Hunger for Wholeness returns with Ilia Delio and Robert Nicastro interview ecumenical teacher and author Fr. Richard Rohr.
In Part 2, of our interview with Fr. Richard Rohr, we dig deeper into our conscious experience of the transcendent and the challenges of truth and community in our age.
Fr. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar and ecumenical teacher. His mission and ministry has been to bear witness to the deep wisdom of Christian mysticism and traditions of action and contemplation. Founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, Fr. Richard teaches how God’s grace guides us to our birthright as beings made of Divine Love. He is the author of numerous books, including The Universal Christ, The Wisdom Pattern, Just This, and Falling Upward .
“God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting the boxes.” Richard Rohr
For more information about Richard's work visit: https://cac.org/
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Robert: Welcome to Hunger for Wholeness, a podcast from the Center for Christogenesis. I'm your host, Robert Nicastro. In the second part of our interview with Richard Rohr, we dig deeper into our conscious experience of the transcendent and the challenges of truth and community in our age.
Ilia: The role of consciousness, I think, is so fundamental to the religious experience. I mean, God is, we have to admit that there's a conscious experience of transcendence. You know, when we have that experience with God, something more than ourselves in excess experiencing within our own lives.
Richard: And that it's something you fall into. It's not something you manufacture.
Ilia: No. Because it's pulling us and we're drawn to it in this -
Richard: That's right. My best one liners over the years came to me while I was preaching. And I even want to stop for a minute and say, "Wow, Richard, that's okay." But it isn't my idea. And I'm not trying to be woo-woo and saying that, whatever woo-woo meets, but I know my best ideas are just my ideas. They're okay, maybe they're a little bit mine, but they up here, now I know what maybe saints meant when they spoke of apparitions. I didn't see anything, but I know things and I don't know how I knew them; gift is the only word you can use.
Ilia: Yeah. It means you have a great attention though to what's going on. You know, there's a sense, there's again, going back into that, there's an intuitive sense, there's an experiential liminal experience, you know, and that's someone I think that you are kind of being just awakened to where you are and being attentive focus way, but in a live way. You know, to be fully alive and to be fully present and attentive. And there sometimes our ideas are, you know, and I've never - honestly, I've never taken ideas as self-sufficient ends like, "Tadah, there it is, the idea."
Richard: Word became flesh.
Ilia: I take them as more or less a process, a constantly forming and reforming and trying to, you know, try to reduce that word of groping, you know, where finding your way in the dark. You're being pulled by something, by a sense there's something more, a wholeness here that's waiting to be revealed. And those ideas are just trying to articulate that in some dark, dim way. And I think that's why we keep writing books and keep trying to refine what it is that we're trying to say here. Because it's not just that it's profound, but there's an elusiveness to the mystery. You know, God is mystery. And once we reduce that mystery to some kind of factual statement, we've collapsed it of its power. And so, the words must be always kind of tentatively walking into the mystery. It's always being drawn by it, trying to describe it in some way, and to try to help others, you know, to say we're not alone, there's a power here. Power of love, a power of abiding faithfulness that is God. And walking into the mystery and allowing that mystery to invade our lives, I think that's part of the evolution here. I think people are always trying to control everything.
Richard: Yes. And we were trained that way, and that was virtue almost - strong willpower. And those with the strongest willpower win. I mean, the sexual teaching we were given, it amounted to that.
Ilia: Yeah. Crazy
Richard: Goes, with strong willpower holy. You didn't know they were controlled for each. No one wanted to live with them. Truth, I think seduces you, it always makes you want more because it's infinite. You never steal. You got it. Whereas words falsely satisfying. I got it. I got it. I got the truth. The truth has to be bigger than words. After all, how many languages are there on this earth? If we're each going to put it in our language words, it's by definition finite. That includes Greek and Latin too, I think, although we didn't act that way.
Ilia: I like that a lot, Richard. Truth is much larger than words.
Ilia: And the seductiveness of truth, you know, it's alluring. You know, we're drawn to truth. And when I ask people, you know, what is your understanding of truth? How do you define truth? It's a hard one for people to say, oh, what is truth?
Richard: One of the gifts we did have in the Catholic church was, I don't know that it always were, but we were educated in philosophy before we were educated in theology. Now I see that when working with these young evangelicals, they have no philosophical background. How to work with ideas and to not let them become idols or words, idolatrous words that I'm sure you can get lost in philosophy too.
Ilia: Yeah, that's where I think science is helpful to reflecting on what is existence or what is reality.
Richard: Yeah. Terrific.
Ilia: Making us into scientists, it's just saying, here's some insights, you know? And people have said to me, "Oh, but you know, science changes." I'm like, "Well, yeah. Most of life actually." We swim in these, this ocean of life. It's a constant swimming through the waves and living within the flow. It's an evolutionary flow of life and not a Legos building. We're not putting one brick on top of the other, and it's going to stand forever. Everything here will disappear within time, but something new will always be forming. That's the beauty.
Richard: Yeah. You remember when we had the 9-11 little tragedy, I remember people quoting the next day Eckhart Tolle, and with a kind of calm, amazement piece, he said that even the sun must die.
Richard: This great tragedy that a building in New York City could fall was just unbelievable to our eyes, but even the sun must die.
Ilia: You know, Richard, we don't deal well with death, quite honestly.
Richard: No, no, we don't.
Ilia: We have a naive understanding that life as we have enjoyed it, should continue on. Or we should make the best of it now. Because after this one, who knows, there could be nothing, you know? And I think, again, St. Paul, eye has not seen, ear has not heard all that God has prepared for those who are willing to engage in this adventure of love. Richard, what do you think is the greatest challenge to the future of religion?
Richard: It's going to have to move. That is just coming to me now, I haven't said it before, but it's going to have to move Its focus from an exclusive search for truth verbally defined, to a search for life and love of life. And what I've just seen in clergy, is not a great love of life in all its forms. And these would be the very ones who belong to pro-life movements. It's such an irony, they don't love life, but they belong to pro-life. It's almost to fool themselves, it seems. I'm not trying to be hard, I guess they're sincere, but until we move our eyes to recognizing where life is, like, let's get back to the Pueblo yesterday. I mean, it was just life, life, life - the drums, the rattles, the joy. These young men dancing for 40 minutes straight, lifting their knees as high as they could. I said, my God, I was tired just watching. And we were about the only white folks there yesterday at this particular Pueblo who was surrounded by native peoples, fascinating. And I said, what is it they're seeing and we don't see?
Ilia: You know, I think Richard, two things. Don't you think, first of all, they have a freedom? There's something about community, where the community of the earth, one another, the whole, there's like a wholeness there that gives them a sense of belonging, freedom, and they celebrate this together. I think one of the things is we're so highly individualized in our Western culture, and we're so competitive, and we privatize everything that I don't think in our western culture we're really free. We're very bound up by a lot of expectations. We'd rather do a lot online than in person. There's something about we really don't enjoy belonging being together, that much, all that much. If we had to make a choice, we'd probably stay in our rooms, behind our computers. I don't know. I mean, it's a really interesting question. If religion is the celebration of life and the fullness of life, which is exactly what God promises, right?
Richard: Exactly. Yeah.
Ilia: You know, that you might have life and habit to the full. I mean, what else are we looking for? Having a clue what that, you know, really what does that mean for us?
Richard: We didn't try to be connected to reality. We tried to be correct apart from reality. And it created isolated people out of us who went to communion if they were Catholic, but they went there and they came back. It's not sure that they carried the communion with them. It was just a momentary, maybe; momentary, perhaps.
Robert: How do we build religious communities that celebrate life? In closing, Ilia asks Richard what he has to say to the church of the future. We discuss the notion of infinity, the unconditionality of God's love, and Richard's upcoming book on anger.
Ilia: You know, the question is really like, do we see - I live at hope that the church can change.
Richard: It has to, it will.
Ilia: You know, we might have an all-out - I would hate to see this quite honestly, but we're sort of very divided already within, but there might be a type of death that takes place. But I do believe the church has something vital to offer to today's world. I think Christianity, it's not the only religion, but it has a vital message for today's world. And I think God is really doing new things. God is really involved in our lives and in this world and trying to move it, but can't move it without us.
Richard: No, I'm with you. I can't give up on what's already happened, which is what we're saying, that God wouldn't waste 2000 years on silliness. Some silliness in there. But boy, you separate the wheat from the chaff and there's a lot of wheat there too.
Ilia: Yes, exactly. Exactly. I think it's always been like this, maybe we just know more of it because of the internet and mass media, but I think it's always been a kind of a rough road, kind of a via dolorosa, so to speak. You know, it's always been a little bit of the resurrection. So, you talked about the post evangelicals that are now at the Living school; what would you like to leave future generations in terms of like one most important piece of wisdom? What would you like to say to younger generations?
Richard: You know, I think though one liner of the young people here most vote for me, and I like it myself, if I can say so. God doesn't love us because we're that good. God loves us because God is good. And that seems to liberate them from this excessive self-critique. And I do find the self-critique continuing, even in people raised outside the church. They never think they're good enough or their right, or they're smart enough or they're good looking. We've got to find a basis for human goodness that isn't based in anything evidentiary, and my good looks or my intelligence or what you and I would call ontology, and I think that was the great message of healthy Christianity. It gave us an ontology that was untouchable, that we were created in the image of God. And this God was a good God.
Richard: Not a bad God, not a whimsical God. And the older you get, if you don't hold onto that essential goodness, there's just a thousand things fighting against you. People have betrayed you, Ukraine, Africa, Yemen, wherever you just look, you see what appears to be a not good God. So if you haven't been bound, signed, falling in love with this essential goodness, essential - life tries to take it away from you. Not the life we're talking about in perpetuating, in human being.
Ilia: That's great, great insight actually of wisdom. And I think you're spot on. I think there's a lot of people who do not see themselves as lovable or essentially good. And the world is constantly, certainly social media or the advertising culture is saying, "No, you're really not that great. Like, you should be more beautiful. You should be smart."
Richard: That's right. That's right.
Ilia: No, I think you're spot on. God loves us as we are.
Richard: And we just can't imagine. God's love is infinite, infinite. We don't know how to form the concept of infinity. And so when we tell people God is infinite, "Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah." So again, if you can't surrender to unknowability, I can't thank infinite thing. And there I disbelief comes in handy. I believe that God is infinite. And the Psalms are saying that in a hundred different ways already in the Jewish scriptures. You don't have to wait for Jesus. Jesus exemplifies it, but he learned it from his Jewish religion.
Ilia: Yeah. A God who is in relationship with us, a God who deeply loves... is moved by us. You know, a God who is affected, but I think for me, it's always the unconditional love of God.
Richard: Of course.
Ilia: I will love you always.
Richard: Because we grow up with conditions.
Ilia: Growing up with a lot of conditions and our world is very conditional. You know, who's in, who's out, you know, but you're terrific, you're not so great. Unconditional, God loves us. And I love that line from Jeremiah, I have loved you with an everlasting -
Richard: With an everlasting love. No, good stuff.
Ilia: Honest, Richard, it's fantastic. I mean, I think the god of love who is the God I think of Old Testament and New Testament, it's a power that no earthly force or human force can extinguish. And I think you've done a lot to really help that power come to life in a lot of people's lives a lot. So many people ask me, do you know Richard Rohr? Then I said, oh yeah. And I'm like, oh yeah, Richard.
Richard: Be sure to tell them how utterly, how boring and ordinary I am. Now, they say that sometimes when I drop in over at the visitor center. He said, "Oh, you're not how I thought you'd look. Well, not what they, they hope for, well this is what you're stuck with. I always say, I say it better than I am it, but it's been given to us.
Ilia: Quite amazing. Robert, any last question or thought for Richard? Are you
Robert: Working on any new books?
Richard: Well, I am. See, last summer, as late as September, I was supposed to be dead by Thanksgiving. And then thanks to the miracle of modern infusion medicine, it's called, I'm now out of that. And so I had to start thinkable. Maybe I have time for one book of my books. And the one that I haven't written yet, and I've now written the first chapter, the title in my head right now is from anger to sadness. I'm trying to trace the evolution of each prophet, and they almost all start angry man, almost all. Which is why a lot of us get tired of reading now. You know, if we had an angry mother or father or church, we don't need more anger.
But what I'm convinced of, and now I hope I'm prepared to demonstrate it, they start with anger, they enter in, in the middle of their text somewhere, each in a different way, some kind of dissonance, some kind of confusion, some kind of disorder, some kind of revelation. And then they come to, not resolution, but sadness, sadness for the human situation, immense empathy for human brokenness and human failure. So that's going to be, I hope it somehow in the title, From Anger to Sadness. And I'm going to try to illustrate it with as many prophets as I can. Because otherwise, no one reads the prophets. Priests don't read it, religious don't read them; they don't know what they're talking about. And we have to have a model for reading the prophets. I'd like to think I might have one that could be helpful. So that's the book, I've given myself six months to write it, so we'll see.
Ilia: Wow. Well that's terrific, Richard. Sounds really great. I think you're onto something there.
Richard: Well, I'm convinced. When I see how evident the pattern is, but you have to have it pointed out to you or you don't see it. The lesson is, oh my God, it's there in the text. And I went back to these male initiation rights that I gave for so many years. Remember on the day of grief, the line that would always just stun them to silence. I said, many people think most old men are angry and they'd all listen, afraid they were getting there. And I said, most men are not angry, they're just sad. And they would just - I could have stopped talking after that one line. They went out into the desert for several hours, recognizing their own anger was really sadness. So, that's what gave me the initial insight, and then I looked for it in these angry men and there I was. So pray that if it is in any way true, I can say it in ways that'll help people heal, because anger doesn't help you heal. And we've got an angry country, we've got an angry church. You know, I got to meet with the Pope last June. I don't know if you heard of that, Ilia, and I raised this. I said, there's a lot of angry people aren't there, Holy Father. And he just nodded his head. He said that they hate you as much as they hate me. He's so humble about it all.
Ilia: Just one last question. Do you think that anger, is it deep hurt or what do you think is the primary?
Richard: It's that bravado shrunk that you think is going to take away the problem by yelling at it long. Well, you see it in rage-aholic. They focused on what the problem is and they yell about it for the rest of their life, thinking that's going to make it go away. And of course it doesn't, it only deepens it. And in fairness, I think it gives us a superiority to the problem. We've spotted it, and we know this deserves anger. This is wrong. This is not righteous. When you take away your anger and Ilia, you know I say this as a one on the enneagram, my capital sin is resentment. I have just known that my resentment never got me anywhere - anywhere good or peaceful or happy.
Ilia: Yeah. It's like a barricade.
Ilia: It's important. It's an important book, Richard. Well, our time is up. And actually it's been just lovely talking with you.
Richard: You've been just lovely, both of you.
Ilia: Yes. Thank you so much.
Richard: Thank you for inviting me, talking to me, and letting me blabber on. I hope at the middle of it, there's something true.
Robert: It was a pleasure to be a part of this conversation with Father Richard Rohr. Be sure to listen in next time as we talk more about issues of religion and culture with scholar Diana Butler Bass. A special thanks to our partners at the Fetzer Institute. I'm Robert Nicastro and on behalf of the Center for Christogenesis, thanks for listening.