Reflection of the Week - 20th September 2022

By Richard Rohr

Posted in Faith

Mystical Allurement

In Mirabai Starr’s book ‘Saint John of the Cross: Luminous Darkness,’ she highlights four major themes found in the writings of John of the Cross (1542–1591): longing, silence, unknowing and love. This meditation focuses on these four enduring mystical themes. We begin with a reflection from Father Richard on his own experience of God:

The divine-human love affair really is a reciprocal dance. Sometimes, in order for us to step forward, the other partner must step away a bit. The withdrawal is only for a moment, and its purpose is to pull us toward him or her—but it doesn’t feel like that in the moment. It feels like our partner is retreating. Or it just feels like suffering.

God creates the pullback too, ‘hiding his face,’ as it was called by so many mystics and scriptures. God creates a vacuum that God alone can fill. Then God waits to see if we will trust our God partner to eventually fill the space in us, which now has grown even more spacious and receptive. This is the central theme of darkness, necessary doubt, or what the mystics called ‘God’s withdrawing of love.’ They knew that what feels like suffering, depression, uselessness—moments when God has withdrawn— are often deep acts of trust and invitation to intimacy on God’s part. On the inner journey of the soul we meet a God who interacts with our deepest selves, who grows the person, allowing and forgiving mistakes. It is precisely this give-and-take, and knowing there will be give-and-take, that makes God so real as a Lover.

The experience of the twentieth-century mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin echoes that of John of the Cross four centuries earlier:

God does not offer Himself to our finite beings as a thing all complete and ready to be embraced. For us God is eternal discovery and eternal growth. The more we think we understand God, the more God reveals Himself as otherwise. The more we think we hold God, the further God withdraws, drawing us into the depths of Himself. [1]

Father Richard concludes:

I must be honest with you here about my own life. For the last ten years I have had little spiritual ‘feeling,’ neither consolation nor desolation. Most days, I’ve had to simply choose to believe, to love, and to trust. In this, I know I stand in good company with Teilhard, John of the Cross, Mother Teresa, and countless other mystics and saints, and maybe some of you.

But God rewards me from letting God reward me:

This is the divine two-step that we call grace: I am doing it, and yet I am not doing it; It is being done unto me, and yet by me too.

Yet God always takes the lead in the dance, which we only recognise over time.

[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu: An Essay on the Interior Life (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), 119. Note: some changes made for inclusive language. Adapted from Richard Rohr, ‘The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe,’ (New York: Convergent, 2019, 2021), 78–79.

Source: Stillpoint Newsletter, 8th September 2022.





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