One of the things I do to keep myself on my spiritual toes is to read what other people write. I find it helpful to see whom other folks read and quote. I am intrigued by how others writers formulate and develop their thoughts. I am interested in other people’s perspective and, even, theology. One of the writers whom I most enjoy and find helpful is Richard Rohr, the Franciscan who works out of Albuquerque at the Center for Action and Contemplation.
Rohr writes a daily blog, which I find to be good nurture for my soul. I appreciate his creative, insightful approach to all things spiritual. I know some folks, particularly some Catholics, find him troublesome. But that usually indicates someone is working at some creative junctions between faith and life. I find Rohr seeks a faith that resonates with our world, but does not sell out to our world.
A recent blog had a wonderful conclusion, which I would like to focus here. The blog was entitled, “The Communion of Saints.” This is a term that I came to value when I worked with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, long ago in my undergraduate days. Bonhoeffer was a famous theologian and, then, martyr at the hands of the Nazis near the end of World War II. He penned a book, The Communion of Saints. I know the idea of a communion of saints is an important, although variously interpreted, idea.
It can refer to the whole body of believers throughout time and also is an interesting way of talking about heaven or life beyond death this this world. I was intrigued to see how Rohr would use it. He prefaces his remarks by citing the famous Jesus farewell prayer in John’s Gospel. In that 17th chapter Jesus uses the occasion of the Last Supper to address God in a rather long prayer for union. The prayer acknowledges the union between Jesus and God---a union which made possible the ministry of Jesus which was about to come to a close on the cross. And the prayer continues for the union of all of the believers into that same union that was God’s and Jesus’. It is a powerful piece of the Fourth Gospel.
Near the end of his blog Rohr’s offers his commentary on this prayer with a reference to heaven. He writes a sentence that I found riveting. Rohr notes, “You don’t go to heaven; you learn how to live in heaven now.” I am sure this will provoke his naysayers one more time. Rather than focus on heaven in a post-death situation, Rohr drags heaven back into this life and makes it a this-worldly opportunity. I happen to like that and know it fits with one major way John’s Gospel describes “the end.”
For John and for Rohr, as well, the “end” does not come with death---although that certainly will be an end. The “end” for a believer comes with our belief. For the early follower of Jesus, the “end” came with their decision to give up their old ways and follow the new way---the way of faith. In that decision and that new life, they began to live the “end” in this life and this world. I am confident that is what Rohr means by “learn how to live in heaven now.” That is the call---the call of faith and new life.
Rohr develops his thought with more good insight. He writes a fairly long commentary, but it is powerful for my and my faith. Rohr says, “And no one lives in heaven alone. Either you learn how to live in communion with the human race and with all that God has created, or, quite simply, you’re not ready for heaven. If you want to live an isolated life, trying to prove that you’re better than everybody else or believing you’re worse than everybody else, you are already in hell.” I fully hope that heaven is not for single occupancy!
And I am drawn to Rohr’s logic. Basically, he says we either have to learn to live spiritually well with others---in communion---or we are not ready for heaven. My theology affirms this truth. And I notice he does not simply say that we need to learn to live with other Christians. Of course, that is a given. But we will have to learn to live with all others whom God has created. Obviously, that is a tall order. But who would expect less from a loving God?
In a sneaky way Rohr brings hell into the picture. Essentially, he suggests that many of us are living in hell right now. We don’t have to wait to be dead to be in hell. Many of us create our own version of hell on earth. I have seen enough of this to agree with him. In fact I am sure there have been times I have created my own hell and opted to live in it. And in the process, I was probably providing some hell for others in my company!
I like the way Rohr ends his thoughts and will let that end it for me. I imagine him smiling and saying, “You have been invited—even now, even today, even this moment—to live in the Communion of Saints…”