Reflection of the Week - 22nd March 2022

By Richard Rohr

Posted in Faith

Richard Rohr describes the paradoxical impact that Paul’s revelation of Christ had for him. His way of thinking and being changed completely:

Meeting the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus changed everything for Paul. He experienced the great paradox that the crucified Jesus was in fact alive! And he, Paul, a ‘sinner,’ was in fact chosen and beloved. This pushed Paul from the usual either/or, dualistic thinking to both/and, mystical thinking.

The truth in paradoxical language lies neither in the affirmation nor in the denial of either side, but precisely in the resolution of the tug-of-war between the two. The human mind usually works on the logical principle of contradiction, according to which something cannot be both true and false at the same time. Yet that is exactly what higher truths invariably undo (for example, God is both one and three; Jesus is both human and divine; bread and wine are both matter and Spirit). Unfortunately, since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, we Western, educated people have lost touch with paradoxical, mystical, or contemplative thinking. We’ve wasted five centuries taking sides—which is so evident in our culture today!

Not only was Paul’s way of thinking changed by his mystical experience, his way of being in the world was also transformed. Suddenly the persecutor—and possibly murderer—of Christians is Christ’s ‘chosen vessel,’ sent ‘to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel’ (Acts 9:15). This dissolves the strict line between good and bad, between in-group ‘Jews’ and out-group ‘Gentiles.’ The paradox has been overcome in Paul’s very person. He now knows that he is both sinner and saint, and we too must trust the same. These two seeming contradictions don’t cancel one another. Once the conflict has been overcome in you, you realise you are a living paradox and so is everyone else. You begin to see life in a truly spiritual way.

Perhaps this is why Paul loves to teach dialectically. He presents two seemingly opposing ideas, such as weakness and strength, flesh and spirit, law and grace, faith and works, Jew and Greek, male and female. Dualistic thinking usually takes one side, dismisses the other, and stops there. Paul doesn’t do that. He forces us onto the horns of the dilemma and invites us to wrestle with the paradox. If we stay with him in the full struggle, we’ll realise that he eventually brings reconciliation on a higher level, beyond the essential struggle where almost all of us start.

Paul is the first clear successor to Jesus as a non-dual teacher. He creates the mystical foundations for Christianity. It’s a mystery of participation in Christ. It’s not something that we achieve by performance. It’s something that we’re already participating in, and often we just don’t know it. We are all already flowing in this Christ consciousness, this Trinitarian flow of life and love moving in and around and through everything; we just don’t realise it.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, A New Way of Seeing … a New Way of Being: Jesus and Paul (Albuquerque, NM: Center
for Action and Contemplation, 2007).

St. Paul: The Misunderstood Mystic (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2014).


More from Faith

Subscribe to receive Faith articles by email >


Reflection of the Week - 26th July 2022

If we are incapable of hearing others, we will also be incapable of hearing God. If we spend all day controlling and blocking others, why would we change when we kneel to pray?


Reflection of the Week - 2nd August 2022

The word “innocent” from its Latin root means “not wounded.” That’s how we all start life. We’re all innocent. It doesn’t have anything to do with morally right or wrong. It has to do with not yet being wounded.


Reflection of the Week - 9th August 2022

Baptism into life with God is too often related to precise ways of being, and specific practices within our religious life. However, ‘being ready’ with our soul’s lamps lit by the Spirit, and being companioned on the road with Jesus, means we are prepared to be immersed into any unexpected awesome adventure that comes before us - even if it is unexpected, and being revealed at a ‘midnight’ moment of life, or at the dawning of new horizons.


Comments (3)