By: Richard Rohr OFM

First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God. —Julian of Norwich (c. 1343­­–c. 1416) [1]

It is in falling down that we learn almost everything that matters spiritually. As many of the parables seem to say, you have to lose it (or know that you don’t have it) before you will really seek it, then find it, and fittingly celebrate (see all three parables of Luke 15). The message is sort of hard to miss.

It seems that we must fail, and even “transgress,” and then need mercy, forgiveness, and love because of that very transgression. Up to then, all God talk is largely academic and formal. We don’t really know love until we need love.  Until then we have no way of knowing that the long, lonely distance between God/Reality and ourselves is overcome and fully spanned from the other side.

The common “myth of transgression” found in universal literature operates on many levels. (By myth I mean an archetypal message, expressed in story, that has many layers of meaning beyond the literal.) Both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures reveal transgression to be the most common pattern of human transformation (consider Adam and Eve, Moses, Jacob, Jesus, Paul, and Peter). The old must always be revealed as inadequate or even wrong for the new to be born. Our first attempt to love God by following rules is eventually revealed to be much more love of self and love of some kind of order—but we can’t know that yet! (See Philippians 3:6+.) It is our failure to live up to these egoic attempts at love that drives us toward an ever-higher love, where we are not in charge but actually in love!

The actor here is what some call the trickster, the clown, the anti-hero and, in biblical literature, “the sinner” who is again and again shown to be the hero, especially in the stories of Jesus. “Her many sins have been forgiven her or she would not have shown such great love,” says Jesus of “the woman who was a sinner” (Luke 7:47). The law-abiding Pharisee is deemed ridiculous while the grasping tax collector, with no spiritual resume whatsoever, goes home “justified” (Luke 18:9-14). We must deal with this. It is indeed shocking, but only to the self-satisfied ego.

Do you realize how counterintuitive this is? Do you realize how hopeful this is? The playing field is now utterly leveled. It is our mistakes that lead us to God. We come to divine union not by doing it right but by doing it wrong, as we all most surely do anyway.

 

Gateway to Silence:
I am hidden in the love and mercy of God.