This year’s Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly in Albuquerque was one of the most rewarding Assemblies I have ever attended, chiefly because of the guest speaker Father Richard Rohr. Our Bishop Jim Gonia introduced Richard Rohr as “the best Lutheran theologian in the Catholic Church today!” Which gives you a sense of where Richard Rohr is coming from. He’s coming at his theology from the perspective of Grace alone: God’s unconditional love for everything, and everyone.
Father Rohr is in his 70’s. He is a very gentle soul. He entered the Franciscan Order at the age of 19. As you remember, the Franciscans were founded by St.Francis of Assisi. Richard Rohr gave us many wonderful things to think about, especially the Franciscan idea that “Creation itself is the first Bible.”This idea informs all of Franciscan theology. Creation, and everything in it; including you and me and every other human being, is Holy. Not because Creation and all God’s creatures, including every single human being, have done anything to earn or achieve holiness. Instead, everything and everyone; every rock, and atom, and star and insect is holy simply by virtue of being created by God. Richard Rohr and all Franciscans point to the first chapter of Genesis, where God declares everything Good five times, then Very Good the sixth time; and then declares the whole thing Holy on the seventh. Franciscans say that Genesis 1 is not a textbook of how creation came to be (as all enlightened Lutherans would agree!). They say the whole point of the story is how God looks upon the universe and everything in it, and says “this is Good, and Holy.”
We are holy, simply because we have been created by God. Nothing more needs doing. Nothing more needs to be added to us. Holiness is intrinsic to our very being, just as it is intrinsic to everything and everyone else that exists. Let that sink in awhile! Ponder that the rest of the day. Everything you can see, hear, touch, smell, taste, feel is holy. We are immersed in the holiness of God, indeed we are made from it. That’s the starting point of all of Franciscan theology. That’s the way all Franciscans see creation: holy, good, complete, in and of itself.
Franciscans remind us that God is not unhappy! God is not the frowning Father with the white beard, throwing thunderbolts down from above! That would be the Greek god, Zeus! The story of how the Christian Church came to worship an image of Zeus in all its depictions of God, is for another day! The Franciscan image of God, is one where God is pleased, God is happy, God takes joy in us and all of Creation, just the way we are. This is a way of seeing, us and God, that is immersed in Grace: in God’s unconditional love for us, the world, and all creation. And it is Fr Richard Rohr’s lifelong purpose and mission to help us understand, and awaken to this awareness; this consciousness that the holiness of creation springs from Christ’s presence in it.
The holiness of being exists, because it is infused with the presence of Christ. It is Christ, in whom we “live and move and have our being” as Paul says. Christ is inseparable from Creation. Luther shares this way of seeing with the Franciscans when he says, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” You can find that quote framed by Anching Lin at the doorway of our church! No wonder Nature fills our souls like little else can! No wonder scientific exploration of Nature and the Cosmos is so exciting! Christ is inseparable from Creation. Inseparable from every human being.
This is the Franciscan way of seeing, that Richard Rohr would convert us, and every human being to. He calls that conversion, “falling in love” with God. Falling in love with the presence of God in every atom of Creation; in every drop of water, every pebble, every leaf, and every human eye. Everything finds its place, its belonging, in the intrinsic holiness of Being. Everything and everyone, is related; existing in Christ, through whom we say we have our Being. Paul in Colossians says “in Christ all things hold together.” Christ is the energy that holds everything together. Paul is saying Christ (as Logos of creation) is the origin and expression of all energy and matter in the universe!
In astrophysics, scientists are puzzling over things like Gravity, Dark Matter, and Dark Energy. What we humans can perceive right now is called Normal Matter. And that “Normal Matter” comprises only 4% of the universe! The rest is Dark Matter and Dark Energy; Gravity and Anti-gravity. Christ, St. Paul says, is the origin and self-expression of all this stuff! Luther says the same thing. He says God comes to us, is present with us, in every part of Creation. Luther says Creation itself is a sacrament, but in case we miss that, in case we can’t experience Christ in any other way, God is so loving that God gives us the Word in the preaching of the gospel, and in the Word we eat that is holy communion. Isn’t that great? In case we don’t see or hear Christ all around us in our everyday life, God gives us the preaching and sacraments of the Church as a “default setting”!
When Jesus says“the Father and I are one” He’s saying that when we look at him, we are seeing God. But when we look at any human being, in essence, we are seeing God as well! Because God in Christ is as inseparable from the human species as any other species; anything and everything else that’s created by God. Richard Rohr would say, I think, that what Jesus is saying here among other things, is that we are looking upon the holiness of Being in Him that we can see in every single human being. We can see Christ in every human being, just as we see Christ in the person of Jesus,simply because everything that is created is a self-expression of Christ, Who is the creating, sustaining, Beingness of all that exists.
When I was telling my 29 year old son all this, he said, “Oh, ‘The Force’”… as George Lucas coined it. Except there isn’t a “Dark or Evil Side” of the Cosmic Christ as there is in the Star Wars “Force” idea. We should note that. I think that’s where the cultural comparison breaks down.
Fr Rohr has a definition of what it means to be a Christian. He says “A Christian is someone who sees Christ in everyone and everything else.” This is why St. Francis wrote his great hymn to Creation, “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” When we see Christ in all, we see how we live in community with everything and everyone that exists, and all our ethics flow from that. We are all related. That’s why there are the all the stories of how all the animals St. Francis encountered would come to him: why birds and butterflies would land upon his hands and shoulders, wolves and bears, and all wild animals would lie at his feet and lay their heads in his lap. Francis had a Mystic’s way of seeing the Cosmos and its creatures. He was converted to loving the Christ, the essence of holiness, in all Creation. And from that conversion came the ethic of peace and justice for all; the ethic Father Richard Rohr teaches today. “The Father and I are one” Jesus says. All of creation is One, in the holiness of its very being. You can look into the eyes of your dog or cat, looking up at you; we can get on our hands and knees and behold a flower; we can peer into a telescope and behold the Crab Nebula; and see Christ. And in that way of seeing, are the seeds of the reign of God’s love. -- Pr. David