All I know is the gate of heaven is everywhere.
– Thomas Merton
Although Fr. Richard Rohr was here months ago, I find myself still processing what he said to us. I discovered the above quote by Merton in my notes from Richard’s workshop, and for me it is the perfect summation of all that he taught us. The gate of heaven is absolutely everywhere – and nowhere, because it doesn’t exist. This seems like a contradiction, I know, but let’s call it a paradox. The gate of heaven is everywhere and nowhere. Jesus said the kingdom is here and it’s not here.
To really sit down and study these statements is to make your head spin – and that is just the point. These paradoxical statements are like Zen koans, meant to awaken us from our comfortable assumptions about reality. Richard, I think, was trying to move us out of our tired old notions of duality. These are the notions that say, “If I’m right, then you must be wrong.” “If I’m going through the gate to heaven and you are not just like me, then you won’t be able to find the gate.” “If you don’t believe the same things I believe, then the gate of heaven is off limits to you.” As long as we are stuck in dualistic thinking we will see our religion only as a set of rules and beliefs that must be blindly adhered to. And religion like this cannot sustain us through the second half of life.
Because by the second half of life we know that ambiguity and paradox are the norm.
If you are at all self aware, you must have noticed what a contradictory creature you are.
I can be driving along peacefully listening to a Richard Rohr CD on the contemplative mind and within seconds be transported right back to my perfectionistic small mind and be absolutely furious at some stranger who changed lanes without signaling. Now if I can’t tolerate this ambiguity in me, I’m going to be in for some hard times. I’ll be angry at myself for not being more like Richard Rohr or Mother Theresa or the Buddha. I’ll make vows to add ten more minutes to my contemplative prayer practice, and then have even more self-loathing when I don’t.
But if I can look at this incident from the perspective of Big Mind or True Self, I will probably have a good laugh at the absurdity of my thinking I will never achieve the illusory peace of a guru on the mountaintop by listening to a CD! As long as I am comparing myself to others, measuring my behavior by some arbitrary standards, the gate of heaven truly won’t exist for me. According to Rohr, comparison, competition, analysis, judgment, and critique all belong to a dualistic way of seeing reality. This way fragments and divides reality and blinds us to the Whole.
Rohr suggests that we meet reality rather than measure it. He even gives us a guideline for doing this; “Be sure you are free to say ‘Yes’ before you say ‘No.”’ So before I say “No” to the idea that the gate of heaven is everywhere and nowhere, why don’t I try saying “Yes” and see what happens. Meister Eckhart put it this way: “Everything I see, hear, touch, feel, taste, speak, think, imagine, is completing a perfect circle God has drawn.” Nothing and no one is left out of that circle; everything belongs. Heaven is here.