The Reality of Reality
We live in it at all times. It surrounds us, penetrates us and yet is probably separate from us. It is independent and dependent at the same time. It is mysterious and, yet, completely transparent and knowable. It’s reality.
Of course, there are different philosophical and theological perspectives on just what reality is. I am sure there must be scientific versions, as well. Psychologists might tell is reality is a matter of perspective. I suppose some extremists are confident there is no such thing as reality. Maybe I am in illusion, but it seems to me pretty clear there is such a thing a reality. The good news is, I do not intend to explore its philosophical and scientific roots. I am going to take reality for granted. For me, it is. Let’s think about the reality of reality.
What prompted these beginning thoughts was a random sentence in an article I was reading. The article was not very good, but it did have a great sentence from one of my favorite authors, Richard Rohr. It comes from his book, The Naked Now. The sentence from Rohr that captured my attention tells us we need to “forgive reality for being exactly what it is right now.”
My immediate response when I read this line was “yes, that’s true.” I think it is true, but the truth it points to seems deeper and more complex than I grasped in the moment. I also realized that I probably did not know as much as I thought I did. But that’s probably true most of the time. Sometimes I think I am pretty smart; other times I am sure I hardly know anything. Again, reality does that to me.
When I read Rohr’s words, I was not particularly interested in the “forgiveness” part. We may come back to that, but I did not want to begin with that idea. What intrigued me more was the idea that reality is exactly what it is right now. I am sure that is what propelled me to say, “yes.” So what does that mean for me and for you?
I want to take it a couple different ways. In the first place reality is a given. For example, the physicality of much of our lives is reality. Chronologically I am the age I am. I am not a teenager. Reality is I am living into my seventh decade. I can’t change that. Much of the world we inhabit is that kind of reality. It is a world of beauty and charm. It is also a world that at times is threatening and fearsome. That reality is a given.
This is the first place Rohr’s words are instructive. Sometimes we will have to forgive reality for being what it is right now. If I am sick, that’s reality. I can forgive reality for being exactly what it is right now. Maybe my sickness is something that I’ll get over and then reality will be different: I’ll be well. But maybe my sickness is terminal and that’s reality. Then I can still forgive reality for being exactly what it is right now.
There is a second aspect of reality that is different. This kind of reality is the reality I create for myself. In some ways this is perceptual. I think of the “glass half empty, glass half full.” How I perceive it is my reality, but I have a choice about which reality I choose.
And this second kind of reality, I do have choices. I think much philosophy, theology and spirituality deals with this second reality. For example, the physical world is what it is: that’s reality. But whether it points to a God who is Creator and creative is more a matter of perception---of belief. Some choose to believe in this God; others find it absurd. Not surprisingly, I choose to believe in that God. That God is part of my reality. In fact, God in Whom I believe creates and shapes much of the first kind of reality---the given reality of the physical world, etc.
This all may seem convoluted or fuzzy. But for me, it is very real. I live my life based on what is real and what I think is real. I choose to be spiritual because I want to be as aware as I can of reality and the depth of my reality. I want to pray and engage other spiritual disciplines to enable myself to live as deeply real as I can. I am all too aware of how superficial life can be. It is too easy to be alive, but not really live.
The spiritual life aims to be as grounded as possible in the reality of God’s love. The goal of my spiritual life is to become as deeply and fully loving as my effort and the grace of God can muster. The reality is that I am a work in progress.
Sometimes the reality is that I don’t do a very good job. When that happens, I will need to forgive reality for being exactly as it is right now. But that is not a condemnation forever. Often, I can change my reality and our reality.
Love does just that. It transforms reality. Jesus and the other religious giants did just that: they were transformers of reality. As followers, we are called to do likewise. That’s the reality of reality. That’s the spiritual reality of love.