„To Know Thee More Clearly”

Image credit: Anna Washington Derry (detail), Laura Wheeler Waring, 1927, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, Washington, DC.

By Richard Rohr
Sunday, February 9, 2020

O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
And follow Thee more nearly.  

—St. Richard, Bishop of Chichester (1197–1253) [1] 

Ways of knowing are inseparable from human existence. As Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to us disguised as our lives.” While Christians emphasize Tradition and/or Scripture as sources of truth, I believe we balance them with our own experiences. We can only know God and reality within the context of our own personal experiences of time, place, culture, class, education, etc. There are as many ways of knowing as there are people who have lived!  

This week we pay attention to the wisdom of those “on the bottom.” Throughout history, some people have assumed unearned privilege, most often by denying the inherent God-given dignity of others. Christians and so-called Christian nations have been and continue to be responsible for this violence just as much as other religions and societies. Why do we continue to get it so wrong when Jesus told us that loving God and our neighbor are the first commandments (see Matthew 22:34-40)? His teachings turned power on its head: the last will be first and the first will be last, Jesus reminded us (see Matthew 20:16).  

How we know and what we know are shaped by our experience. Speaking for myself, it is clear that my privilege as a white, formally educated, financially secure man (even though I am a Franciscan) influences what I see and how I understand it. My privilege also limits my perspective in many ways. While I didn’t choose to “have” while others “have not,” if I’m not actively working toward equity, even my passive participation enables systems of inequality and injustice. Jesus continually invites me to see differently by encountering and engaging with those on the bottom.  

The system benefitting me was never intended to benefit all. And because the system benefits me, I don’t need to see it clearly. On the other hand, those who do not receive its benefits are required to see it for their very survival. Thus, God calls us to “not conform to the pattern of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds” through relationship with those who see life from a different perspective than we do (see Romans 12:2).  

This week’s meditations will introduce some other ways of knowing the Gospel which are grounded in the experiences of people who have been marginalized in some way. As I share the work of these writers, keep in mind: 

1. Injustice results from systems, structures, and institutions more than individual choices and actions.  
2. Each person has a unique story, so no single individual can represent an entire group.  
3. Be aware that oppression, like the ego, shape-shifts and is hard to pin down. It will always find a new manifestation. 
4. Each created being is made in God’s image; and this God is love. 

As we journey together, be patient with the messages and yourself. Simply notice and observe reactions rather than resist or judge them. Expanding our perspective moves us out of comfort zones, so this may be an important time to practice some form of contemplative prayer or meditation.  

Prayer for Our Community:
O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

Listen to Fr. Richard read the prayer.

[1] Attributed to St. Richard of Chichester in The Churchman’s Prayer Manual, G. R. Bullock-Webster (London: 1913), 31. 

Image credit: Anna Washington Derry (detail), Laura Wheeler Waring, 1927, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Harmon Foundation, Washington, DC. 

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