SIMPLICITY: A Second Simplicity by Richard Rohr

A Second Simplicity by Richard Rohr

From Falling Upward

Beyond rational and critical thinking, we need to be called again.  This can lead to the discovery of a “second naiveté,” which is a return to the joy of our first naiveté, but now totally new, inclusive, and mature thinking. (Paul Ricoeur)

People are so afraid of being considered pre-rational that they avoid and deny the very possibility of the transrational.  Others substitute mere pre-rational emotions for authentic religious experience, which is always transrational. (Ken Wilber)

These quick summaries (not precise quotations) are from two great thinkers who more or less describe for me what happened on my own spiritual and intellectual journey.  I began as a very conservative pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic, living in innocent Kansas, pious and law abiding, buffered and bounded by my parents’ stable marriage and many lovely liturgical traditions that sanctified my time and space.  That was my first wonderful simplicity.  I was a very happy child and young man, and all who knew me then would agree.

Yet I grew in my experience, and was gradually educated in a much larger world of the 1960s and 1970s, with degrees in philosophy and theology, and a broad liberal arts education given me by the Franciscans.  That education was a second journey into rational complexity.  I left the garden, just as Adam and Eve had to do, even though my new Scripture awareness made it obvious that Adam and Eve were probably not historical figures, but important archetypal symbols.  Darn it!  My parents back in Kansas were worried!  I was heady with knowledge and “enlightenment” and was surely not in Kansas anymore.  I had passed, like Dorothy, “over the rainbow.”  It is sad and disconcerting for a while, outside the garden, and some lovely innocence dies, yet “angels with flaming swords prevented my return” to the first garden. (Genesis 3:24)  There was no going back, unfortunately.  Life was much easier on the childhood side of the rainbow.

As time passed, I became simultaneously very traditional and very progressive, and I have probably continued to be so to this day.  I found a much larger and even happier garden (not the new garden described at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21!)  I totally believe in Adam and Eve now, but on about ten more levels.  (Literalism is usually the lowest and least level of meaning.)  I have lived much of my subsequent life like a man without a country – and yet a man who could go to any country and be at home.  This nowhere land surprised even me.  I no longer fit in with either the mere liberals or the mere conservatives.  This was my first strong introduction to paradox, and it took most of midlife to figure out what had happened – and how – and why it had to happen.

This “pilgrim’s progress” was, for me, sequential, natural, and organic as the circles widened.  I was lucky enough to puddle-jump between countries, cultures, and concepts because of my public speaking; yet the solid ground of the perennial tradition never really shifted.  It was only the lens, the criteria, the inner space, and the scope that continued to expand.  I was always being moved toward greater differentiation and larger viewpoints, and simultaneously toward a greater inclusivity in my ideas, a deeper understanding of people, and a more honest sense of justice.  God always became bigger and led me to bigger places.  If God could “include” and allow, then why not I?  I did not see many examples of God “smiting” his enemies; in fact, it was usually God’s friends who got smited, as Teresa of Avila noted!  If God asked me to love unconditionally and universally, then it was clear that God operated in the same way.

Soon there was a much bigger world than the United States and the Roman Catholic Church, which I eventually realized were also paradoxes.  The e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”) on American coinage did not include very “many” of its own people (blacks, gays, Native Americans, poor folks, and so on), and as a Christian I finally had to be either Roman or catholic, and I continue to choose the catholic end of the spectrum.  Either Jesus is the “savior of the world,” (John 4:42), or he is not much of a savior at all.  Either America treats the rest of the world democratically, or it does not really believe in democracy at all.  That is the way I see it.

But this slow process of transformation and the realizations that came with it were not either-or decisions; they were great big both-and realizations.  None of it happened without much prayer, self-doubt, study, and conversation, but the journey itself led me to a deepening sense of what the church calls holiness, what Americans call freedom, and what psychology calls wholeness.  I could transcend now precisely because I was able to include and broaden.  Paul Ricoeur’s first naiveté was the best way to begin the journey, and the second naiveté was the easiest way to continue that same journey, without becoming angry, split, alienated, or ignorant.  I now hope and believe that a kind of second simplicity is the very goal of mature adulthood and mature religion.  Although we often used it in a derogatory way, I wonder if this was not our intuition when we spoke of older people as in a “second childhood”?  Maybe that is where we are supposed to go?  Maybe that is what several poets meant when they said, “the child is father of the man”?

My small personal viewpoint as a central reference point for anything, or for rightly judging anything, gradually faded as life went on.  The very meaning of the word universe is to “turn around one thing.”  I know am not that one thing.  There is either some Big Truth in this universe, or there is no truth that is always reliable; there is we hope, some pattern behind it all (even if the pattern is exception!), or it begins to be a very incoherent universe, which is what many postmodern people seem to have accepted.  I just can’t.

Mature religions, and now some scientists, say that we are hardwired for the Big Picture, for transcendence, for ongoing growth, for union with ourselves and everything else.  Either God is for everybody and the divine DNA is somehow in all of the creatures, or this God is not God by any common definition, or even much of a god at all.  We are driven, kicking and screaming, toward ever higher levels of union and ability to include (to forgive others for being “other”), it seems to me.  “Everything that rises must converge,” as Teilhard de Chardin put it.

But many get stopped and fixated at lower levels where God seems to torture and exclude forever those people who don’t agree with “him,” or get “his” name right.  How could you possibly feel safe, free, loved, trustful, or invited by such a small God?  Jesus undid this silliness himself when he said, “You, evil as you are, know how to give good things to your children.  If you, then how much more, God!” (Matthew 7:11)  The God I have met and been loved by in my life journey is always an experience of “how much more!”  If we are created in the image and likeness of God, then whatever good, true, or beautiful things we can say about humanity or creation we can say of God exponentially.  God is the beauty of creation and humanity multiplied to the infinite power.


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