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  • Larry Payne

Seeking My Universal Story

All of us are storytellers in our own saga. Fr. Richard Rohr challenges us in The Wisdom Pattern to make sure our story is larger than Self and Tribe. We should connect to a universal story to construct a fulfilling life. “This is the realm of universal meaning, the Story that is always true, the patterns that every culture and religion discover in some manner. This level assures and insures the other two [My Story and Our Story]. It holds them together in sacred meaning.” With this perspective we can operate with a larger view of life that expresses justice, solidarity, equality, and courage of conviction. Many great religious and humanitarian heroes have followed such universal principles to contribute to society, from the medieval bishop St. Bonaventure to abolitionist Sojourner Truth to the young Pakistani Malala Yousafzai.

The blockbuster movie Oppenheimer shows the struggle with the quest to gain universal meaning. Historians know that months after guiding the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bomb, Robert Oppenheimer met with President Truman. He felt guilty that he had helped create the weapon, though it was a necessity to save countless lives. Now he hoped to discourage the President from pursuing the creation of a much more powerful weapon. Truman rejected the suggestion. Oppenheimer continued for years to advocate for international cooperation and publicly opposed the decision in 1950 to build the hydrogen bomb, convinced like many that the destruction of modern society was possible. In the movie, he says to Albert Einstein, "When I came to you with those calculations, we thought we might start a chain reaction that would destroy the entire world... I believe we did."

I hope none of us are called to such earth-shaking decisions. But all of us face the challenge of rising above merely selfish aims or tribal success to live with a universal meaning. We might cross the street to the immigrant family, contribute to famine relief in Africa, or foster a child orphaned by a drug overdose. The way of wisdom is closer than we think, isn’t it?


Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder. Franciscan Media, 2020

David McCullough, Truman. Simon and Schuster, 1992.

Christopher Nolan (Director). Oppenheimer. Universal Pictures, 2023.

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