Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

Everything Belongs

February 14, 2008


I was pleased to meet Father Richard Rohr at Soularize, and to hear him speak. Looking back on my notes, I see a jumble of arresting phrases that I quickly jotted down:

“we need to move from ‘believing’ to ‘knowing’– toward adult, experiential Xianity”

“institutional religion confirms people at immature stages of faith”

“transform your pain at the cross, or you will transmit your pain– there are huge amounts of unprocessed pain in the world” and here he said something provocative about the war in Iraq, but I didn’t write it down.

“God gives you something you cannot control, change, fix, or understand, sometime in your life. This is an invitation to real life”

“we need to learn to forgive reality for being what it is”

“ancient initiation rites are a training in male powerlessness, which is sorely lacking in the world today”

It was a beautiful talk that he gave, which gave me so much perspective on, and so much retroactive hope for the year of grief that I had suffered through immediately prior to the conference. I told him so afterward, and he affirmed my impressions, and my unexpected growth through grief. “That’s it, exactly,” he said, looking straight into my eyes.

But I didn’t take the next logical step– buying one of his books for further study– until many months later, at the behest of my doppleganger Dave, who emailed me from snowy New Hampshire. I balked at first, until I realized that I was deeply afraid that I had deluded myself, that this good news that Rohr spoke to me was somehow invented by me in my longing for affirmation and meaning and hope. That I was so desperate that I was creating a version of spirituality that was narcissistic. Afraid that I was telling myself that I had grown, when I had really regressed.

With Dave’s help, I got over my fear, and ordered the book (used, of course). And I was happy to see that I had heard Rohr right the first time– this really, truly is a spirituality of real life. It is not abstracted or removed from our regular world, but very present and very aware of the world, and of life in all of its love and pain. Rohr is a celibate Catholic priest who lives in semi-isolation, yet who recognizes that true contemplation and spirituality happens when your child wakes you at 2am. There and then, there is no faking anything. There and then is where true contemplation happens, and where we interact with God.

Like his speeches, Rohr’s book is a rambling stream of consciousness that is often hard to follow, but what a consciousness it is! In the first page, he turns what I’ve heard about spirituality on its side, and goes from there. Yet somehow, though it seems at odds which what I have long seen as a given, obvious fact of life, it makes sense, too.

He speaks eloquently of the need to not simply know the answer, but to be the answer. That though we may have the correct, enlightened agenda, if we are still angry, controlling, and basically unappealing, we really haven’t got much at all. Instead, we need what he calls a ‘kinesthetic knowing’: one we can’t rush, that digests all of the love and suffering in our lives, and adds something useful to our self. In this way, we learn to “bear humbly the mystery of our own reality”, to embrace God who is not ‘out there’, but rather closer than our breath, embracing us in the details of our everyday lives. In this way, he says, we do not find growth by acquisition of new things or ideas, but rather by subtraction and distillation of our true selves.

Which is, I suppose, why I feel weaker than ever, and stronger, somehow. Why I feel as though in my abandonment of easy answers, I have more surety than ever before. Why I now value quietness and humility in others far more than who they know or what they have. Why letting go of my son has allowed me to gain something, too. And why I can now begin to accept his loss, even as I still sometimes imagine that he never left.

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2 Responses to “Everything Belongs”

  1. P3T3RK3Y5 says:

    i immediately resonate with:

    “we need to move from ‘believing’ to ‘knowing’– toward adult, experiential Xianity”

    “we need to learn to forgive reality for being what it is”

    “ancient initiation rites are a training in male powerlessness, which is sorely lacking in the world today”

    the first because it paints a different picture of truth.

    the second, because too often what we create in the isolation of ivory towers doesn’t work in the real world – and, of course our thinking couldn’t be wrong so….

    the third because being a cowboy is overrated. and because our culture needs an initiation rite more profound than getting a drivers license / oriented horizontally.

  2. Ryan says:

    Man Mike, I agree with Pete about some of those statements really resonating. I got goosebumps when I read “forgiving reality for being what it is.” This is especially true as reality is often mundane and tedious. Perhaps this lack of understanding is why so many believe that high school and college are supposed to be the best years of our lives, a notion that is quite disturbing.

    And the words about initiation rites reminded me of Robert Bly’s Iron John, a book that I got a lot out of a few years ago. Many authors believe that the decline in male achievement scholastically during the teen years is tied to the lack of initiation rites. I wonder if this is why I struggle sometimes to go to a deeper level with my younger brothers and with my male students

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