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Same words, different ideas

By David Richo
Crossroad Publishing, 190 pages, $16.95


Perhaps only regular NCR readers will appreciate how difficult it is to reconcile the religion of our youth and our institution with the mystery of a living faith. Our faith is intermittently nourished and assaulted by our membership in the local parish where first we learned to believe. We all go through a delicate balancing act, using the same words to express and affirm our faith while knowing we have changed, developed and grown enormously.

David Richo tries to describe this journey from believing the Eucharist might bleed to believing that innocent suffering in the world is the blood of the Eucharist. The words are a lot alike; one is religion, the other is spirituality. How do we get from religion to spirituality while continuing to be nourished by religion? In publishing circles, much talk is about spirituality without religion. Richo is not in that bandwidth. His concern is how spirituality is nourished by religion, even when religion may be hostile, childish and literal. He takes on the really difficult task of making religion yield its treasures despite its recalcitrant guardians.

Richo loves religion. He sees the potential for enriching human consciousness with the wealth of symbol, ritual, dogma and probably even canon law. He is profoundly Catholic, understanding how our imaginations are captured and freed by the sacramental system so many of us have grown to love.

He astutely observes that the rampant fundamentalism of our day is the logical consequence of the utter secularism embraced in the ’60s. He is also acutely aware, as a Jungian therapist, that the rationalism of academia and the fundamentalism of TV need to be reconciled. The reconciliation of opposites is one of the deepest movements of faith. Reconciliation is not a negotiation, it is a movement of the soul that understands both and moves into a higher synthesis. One can grant academia all the rigor of human thought and grant fundamentalism all the fervor of allegiance to a tradition but then transform and complete their deepest intentions.

Richo addresses the need for outgrowing literalism. I’ve taught high school religion and watched intelligent students grow angry at being asked to grow past literalism and others, equally indignant, grow angry at having ever believed literally. Richo does a brilliant job, but if he ever tried to convince the average parish of his material, he would probably be stoned. But then, we have a tradition of stoning good teachers who try to convince us of adult faith.

He effectively crosses back and forth from static to dynamic. For example, he accepts completely the dogma of the Resurrection. But no sooner has he made it clear that he accepts it and is nourished by it, he begins to explain it as a metaphor for the mystery of God’s plan to bring life out of death. He moves the Resurrection from history to mystery and understands it as something that not only happened once, but is a constant movement within human life.

Richo is at home with Buddhist insights, half a dozen Catholic mystical traditions, some scriptural sophistication and Jungian assumptions. He puts them all in the service of adult faith. This is not chicken soup for the soul -- it is a treatise on why we need to outgrow soup and provides a theological framework for doing so.

Clarence Thomson is a freelance writer and theologian who teaches scripture in an ecumenical setting.

National Catholic Reporter, August 11, 2000