Saturday, 16 July 2011

The Naked Now

"The enlightenment you seek in other religions has been present in Christianity from the beginning." So states the bit on the back cover of Richard Rohr's The Naked Now which seeks to move the book store browser towards the till. Rohr presents a very good explanation for the disappearance of mysticism from mainstream Western Christianity and an equally convincing case for its presence in the New Testament and in the writings of the church from the earliest days. He also gives a cogent psychology for contemplative prayer, speaks helpfully of method, and contains it within a robust theological framework. All this in a mere 180 pages. This is some book. It manages the rare double of being readable and profound.

Mostly for me though, Richard Rohr has given me one more way by which I can connect the view of the universe which is slowly emerging, like a photograph in a tray of developer, from my meditation practice to the Christianity which has nurtured me for nearly four decades now. More than any book I have read for a while, this one ended up filled with underlinings and highlightings because he keeps on presenting views which surprise by their innovation and which give voice to misgivings, half insights, questions and observations I have been mulling over for years. Consider this for example:

"Theism believes there is a God. Christianity believes that God and humanity can coexist in the same place! These are two utterly different proclamations about the nature of the universe. In my experience, most Christians are very good theists who just happen to have named their God Jesus...
Christian revelation was precisely that you are already spiritual ("in God"), and your difficult and necessary task is to learn to become human...
it is in our humanity that we are still so wounded, so needy, so unloving, so self hating, and so in need of enlightenment."

And also:

"Prayer [in our extroverted, "can do" culture] too easily became an attempt to change God and aggrandize ourselves instead of what it was meant to be - an interior practice to change the one who is praying, which will always happen if stand calmly before this uncanny and utterly safe presence..."

I heard  an interview with Richard Rohr some weeks ago in which he said that all religions are systems for personal transformation. When they cease to be about personal transformation they become instead systems of belonging. He says this has happened to Christianity, and in this book not only makes a plea for us to return to the heart of our faith but offers a way in which we might do so. It would be well worth your while moving from the bookstoore shelf to the till if The Naked Now was in your hand

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