One of my favorite writers, Richard Rohr, has a daily column in which he meditates on life and spiritual ways to live life. Those meditations are fairly short. I enjoy looking at them and seeing how his mind thinks about these kinds of things. Obviously it is a bit similar to what I do in these reflections, but mine are longer. Maybe I should take a cue from him!
Of course, it would be easier to write something short---maybe a paragraph or two. But I would miss the chance to ponder issues a little longer and to develop my thoughts a little further. It is a spiritual discipline for me. And for those who read it, I hope it is a form of spiritual discipline for you, too.
In one of his recent pieces Rohr had a sentence that caught my attention. This is the kind of kernel of wisdom I look for and on which I have a chance to ruminate. I like the word, ruminate. It comes from the Latin word, ruminatus. That Latin word means to chew the cud. One thinks of cows or other animals here. Maybe it is because I grew up on a dairy farm that makes this a favorite metaphor. I have many memories of watching the cows chomp away on their cud. They always looked very much at peace and at ease. To ruminate, then, means to turn something over in your mind---slowly and attentively.
This is what Rohr’s sentence did for me. Rohr’s sentence says, “You cannot build any serious spiritual house if you do not first find something solid and foundational to build on---inside yourself.” I suppose it is because I had a couple good English teachers when I was in school that accounts for the fact that I like to diagram and dissect sentences. For example, the subject of this sentence is “house.” And that noun has a couple interesting modifiers, namely “serious” and “spiritual.” A serious spiritual house is a compelling metaphor for the religious life. It is not one I might have come up with, but I like it.
I know it is a metaphor because Rohr talks about building that serious spiritual house “inside yourself.” That reminds me of the famous sixteenth century saint and monastic, Teresa of Avila. That Spanish mystic wrote a work that appears as a book in English with the title, The Interior Castle. She uses this more medieval image to describe where and how we find God---the God within. Teresa has seven dwelling rooms in this interior castle.
For Teresa the spiritual journey is a journey inwardly. We move through and into the castle room by room. There in the center of the castle is the Divinity Itself. Living our normal lives means most of us are living outside the interior castle---unaware of the castle, much less the God within.
I know Richard Rohr is very familiar with Teresa of Avila. Perhaps he has her in mind when he wrote that sentence. In many ways his approach is more modern and, therefore, more relevant. Rohr also makes another significant shift. He suggests that we “build” this serious spiritual house. Teresa’s approach was more like a discovery. We don’t build that castle; we discover it and then enter it.
I like both images: fabricating (or making) the house and discovering (or finding) the castle. Maybe these represent two different spiritual approaches. In some cases we need to be builders. In other cases we need to be explorers and discoverers. They both require a certain amount of energy, but it is different kind of energy. When I think about myself this day, I conclude I am more into the builder-phase. Perhaps that is why Rohr’s sentence caught my eye.
But it was at this point I had to laugh. Inside his sentence about building this spiritual house, Rohr also makes use of the mode of finding. Pay attention to the sentence as we continue to dissect it. In order to build this serious spiritual house within ourselves, Rohr says we need to “find something solid and foundational to build on.” Pursuing the metaphor a bit further, I realize Rohr is telling us that the finding mode precedes the building mode. And that makes perfect sense.
We all know we will have to build our own serious spiritual house. And we know that we will build it inside ourselves. I can’t build yours and you cannot build my spiritual house. I am sure, however, we can help each other.
Perhaps one of the key ways we can help each other is to look together for that solid and foundational place to build our spiritual house. Perhaps one key way we do that for each other is to get to know each other well enough that we can let each other into our inner places. For example, I think I am dependable. If you can affirm that, I believe I have found a solid and foundational place to start construction.