This week I’ve been watching and listening to some teaching and preaching by Father Richard Rohr. Father Richard offers reflections and meditations throughout the year and has chosen as a theme for 2021 “A Time for Unveiling”. As an introduction to this theme, he explained that most people of faith will be familiar with the word “apocalyptic” and he said that he firmly believes that the past year has been an “apocalyptic” time. However, this is not in the way that most of us may think of it. Literally in Greek, “apocalyptic” means a pulling back of the veil. So, the book of Revelation, where we find the apocalypse in the Bible is revealing something. Father Richard compares it to being a bit like the scene in the Wizard of Oz when the curtain is pulled back: “Oh!” we think, “it’s not like we thought it was”. Sit with that for a minute. Think of this past year and how that is true for you, for your family, for the church, for our society. It’s not like we thought it was.
Quite a few friends of mine, who don’t do church or religion, have said to me recently that they feel some of the challenges we are facing as humanity, as a planet are almost “biblical” and by this they draw on an awareness of stories like the flood, the plaques, the apocalypse. In the Bible, the apocalypse is written in a form of literature which in a way is similar to today’s science fiction genre of literature. This literary style presents dramatically an utterly different world and as Father Richard says, this reveals “the artificiality and passing nature of business as usual”. Read that again and stay with it for a moment. The artificiality and passing nature of business as usual is revealed. The literary tool for getting us to think of a different world and different experience of life is dramatic metaphor. In the book of Revelation: the moon turning to blood, the stars falling from the sky, people being raptured. Everything is called into question. The way that “apocalyptic” is used in common parlance and understanding (and here’s where we’ve got it wrong Father Richard says) is that it’s used as a metaphor for disastrous; everything is terrible. Actually, that’s not really it’s meaning. The meaning is almost the opposite. The current is revealed as passing and falling apart so you’re shocked into recognition of the possibility of a different order. Unveiling, revealing the possibility – good religion does that. However, Father Richard suggests that what we’re stuck with is a lot of religion that isn’t so good. It tells us that what we’re offered is Nirvana, a fantasy land where everybody loves each other and so we’re constantly discouraged saying “why isn’t this happening yet?” I recognise that in our church, in our communities so much right now when tensions are running high and people’s mental health is struggling. When difficult decisions need to be made about jobs and buildings and what can and can’t continue in our operations and activities this makes conflict a part of daily life. That’s why it was so helpful to hear Father Richard affirm his belief that the gospel is not about any idealism. He says “I know you’re disappointed to hear me say that. It’s not about an ideal world where everybody loves everybody. Yes, that is our formal desire but the gospel is much more subtle than that. It’s not idealism, it’s UTTER REALISM”. Father Richard goes on to share that the gospel is about saying “dream but only if you can incorporate a big twist”. He asks if we can live with that. Most of us don’t want to because the twist, and our theological word for that is “cruciform nature of reality”, is always a disappointment. The tragic sense of life, the absurd sense of everything. The gospel incorporates disorder into order, unknowing into knowing. This week, as we approach the season of Lent where we will enter fully into the concept of the cruciform nature of reality with Christ, take time to read (perhaps read each day) and think and pray about Father Richard’s teaching. It speaks to this moment in our human history and to the heart of our Christian belief.
This week’s prayer: A meditation for an uncertain time and unknown future. When you see / pause and breathe.
I entered into unknowing / Yet when I saw myself there / Without knowing where I was / I understood great things; / I shall not say what I felt / For I remained in unknowing / Transcending all knowledge. —St. John of the Cross
This week’s music: