Have you ever wanted your favorite author to stop by your neighborhood and be able to talk with you and your friends and family members about things he’s thinking or working on?
I had a chance to see at my Florida parish Father Richard Rohr not once but twice in four days at the end last month. The same week, I had the chance to see the Broadway production, taken on a nationwide tour, of C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters.”
Interestingly, both presentations were about the soul’s journey in the second half of life. This second-half experience may not happen chronologically in our second half of life, is one that cannot be controlled, and, for many, never comes.
In “Screwtape,” Lewis describes a powerful demon who writes to a lesser demon on earth seeking to secure the soul of a middle-aged man whose life has focused on secular definitions of success and sophistication rather than on the interior and the eternal. Lewis’ glimpse into the downward arc of a soul has the ring of truth of a life lived without real connection and relationship to God and God’s gifts.
Father Richard told the more than 1,200 of my friends and neighbors who gathered over two days that all that culture offers us, while attractive and alluring, is going to whither and die. If, he said, we invest all into building “your own container,” of career, of material goods, of the things of this world, of externals, of it being “all about you,” of choosing “not love of God, but love of self,” then we’ll find ourselves with nothing firm and foundational after “we’ve made it.” We also find ourselves numb and unable to truly experience God working in our lives.
How is it we begin to encounter God in our life if we’re not really experiencing that now? Father Richard says our falling rather than our climb up the ladder of how society defines success “is key to wisdom.”
As he describes in Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent (book and audio) and Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (book and audio), Father Richard points out that we come to God only through understanding our imperfection, feeling the pain of loss, of hitting bottom, of failing to do life right and accepting that in humility. “We come to God doing it wrong,” he said, not by doing it right. You meet the power of God by being powerless, he added.
“It doesn’t come easy,” he said, but “only with a bump on the head – in pain,” in loss, in grief, in failure, in defeat, in humiliation. There has to be a problem that we can’t solve alone, that we are not powerful enough to solve, Father Richard added, a problem that requires a higher power – God.
Ultimately, we come to God through an emotion, heart, soul, he said.
As we prepare to begin the Lenten journey with ashes, as a symbol of the temporal, Father Richard reminds us that transforming our lives is founded on breaking out of our comfort zone of trying to will ourselves to security and accept the freedom of finding answers by not having all of the answers and turning in humility to God.
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(Photo top of desert landscape by Shutterstock)