--Assisi, October of 1992
Anyone who has read this blog for a while has probably noticed that I’m a big admirer of the spiritual writer Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI. It appears that he is the one who has most aptly been able to step in to fill the void after the passing of the great Henri Nouwen, and picked up his mantle. Like Nouwen, his appeal unfortunately tends to be limited largely to a female audience, which is a shame, because I think that men could benefit greatly from reading them. Trads tend to despise them as mawkish and effeminate. I’ve taken the time to read them both, but it’s hard for me to convince my guy friends to read books with titles like “The Wounded Healer”, “Bread for the Journey”, the “Shattered Lantern”, and “Forgotten Among the Lilies”.
One of Fr. Rolheiser’s best books is “The Holy Longing: Guidelines for a Christian Spirituality”. I gave my copy away, but here are some notes I jotted down from it beforehand. Any mistakes in here are mine, and not Fr. Rolheiser’s.
Kierkegaard said “A saint is someone who can will the one great thing”. The problem for the rest of us is that we will everything else as well.
Spirituality is about how we channel our eros. Disciplines and habits we choose to live by will lead to either integration or disintegration.
The soul is not something we have, it is something we are. It is a life-pulse, that which makes us alive.
Too much order leads to suffocation.
Too much chaos leads to dissipation.
Healthy spirituality has a creative tension between the two.
Societies in the past were more overtly religious…
Advantages. They had:
- Less trouble believing in God
- Less trouble connecting human desire to God and to obedience to God
Disadvantages. They struggled with:
- Fate and Predestination
- Excessive fears of eternal punishment
The present time is no Golden Age either. We suffer from:
- Naivete about the nature of spiritual energy (no one can see God and live!)
- Pathological busyness
- Distraction and Restlessness
- Problems with balance
In western cultures, the joyous shouting of children often irritates us because it interferes with our depression. That is why we invented the term “hyperactivity”, so that in good conscience, we can sedate the spontaneous joy in many of our children.
Our age constitiutes a virtual conspiracy against the interior life.
What works against interiority?
- Narcissism (excessive preoccupation – “heartaches”)
- Pragmatism (excessive focus on work – “headaches”)
- Restlessness (excessive greed for experience – “insomnia”)
Balance Problem (Bad Divorces)
- Divorce between Religion and Eros. The Secular got passion, and God got chastity.
- Divorce between Spirituality and Ecclesiology. The number of people in churches is down. The number of “spiritual” people is up. People want faith, but not the Church. They want spiritual questions, but not answers.
- Divorce between Private Morality and Social Justice. “The pious aren’t liberal and the liberal aren’t pious.” People seldom have the same passion for: private morality and social justice, action and contemplation, poverty and family values.
- Divorce of the Gifted Child and the Giving Adult. Spirituality is ultimately about self-transcendance, altruism, and selflessness. True selflessness can be hard to define. Sometimes it is manipulative. Drama of the Gifted Child – The person who picks up, internalizes, and lives out the expectations of others. The pleaser who does not want to disappoint. They end up in mid-life bitter,victimized, angry that they sacrificed personal needs to another’s wishes.
- Divorce by Contemporary Culture of its Paternalistic Christian Heritage
Catholic Tonality – Monasticism, asceticism, piety, and solitude.
Protestant Tonality – Biblical, stoic, personal experience of rebirth and justification.
Secular Tonality – God belongs in the churches and the privacy of people’s homes, but not in the public domain. In itself though, it has plenty of religious baggage and doctrinal orthodoxies.
Essentials of Christian Spirituality - Four Non-Negotiable Pillars of the Spiritual Life
A) Private Prayer and Private Morality
B) Social Justice
C) Mellowness of Heart and Spirit
D) Community as a Constitutive Element of True Worship
Stories of imbalance…
A person of Private Prayer and Private Morality, but lacking in Social Justice. Think of the traditionalist on the extreme right who only concentrates on private morality and sexual ethics.
A person of Social Justice, but lacking in Private Prayer and Private Morality. Think of the progressive liberal on the far left who only concentrates on the plight of the poor and oppressed. “Do you think God cares about all these rules on sexual morality when people are starving?” Yes, he does. Sexual purity is important.
A person of Private Prayer and Private Morality, Social Justice, but lacking in Mellowness of Heart and Spirit. Think of the angry rock star, or the elder brother of the prodigal son. Think of someone who can’t enjoy a nice hotel room, meal or a glass of wine if someone is suffering somewhere else. This person does all the right things, but with no celebration in the heart.
A person of Private Prayer and Private Morality, Social Justice, Mellowness of Heart and Spirit, but lacks involvement with a concrete community. Think of the person “who loves God, but not organized religion”.
Mellowness of Heart and Spirit: Only one kind of person transforms the world spiritually – Someone with a grateful heart. According to Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez we feed the soul in three ways:
- Prayer (Private and Communal)
- Justice practiced
- Good things in life that keep the soul mellow and grateful
The wrong God of the left and right is the God who is wired, bitter, anxious, workaholic, and unhappy.
Community: Loving one’s neighbor is not an abstract thing. Anyone who claims to love God who is invisible but refuses to deal with a visible neighbor who can be seen is a liar.
Without Church, we have more private fantasy than real faith. The individual in quest for God, however sincere, lives the unconfronted life. Real conversion demands that its recipients be involved in both the muck and grace of actual church life.
Church involvement does not leave us the option to walk away when something happens that we don’t like. It is a covenant commitment, like a marriage, and binds us for better or worse.
After joining a community, others will put a belt around you and take you where you would rather not go.
Church community takes away from us our false freedom to soar unencumbered, like the birds, believing we are loving, mature, committed, and not blocking out things we should be seeing.
Real churchgoing shatters this illusion, and we find ourselves constantly humbled as our immaturities and lack of sensitivity to the pain of others are reflected off eyes that are honest and unblinking.
We cannot bypass a flawed family on earth to try to relate to a non-flawed God in Heaven.
Part of the essence of Christianity is to be together in a real community, with all the real human faults that are there and the tensions this will bring up.