Monday, July 03, 2006

Fr. Ron Rolheiser on the Characteristics of a Healthy Spirituality


--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:


  • Slavery

  • Superstition

  • Sexism

  • Fate and Predestination

  • Excessive fears of eternal punishment

  • Legalism



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.

12 comments:

crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

hey - sorry I called you Matthew on my blog :-) I'm not so good at reading names when I'm tired. Once I called Preacerboy, Peachboy, and I thought Brian Cummage was Brain Cabbage ... sigh.

Fr. Ronald Rolheiser sounds like an interesting guy. Of the four non-negotiables, I'd leave off community, but everyone else I know thinks it's very important, so it's probably just my shyness talking.

Paula said...

Jeff, after reading about Ron Rolheiser on your blog,I made a link on my blog to his site. I think his writing are of great value. Thank you for posting on him. And you are right: he is taking after Nouwen. Same caliber.

friar minor said...

Thanks Jeff, this is great material. I really ought to read this book, I suppose.

The stuff about the need for "mellowness of heart" and the faults of the God of the "left and right" really hit home for my community! Thanks.

Mike McG... said...

Wow! Powerful stuff, Jeff. I was particularly taken with this phrase: "In western cultures, the joyous shouting of children often irritates us because it interferes with our depression.That is why we invented theterm “hyperactivity”, so that in good conscience, we can sedate the spontaneous joy in many of our children."

Two nuggets in here worth my examining: 1. that we embrace our depression...not truly clinical depression, but the depression..as a result of our self-absorption and unrealistic expectations; and 2. that we stimatize, even medicalize spontaneous joy as out of touch with the depression we embrace.

"Our age constitiutes a virtual conspiracy against the interior life. What works against interiority?" In addition to narcissism, pragmatism, and restlessness, how about absolute terror at what I'd find if I looked inward!

I need to get over the male reluctance to such titles and read Rolheiser.

Peace and Happy 4th...

Mike McG... said...

Sorry: I hit publish before editing. Corrected second paragraph:

Two nuggets in here worth my examining: 1. that we embrace our depression...not truly clinical depression, but the depressed mood that so often dogs us..as a result of our self-absorption and unrealistic expectations; and 2. that we stigmatize, even medicalize, spontaneous joy as out of touch with the depression we embrace, believing that joyful people must not be paying attention!

Jeff said...

Hi Crystal,

Not to worry about the name mix-up. I do stuff like that all the time. Once, on the Friar's blog, I called Don "Bruce". Sheesh.

You, shy?? No way. I don't believe it. :-)

Btw, you've been very prolific lately. You've been posting faster than I can read. :-) I'm looking forward to going over that post about The Roma in depth. That looks very interesting.

My apologies to everyone for struggling to keep up with you.

Hi Paula,

I noticed a long time ago that you were a Nouwen reader. He was wonderful, wasn't he? What a loss to us his early passing was. I feel the same way about the young death of Fr. Raymond Brown too, who was also a treasure to us.

Hi Friar,

Yes, those left/right debates are familiar aren't they? I like the quote "The liberals aren't pious and the pious aren't liberal". It's a generalization and a bit of a stereotype, but I think it's familiar to all of us somehow.

Hey Mike,

I thought Rolheiser's insight into hyperactivity was impressive, especially for someone who has no children of his own. I disagree with him slightly, in that I think ADD is a real condition, but I take his larger point. I've had to catch myself several times, wondering why the spontaneous joy of my kids sometimes gets under my skin. Am I too caught up in "deep thoughts?" The modern world is tough for a lot of us to deal with. Depression is much more widespread than it is in simpler, mor "primitive" societies. It's not surprising that we, with that "dis-ease", consider the spontaneously joyful to be the ones who are crazy.

Peace,
Jeff

Steve Bogner said...

Jeff, that's a lot of good material. You have me interested in reading his books now.

Sorry for being scarce lately - have been very, very busy with work - and with enjoying summer.

Darius said...

Fr. Rolheiser sounds well worth reading, but does need an editor to talk to him about making his titles more appealing to men. How about:

The Wounded Warrior
Bread for the Road
Shattering Fist
Left for Dead in the Desert

Hmm... I realize this risks losing his female audience. How about something more neutral:

The Wounded Person
Bread Tastes Good
Shattered Stuff
The Forgotten Things

Seriously, I agree with you on almost all these points, including the need for balance. But I think the reason "spirituality" has emerged is that doctrine isn't working any more for large numbers of people. However, religion is so much equated with doctrine in the West - in distinction from, say, Buddhism - that our notions of spirituality are often muddled.

Mike McG... said...

"...religion is so much equated with doctrine in the West - in distinction from, say, Buddhism - that our notions of spirituality are often muddled."

Darius: Engagaging comments. Please say more. I confess to dreadful ignornance about eastern religions but realize that eastern religions focus on spirituality more than doctrine.

With Buddhism, for example, is there any 'content' or adherence to discrete beliefs that define one in or out? In what ways can spirituality and doctrine be consistent? Does doctrine inevitably choke off spirituality, in your opinion? How would a better balance look in the western world?

crystal said...

Mike, watch out for Darius ... he's a closet Gnostic :-) :-)

Jeff said...

Hey Steve,

Don’t worry about it, I’ve been very much in the same boat myself. Good to see you. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by. I’ll be over to your “place” when I get a chance to think of something smart to add :-)

Darius!


The Wounded Warrior
Bread for the Road
Shattering Fist
Left for Dead in the Desert

The Wounded Person
Bread Tastes Good
Shattered Stuff
The Forgotten Things


LOL. Those titles made my day, thanks. Very good… It occurs to me as I read the responses of the guys on this matter that I may have hit a nerve on this title problem. If Rolheiser calls his next book something like The Smell of Napalm in the Morning, he just may win that cross-over appeal with men that he’s been looking for…

You bring up an interesting point about spirituality and doctrine, and Rolheiser does address it in his book. Like he said, people want spirituality, and they seem to have plenty of questions, even if they don’t necessarily want anyone to give them answers. At least no pat answers. Hence, the bumper stickers saying “My Karma ran over your Dogma.” Perhaps people sense that God is too big to ever be explained in one set of absolutes.

Of course, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction… The attitude above frustrates certain other people to the point where they retreat back into fundamentalism, and only look for the “Truth” in the previously stated answers, and won’t tolerate any questions.

Darius said...

Hi Mike: Good questions. If Jeff doesn't mind the "plug," I've been dealing with them over the course of posts to my own blog, although right now and maybe for a couple more posts I'm in a kind of "political phase."

In brief: I don't know as much as I should about eastern religions either. They were virtually not looked at at all when I was in divinity school. So my reading hasn't been systematic.

That said, I've looked quite a bit at Buddhism on my own and got a lot out of this. It does appear to lack doctrine as we know it. Its central tenets - the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path - talk about human experience and how to live, not what to believe about supernatural events and entities.

While lacking the doctrine of Christianity, it seems to have everything else. Anyone who followed the Eightfold Path with high fidelity would be indistinguishable from what Christians call a saint. And Buddhist meditation is exactly the same thing that our monks do in monasteries, where it's termed "contemplative prayer."

What I found especially useful in Buddhism was that the stuff I read really went into detail on how to go about being faithful to the Path and how to go about meditating. Instead of saying, "Be good so you can go to heaven and avoid hell," it seems to say more like, "Be good - and here's how to go about it." So although I didn't become a Buddhist, I found its practices highly consistent with, and helpful toward, further realizing my own faith.

The West already has ancient contemplative traditions of its own, and imo we'd achieve a better balance if this were stressed more. For example, Fr. Basil Pennington wrote quite a bit on "the centering prayer."

A few books I really liked: Huston Smith's, Religions of Man - they must have changed that title by now, this was many years ago. It gives great concise overviews of each of the world's major religions. For Buddhism, 2 books had a big impact on me: "Seeking the Heart of Wisdom," by Goldstein and Kornfield; and Thich Nhat Hahn's, "The Miracle of Mindfulness."