by Richard Rohr OFM
The purifying goal of mysticism and contemplative prayer is nothing less than divine union—union with what is, with the moment, with yourself, with the divine, which means with everything. Healing, growth, and happiness are admittedly wonderful byproducts of prayer, but they must not be our primary concern. The goal must be kept simple and clear—love of God and neighbor, union with God and neighbor. Our common word for this state of union is heaven. Wherever there is union, there is a little bit of heaven.
Much of common religion is well-disguised self-interest—high premium fire insurance for the afterlife—instead of self-emptying love. Most of the official Catholic liturgical prayers ask in some form, “That I or we might go to heaven.” (This is not a guess. I have counted!) Is there no other priority than my personal salvation? If it is true that lex orandi est lex credendi, “the way you pray is the way you believe,” then it is no wonder Christians have such a poor record of caring for the suffering of the world and for the planet itself, and the Church has fully participated in so many wars and injustices. We have been allowed to pray in a rather self-centered way, and that fouled the Christian agenda, in my opinion.
Jesus talked much more about how to live on earth now than about how to get to heaven later. Show me where Jesus healed people for the next world. He healed their present entrapment and suffering in their bodies, not just their souls. But many Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, pushed the goal into the future, making religion into a petty reward/punishment system inside a frame of retributive justice. (The major prophets—and Jesus himself¬—teach restorative justice instead.) Once Christianity became a simplistic win/lose morality contest, we lost most of the practical, transformative power of the Gospel for the individual and for society. I cannot state this strongly enough.
Objectively, we cannot be separate from God; we all walk in the Garden whether we know it or not. The branch that imagines itself to be separate from the Vine (John 15:1-8), acts as if it is separate from God. We call the result sin, but the real sin is the imagined state of separation. It is our own delusion and decision!
We came from God and we will return to God. Everything in-between is a school toward conscious loving. As theologian Charles Williams (1886-1945) said, the “master idea” of Christianity is co-inherence. “You already know the Spirit of Truth; the Spirit is with you and in you!” (John 14:17). God is your deepest desiring. But it takes a long time to allow, believe, trust, and enjoy such a wonderful possibility. We move toward union by desiring union. We move into heaven by desiring heaven now. So just pray for the desire to desire union. Then the actions will take care of themselves.