have never let God love you, you will not know how to love humanly in the deepest way. Of course, grace can overcome both of these limitations.

Here is my paraphrase of this beautiful passage from John of the Cross:

You give a piece of yourself to the other.

You see a piece of yourself in the other (usually unconsciously).

This allows the other to do the same in return.

You do not need or demand anything back from them,

Because you know that you are both participating

In a single, Bigger Gazing and Loving—

One that fully satisfies and creates an immense Inner Aliveness.

(Simply to love is its own reward.)

You accept being accepted—for no reason and by no criteria whatsoever!

This is the key that unlocks everything in me, for others,

and toward God.

So much so that we call it “salvation”!

To put it another way, what I let God see and accept in me also becomes what I can then see and accept in myself, in my friends, and in everything else. This is “radical grace.” This is why it is crucial to allow God, and at least one other trusted person to see us in our imperfection and even our nakedness, as we are—rather than as we would ideally wish to be. It is also why we must give others this same experience of being looked upon in their imperfection; otherwise, they will never know the essential and transformative mystery of grace.

Such utterly free and gratuitous love is the only love that validates, transforms, and changes us at the deepest levels of consciousness. It is what we all desire and what we were created for. Once we allow it for ourselves, we will almost naturally become a conduit of the same for others. In fact, nothing else will attract us anymore or even make much sense.

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