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Richard Rohr: Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy?

Posted on 23 February 2016, 10:09

Franciscan Richard Rohr (below) writes that it is no use spending energy attacking the Pope, or the entrenched doctrines of the Church. Many words are expended, opposition aroused,  and the result is darkness. We should let them be, but look in another direction: not Orthodoxy, right teaching, but rather Orthopraxy, right practice. Right practice is to love God (as you understand that word) with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and your neighbour as yourself, (how many times have we heard these words?) Jesus agreed about “orthopraxy” for he added the words, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


Jesus never said, “Believe all the books of the Hebrew Bible are infallibly true”, On the contrary, on many occasions he begged to differ. He never said, “Unless you believe in the saving power of my blood that I shall shed at the crucifixion,” or “Unless you can believe that my birth was a virgin birth”... or in “the immaculate conception of my mother”, or that “the right method of church government is..” or that, “unless you are very good, and behave very well,” or “unless you are baptised by a properly ordained minister” cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.  Can we imagine Jesus saying any such thing? 

Prefacing the words, “Jesus said,” in front of some doctrines does make them seem strange. They all seem to put obstacles in the way of loving God. Seeing God through the lens of priests and ministers can also be an obstacle.

Rohr writes, “You don’t have to go to sacred places to pray or wait for holy days for good things to happen. You can pray always, and everything that happens is potentially sacred if you allow it to be. Once we can accept that God is in all situations and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. “This is the day Yahweh has made memorable, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24)”

Why I feel rather carried away with the Franciscan teaching of Rohr, is that it is almost identical with that of Afterlife teaching from St Stephen the Martyr. It is a joyous thing to find truth confirming truth in this way. Take this quotation from that book:

“There never was a time when our Lord Jesus was not the Christ;neither is there a time, when any of the imaged creation of the Father is not the Christ.

This we must understand: this is our salvation, our acceptance of what is. Once we accept the perfection of all that is then, as I have said before, there are no disasters; there are only disasters from the point of view of (im)perfection.

The place of men’s thoughts in the future of things, whether we call it religion or not, is the acceptance of what is perfect and we need to continually remind ourselves that all is perfect, and all is well. There is no sin too great that would continually separate you from the Father if you would not have that sin separate you.”

Incarnate in our physical bodies, hearing daily of some nightmare being enacted at home or abroad, “all is perfect” sounds perfect nonsense. The philosopher Leibnitz in his philosophy of Optimism where he writes of the perfection of God’s activity in the world, was derided by Voltaire in his satirical book, Candide.  Yet…

Thinking in terms of the commonsense world where we are separate from each other, there is certainly good and evil. But when we think of ourselves as participants in one undivided whole, we see things differently. We are seeing things sub specie aeternitatis, in the eye of Eternity.

In the light of this, in his Daily Meditations of February 17, 2016 Frederick Rohr writes:

Like Jesus, St. Francis did not go down the self-protective and exclusionary track. They both knew what they were for—and who they were—not just what they were against. That is the heart of the matter. Jesus and Francis had a genius for not eliminating or punishing the so-called negative side of the world, but incorporating it and using it.  Francis, merely imitating Jesus, goes to the edge of town and to the bottom of society; he kisses the leper, loves the poor, and wears patches on the outside of his habit so everyone will know that this is what he’s like on the inside. Francis doesn’t hide from his shadow side, but weeps over it and welcomes it as his teacher.
Rohr also writes, “The history of almost every religion begins with tne massive misperception; it begins by making a fatal distinction between the sacred and the profane. Low-level religions put all their emphasis on creating sacred places, sacred time, and sacred actions. While I fully appreciate the need for this, it unfortunately leaves the majority of life ‘un-sacred.’‘

The creative spirit of God which is Christ the Word is in all, through all, and above all. Every living creature participates in this All, an All which is not divided, where All is linked to All. All is sacred. There is a hymn that I like which begins with the words,

God is working his purpose out
as year succeeds to year:
God is working his purpose out,
and the time is drawing near;
nearer and nearer draws the time,
the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled
with the glory of God
as the waters cover the sea.

St Francis models himself on Jesus, refraining from judging, and including people in the bottom of society in the saving activity of God.

I am using the language of religion, seeing things from that point of view. Yet from the point of view of consciousness studies or psychic research we see the same picture, the same understanding. All the phenomena described in White Crow Books, in Victor Zammit’s Weekly communications, give similar testimony. All such phenomena are possible because of the reality of a universal mind or consciousness, the medium in which these events occur. That medium is not divided, and from that medium arose all the events of consciousness, and all the activities of that consciousness whether we label these events as “good” or “bad”. It might be said that LOVE is at the basis of it all. (We might need to explore its many dimensions, though.) It could be said that each supposedly individual consciousness, or thought that arises in that mind, needs first to find what “non-love” is from experience. So we have a supposed separation from the universal mind, a complete forgetting of that mind and spirit, a descent into isolation, self-centredness, selfishness, judgment, and pain. We know the difference between good and evil, we judge, we punish and we create further imagined separation, in our judgments we cut ourselves off from our neighbour, and come to a state of war with our neighbour. Therefore there is more and more pain and what we normally call “evil”.

From the point of view of the sensory-physical world evil is undeniably almost everywhere to be found. It is not difficult to find mindless, senseless evil from this point of view. The point of view of the sensory-physical is perfectly and undeniably valid…..But on the other hand we can also undeniably be seen as participants in an indivisible whole… this is the mystical view, the view of Jesus when talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, when he talks of all of us being God’s children, it is the view of St Paul when he talks about membership of the universal body of Christ. 

Sin is described as “missing the mark”, failure to acknowledge and actively participate in the wondrous Whole. The Whole is our true home, and in the physical world of separation and of counting and measuring, we are in a “far country.”

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus shows us what has to happen,: in our minds and in our hearts we have been in “a far country” and we need to come back to the Father, the universal Spirit with all our pains, all our disappointments with ourselves, all our guilts, to the open arms of that mysterious universal love which binds all together.  (I have quoted St Stephen’s words to the effect that nothing we have thought or done can cut us off from this universal love, if we dont want it to.)

Think of the great healing that so often comes from Near-Death Experiences, communications from the “dead”, inspirations of music, poetry, synchronicities, think of the picture of things painted by the great physicists, then we will truly have “peace that passeth all understanding.”

The world has suffered so much from the divisive judgements and clever doctrines of the great religions, engendering so much fear and divisiveness. Pretty deep in the psyches of each one of us, is the fear of judgment and punishment from a hostile God.

What Francis, (and Stephen) remind us, is that we are participants in a Whole immeasurably more wonderful than we can begin to imagine.  When the Anglican catechism says that we are “members of Christ.,, children of God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven” it is quite right. This is true of the whole human race and more.

Religions so often depict the drama of life as the battle between good and evil, It is not. Rather it is learning the length, the breadth, the height and depth of the Whole that undergirds our existence. “Christ within me, Christ above me, Christ behind me, Christ before me…”

St Francis, “St Stephen” preach orthopraxy.. right action, not beliefs. So I believe did Jesus. His teaching was simple: Love God and neighbour. Be humble. Lead by serving. Have all things in common. Always forgive. Never fight. Remember you are inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. Foreigners are as important as locals, women as men. The poor have less attachments to things that separate our minds from God than the rich. (Stephen also warned of the cleverness of our minds that so often blind us to Spirit).  Salvation comes when we all truly realise who we are.

Michael Cocks edits the journal, The Ground of Faith.
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
His latest book, Into the Wider Dream: Synchronicity in the Witness Box is published by White Crow Books.

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“Children and the Light” by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – ALF Rose had this experience many years ago when he was ill with pneumonia as a young child of four or five. Suddenly I was out of my body and floating near the top of the window in my bedroom. I could see myself in bed and my mother kneeling at the side of the bed. She was crying and looked very distressed. I gazed at this scene for a little while and remember that I didn't feel any emotion at all and was completely indifferent to what I saw. Without any warning at all I was travelling very swiftly through a dense forest. Read here
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