January 24, 2021

Lent IV: Richard Rohr on the Ever-Moving Creator

Church of Good Shepherd. Lake Tekapo. New Zealand

Church of Good Shepherd. Lake Tekapo. New Zealand. Photo by Leo Hu

Lent IV
Richard Rohr on the Ever-Moving Creator

On Sundays in Lent this year I’m sharing some things I’ve been learning from Richard Rohr.

I was struck this past week by the most recent discovery of the Hubble Space Telescope. Here was the announcement:

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is an amazing time machine; by looking back through space, astronomers actually look back through time. Now, by pushing Hubble to its limits, an international team of astronomers has shattered the cosmic distance record by viewing the farthest galaxy ever seen. Named GN-z11, this surprisingly bright, infant galaxy is seen as it was 13.4 billion years in the past. The astronomers saw it as it existed just 400 million years after the big bang, when the universe was only three percent of its current age. At a spectroscopically confirmed redshift of 11.1, the galaxy is even farther away than originally thought. It existed only 200 million to 300 million years after the time when scientists believe the very first stars started to form. At a billion solar masses, it is producing stars surprisingly quickly for such an early time. This new record will most likely stand until the launch of Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which will look even deeper into the universe for early galaxies.

Such vastness of time and distance is beyond comprehension. But I’m thinking not only of the magnificent creation. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah characterizes our incomprehensibly great God as the One who “marked off the heavens with a span” (the distance between thumb and fifth finger), and describes him as the “Shepherd of the stars”–

To whom then will you compare me,
    or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
    Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them,
    calling them all by name;
because he is great in strength,
    mighty in power,
    not one is missing. (Isa. 40:25-26)

Richard Rohr likewise looks at creation and sees God as the great One who is “on the move.” He encourages us to move beyond static imagery and to embrace the potential, change, and growth that knowing this God must involve.

b93c72becc147b23b2eb6d6003dd341fWhen, as a young man, Francis of Assisi was looking at the stars in his backyard, he exclaimed, “If these are the creatures, what must the creator be like?” [3] Some think this moment of wonder was the beginning of Francis’ spiritual curiosity and search. Thomas Aquinas also intuited the same when he said, “Any mistake we make about creation will also be a mistake about God.” Somehow they both knew that inner and outer reality had to mirror one another.

At a recent CAC conference, Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and scientist, shared how our view of the universe and God has been evolving. During the Middle Ages, when most of our Christian theology was developed, the universe was thought to be centered around humans and the earth. Scientists saw the universe as anthropocentric, unchanging, mechanistic, orderly, predictable, and hierarchical. Christians viewed God, the “Prime Mover,” in much the same way, with the same static and predictable characteristics–omnipotent and omniscient, but not really loving. God was “out there” somewhere, separate from us and the universe. The unique and central message of the Christian religion–incarnation–was not really taken seriously by most Christians. In fact, our whole salvation plan was largely about getting away from this earth!

Today, we know that the universe is old, large, dynamic, and interconnected. It is about 13.8 billion years old, and some scientists think it could still exist for 100 trillion years. The universe has been expanding since its birth. Our home planet, Earth, far from being the center of the universe, revolves around the Sun, a medium sized star in a medium sized galaxy, the Milky Way, which contains about 200 billion stars. The Milky Way is about 100,000 light years in diameter. Furthermore, it is one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe. We do not appear to be the center of anything. And yet our faith tells us that we still are. This cosmic shock is still trying to sink into our psyches.

…When we trust that our world and our own selves are evolving, we don’t have to cling so tightly to everything being just so, to being correct and in control. God is not static, and neither is our universe. It is ever changing, with the possibility–through our participation–of evolving toward greater love and wholeness.


Leo Hu’s photos


  1. Robert F says

    Jesus Christ is the center. By the Holy Spirit, Christ is everywhere, closer to me than than my own breath; and especially as close to me as my neighbor.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      OK. That sounds very Orthodox, Faithful,and Spiritual, but how does it relate to reality?

      As Eighties talk-show host Rich Buhler put it, “God exists in the Real World.”

  2. Robert F says

    It seems to me that permanence and change, fixity and fluctuation, always exist together. Neither can exist apart from the other. They are two aspects of an underlying, and unifying, reality.

  3. Robert F says

    Our faith continues to tell us that we are the center of something because Jesus Christ continues to be the center of everything, and he is with us. Yes, he is a living and dynamic center, but his identity continues across time and space. The Jesus who lived and died in first century Palestine and the resurrected Jesus who transcends time and space, and is present in and among us, are the same Jesus. He is the center, and he is with and among us, so we are at the center always, no matter how far we and the earth we are on moves.

  4. Robert F says

    When we trust that our world and our own selves are evolving, we don’t have to cling so tightly to everything being just so, to being correct and in control.

    I don’t know what it means to say that I trust that I’m evolving, or that the world is evolving. I don’t trust in a process; I trust Jesus Christ (at least in my better moments). I trust that he meets me where I am, however evolved or un-evolved I may be, and that he carries me up into his dynamic, unfolding, yet constant life, the life of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This trust is personal all the way up and down the spectrum; I trust in the person of Jesus Christ. I don’t want to substitute trust in an impersonal process for trust in a personal God. I find myself very resistant to language which translates my trust in Jesus Christ to trust in my own or the universe’s evolution; it seems to me that to do so is to trade a greater language for a lesser one.

    • To trust in Jesus Christ is to trust in a God who was willing to undergo the greatest change or evolution, if you will, in the Incarnation.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And no matter how Big and Old the Cosmos becomes (and how God must be Bigger and Older), God will remain on a one-to-one human scale through the Incarnation.

        Out of the three Abrahamic Monotheisms, this makes Christianity THE best-equipped to handle Deep Space and Deep Time. So why do so many Christians turn their back on the Incarnation, make God and Christ some sort of distant Spiritual (not really real) “The Force”, and seal themselves off in a 6020-year-old, Earth-and-some-lights-in-the-sky Punyverse? Is it because then they can think of themselves as Big Fish in a Little Punyverse?

        • “Out of the three Abrahamic Monotheisms, this makes Christianity THE best-equipped to handle Deep Space and Deep Time.”

          I don’t know about that. In the 13th century the Persian Sufi poet Jal?l ad-D?n R?m? was saying that the ascension of Christ was more like grapes turning into wine than a man flying to the moon. R?m? was considered a perfectly orthodox Muslim in his day and his poetry is so influential that it has has been called the “Koran in Persian”. His point of view is pretty much drowned out by their fundamentalists these days but the strain is there and powerful and perhaps the only way forward for them.

          And let’s not congratulate ourselves in the Christan West too much. We were dragged kicking and screaming into the scientific enlightenment and forced to accommodate it practically at gunpoint. And of course the resistance continues, well organized and well financed.

          • That’s Jala ad-Din Rumi of course..

          • It’s true, about Rumi and advanced science in the Middle East during the medieval period. Not hardnto find info. at all.

            As for the claim about Deep Time and xtianity, i think it’s erroneous. Look who came up with the throry of relativity, look at Richard Feynman’s work, etc. It doesn’t matter whether these guys were observant or not; there’s such a heritage of scholarship and inquiry in both Judaism and Islam that we really are foolish to claim some kind of phony “superiority.”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          One of my contacts, Jordan179 up in the San Francisco Bay area, has written a couple essays that touch upon the subject of Universe vs Punyverse. Especially the idea that the Earth is the physical “Worldly” and what is beyond Earth (the Heavens) are “Heavenly” — not for men. Probably best expressed in Point 3 (“The Rejection of Boundlessness”) in this essay (“The Fear of Boundlessness: Explanation for the Mundane SF Movement”):
          I find this “Rejection of Boundlessness” analogous to Ken Ham’s rejection of even Old Earth Creationism and any Deep Time beyond 4004 BC. Almost a direct secular equivalent.

          And rejecting Deep Time means rejecting Deep Space — “I want to know where God put the projectors that project the rest of the Universe on that spherical IMAX screen 6000 light-years away” (paraphrase of Christian Monist) — resulting in a Punyverse.

    • >> I find myself very resistant to language which translates my trust in Jesus Christ to trust in my own or the universe’s evolution; it seems to me that to do so is to trade a greater language for a lesser one.

      Robert are you related to Ken Ham? Resistant? More like kicking and screaming, heels dug in, tee shirt proudly proclaiming “I May Be Getting Older But I Will Never Grow Up!” Your translation process keeps giving you a non sequitur error and you cover up the blinking red light with a piece of duct tape. Christian duct tape with Bible verses printed on it, available at your nearby Christian book store.

      Today, Robert Rohr says, “The entire biblical revelation is gradually developing a very different consciousness, a recreated self, and eventually a full “identity transplant” or identity realization, as we see in both Jesus and Paul. The sacred text is inviting you slowly, little by little, into a very different sense of who you are: You are not our own. Your life is not about you; you are about Life! You are gradually “pruned” as a separate vine and re-grafted to the Great Vine of life and love and God. Once you are consciously reconnected to the Source, your life will bear much fruit for the world.”

      If you can somehow make that mean “trust in my own or the universe’s evolution”, I throw up my hands and walk away shaking my head in wonderment. Richard also says, “Like the divine conception in Mary, you will eventually realize it is being done to you much more than you are doing anything. All God needs is your “yes,” it seems, which tends to emerge progressively as you grow in inner freedom.” I see someone singing This Train Is Bound For Glory and walking up to the train with ticket in hand, and then turning and running because the car says 21st Century Express on the side. Admittedly it doesn’t stop at the Noah’s Ark Theme Park.

      • I’m thinking that you’ve misread Robert’s comment. And Rohr sounds positively New Age-y at times – I’m not condemning him, just saying that i think he goes flying off into the aether at times. It’s a bit much for me.

        • Numo, nothing at all wrong with saying that Richard Rohr is a bit much for you. I’m guessing nine out of ten folks would agree, so it’s an honest reaction, and I don’t agree with everything he has to say myself. But then I don’t agree with everything most people have to say. I do think that Richard is riding the crest of the big wave of Spirit happening now, which is where I’m most comfortable, but well aware that paths differ and some turn out to be wacky or worse.

          No, I don’t think I’m misreading Robert. Every time someone uses the word evolution, which has been in use since the 1620’s to mean a gradual development or growth, Robert jumps in like it was 1925 and he is William Jennings Bryan reincarnated. It gets tiresome. This is the same guy providing us with some of the most exquisite haiku available today. Sometimes I wonder if there’s an evil twin.

          • Robert F says

            This is the same guy providing us with some of the most exquisite haiku available today.

            Don’t read much haiku, do you?

            Perhaps your tendency to feel that people who strongly disagree with you are possibly evil is an indication of how much you’re thinking is still over-determined by your fundagelical past.

      • Robert F says

        Comparing me with Ken Ham? Really, Charles, that’s a low blow; I can see that you have a lot more evolving to do.

        Unlike Mr. Ham, I accept that biological macro and micro-evolution are both true. But when Rohr speaks about trusting that the universe and myself are evolving, he might as well be telling me that I should trust a car accident that I’m about to be involved in, because one of the primary characteristics of biological evolution is its randomness. It’s obvious that for Rohr, biological evolution and spiritual evolution are not separate processes, but different facets of the same underlying universal process.

        • >>It’s obvious that for Rohr, biological evolution and spiritual evolution are not separate processes, but different facets of the same underlying universal process.

          Well, yes, I would say that pretty well sums things up, tho not meaning that nature and spiritual growth are the only two shows in town. God spoke heaven and earth into existence, and as far as I can make out, the underlying universal process of growth leading to the eventual reconciliation of all things was set into motion at the same time. We’re just watching the story, I almost said evolve, but I don’t want to set you off again.

          You don’t have to like Richard Rohr, tho I would say it was a shame for someone as intelligent as you to fluff him off. But please, when the rest of us use the word “evolution” in its many forms, please don’t keep dragging us back to some kind of fundamentalist knee jerk reaction against the Great Satan Darwin. It’s a word that is accepted to mean positive growth by most thinking people. No, it’s not a low blow, you keep doing this. I don’t know what to call it except ignorant. We are evolving, we are growing, that doesn’t mean our grandfather was a monkey. It means we are learning to become children of God as shown to us by Jesus Messiah. It’s a spiritual story, the 3D show provided by nature are only illustrations. Give Richard some slack. In my assessment, there isn’t anyone else as close to what Spirit is doing in this world of turmoil and collapse. But keep your wits about you and stop jerking your knee.

          • I must say that I, too, was puzzled by Robert’s bristling at the “evolution” word and the word “process.” If there’s one thing that I’ll say about my walk with Christ, it’s this: it has evolved tremendously, it’s a process. I’m much more assured of His grace and love that I once was, and likewise I think I understand His grace and love more than I did my first 5, 10, 15 etc. years as a Christian. Additionally, I know I have more to learn, I know that my walk will continue to evolve, and I know this is all part of His process of making a better person here on Earth, of connecting me more to His vine, of helping me bear more and better fruit. And most Christians I talk to about this tend to agree.

          • Robert F says

            Perhaps you’re right, Charles. Although it’s not any Ham-like fundamentalist in me that is triggered by comparing spiritual matters to biological evolution. It’s my inner Gnostic, the one that sees nature, and especially biological evolution (which I take to be a fact) with its mechanism of natural selection, as red in tooth and claw that reacts against the comparison. In my view, there is nothing beautiful or spiritual about biological evolution; it’s ugly and revolting, like death itself, like the scene that unfolds when one animal kills another, or a strong person preys on a weak one, or a disease kills one but not another creature, like the disease that could be killing my wife even now. It represents all that’s brutal and heartless in the world; I can’t stomach any comparison between the way Christ relates to us and that brutal mechanism. Therefore, I will agree from now on to keep quiet about it. So be it.

          • Robert F says

            One last thing before I keep my promise to shut up about this subject. The scientific theory of biological evolution knows nothing of evolution from lower to higher forms, nor of less to more conscious forms, nor of evolution having any direction. It merely observes and formulates a mechanism in nature, and sees that it operates on the basis of randomness. The conditions that make a trait (high intelligence, say) more likely to help a form survive today may change tomorrow, making the same trait a disadvantage, or even complete block, to survival.

            By spiritualizing this mechanism of biological evolution, by saying that it is somehow interested in or suited to developing certain spiritual traits or a form of consciousness that you consider spiritually desirable, you and Rohr are in fact the ones interpreting existence and nature to be anthropocentric, just like Ken Ham. You are making biological evolution the opposite of what it’s observed to be so that it will fit your human religious purposes, you are introducing a god-of-the-gaps to make a scientific theory into a spiritual process. The science does not support you, anymore than it supports Ham.

          • Robert F says

            To spiritualize biological evolution, your god-of-the-gaps would constantly be arranging circumstances so that “higher” traits, ones in harmony with spiritual qualities, always are advantageous to survival of a particular form. But the evolutionary record shows that this has not happened; before human beings or their ancestors ever came on the scene, one “higher” form after another was wiped out by changes in environmental circumstances for which they were not adapted. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of species, some of them “higher” forms by our standards, have been wiped out by one change or another in the environment, some cataclysmic, some not. If you point to the “success” of our own species as your lone evidence for the your supposition of evolution’s intention to develop “higher” forms, you are arguing against the vast body of physical scientific evidence in the evolutionary record, and you are doing so for anthropocentric reasons, or worse, spiritual-centric reasons. How very Ken Ham-like of you.


  5. Robert, you are the only one equating everyone else’s concept of spiritual growth or evolution with your rather peculiar and dated idea of biological evolution. No one else is talking about biological evolution except you, but you continue to insist that everyone else jump in your wagon. You say you believe in this scenario you present of this horror show running the world, and I’m sure you could find some oddball scientists to back you up. I don’t believe in it myself as you present it and I don’t know anyone else besides you and some, not all, fundamentalist Christians who are afraid Darwin is hiding under their bed. Most modern scientists seem to have a much more sophisticated idea of how things have worked to get us here, but they don’t agree with each other any more than Christians do. I prefer to lump convoluted theories of biological evolution and convoluted systematic theologies into one sack which I set down by the side of the road as useless burdens to carry which only hinder progress.

    I will grant you that some scientists treat biological evolution as a religion they adhere to and promote with evangelistic zeal, but I ignore them as being ignorant fundamentalists. You might give that a try. This picture you are carrying of the world torn asunder and bleeding is a horrible burden to take on voluntarily and contributes to the pain and chaos. Much better to see the world as anxiously awaiting our Blessing to help heal and make whole, and get on with doing your part to make that real. That’s our assignment here. Please stop cursing the world with your thoughts and words, and start blessing it. It works if you don’t expect instant results like some magic trick. Five minutes a day can do wonders. Even the occasional five seconds makes a difference. Bless and do not curse.

    • Robert F says

      I’m quite finished with any speculative discussion about possible interfaces of biological evolution and spiritual reality.

      Otoh, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t try to burden me with your superstitious claptrap about the supernatural power of words and thoughts. Next you’ll be saying that my negative or critical thoughts and words are responsible for my wife’s cancer, or some other nonsense. You are recapitulating the whole Name It–Claim It theology/ New Thought meta-physic, along with its destructive tendency to blame people when things inevitably don’t go the way you say they should, because they must not have had enough faith, or they must have been thinking negative thoughts. Your exercise of such a manipulative spiritual ploy highlights the danger of mixing science and superstitious religious/spiritual beliefs, as you’re doing. It’s not different from handling snakes and believing that, if you only you have enough faith, the snakes’ bites can’t hurt or kill you. Nonsense.

    • Charles, I want to apologize for my angry tone in these comments. I make the mistake of thinking that there is something I need to defend, and pretty quickly my anger rises, as if there is any security in that. I have nothing to defend, I have nothing to protect, I have nothing to secure. Please accept my apologies.

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