A little over a week ago I had the opportunity to fly to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and participate in The Universal Christ conference, March 28-31, 2019, organized by Fr. Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation. I was able to attend with my friends Michael Potter and Jory Pryor. I enjoyed spending time with these two good people once again, as we shared insights, ideas, possibilities, life experiences, and different perspectives with one another. Thank you Michael and Jory!
The conference was very well organized, and was a wonderful experience of sharing thoughts, liturgies, reflections, and meditating together on what “Christ” means in all its dimensions. My friends and I even got to briefly meet Fr. Rohr, which was beautiful. I’ve had some time to ponder what was said and done at the conference, and I will be sharing some of the highlights of my notes and reflections from the conference with you over the next few days.
This conference coincides with the publication of Rohr’s latest book The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe, and touched on many of its themes. I’m just beginning to read the book, and will share my thoughts about it in later posts. But this post is about the conference.
The first thing I want to say is something I said on Facebook a few days ago, which is about this word “Christ” and universality.
The “universal Christ” can begin to sound like the “anonymous Christian,” where all people are Christians even if they don’t know it.
I think there is a good way to consider it, and a not so good way. The not so good is thinking that our word “Christ” is superior to other philosophies and religious systems and that others are therefore Christian whether they know it or not. They are worshiping Christ even if they don’t know it.
A much better way, I think, is saying that “Christ” is merely the word that Christians use to refer to this power, this love, this incarnate creation, this consciousness, and every other system might have their own term for a similar or analogous reality.
In other words, the words point at a reality beyond themselves that is more ultimate and ineffable. Neither “Christ” or “Messiah” as words or ideas are ultimate, but rather the reality they point towards is.
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I think Richard Rohr mentioned at one point during the conference that “Christ” is merely the word we use, but you could use others just as well. And I’ve seen Rohr use other words, referring to it as Love, for example.
If we are truly going to be universal, then I think that means allowing other religious and philosophical systems to use their own terms and ideas to refer to these realities, and to ensure we are not imposing ours onto them unwillingly or unconsciously.
This is why I often will note several terms that seem analogous from other traditions, so as not to appear to give preference to any one term over others. It’s a tricky balancing act, and I don’t think I always get it right, but such is perhaps the cost of striving towards pluralism and inclusivity. The Nirmanakaya Buddha, for example, from Mahayana Buddhism is a concept referring to the physically manifest incarnation of the Absolute in the world, which is perhaps similar to the incarnate Son of God or Christ in Christianity, the Word made flesh.
A couple quotes from Rohr were shared at the start of the conference, which I think were beautiful.
“We don’t love people when they change, we love them so they can change.”-Richard Rohr
“A Christian is one who sees Christ in everyone and everything.”-Richard Rohr
Rohr’s Introductory Address
In this post I’ll share some of my notes and highlights from Richard Rohr’s opening address at the conference, which was an “introduction” to “The Universal Christ,” interspersed with my thoughts and commentary. My paraphrased notes from Rohr will be set off by quotes, such as this next one:
The universal Christ is what we are calling incarnational mysticism, or nondual consciousness.
By “incarnational mysticism” I think Rohr is referring to the reality that God has become flesh, the Word (Logos) has been made flesh. Later Rohr chose to use the word “Blueprint” instead of Word or Logos for this pattern that becomes incarnate in the cosmos. But he is definitely referring to incarnation, physicality, form, flesh, materiality, the entire “objective” universe. God has become all that! This is, I believe, “incarnational mysticism.”
“Nondual consciousness” is the form of consciousness which becomes vividly aware of this incarnation, that God has become this manifestation of reality, even within the person who experiences that consciousness. It is also called unitive consciousness, or oneness. God is realized as not something or someone separate from us, but as our deepest identity, our deepest reality in the cosmos, or ultimate reality. The Italian saint and mystic Catherine of Genoa is known for shouting in the streets, “My deepest me is God! My deepest me is God!” This is nondual consciousness.
It took 2 years to write The Universal Christ book. 8 revisions with editors.
It contains the “perennial tradition.” They are not Rohr’s ideas. Rohr was the “conduit.” He is not the source.
I shared some similar thoughts on Facebook a few days ago, that I felt that some of the things I write are not from “me,” per se, but come from a place much deeper, and I’m just the mouthpiece for them, the instrument, the filter, the deliverer, the messenger. These are ideas that have been shared in various forms for millennia, the “perennial tradition,” also known as perennial wisdom, or ancient wisdom, and people like Rohr are sharing them anew, in our own time.
“catholic” = universal. So in that sense, yes, he is a universalist.
To keep repeating a formula without asking “what does that mean?” keeps us infantile.
We need to penetrate to the deeper meaning of things. Often what seems to happen in religion is that we take the outer forms, performances, rituals, ideas, as ends in themself, without penetrating to the deeper reality that they point towards.
The Universal Christ is a kind of sequel to Rohr’s book The Divine Dance.
Christianity got caught up in a theology of “retributive justice,” quid pro quo, tit for tat.
So much of Christianity became about hellfire and damnation, about punishing sinners, about original sin, about total depravity, about punishments and rewards, heaven as a place only for saints, etc. This wasn’t good.
Only one thing worse than egocentricity, and that is group egocentricity. “Only we are right.”
Much of religion has become this type of group or collective ego, becoming tribal, exclusionary, dogmatic, which seems to be just the very opposite of where genuine spirituality should lead, to egolessness, universality, inclusion, love, unknowing, uncertainty, to compassion. It’s the unfortunate “one true church” mentality that has taken over in many fundamentalist-leaning traditions.
Education is not the same as transformation. It’s not about book knowledge. You could have three PhDs, and still be egocentric!
Religion became very heady in the last few centuries, competing with the scientific rationalism of the Enlightenment. We thought we had to know exactly what God was, but we failed to establish real communion in this ultimate reality, direct awareness of this nondual consciousness. And there are many still today that think that if they just read a few more books, or go to seminary, or get a doctorate of Divinity or Theology, that they will then know God fully, and will be able to know and teach the true gospel. But this isn’t how God works. God is not something known so much as something we participate in, something we identify with, something that we are. True “saints” are those who have experienced a transformation of consciousness into one that sees beyond the finite ego-self to a vastness that encompasses all things.
This is a win-win worldview, one that is “Anointed,” which is what Messiah and Christ mean.
“Christ” is the anointing of reality with divine presence.
All of reality is “anointed” by God, because it is God in manifestation, the unfolding of the Divine into materiality, into incarnation, the Word made flesh, perhaps the initial gravitational singularity prior to the Big Bang becoming material existence. The Divine Presence is in it all, in all of Reality, because of this. But we can be blind to this heaven all around us when we are stuck inside our small egoic worldview, when all we can see is our mind’s thoughts. It is a kind of prison that our ego holds us in, and liberation is a freeing from that prison of ego. I think this is why the ego has traditionally been associated with “Satan” or the “devil.” It was that which ensnared us, captured us, imprisoned us in darkness, in the small self, in “hell,” such that we could not see the truth of reality. We cannot see the light for the darkness of our egos, by the thoughts in our minds which distract us and veil us from seeing clearly our true nature in Reality, as One with all Reality, as One with this Presence.
We are raping the planet we all live on.
Because of the prison that the ego holds us in, we do things out of ignorance which cause destruction, pain, and suffering. One of those things is the destruction of our planet. When we can’t see that we are one with nature, one with this ecosystem, when we feel we are separate from it and can exploit it all we want for our egoic pleasures, then we unconsciously destroy it. And by destroying it, we unconsciously destroy ourselves.
I can’t think of a single Christian denomination that has a positive relationship with sexuality.
That’s quite a statement! Christianity made sexuality a very bad thing, associated with original sin, with the depravity of “flesh,” etc. We have yet to recover from this to a healthy perspective of sexuality.
“Flesh” in Paul should be equated with the “ego” self-centered self.
The Word became flesh!
Some early thinkers took Paul’s use of the word flesh to mean all things bodily. But Paul’s use of the word “flesh” is better interpreted to refer to the ego, to this “separate self.” Flesh is not a bad thing, in and of itself, for the very Word of God became flesh. In my translation of the scriptures, I often use the word “ego” in place of Paul’s “flesh” for this reason.
Belief in Jesus is believing in a memory, in the past.
Jesus was pointing to a way of faith/wisdom, a “narrow path.”
He was the personalization of what is eternally true.
But he went away.
Christianity has often come to idolize Jesus, to worship Jesus, the historical man, but at the expense of knowing what Christ is about. They are not the same thing, and we often mistake one for the other. Too much focus on Jesus, the man, can obscure or hide that path of faith/wisdom to which Jesus himself pointed.
Paul never knew Jesus in the flesh. He only knew Christ.
Christ is supremely visible. It is everything!
Much of Christianity as we know it in the New Testament is articulated by Paul, but Paul never even knew Jesus while he was alive. His knowledge of the gospel came through Christ, through what I think was a mystical experience of God which Paul immediately associated with Jesus’s teachings.
The metaphor of Light is throughout the scriptures.
You are the light by which we see light.
Light is in everything! Neutrinos are in all things. There is no darkness anywhere. The Hubble telescope has shown us this.
The phenomenon of light is an interesting thing. What we see as light only occurs within our consciousness. There is no light, as such, in photons. Photons contain no inherent luminosity or illumination. They are what we might call “energy,” but they are not technically light. The light only appears in consciousness. We are the light of the world, in a very real way.
Jesus walked around giving free healthcare to everyone. Healing, healing, healing! Healing is the opposite of punishing.
The gospel is not one about punishment. It is about healing: healing our brokenness, reconciling our consciousness with God, an at-one-ment of our being in God’s being, in finding Love in us and all about us. It is about crossing the seeming chasm of separation that divides us from God and from each other, and making the two into One.
The distinction between Jesus and Christ is not a small distinction!
We have often conflated the two terms, to our great confusion and misunderstanding.
The “chosen” people of God are chosen to tell all other people that they are chosen too!
We often read in the scriptures about a people being “chosen,” thinking that God singled them out as special, as more favored by God than others. But as Rohr points out, this is not really the case. They appear to be “chosen” only so that they may help all other people realize they are “chosen” too. It is our inherent nature in God, in Reality, in this cosmos.
Christ is the infinite outpouring of God. No exceptions. It includes all suffering. Our suffering is participating in the suffering of God. God suffers with us.
This suffering was presented as a crucified God!
We are to find meaning in every aspect of life, including suffering.
We meet the Christ in suffering beauty, in suffering imperfection.
I think it’s fascinating that the Buddha also said that “life is suffering.” Again, I think that points to the perennial tradition that all these spiritual traditions share. That doesn’t mean that we have to simply suffer through life, though, as I think both Christianity and Buddhism offer means through which we may be reconciled to our suffering and thus transcend it.
We are perfect in our imperfection.
Divine grace includes imperfection.
We often think that the “perfection” we’ll find through spirituality will erase all imperfection, but perhaps it is coming to a realization of seeing perfection in imperfection, to see the Divine in that which at times may seem so broken, unworthy, painful, ugly, or problematic. We come to see the Divine reflected in all things. Nothing is seen as an ultimate “problem” anymore, but as a way for the Divine to unfold itself. Both the light and the dark come to be seen as two sides of the same coin, two poles of a single spectrum, two qualities of reality and existence. Neither could exist without the other, and so we find a unity holding both together. That unity is the Love which binds all things together, that allows all of Reality to manifest itself. That is God’s perfection.
I hope this was a helpful summary and reflection of Richard Rohr’s opening address at the conference, and gave you a few things to ponder on what the “universal Christ” might mean to us today. I plan to share more reflections from the conference in the coming days.
Do you have any thoughts, comments, insights, or questions that were prompted by this? Please share in the comments below or on Facebook. I would love to discuss them with you.