The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe, by Richard Rohr, is one of the most thought-provoking and expansive books I’ve read in ages.

In short, he perceives our world as one in which God has poured himself into all of creation just as fully as he poured himself into one human who lived in Galilee two thousand years ago.

“This is not heresy, universalism, or a cheap version of Unitarianism. This is the Cosmic Christ, who always was, who became incarnate in time, and who is still being revealed. We would have helped history and individuals so much more if we had spent our time revealing how Christ is everywhere instead of proving that Jesus was God,” he writes.

The term “Cosmic Christ” is a little weird. But he doesn’t use it very often (thank God).

“Just because you do not have the right word for God does not mean you are not having the right experience. From the beginning, YHWH let the Jewish people know that no right word would ever contain God’s infinite mystery,” Rohr suggests.

“Unfortunately, the notion of faith that emerged in the West was much more a rational assent to the truth of certain mental beliefs, rather than a calm and hopeful trust that God is inherent in all things, and that this whole thing is going somewhere good,” he suggests.

I want to share one longer passage with you today, about here and “the depth of here”:

“What I am saying in this chapter,” writes Rohr, “is that there must be a way to be both here and in the depth of here… This, in my mind, is the essence of incarnation, and the gift of contemplation… Contemplation is the “second gaze,” through which you see something in its particularity and yet also in a much larger frame…

“Two pieces of art have given me this incarnational and contemplative insight. The first was one I saw in a Nuremberg art museum by Hans Kulmbach. It portrays the two human feet of Jesus at the very top of a large painting of the Ascension. Most of the canvas is taken up by the apostles, who are being drawn up with Christ with their eyes, as the two feet move off the top of the painting, presumably into the spiritual realms. The image had a wonderful effect to me. I too found myself looking beyond the painting toward the ceiling of the art museum, my eyes drawn elsewhere for the message. It… simultaneously took me beyond the painting and right back into the room where I was standing…

The second piece of art is a bronze statue of St. Francis, located in the upper basilica of Assisi, Italy. Created by a sculptor whose name is hidden, the statue shows Francis gazing down into the dirt with awe and wonder, which is quite unusual and almost shocking. The Holy Spirit, who is almost always pictured as descending from above, is pictured here as coming from below – even to the point of being hidden in the dirt! I’ve made sure I go see this statue whenever I return to Assisi, but I fear most people miss it, because it is small and set off to the side…

Both these pieces of art put the two worlds together, just from different perspectives. Yet in both images, it is the Divine that takes the lead in changing places. Maybe artists have easier access to this Mystery than many theologians? The right brain often gets there faster and more easily than the left brain, and we let the left brainers take over our churches.

I doubt if you can see the image of God (Imago Dei) in your fellow humans if you cannot first see it in rudimentary form in stones, in plants and flowers, in strange little animals, in bread and wine, and most especially cannot honor this objective divine image in yourself. It is a full-body tune-up, this spiritual journey. It really ends up being all or nothing, here and then everywhere.

Respect, Wonder, Reverence

This change of perspective, to bottom-up and inside-out, can take the form of religious language or totally secular language. Words are not the reality itself (the Ding an sich, as the Germans say). We all know respect when we see it (re-spect = to see a second time). We all know reverence because it softens our gaze. Any object that calls forth respect or reverence is the “Christ” or the anointed one for us at that moment, even though the conduit might just look like a committed research scientist, an old man cleaning up the beach, a woman going the extra mile for her neighbor, an earnest, eager dog licking your face, or an ascent of pigeons across the plaza.

All people who see with that second kind of contemplative gaze, all who look at the world with respect, even if they are not formally religious, are en Cristo, or in Christ. For them, as Thomas Merton says, “the gate of heaven is everywhere”…


Is Christ in the queen; her workers; the drones, who die on the wing?

The bloom of the locust they feed on?

The gloved hand of the man who loves them?


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