Mary’s polished demeanor and conservative business attire identified her as one of the many employees in the finance sector of a city I once lived in. Married with two elementary-school-aged children, Mary—which is not her real name—is the picture of reliable, middle-class stability.
She said, “When I was twenty-two I lived above a tattoo parlor. There were four or five rooms up there. We shared a single bathroom. Heroin addicts rented out the other rooms. I was the only drunk. I slept on a mattress on the floor. Most mornings I woke up wet because I had pissed myself.”
Mary went on to say that she had resigned herself to this life and intended to drink herself to death to escape its miseries. But she imagined that she still had some measure of control. She could keep herself out of jail and keep her crummy, low-paying job by managing how much she drank each night.
Throwing back shots at her usual dive, she started thinking about which drink it was that got her into trouble. Was it the sixth one? Maybe the tenth? Out of nowhere she heard a little voice say, “It’s the first one.”
That was the beginning of Mary’s spiritual revolution. She recognized that she had devoted all of her energies to salvaging a life that was, in reality, a slow-moving train wreck. That day, she decided to let that life go and to await the birth of a new life that was as yet an utter mystery to her.
Most people are not addicts or alcoholics. Nevertheless, Jesus came to start a revolution within each and every one of us that would in turn transform the world we share. He said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Revolution begins by letting go. And letting go is not the same thing as forsaking a life of sin. Instead, the Jesus revolution begins by letting go of a universe with you—with me—at the center.
A world that we seek to control in order to achieve our goals, to secure our status, to protect our privilege, to assert our power, to cling to our stuff, and to consume the objects of our desire is a life hurtling toward destruction. That’s what it means to be the center of the universe.
Richard Rohr describes spiritual revolution like this:
Meaty spirituality must first of all teach us freedom from the self, from my own self as a reference point for everything or anything. This is the necessary Copernican Revolution wherein we change reference points. Copernicus discovered that Earth is not the center of the universe. Now we have to discover that we are not the center of any universe either. We are not finally a meaningful reference point. Although we do have to start with self at the center to build a necessary “ego structure,” we then must move beyond it. The big and full world does not circle around me or you.
We live in a world scarred by school shootings, drug addiction, suicide, homelessness, sexual exploitation, poverty, systemic racism, war, and the accumulation of wealth in ever fewer hands.
Our response to the world’s ache is all too often analogous to Mary’s deluded attempts to control the downward spiral of her alcoholism. We seek to manage the world as we find it.
We strain to retain the snippet of privilege or the bit of status or the meager scraps of wealth we’ve managed to grab. To do something deeper—to get to the root of things— would mean to risk losing what we already have. And so we resist giving up the way we’ve been living, seeking instead to patch the world’s fabric where it has most obviously torn.
Letting go of us-them, inside-outside, top-bottom, winner-loser consciousness is the revolution that Jesus started. This interior work is done through prayer and contemplation. But that inner work is incomplete unless it finds its expression in action devoted to transforming the economic, social, political, and cultural structures that serve self-centered souls.
If we want justice that lasts and peace that is more than an interruption in the cycles of violence, we have to admit that life as we have always lived it has become unmanageable. It’s time for a revolution.