My editing work is influencing my spiritual life again. I love it when that happens. I consider it a great honor to get to read what I edit—and to edit spiritual works so that often what I read is edifying, and sometimes challenging, for me. I value the experience, and learn from it.
One longer-term contract-editing project I’m working on is editing and updating a couple of Richard Rohr’s books so they can be reissued. One of those is a book of his early daily meditations. Much of the wisdom is timeless, and it reminds me that there is always more to learn.
One element that really stood out for me in this reading is a new perspective on what, as a child, I heard referred to as the three-legged stool. That principle stated that our faith should stand on the three legs of scripture, tradition, and reason. Without all three elements, that stool—and thus our faith—would be unbalanced and could not stand.
Richard Rohr states that there is another leg: experience. Furthermore, he states that reason should not be given as much importance as the other elements. He says that, in our culture, reason will easily end up taking over. I can see his point. Our culture wants concrete, verifiable evidence for everything these days. Mystery has no place—which makes it difficult, sometimes, to accept and validate spiritual experience.
This has been an issue in my own life. It was hard for me, for years, to trust my own inner sense of things. I didn’t always accept or value my spiritual experience because I couldn’t give “reasonable” evidence for it. Growing up in a church that valued word and doctrine, experience wasn’t important.
Yet, ultimately, if we have no experience of God, we have no reason(!) to persist in living out our faith. Our reason can help us understand experience, but we cannot discount it just because reason cannot explain it. God is mystery. There is no definitive way to reason God into or out of existence. (Over the years, I’ve read about a lot of people who have given it their best shot, however!)
So, I am grateful, once again, to Richard Rohr. He points out that John the Baptist (the son of a priest, by the way), Jesus, and Paul all valued scripture and tradition, but didn’t let those stop them from moving forward in new ways, in light of their direct experience of God in their lives. Paul shared the tale of his own experience of God’s revelation on the road to Damascus.
I’m not planning on moving forward in some dramatic new way—but I am more willing to trust my inner spiritual experience, and the stories and poetry that are rising within me in response to scripture and tradition. I also continue to see ways that my experience of visiting the holy land two years ago has deeply enriched my comprehension of scripture and tradition. That stool really does make sense to me now.
What are your perspectives on scripture, tradition, experience, and reason? Is your stool well-balanced?