Moving Beyond Tribal Religion: From Richard Rohr’s Daily Reading

Our Living School faculty member James Finley was blessed to have Thomas Merton as his teacher and spiritual director from 1961 to 1967. Jim summarizes what he learned from Merton: “I looked on Thomas Merton as the living embodiment of the mystical, contemplative heritage of my own Christian tradition. . . . This ancient tradition is not simply about believing in Jesus, nor is it simply to live as Jesus lived–a life of love for God and for others. Beyond that, the Christian way is also a life in which we are called to follow Jesus in a process of self-emptying by which we come to realize that ultimately there is nothing real in us that is less or other than God’s infinite love, which is our life. In other words, we are called to realize the mind of Christ. That is, the mind of the boundless oneness of love–knowing that in the end, love alone remains. That God is love, and all that wereally are is a manifestation of the eternal love of God.”
During his time as Jim’s mentor, Merton was going through his own awakenings, both to the social justice dimensions of the Gospel and to the non-Christian contemplative traditions. Merton was in dialogue with Jews, Sufi Muslims, and Hindus who visited him at the monastery. He was particularly interested in an in-depth conversation with the Buddhists.
Jim says, “So, taking Merton as my teacher, it was just very natural to me that I could see in these non-Christian contemplative traditions a kind of expansive enrichment of the path of non-dual consciousness, of the realization of the mystic way. I got the impression thatwhen we seek what is truest in our own tradition, we discover we are one with those who seek what is truest in their tradition. There is a point of convergence where we meet each other and we recognize each other as seekers of awakening. . . . And what is truest is that we are called to recognize, surrender to, and ultimately be identified with the mystery of God utterly beyond all concepts, all words, all designations whatsoever. . . . What’s more, we are to realize that this boundless, birthless, deathless mystery of God is manifesting itself and giving itself to us completely in every breath and heartbeat. . . . If we could really experience all that we really are sitting here right now, just the way we are, we’d all experience God loving us into our chair, loving us into the present moment, breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat. And we would then bear witness to that realization by the way we treat ourselves, the way we treat others, the way we treat all living things. This is the way, this is the great way. . . .” [1]

Jim suggests that learning from each other’s contemplative and religious traditions, as Merton did, is even more important today than it was when Merton was living. It appears that religions–and perhaps even humanity itself–will not survive if we stay within tribal consciousness, believing our religion is the only “one true religion.” On the surface, our traditions are different; but in their depths, there is a similar tradition of the transformation of the human heart and mind. In Jim’s words, “There is the free fall into the boundless abyss of God in which we all meet one another, beyond all distinctions, beyond all designations. This is the oneness that includes all distinctions.” [2]

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