Richard Rohr’s The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe is an intriguing read. It will be seen as heresy by many and a quenching spring by others. The book begins with a story told about an experience in the London subway. English mystic Caryll Houselander has a transforming vision in which she sees Christ in everyone on the train and everything in her world as being filled with Christ. From this, Rohr suggests Christ is far more than Jesus’ last name, but rather an all-encompassing other, expanding beyond but including Jesus, the third person of the Triune God.
Rohr writes, “Christ is the light that allows people to see things in their fullness. The precise and intended effect of such a light is to see Christ everywhere else. In fact, that is my only definition of a true Christian. A mature Christian sees Christ in everything and everyone else. That is a definition that will never fail you, always demand more of you, and give you no reasons to fight, exclude, or reject anyone.”
Father Richard Rohr, 76, is the Franciscan founder of The Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. This book, along with some of his writings, calls us to a pathway of radical life alongside the marginalized in our world through a contemplative life. Rohr seems to particularly take hold of Paul’s writings in order to solidify his position, especially the “in all things” passages from Colossians. Rohr takes particular note of how we have failed to heed what Paul means by ‘in Christ,’ and how he uses that phrase more than 200 times to mean something more expansive than is traditionally understood.
Rohr argues his ideas are not new but rather date back to pre-split Christendom, and says it is a Westernised and much shallower gospel that we are hearing today.
“I suspect that Western individualism has done more than any other single factor to anesthetize and even euthanize the power of the Gospel. Salvation, heaven, hell, worthiness, grace, and eternal life all came to be read through the lens of the separate ego, crowding God’s transformative power out of history and society.”
No doubt for many, this book will be more fodder to dismiss Rohr. For other readers, it will cement Rohr’s role as one of the most-read and followed contemporary contemplatives of our time. Regardless, readers of Rohr’s latest book will be challenged to once again consider the Christ. (Convergent)