Leaving the Garden

Richard Rohr begins this week’s meditations by reflecting on our “fall from innocence” as a necessary part of the process of transformation:

The word “innocent” from its Latin root means “not wounded.” That’s how we all start life. We’re all innocent. It doesn’t have anything to do with morally right or wrong. It has to do with not yet being wounded. We start unwounded. We start innocent, but the killing of our holy innocence (as in Herod’s command to kill the Holy Innocents [Matthew 2:16–18]) is an archetypal image of what eventually happens to all of us. Probably it has to happen for us to grow up. We have to leave the garden. This movement of leaving and returning, forward and back, is the process of transformation. It’s the way we increase the spaciousness of freedom in our lives, so that we have the capacity for true relatedness.

Jesus tells three parables about losing and finding: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (Luke 15:4–32). In each case, we think we have it, we lose it, we rediscover it, and then we throw a party. The party only happens after the rediscovery because we don’t really “have it” until we’ve lost it and choose it consciously again. That’s the human journey, the movement from first naiveté or false innocence to the chosen and conscious freedom that God is calling us toward.

The Christ child is the image of the unwounded one. Our inner Christ child is the part of us that is not wounded. In our own way, we each have to rediscover, honor, recognize, and own that inner Christ child. We may have lost the vision of innocence, but the Christ child is that part of us that has always said “yes” to God and always will.

Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18). Faith is trusting that an intrinsic union exists between us and God. Contemplation is to experience this union. The path of fall and return is how we experience this union as pure grace and free gift.

There is a necessary movement between the two ends of the divine/human axis, between one’s core and the core of God. The only real sin is to doubt, deny, or fail to experience this basic foundational connection. If we don’t have some small mirrors (partners, friends, lovers) that tell us we are good, it’s very hard to believe in the Big Goodness.

We need at least an experiential glimpse of this True Self before we start talking about being rid of the “false” or separate self. I think the only and single purpose of religion is to lead us to an experience of the True Self. Every sacrament, every Bible reading, every church service, every song, every bit of priesthood, ceremony, or liturgy, as far as I’m concerned, is to allow us to experience our True Self: who we are in God and who God is in us. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, True Self, False Self (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2003), CD.

Image credit: Claudia Retter, Lily Pond(detail), photograph, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 10 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Lake Wale’s Pond (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.  Click here to enlarge the image. 

Image inspiration: We see the simplicity of these black and white photos: the lines of the leaves, the focus on just one flower, one stem, one patch of grass. Innocence, in its state of simplicity and grace, is not deluded by a desire for more; it accepts what is.

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