It has been a quiet week on the island. No unanticipated, bewildered migrant guests, no repeat of the bizarre bank robbery of a few weeks ago. No terrible storms in spite of dire forecasts. Just the mostly gray, soft, damp, chilly weather typical of January as we hunker down for the "dead of winter." I've been enjoying the off season luxury of running errands without encountering summer irritability and traffic jams (although somehow the lines at the Post Office never seem to move any faster).
All of this is to say that for a moment, time seems to have slowed down a bit and there are hours here and there for uninterrupted contemplation. Also an off season luxury.
I've been reflecting on Fr. Richard Rohr's (Center for Action and Contemplation) daily offerings, this year focused on the roles of priest and prophet in religious tradition. He makes a pointed comment about the nature of evil:
I recall, as a young teenager, being invited by a friend to attend a banquet event at which the keynote speaker was a popular evangelist at the time. He was a powerful preacher and the culmination of the evening was an altar call - a highly emotionally charged invitation to come forward and confess "Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior." I recall feeling pretty intimidated by all the emotional drama and decided to "sit this one out." As my table mates, mostly middle aged, well be-jeweled, fur wearing women returned from the altar "saved," I overheard several critiques about what other women were wearing, about whether other people were sincere or not and so on.
The memory has stayed with me along with the lingering impression that the centrality of personal salvation was not a lasting thing. I guess my skepticism about personal religion and salvation was seeded at that time as I watched and listened to a powerful preacher with whom everyone agreed and whom no one questioned. The money poured in to the velvet lined baskets that were passed among the banqueters following an impassioned urging to support the ministry of the evangelist.
Fr. Rohr: Jesus is not too interested in moral purity because he knows that any preoccupation with repressing the shadow does not lead us into personal transformation, empathy, compassion, or patience, but invariably into denial or disguise, repression or hypocrisy. Isn’t that rather evident? Immature religion creates a high degree of cognitively rigid people or very hateful and attacking people—and often both. It is almost the public image of Christianity today, yet God’s goal is exactly the opposite.
So - - a question from those early and impressionable tenage years surfaces again: If it is true that "Jesus saves" - - How does he do it???
As "priest" Jesus promised that he was not there to abolish the religious tradition that shaped him, but rather that he had come to fulfill the ancient law. This required him to also fulfill the role of "prophet."
Fr. Rohr reminds us that prophets aren’t nearly as popular as priests. Priests keep repeating the party line, so there’s no reason to fight them. But prophets do both: they put together the best of the conservative with the best of the liberal, to use contemporary language. They honor the tradition, and they also say what’s phony about the tradition. That’s what fully spiritually mature people can do.