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What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self

What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self

by Richard Rohr


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Drawing from the best and most poetic of Richard Rohr's essays from nearly a quarter of a century, each chapter in this new collection examines one of the seven core mystical truths. Organized according to the mystical paths that every worshiper must follow, Rohr identifies the despair of everyday life, promotes opportunities for change even in the face of pain, and encourages transforming one's deeper self into a beacon of light that aids in the metamorphosis of others. Illuminating these insights with reflections on Christian and Jewish scriptures while citing the greatest religious writers throughout the ages, Rohr offers an unparalleled window into the wisdom of the mystics in this succinct volume that represents the best of his vast library of writing.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780824599652
Publisher: The Crossroad Publishing Company
Publication date: 07/01/2019
Edition description: None
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 108,930
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Richard Rohr is a well known lecturer who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation. He has been a featured essayist on the NPR program This I Believe, a guest on the radio show Oprah and Friends, and he appeared in the documentary ONE, featuring spiritual teachers from around the world. He is a regular contributor to Sojourners and Tikkun magazines, and he is the author of numerous books, including Adam’s Return, Breathing Under Water, The Enneagram, Everything Belongs, and Falling Upward. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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What the Mystics Know

Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self

By Richard Rohr

The Crossroad Publishing Company

Copyright © 2015 The Crossroad Publishing Company, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8245-2086-1


Part One

The Enlightenment You Seek Already Dwells Within You

* * *

We don't think ourselves into a new way of living. We live ourselves into a new way of thinking.


How do you find what is supposedly already there? Why isn't it obvious? How do you awaken the Center? By thinking about it? By praying and meditating? By more silence and solitude? Yes, perhaps, but mostly by living — and living consciously. The edges suffered and enjoyed lead us back to the Center. The street person feels cold and rejection and has to go to a deeper place for warmth. The hero pushes against his own self-interested edges and finds that they don't matter. The alcoholic woman recognizes how she has hurt her family and breaks through to a compassion beyond her. In each case, the edges suffer, inform, partially self -destruct, and all are found to be unnecessary and even part of the problem. That which feels the pain also lets it go, and the Center stands revealed and sufficient! We do not find our own Center; it finds us. The body is in the soul. It is both the place of contact and the place of surrender.

We don't think ourselves into a new way of living. We live ourselves into a new way of thinking. The journeys around the circumference lead us to life at the Center. Then by what is certainly a vicious and virtuous circle, the Center calls all the journeys at the circumference into question! The ruthless ambition of the businessman can lead him to the very failure and emptiness that is the point of his conversion. Is the ambition therefore good or evil? Do we really have to sin to know salvation? Call me a "sin mystic," but that is exactly what I see happening in all my pastoral experience.

That does not mean that we should set out intentionally to sin. We only see the pattern after the fact. Julian of Norwich put it perfectly: "Commonly, first we fall and later we see it and both are the Mercy of God." How did we ever lose that? It got hidden away in that least celebrated but central Easter Vigil service, when the deacon sings to the church about a felix culpa, the happy fault that precedes and necessitates the eternal Christ. Like all great mysteries of faith, it is hidden except to those who keep vigil and listen.


From my first days as a Franciscan, we were told that we were "Christian humanists." I glory in being a humanist. I have no problem seeing the goodness in people as a true mirror of the goodness in God. For me, there is a direct correlation....

We are reflections of the invisible God (Gen. 1:27). And our only way to know God is through this humanity. This is our only road to a little enlightenment. ... We begin here. If I'm created in the image and likeness of God, then anthropology might be just as important as theology to understand the mystery of God....

We must never think we are building up God by putting humanity down. We would, instead, be insulting God, blaspheming, to set ourselves against God's creation.


To pray is to build your own house. To pray is to discover that Someone else is within your house. To pray is to recognize that it is not your house at all. To keep praying is to have no house to protect because there is only One House. And that One House is everybody's Home. In other words, those who pray from the heart actually live in a very different and ultimately dangerous world. It is a world that makes the merely physical world seem anemic, illusory, and relative. The word "real" takes on a new meaning, and we find ourselves judging with utterly new scales, weights, and standards. Be careful of such house-builders, for their loyalties will lie in very different directions. They will be very different kinds of citizens, and the state will not so easily depend on their salute. That is the politics of prayer. And that is probably why truly spiritual people are always a threat to politicians of any sort. They want our allegiance, and we can no longer give it, our house is too big.


Then Jesus asked, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.

(Luke 13:18–19)

This parable is instructive for people who want the kingdom to happen right now — they want to be holy after their first year on the journey. For the kingdom to happen, however, we have to walk the entire journey. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It starts small, but it keeps growing. So keep growing. As time goes on, you'll sprout many branches, and you'll look out at the end of your life and say, "God has done it. God has been faithful to the promise. God has made beauty out of my little life."


A biblical definition of the Holy Spirit is dynamis, which means "power" or "strength." We are talking about the power that gives us the certainty that God is drawing us near and that we are associated with the Holy.

... If we "work our way through" our compulsion and emerge again on the other side, then we stand before the depths of our self. There we find a purified passion, a chastened power, our best and true self. Tradition has called this place the "soul," the point where the human being and God meet, where unity is possible, and where religion consists not only of words, norms, dogmas, rituals, and visits to church, but becomes a genuine experience of encounter.


Self-worth is not created; it is discovered.


You can only miss something that you have searched for and partially experienced. In fact, you do not even search for it until you have already touched it.


Faith is not a means to something further. It is not what we do in order to get into heaven. Mutual perfect faith would be heaven! Faith is its own end. To have faith is already to have come alive. "Your faith has saved you" is the way Jesus put it to the blind man (Luke 18:42).

Faith is the opposite of resentment, cynicism, and negativity. Faith is always, finally, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Faith actually begins to create what it desires. Faith always recreates the good world. Without faith, you sink into the bad world that you most feared. With faith, you keep trusting, hoping, believing, and calling forth life from stones, which is exactly what Jesus intimates in the chapter that follows his healing of the blind man (Luke 19:40). You can call life forth from anything if you already possess life. You can make a stone breathe, make it live for you, make it shout out in praise of God. As has been so often said, faith is a matter of having new eyes, seeing everything through and even with the eyes of God.


"How can I be more holy?" We don't have to make ourselves holy. We already are, and we just don't know it. In Christian terminology it is called the Divine Indwelling or the free gift of the Holy Spirit. That proclamation, and all that proceeds from it, is the essential, foundational, and primary task of all religion. Thus, authentic religion is more about subtraction than addition, more letting go of the false self than any attempt at engineering a true self. You can't create what you already have.


How can we really be liberated? How can we pass on this freedom to the world? I would like to clarify this question on the basis of a story (from Luke 8) about a miraculous cure.

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. And as Jesus stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs.

This is a picture of a man who lives among the dead and isn't quite civilized, because he runs around naked. We shall soon see that the city is comfortable with the fact that this man lives out there, and so is he. Because when Jesus comes to him, we are told:

When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said in a loud voice: "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me." The man did not know whether he wanted what Jesus had. His unfreedom was the only world he knew.

We feel much more comfortable with our slavery than with freedom. Freedom means that we have to assume radical responsibility for what we are. To be enslaved means that we always have somebody else to blame for our problems. An evil spirit had already possessed this man for a long time: "He was bound with chains and fetters." In this way people tried to keep him under control. Although they kept him chained, they said the evil spirit was holding him captive. When we project the darkness in us onto another person or other groups, then these people or groups end up accepting our projection. Sooner or later we all believe the world's version of who we are.


Why does a story have such power? Because most of us don't think abstractly. We live in a world of images and symbols; that's what moves us. ... Each of us is a story. We were created by God as a story waiting to be told, and each of us has to find a way to tell our story. In the telling of it we come to recognize and own ourselves. People without a place to tell their story and a person to listen to it never come into possession of themselves. ... For many people, "myth" means something that isn't true. Please put aside that understanding. Myth is, in fact, something that is so true that it can be adequately expressed only in story, symbol, and ritual. It can't be abstracted and objectified. Its meaning and mystery are so deep and broad that they can be presented only in story form. When you step into a story, you find it is without limits and you can walk around with it and inside it. It is natural to sing, dance, and reenact a story. It is too big and too deep to be merely "understood" or taught.


We long for distant absolutes, perhaps seeking a confirmation of the absolute we already intuit within ourselves. Like Jacob we eventually awake from our sleep and say, "God was in this place, and I never knew it!" (Gen. 28:16).


There is the first numinous experience that opens our eyes. It only needs to happen once. It happened to Julian of Norwich, the English mystic, one May 8, and she lived off of it for the rest of her life. She tried to describe it in her writings, which she called "Showings." That night, God showed her his heart. Nothing more happened. People such as Angela Merici, who founded the Ursulines, and Junipero Serra had religious experiences at seventeen and eighteen that told them what they were going to do, and neither of them did it until they were fifty-five.

From eighteen to fifty-five was the unfolding. Then, when it happened at fifty-five, they knew what they were born for. When that moment comes, it is great and it is all synchronicity. We know then that grace is at work and we are not manufacturing our own lives.


My starting point is that we're already there. We cannot attain the presence of God because we're already totally in the presence of God. What's absent is awareness. Little do we realize that God is maintaining us in existence with every breath we take. As we take another it means that God is choosing us now and now and now. We have nothing to attain or even learn. We do, however, need to unlearn some things.

To become aware of God's presence in our lives, we have to accept what is often difficult, particularly for people in what appears to be a successful culture. We have to accept that human culture is in a mass hypnotic trance. We're sleepwalkers. All religious teachers have recognized that we human beings do not naturally see; we have to be taught how to see. That's what religion is for. That's why the Buddha and Jesus say with one voice, "Be awake." Jesus talks about "staying watchful" (Matt. 25:13; Luke 12:37; Mark 13:33–37), and "Buddha" means "I am awake" in Sanskrit. Jesus says further, "If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light" (Luke 11:34).

Thus, we have to learn to see what is there. Such a simple directive is hard for us to understand. We want to attain some concrete information or achieve an improved morality or learn some behavior that will make us into superior beings. Bu there's no question here of meritocracy. Although we have a "merit badge" mentality, prayer shows us that we are actually "punished" by any expectation of merit and reward. For that expectation keeps us from the truly transformative experience called grace....

Experiencing radical grace is like living in another world. It's not a world in which I labor to get God to notice me and like me. It's not a world in which I strive for spiritual success. It's not a cosmic game of crime and punishment. Unfortunately, a large percentage of the world's religions do teach that, if usually indirectly. Religious people are afraid of gratuity. Instead, we want God for the sake of social order, and we want religion for the sake of social controls.

I'd like to say something a bit different about prayer, and therefore about religion. Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather, a stance. It's a way of living in the Presence, living in awareness of the Presence, and even of enjoying the Presence. The full contemplative is not just aware of the Presence, but trusts, allows, and delights in it.


This brilliant word, nonduality (advaita in Sanskrit), was used by many in different traditions in the East to distinguish from total and perfect absorption or enmeshment. Facing some of the same challenges of modern-day ecology and quantum physics, they did not want to say that all things were metaphysically or physically identical, nor did they want to separate and disconnect everything. In effect, the contemplative mind in East or West withholds from labeling things or categorizing them too quickly, so it can come to see them in themselves, apart from the words or concepts that become their substitutes.

Humans tend to think that because they agree or disagree with the idea of a thing, they have realistically encountered the thing itself. Not at all true, says the contemplative. It is necessary to encounter the thing in itself. "Presence" is my word for this encounter, a different way of knowing and touching the moment. It is much more vulnerable and leaves us without a sense of control. Such panoramic and deeper seeing requires a lot of practice, but the rewards are superb and, I believe, necessary for both joy and truth in this world.


Part Two

God Is Found in Imperfection


Suppose a superstar of knowledge moves into your house as a boarder. With three Ph.D.s after his name, he sits at your supper table each evening dispensing information about nuclear physics, cyberspace, and psychoneuroimmunology, giving ultimate answers to every question you ask. He doesn't lead you through his thinking process, however, or even involve you in it; he simply states the conclusions he has reached.

You might find his conclusions interesting and even very helpful, but the way he relates to you will not set you free, empower you, or make you feel good about yourself. His wisdom will not liberate you, it will not invite you to growth and life — indeed, it will in the end make you feel inferior and dependent. That's exactly the way we have used Jesus. We have treated him like a person with three Ph.D.s coming to tell us his conclusions.

We humans don't really want conclusions. We want to experience the process. We want someone to walk with us through all the stages of faith; we want someone to hold our hand, to love us, to support us, and to believe in us while we are in process. You and I are always in process; that's where we live our lives; that's what interests us. Even our faith is in process. The fact is we're really not all that concerned about having perfect conclusions. We need someone to help us make sense of the journey itself.


When the new wheat sprouted and then ripened, the darnel [weeds] appeared as well. The owner's servants went to him and said, "Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?"

(Matt. 13:26–27)


Excerpted from What the Mystics Know by Richard Rohr. Copyright © 2015 The Crossroad Publishing Company, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


1 The Enlightenment You Seek Already Dwells Within You

How Do We Find What Is Already There? 1

A True Mirror 2

To Build Your Own House 3

Like a Mustard Seed 4

Dynamis, Our True Self 5

Discovering Self-Worth 5

Searching for What We Have Already Touched 5

When Faith Creates What It Desires 6

We Are Already Holy 7

Radical Responsibility 7

Telling Our Own Story 8

Awaking from Our Sleep 9

Julian of Norwich and the First Numinous Experience 9

God Is Choosing Us Now 10

Presence and Nonduality 11

2 God Is Found in Imperfection

Why the Journey Matters 13

The Wheat and the Weeds 14

Using Evil for Good 15

God Is an Earthquake 15

Spiritually Starving in the Midst of Plenty 16

Man Guards His Nothing 17

I Am Part of the Problem 17

The Cosmic Egg 18

Principles and Prayer 19

The Depths of Our Emptiness 19

Living in a Broken World 20

All New People 21

We Are the Masks of God 22

Revealing Our Neediness 23

Sin Is Something We Are 23

Worthy and Unworthy 23

A Child's Total Faith 25

The Forgiveness Path of the Saints 26

Missing the Mark 27

A Favorite Vice 28

Our Gift Is Our Sin 29

Recognizing Our Passions 29

The Darkness Is a Part of Us 30

Beyond an All-or-Nothing Outlook 31

The Disguises of the False Self 32

Lasting Love 33

The Result of Excess 34

Contact with the Numinous 34

Stealing the Fire 35

The Center Cannot Hold 36

Jesus Built Circles, not Pyramids 36

A Self Transformed 37

Anawim: The Poor 38

Acknowledging Your Fear 39

The Three Demons in the Wilderness 39

When Religion Cannot Kneel 39

We Must Love Them Both 40

Finding a Deep Yes 40

Joy in Imperfection 41

3 From Profound Suffering Come Great Wisdom and Joy

Suffering and Prayer: The Two Golden Paths 42

Whenever We See True Pain 42

You Must Drink of the Cup 44

God Gets Closer Blow by Blow 45

When You Have No Control 46

The Space of Nonanswer 46

Symbols That Heal 46

Resurrection Takes Care of Itself 47

When Someone Carries the Burden with Us 47

Sharing in Suffering 48

When You Cannot Forgive 49

The Story of the Two Sons (the Prodigal Son) 50

Soon We'll All Be Gone 53

Spirituality and Path 54

Letting Go of Emotions 54

Misery 55

Allowing the Dark Side 55

The Thin Line between Joy and Suffering 56

Joy and Pain: A Lesson from Merton's Hermitage 56

God Is Participating with Us 53

4 The Mystical Path is a Celebration of Paradox

God Is the Light That Dwells in Darkness 59

Perfectly Hidden and Perfectly Revealed 60

Paradoxes in Endless Embrace 60

Who You Think God Is, God Isn't 60

Carrying the Dilemma 61

Words Become Flesh 62

Parables and Koans 62

Parable: A Call to Insight 63

A Quality of Mystery 63

Paradox and Authentic Spirituality 63

How to Win by Losing 63

We Are Christ's Body 64

Conversion to the No-Me 64

Miracles Are Signs 65

Praying Out Loud 66

Limitless Presence 67

The Last Will Be First 67

Our Image of God 68

How God Comes to Us 68

Healing Physical and Spiritual 69

Beyond the Defended Ritual 70

Pontifex. The Bridge Builder 70

The Sign of Jonah 71

5 Contemplation Means Practicing Heaven Now

Contemplation, the Divine Therapy 73

The Symbol of the Rising Sun 74

Einstein: The New Way of Knowing 75

Therese of Lisieux: How You Do Anything Is How You Do Everything 76

A River Meditation 77

Meister Eckhart and the Reciprocal Gaze 79

Try to Love a Stone 79

It's All a Matter of Seeing 81

What Really Is 82

The First Stages of Contemplative Prayer 82

Radical Contemplation The Perfect Reflector 83

God Is Carrying Me 84

Contemplative Surrender 84

Our Inner Observer: Fair Witness 85

Different Forms of Prayer 85

Crawling up on the Cloud 87

Making a Place for Christ 88

Conceiving Christ 89

Called to a Deeper Place 89

Faith without Feelings 90

What's Happening in Heaven 91

Mother Teresa: Living without Security 91

Falling in Love with God 92

Belonging to God 93

God Is a Verb or Being Known Through 93

Identifying with the Beloved 94

How the Mystics Know God 95

6 To Discover the Truth, You Must Become the Truth

Truth Is a Person 96

Hearing the Deeper Voice 96

The Fruits of the Spirit 96

The Gift of Inner Authority 97

"To Dwell Inside of Things" 98

An Invitation to Live with Him 100

The Discernment of Spirits 101

We Are Co-Creators 101

Jesus' Authority 102

Solus: Inner Clarity 102

Learning How to Be Taught 103

First I Have to Act: The Mysterious Wisdom of Faith 104

Named by God 104

Larger Than Life 105

Jesus' Journey and Ours 106

Something New: Holy Fools 107

Ibn al-Arabi: Becoming Transparent 109

7 When You Are Transformed, Others Will Be Transformed Through You

"Dangerously Free": Compassion from Contemplation 111

Plato's Holy Madness 112

"Love Must Be Brought to Earth" 112

The Christ Mosaic 113

The Gospel Calls Us to Community 113

Community: Ideal and Real 114

Sacrifice Is Giving Ourselves to the Other 115

We Should Be the Leaven 116

Saints: Channeling God's Power 116

You Are an Instrument 117

Speaking a Word That Is Truth 117

Truth and Humility 118

God's First Liberation 119

Salvation Happens in Relationship 119

The School and the Lesson 121

The Reign of Heaven 121

The Center for Action and Contemplation 122

The Need for Wisdom in Action 122

Take a Step Backward 123

A New Way of Living 124

Protected Interiority 125

Announcing the Alternative 126

Radical Help 126

Calling Others to Heal 128

Trusting the Masculine Soul 128

Francis of Assist: Warrior for Love 129

Spirituality Requires Accountability 130

Apocalyptic Prophets: The Absolute Stance 131

Reconstruction 131

Good over Evil: "The Beginning Is Always Happening" 132

Notes 132

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