Richard Rohr is a Franciscan teacher and founder of the Centre for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. He has a worldwide ministry and is the author of numerous books. Many of them have strongly scriptural themes.
In recent years his attention has been drawn to the development of our inner discipleship. What is it that strengthens our convictions? How do we let our faith shape and be shaped by the passage of time?
Eager to Love is the summit of this output. He bases his material firmly in the life of his mentor Francis of Assisi.
Whilst its North American background is evident this is Rohr’s attempt to put down his own convictions. It would be a helpful summary for both new readers and others who have read his earlier material.
Once you have emerged from whatever safe religious place you were in – recognising that your view of the world is one worldview among many, discovering the historical Jesus, revolutionising your understanding of scripture and up-dating your theology;
Once you have changed the way you do church, or at least changed the music at your church and hired a pastor who twitters, or you can no longer find any church within a fifty-mile radius in which you can let your guard down long enough to pray;
Once the Dalai Lama starts making more sense to you as the pope or your favourite preacher, and your rare but renovating encounters with the Divine reduce all your best words to dust, well,
what’s left to hold onto?
Barbara Brown Taylor writing in her latest book Learning to Walk in the Dark.
She is describing an experience more common than is admitted among church-goers. We have created our little churchy Edens, but they have become places to hide from God. So we walk away and wonder what will happen next.
I have been asked to review the latest book ‘Learning to Walk in the Dark’ by American priest Barbara Brown Taylor for the Baptist Times. It will be done shortly.
She was on tour in this country this month, bringing with her a reputation as a gifted preacher.
Her first book, The Preaching Life, includes a powerful defence of preaching as a form of communication
No other modern public speaker does what the preacher tries to do. The trial attorney has glossy photographs and bagged evidence to hand out; the teacher has drawing boards and projectors; the politician has brass bands and media consultants.
All the preacher has is words. Climbing into the pulpit without props or sound effects the preacher speaks to people who are used to being communicated with in a very different ways.
The man with tired eyes lingers with his question hanging in the air. His friend continues to walk away and does not reply. His mind is made up. He seeks a purer life than can be found in the city. The desert beckons.
For a moment he closes his eyes, maybe he is in prayer and then stroking his long beard the man with the tired eyes turns indoors.
Later he would enshrine his question in a Rule for Christian living which he would offer his flock as their Bishop but for that moment it was part of a painful encounter.
I do not know whether it happened this way. Sara Maitland who introduced me to the question in her book A Book of Silence suggests that Basil, the man with the tired eyes asked the question in irritation as he watched another parishioner wander off into the wilderness. I do not know whether this was how he felt any more than she might but it is a powerful question.
In a fond article Alastair Campbell used the arresting phrase – he spoke fluent human – of Charles Kennedy. He was bidding farewell to a friend and political sparring partner who had died prematurely at 55.
Kennedy had a long parliamentary career as a Liberal and often spoke firstly from principle than pragmatism for which he was widely respected.
To speak fluent human is a gift. Charles Kennedy was a heavy drinker and had a full share of the griefs and burdens that come to us. But this does not qualify you to speak human. He spoke in this way long before the turmoil that afflicted his later years.
It is a gift born out of the realisation that we are no more than human. No matter what our background, status or achievement we come from dust and to dust we will return. To speak human is an act of humility.
There was a time when I feared the approach of Pentecost. Now it’s a forgotten festival as people pack up for school holidays and the Bank Holiday weekend.
I used to fear it because I felt caught between the self-appointed experts on the Spirit who would expect my congregation to turn back the clock and become Jerusalem AD 33. On the other hand, the rest would be checking whether or not I had become too charismatic. So instead of being enflamed by the Passionate Grace of God, worship was swept by the freezing winds of tension and wariness.
Perhaps that is why people went on holiday. I was left struggling to release the truth of Pentecost to those who couldn’t get away at that time of the year.
What people’s religious faith took indoors, their spiritual intuition discovered outdoors.
High above ancient city of Petra, the Nabataea people carved the windswept rock into a place to honour their gods. It was simply a High Place. An altar in the wind of the winds of the heavens.
Temples, cathedrals, churches and shrines have their altars too. But for all their drama and eye-catching splendour do they imprison the spirit as much as they may release it.
A boy was asked what he wanted to do in life.
He replied that he would sit on the river bank and fish.
He asked for more than he knew.
John 3: 1-10; 7: 45-52; 19: 38-20: 1
I am always known as the one who met him at night.
I am not making excuses but it was just better that way.
I was too well-known in Jerusalem.
If it was known I had met Jesus I would have lost my reputation.
I was known for my caution.
I did not take sides.
Jesus gave me a problem.
He created division.
He polarised opinion.
He made it difficult for others;
especially people like me.
I tried to be a voice of calm
In stormy times;
but it was not easy.
Al-Shabab militants deliberately found and killed Christian students at the Garissa University in Kenya it has been reported this week.
I wondered how they knew who were Christians. Student Reuben Mwavita described what he saw. Three female students knelt in prayer before the gunmen and Reuben commented: The mistake they made was to say ‘Jesus please save us’, because that is when they were shot.
I find this overwhelming. I am humbled and appalled. I know little about African Christianity but people whom I have met from that part of the world have impressed me with the intensity and directness of their faith in God. Prayer is not a few grunts at the beginning of the day. It is woven into the material of daily life.
Devotion to Christ has exacted a terrible price. Their voice is now silenced but they still speak. They speak into the prayers of people all over the world who mark Easter Day as a signal event for their faith. In the words of an unknown author:
Resurrection is the touch of God’s hand on my scars and the invitation to breath again.
Like their Lord they did not raise their voice against their slaughterers.
May they rest in peace to rise in the new earth and new heaven; and may those of us who are left who pray in the same name never take the gift of faith for granted.
Photo: Khalil Senosi/AP