(Soundbite of This I Believe intro)


For our series, This I Believe, we hear today from Richard Rohr. He was ordained as a Franciscan priest 36 years ago. Father Rohr lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the Center for Action and Contemplation, which he founded.

Here's our series curator, independent producer, Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: A priest thinks about belief every day. When asked to summarize his conviction in a short statement, Father Richard Rohr said he had to peel away layer after layer until we got to the center; then he wrote quickly.

Here is Richard Rohr with his essay for This I Believe.

Father RICHARD ROHR: I believe in mystery, in multiplicity. To religious believers this may sound almost pagan, but I don't think so. My very belief and experience of a loving and endlessly creative God has led me to trust in both.

I've had the good fortune of teaching and preaching across much of the globe, while also struggling to make sense of my experience in my own tiny world. This life journey has led me to love mystery, and not feel the need to change it or make it un-mysterious. This has put me at odds with many other believers I know who seem to need explanations for everything.

Religious belief has made me comfortable with ambiguity; hints and guesses, as T.S. Elliot would say. I often expound the season of lent in a hermitage, where I live alone for the whole 40 days. And the more I am alone with the alone, the more I surrender to ambivalence, to happy contradictions and seeming inconsistencies in myself and almost everything else, including God.

Paradoxes don't scare me anymore. When I was young I couldn't tolerate such ambiguity. My education had trained me to have a lust for answers and explanations. Now at age 63, it's all quite different. I no longer believe this is a quid pro quo universe. I've counseled too many prisoners, worked with too many failed marriages, faced my own dilemmas too many times, and been loved gratuitously after too many failures. Whenever I think there's a perfect pattern, further reading and study reveal an exception. Whenever I want to say only or always, someone or something proves me wrong.

My scientist friends have come up with things like principles of uncertainty and dark holes. They're willing to live inside of imagined hypothesis and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution, clarity, or thinking that we are people of faith. How strange that the very word faith has come to mean its exact opposite.

People who have really met the holy are always humble. It's the people who don't know who usually pretend that they do. People who have had any genuine spiritual experience always know that they don't know. They are utterly humbled before mystery. They are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth and a love which is incomprehensible to the mind.

It is a litmus test for authentic God experience and is, quite sadly, absent from much of our religious conversation today. My belief and comfort is in the depths of mystery, which should be the very task of religion.

ALLISON: Richard Rohr with his essay for This I Believe. We welcome statements of personal conviction from everyone. You can contribute yours and find all the essays that had been submitted at our Web site, npr.org. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

MONTAGNE: Next Monday on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, a This I Believe essay from Texas musician Jimmie Dale Gilmore on putting others' interests before his own, and his struggle to do so.

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