Richard Rohr, ofm

The Belly of the Whale

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

 And so long as you do not know that to die is to become, you are just a wretched visitor on this dark earth. —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Jesus’ primary metaphor for the mystery of transformation is the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39, 16:4; Luke 11:29).  As a Jew, Jesus knew the vivid story of Jonah, the prophet who ran away from God and yet was used by God in spite of himself.  Jonah was swallowed by a “big fish” and taken where he would rather not go—a metaphor for any kind of death. Then and only then will we be spit up on a new shore in spite of ourselves. Isn’t this the story of most of our lives?
The soul is always freed and formed through dying and rising.  “To die and thus to become” is the pattern of transformation in the entire physical and biological world.  Why not the human?  There seems to be no other cauldron of growth and transformation.

We seldom go willingly into the belly of the beast.  Mature spirituality will always teach us to enter willingly, trustingly into the dark periods of life, which is why we speak so much of “faith” or trust.  Transformative power is discovered in the dark—in questions and doubts, seldom in the answers. Yet this goes against our cultural instincts. We usually try to fix or change events in order to avoid changing ourselves.  Wise people tell us we must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning.  That is the dark path of contemplative prayer.  Grace leads us to a state of emptiness, to that momentary sense of meaninglessness in which we ask, “What is it all for?”  It seems some form of absence always needs to precede any deepening notion of presence.  Desire makes way for depth.

Gateway to Silence:

The way down is the way up.

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