Rohr and the Universal Christ

It often happens that my book club will select a book that I have already read and I get to read it again. This time it is The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. Rohr is a “globally recognized ecumenical teacher whose work is grounded in Christian mysticism.” I have read many of his books and follow his meditation reflection daily.

My understanding of Jesus has changed over the years. Much of this is maturity, I suppose, but also reading the works of mystics like Rohr. A rather startling statement Rohr makes in this book is that “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. He says that as long as Christian’s have such a narrow view of Jesus, they are missing the most important aspect of Jesus’ message. He came to reveal not who he is but to show us who we are.

For a period of my life, I worshiped with a Quaker community. I could fill this page with reasons I have so much respect for them but the one thing that stands out for me is the belief that there is “that of God” in everyone. Rohr’s explanation of what “Christ” means to Jesus and to us, I believe, is this truth: we all possess or are composed of something of God. The story of Creation in Genesis 1 says that God breathed his OWN SPIRIT into his human creation. I believe that that which animates us is indeed God within.

I was taught as a child that God is everywhere but somehow I also was taught that there were gaps in where God is…namely, in those who were not yet saved. I no longer believe that. God is within all, just as Genesis says and the Quakers believe.

Rohr says that this presence of God within each of us has a name and that name is Christ. Christ dwells within each of us guiding us into loving thought and action. Christ is God acting in us, loving with God’s love.

Years ago I had an experience that I would like to share here. In my thirties, I was very interested in Jewish thought. I studied the Old Testament and read book after book about the history of the Jewish people and about their beautiful traditions. This is the time when our family began celebrating the Passover in our home. One time I was reading a book about the Holocaust, about the incarceration and extermination of the Jews including children. I can still remember where I was, sitting alone in my bed reading. The room was dark but for a lamp and the white pages of the book. Suddenly I could see the children being corralled into the ovens. I was stunned and tears began to flow so profusely that I was gasping. I cried out to God, “How could you let this happen?” Suddenly an awareness came to me, as though God were speaking to me. I realized the tears I was shedding were God’s tears. He was sharing with me his own pain. I believe that this was my first real experience of the Christ within and every time I find myself full of compassion, this continues to be so.

Rohr says that this Christ within always seeks connection and communion, never separation or division. I think of this as I watch the events of the world unfold, as I listen to the rhetoric of religious people and of politicians. The idea that God seeks unity and communion has become a measuring stick for me to discern that which is of God and that which is of the darkness. Sometimes I forget and get caught up in negativity. Just like anyone else, I want to find someone to blame for the pain in the world. This is when remembering becomes so important. Didn’t Jesus share the essence of his own mission, the reason he came to preach to the people of Israel? He said he came that all may be one just as the Father and he were one.