One of the people I routinely turn to for my own inspiration is Richard Rohr. I have a number of his books and have enjoyed reading all of them. I suppose I have read enough of him that I can pretty much figure out where he is going. But I am fine with that. I have never thought the only reason to read is to learn new things. Of course, that is a good reason to read, but it is not the only reason.
Most of us probably have favorite books. For many of us one of those books would be the Christian Bible. And even within that Bible, we might have our favorites. When I think about the gospels, I confess I prefer John’s Gospel. When I was growing up, I heard people say that John was the Quaker Gospel. I had no idea what this meant, but surely it suggested it should be my favorite. It is my favorite and maybe that is true because some older women in my Quaker meeting told me it was the Quaker Gospel. When I think about Rohr, my favorite book is the first one of his I read, namely, Everything Belongs.
I’m not sure when I first read this book. It was originally published in 1999. I still occasionally use the book in some classes I teach. And I know there are newer editions, because the pagination in my original edition is different than the ones students use. That is not a problem except I like to use my original edition because that is the one I have underlined and marked with notations on the side. Re-reading my original editions is like visiting a treasure. Rohr is a master of turning a wonderful phrase or, even, a paragraph. I love reading these one-liners and tidbits of spiritual insight.
The passage I want to lift up comes in the chapter Rohr entitles, “Cleansing the Lens.” Anyone with dirty glasses or old enough to have had cataracts knows what this means. Rohr wants to help us understand that good spiritual teachers enable us to see clearly. We all know that the language of seeing can be used literally, as in actually seeing the tree in front of us. But “seeing” language also can be used figuratively or metaphorically. When we understand something, we exclaim, “I see!”
With this in mind, let me quote Rohr as he distinguishes contemplation and cynicism. “At the bottom of the deconstruction of our society is a cynical response to reality. If contemplation teaches us to see an enchanted world, cynicism is afraid there is nothing there.” He continues by saying, “We’re tremendously underconfident about what it means to be human. For many secular people today it is a disenchanted universe without meaning, purpose, or direction. We are aware only of what it is not. Seldom do we understand what it is. Probably it is only healthy religion that is prepared to answer that question.”
I agree with Rohr that there is much cynicism in our world. It is easy to be cynical. All you need to do is complain, be negative and bash hopes. Cynics never add anything positive. They are never constructive. That is why Rohr talks about “deconstruction.” Cynics are deconstructionists. What fascinates me is how Rohr links this to the idea of enchantment. This is not a normal word used in the circles I run. I like the idea of enchantment. I realize some folks might associate the word with attraction---almost sexy.
It can come close to this idea. Enchantment means pleasure or, better, delight. Obviously, being sexy can lead to both pleasure and delight. But those are much bigger words than sex. Nature can be enchanted. Many other things can share the characteristic of enchanting---even people. Some folks link enchantment to being under a spell---sometimes magic points us in this direction. Again, I am good with that. I do think some people are magical in the way they live or make things happen. Jesus was not a magician, but he certainly was magical in the way he challenged his followers to a higher form of life.
I like the way Rohr links enchantment with meaning, purpose and direction in life. And he is probably right in sensing that many of us don’t even know what it is. This situation then creates cynics! Rohr helps us “see” and when we see spiritually, life begins to be enchanting. We begin to take delight in who we are and what we are called to do. For most of this it does not mean spectacular things. In my own case it simply means being more aware and attentive in what I routinely do.
Enchantment is not an other-worldly phenomenon. Enchantment is discovering meaning and purpose in the ordinariness of our lives. Enchantment is learning to be delighted in the gifts we have rather than longing for what we don’t have. Becoming enchanted is a constructive way of living. Cynicism is bashing of any hope for purpose or purposeful direction in life.
The good news is we have choices. We can see and choose a life that is cynical. We can successfully ruin ourselves and those around us. We can choose a disenchanted life and universe for ourselves. Or we can see and choose a life that is enchanted. With this we can have meaning and purpose. And we’ll have friends and hope in the process.