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A Sense of Oneness
on December 28, 2014
The Naked Now by Richard Rohr
This is the third book that I have read by Father Rohr. I have also followed his daily meditations for perhaps the last 2 years. I read his message of spirituality as essentially two pronged:
First, our world, especially when we are younger, is “dualistic”. This dualism is reflected in our mindset of things being right or wrong-an “either/or” approach to life’s questions and problems. At some stage this must be largely replaced by “nondualism”, or unitary thinking, where “both/and” replaces “either/or”, especially as we examine our own life and psyche. This way of thinking will bring us to a point of compassion and love, what he feels is the essence of God.
Second, when we reach this level of consciousness we will be able to receive grace, or experience “oneness”, or however one best expresses a feeling of connectedness to all of creation. I emphasized “receive” because Father Rohr stresses that this holy acceptance is not something that must be earned, as it is always present. We are always at one with God or the universe, but our ego, or “either/or” thinking, prevents us from being in a spiritual position to receive and appreciate this grace. Indeed, he often faults organized religion, including his own Catholic Church, as having lost this essence of true Christian belief by clinging to ritual and fear to cement its power among parishioners.
The Naked Now is a collection of essays that wonderfully expands and explains the author’s spiritual message by numerous different questions and scenarios. Being so divided it is a very easy and enjoyable read, and can be reread in parts without the need to review the entire book. It stresses the need to “see as the mystics see”, referring to ancient men and women of faith who embraced the mystery of the world and of faith.
The work, like ancient Gaul, is divided into three parts. I read the first part as introducing the reader to non dual thinking and the contemplative mind. The author emphasizes that we must abandon dualistic thinking, as all the “mature religions” have done. By contrast, our culture seeks order and control through duality, not oneness and a presence in the now. Spirituality should be about finding a presence, and experiencing heaven now, not as some distant promise. By non dual thinking we can reach a higher level of consciousness, a higher level of seeing.
This sight is with our “third eye”. The first eye is the sensate–it grasps what we can actually see and feel. The second goes beyond that to include our imagination, intuition and reason, adding to the experience of the senses. The third eye represent the awe before an underlying mystery, a coherence and spaciousness that connects the viewer with everything else. The mystics see with this third eye.
When we see with our third eye our heart, body and mind are all simultaneously open and non resistant– what the author calls presence. He feels that contemplative thought is the path to this higher level of seeing, to having presence. Contemplation is an exercise in keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see other hidden material. But true spirituality is not just accumulating more knowledge, but developing a new way of thinking and seeing things when one is present.
I am always drawn to the breadth of the author’s sense of spirituality. Although much of his belief and training are grounded in Christian Catholicism, he readily acknowledges the wisdom of other religions, including native ones. For me, he also adds a sense of what I might call secular spirituality by seeing “God” as not a wise person, but as a sense of oneness or connectedness. Indeed, he notes early writing suggesting that the word Yahweh was originally thought to be a duplication of the sound of breathing. He feels that concentrating on breathing, a basic meditative tool, makes one realize that he or she is
“ connected to humanity from caveman to cosmonauts, to the entire animal world, and even to the trees and the plants. And we are now told that the atoms we breathe are physically the same as the stardust from the original Big Bang. Oneness is no longer merely a vague mystical notion, but a scientific fact.”
It is this oneness that applies broadly to spirituality.
I think the second part is aimed more at seeing the basis for nondual thinking in Christian scriptures, and also further expanding on the need to reach a level of union in order to effect meaningful change.
He notes that Jesus always referred to himself as human, and sought private prayer as his refuge. In fact, the author feels that Jesus condemned public prayer, or was at least wary of it. This shows Jesus to be more of a contemplative thinker than one bound by ritual or dogma. The author also feels that Jesus’ warnings may have recognized that when we make too much of public prayer and ceremony, we risk using them for our own aggrandizement, rather than prayer being a interior practice to change the one who is praying.
Some ritual also tends to say “only” here or only there, or only in my church, rather than saying that God is always everywhere. The author feels that “Jesus is in effect saying that if God is everywhere, then God is not anywhere exclusively”. Yet groups, including churches, “hold together much better when there is a clear and defined ‘us’ and ‘them’, and when we are the superior ones.” This is again a criticism of dualistic thinking as debasing the Christian message. Indeed, Father Rohr seems adamant in his belief that any church that says its way is the only way has missed the whole crux of Christianity.
The author’s reading of the scriptures sees Jesus as an instrument of change, a change here on earth. He feels that the use of the “kingdom of God” by Jesus was a metaphor for a new consciousness, not a place or an afterlife, but a way of seeing and thinking now. “The kingdom of God is the naked now- the world without human kingdoms, ethnic communities, national boundaries, or social identifications”.
I believe the author really encapsulates much of his feelings in a few passages. He speaks of prayer as resonance.
“Prayer is actually a tuning fork. All you can really do in the spiritual life is get tuned to receive the always present message. Once you get tuned you will receive, and it has nothing to do with worthiness or the group you belong to, but only inner resonance and a capacity for mutuality. Prayer is indeed the way to make contact with God/Ultimate Reality, but it is not an attempt to change God’s mind about us or about events. Such attempts are what the secularists make fun of- and rightly so.” Prayer is about changing you, not God.
He then admits to his position:
“You can see that in this book I am a man of one major idea: immediate, unmediated contact with the moment is the clearest path to divine union; naked, undefended and nondual presence has the best chance of encountering the Real Presence.”
This is consistent with his overriding insistence that Grace/Heaven/Oneness/Union is always within us and must be received, not earned. We receive it by being present. And we are present when we have lost control, when we have suffered greatly or loved greatly and thus removed our barriers and become prepared for union.
I read part three as expanding on the nature of nondual thinking, attempting to clarify it for the reader. The author points out what it is not–it is not relativism, or mere skepticism, or merely saying there are two sides to everything. It is not some fuzzy or esoteric way of thinking and avoiding all judgments or taking appropriate positions, but does not allow one to begin by judgmentally searching for error and sin in others so that he or she can eliminate it or project it on others. It is just a broader way of seeing that doesn’t eliminate possibilities out of hand, that doesn’t exclude the mystical, that accepts paradox. The author feels that embracing paradox is necessary to see things, and life, in a different way. Everything and everybody has contradictions, not necessarily “good” and “bad”, but just inconsistencies that might seem less so if seen from a different point of view. The author feels that most Western religions have tended to “objectify paradoxes in dogmatic statements that demand mental agreement instead of any inner experience of the mystery revealed”.
When one can accept paradox, and become nondual, he or she is aware, and has fallen into a pure consciousness separate from himself. One stops labeling people and just sees them. One is no longer defined by status, or wealth, or group affiliations, even churches or temples. His identity comes from himself, even though he finds himself connected to everybody and everything. One still needs to love and serve others, but not in order to define yourself either positively or negatively. Indeed, the author feels that one must experience human love to access God as love, and that if you never let God love you, you will not know how to love humanity in the deepest way.
The author sees the basic Christian teaching of the Trinity as reflecting the non-dual nature of the gospel. Jesus is the personification of nondualism. If a Christian can live in the concept of the Trinity, then “either-or” thinking becomes useless. But Father Rohr feels that most Christians have not really embraced the mystery of the Trinity, but just believed it to be true and then gone on to other things. As he says so often, the churches must go beyond dual thought to properly deliver the message of the Gospel. He also points out that,
“Although I am a Catholic Christian, I am impressed that all three of the great Asian religions- Hindu Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, and Chinese Taoism- build upon a world view of nonduality and paradox.”
In one of his last chapters, he perhaps summarizes much of what he is saying in what he calls “Principles of Likeness”:
“The enormous breakthrough is that when you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. This is why you stop judging, and that is how you start loving unconditionally and without asking whether someone is worthy or not.”
I feel that this book is an excellent reference for the teachings of Richard Rohr. It’s series of short chapters makes it very readable, if not a bit repetitious. However, he acknowledges that there may be quite a bit of duplicity in this writing, but that it helps to understand the concepts of non-dual thinking and the gift of grace in many different contexts. It has great appeal to me as a person unaffiliated with any church, uncertain about the mysteries of faith, but searching for a rather universal sense of spirituality. The author always stresses that no one religion has all the answers, and that any that so claim are clearly wrong. His concept of faith and love is all encompassing, inclusive, and accepts that mysteries are found in both the secular and the religious worlds. He challenges the reader to just reflect, to be contemplative, and to be willing to search for the union that he feels is present in the world.