Learning to trust the content (that’s you), and not the containers

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Richard Rohr speaks to my heart

It’s not so often that I read a book and I find myself physically nodding with the author as if she were speaking to me. This happened recently when I was reading my new favorite Richard Rohr book. To be honest, I generally take Fr. Rohr with a grain of salt, receiving his wisdom and discarding what seems less-than-wise to me. I think we should approach most authors with that kind of lens. I follow Paul when he tells the Thessalonians to “test everything, hold on to what is good” (1. Thess. 5:12). But here was a section of Rohr’s book that really got me thinking that we may be on to something in Circle of Hope. He’s talking about “mysticism,” and how we have the content to practice it.

“Most of organized religion, without meaning to, has actually discouraged us from taking the mystical path by telling almost exclusively to trust outer authority, Scripture, tradition, or various kinds of experts (what I call ‘containers’)—instead of telling us the value and importance of inner experience itself (which is the ‘content’). In fact, most of us were strongly warned against ever trusting ourselves. Roman Catholics were told to trust church hierarchy first and last, while mainline Protestant were often told that inner experience was dangerous, unscriptural, or even unnecessary.”

Trying to receive that truth

You may want to read that paragraph again and ponder if it reflects your experience. It does for me. The historic Desert Fathers’ in Egypt’s influence never totally wore off the culture, their discipline and resistance to the world is admirable, but their self-flagellation and hatred of the body was a little dangerous. Time and again I received that message, perhaps unintentionally in my upbringing, to the point of never believing that Jesus indeed loved me and wouldn’t condemn me. Christians, even ones who weren’t Egyptian, reinforced my total depravity repeatedly. It was painful. I never thought God loved me. I knew he technically did, but I never believed that he actually did. After all, what’s there to love about me?

My inner-self was beaten, and so I started constructing a façade that showed people how great I was. I began, and continue to struggle with, defining myself by what people think of me, how hard I work, how successful I am. The most important things about me were the observable things. And the core inside of me? Well, I underdeveloped it. It is a scary thing to wonder who I really am when I’ve constructed a façade of who I want others to think of me as. It’s the dilemma of a narcissist. I suppose that’s why Donald Trump is continuing to let his tongue lead him.

How Circle of Hope made a difference

When I visited Circle of Hope nearly a decade ago, I was bringing that baggage. Obsession with the container, less focus on the content. I remember drilling Joshua about his views of the Bible. In some ways, my reverence for the Bible was the container (although I seemed to disregard Paul’s declaration about no condemnation in Christ—Romans 8:1), and I didn’t bother looking into the content that God had given me.

Circle of Hope taught me to do that, I can confidently say. We are big about interior life around here. Nothing works without prayer. And add to that, you have what it takes. I’m in seminary, I love studying and reading, and I love engaging with the “containers.” But much of that is a personal hobby or a way to fuel me. Though I recommend some of those disciplines to all people, you don’t need to be well-educated or even knowledgeable in church history or polity to follow Jesus and make a difference.

God gave you the stuff, the content, to follow him. This is more evidently seen in the incarnation of Christ than anywhere. The content came to us, in the container of a human being, to show us how to follow, how to love, and how to allow him to make a claim on us. Jesus came that we might die to our false self, and live in our true self. Rohr says, “To be a Christian is to objectively know that we share the same identity that Jesus enjoyed both as human and divine… this realization that Someone is living in us and through us is exactly how we plug into a much larger mind and heart beyond our own…. But it demands a major dying of our small self, our ego.”

Circle of Hope is built upon that incarnational spirit. We want the Gospel to be delivered in person. You’ve what it takes to do it, right in your insides. You have the content. You can trust yourself. Pray that God helps you.

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