Saturday, February 16, 2013

Immortal Diamond (Richard Rohr) -- A Review

IMMORTAL DIAMOND: The Search for Our True Self.  By Richard Rohr.  San Francisco:  Jossey Bass, 2013. Xxv + 255 pages.

        What is my true self?  Why do we let the true self get obscured by contentment with our false selves?  These are the questions raised by Richard Rohr in his latest book Immortal Diamond, which brings the mystical tradition -- what he calls the Perennial Tradition -- into play with daily life.  Concerning the True Self, it is, Rohr suggests, the divine presence that lies within us and that can if released transform us into the people we’re meant to be.  The question is – are we ready to take this road?    

           Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest and writer who has developed a following that transcends the boundaries of Roman Catholicism.  Indeed, Rohr draws on a broad spiritual tradition, which has made his work approachable and useful, even for those who may not be directly engaged with a religious community.  Indeed, Rohr writes this book not for those, like me, who are already part of a faith community, but for those who find themselves outside the walls, especially those who are disenchanted with what they see in the churches.  But, even if I am not his primary audience, those like me, who seek to better understand our faith and our relationship with God find him to be a worthy and wise guide to things spiritual in nature, but even as he speaks to our spiritual side, the words he offers can guide us in the daily practice of life.  The point is that a relationship with the God who is present within us, should transform us into a person who reflects the values of God.

Rohr writes to introduce to us to a foundation that is lasting and transforming, with Christ as the key to that foundation.  Of Christ, Rohr writes:
I believe the Christ is the archetypal True Self offered to history, where matter and spirit finally operate as one, where divine and human are held in one container, “where there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female (Galatians 3:28).  This Christ is going before us into an ever new territory, into “Galilee,” which was the forgotten backwater of the Roman Empire and the Jewish religion (p. xiii). 
With the encounter with Christ as the archetypal True Self as the goal of our journey, why does Rohr seek to address first of all those seekers who seem disenchanted with religion?  By this group, I don’t think Rohr means those who were addressed by Lillian Daniel in her recent book, people content with a surface vision of spirituality – a spirituality lite, but those who truly seek something beyond themselves that can be life changing.  He speaks of a group that is “often more ready to see and honor Mystery than many religious people are.”   Rohr writes that he has little patience for those Christians who seek to deepen their personal relationship with “a very tiny American Jesus – who looks an awful lot like them” (xvii). This is the group that is stuck in traditionalism, that worships the past rather than seeking to walk with God into the future. 

                For Rohr the point of this spiritual journey is this:  1) “The goodness of God fills all the gaps of the universe, without discrimination or preference.” 2) “Death is not just physical dying, but going to full depth, hitting the bottom, going the distance, beyond where I am in control, fully beyond where I am now.”  This is an important word for people who seem caught up by fear, a fear that divides and conquers. 3) “When you go into the full depths and death, sometimes even the depths of your sin, you come out the other side – and the word for that is resurrection.” The idea of resurrection plays an important role in this book, and while he affirms a physical resurrection he wants us to move beyond arguments about the historicity to engage the promise of resurrection, of transformation of our lives that can begin prior to the crossing over that is death (pp. xix-xxiii).

                The book is composed of nine chapters, beginning with a description of the True Self and then moves on to define the False Self.  Each of the following seven chapters further defines and illuminates the contrast between the two.  A caveat is offered by Rohr concerning the “false self.”  This self isn’t necessarily bad – that is the clever and deceitful self.  It can be, he suggests, quite good.  The False self is “more bogus than bad.”  The false selves are the costumes that we put on, they may be necessary at the start of life, but in the end they are limited.  The false self is really the “small self,” which includes body image, job, education, clothing, money, cars, sexual identity, success, and more.  “These are,“ Rohr writes, “the trappings of ego that we all use to get us through an ordinary day.  They are a nice enough platform to stand on, but they are largely a projection of our self-image and our attachment to it” (p. 28).  The problem isn’t the projection so much as our contentment with it, to live out of it without question.  The difference between the two is, really, the relationship with God to our identity.  The False Self is, Rohr offers, an understanding of self without regard to the divine presence, whereas the True Self is the expression of the divine that is present within us.  For those who might see this as being pantheistic, Rohr is quick to make a distinction between God and humanity.  They are linked, but not the same.  But, the True Self is reflective of that divine presence.  The question is, will we allow that divine presence the room to transform us, or will we be content to define ourselves without regard to the Creator?  The problem with this failure to move toward our True Self is that we fall prey to immaturity, and its expressions through greed, anger, and even violence, and fail to let the expressions, the fruit of the True Self free to be expressed.

                You may wonder why Rohr titles the book Immortal Diamond.  He uses this image to describe the processes and pressures of life, which God uses to “construct this hard and immortal diamond, our core of love.”   This is the goal, living out from that core of love that “will always be stronger than death” (p. 184).  In the closing paragraphs of the book, Rohr points us to the message of 1 John 3:2, where the biblical author intones that when the future is fully revealed, then “we shall all be like him,” that is Christ.  This is our goal, and as we allow that True Self the freedom to emerge, then we become more and more like Christ, and that self is one that is expressed in love that is stronger than death. 

                I’ve read only a few of Rohr’s books, but I have come to believe that he has put his finger on the spiritual pulse of our times.  He brings to our attention a fuller picture of the divine realm and how we can be transformed into the image of Christ, and thereby live lives of hope and grace.  In a previous book Falling Upward, which now has a companion journal (Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life -- A Companion Journal) to go with it, Rohr invites us to allow ourselves the freedom and ability to mature in faith and practice, and this journey requires that we let go of our need for certainty and our trust in the status quo.  I believe that Rohr takes us a step further with this book.  

             There is much to ponder between its covers, more than I can summarize.  But as one who struggles to make sense of many books of spirituality, I have found Richard Rohr to be wise and insightful guide.  I don’t think you will be disappointed by this book.  Whether you are a spiritual seeker or a long-term religious person, you will find great wisdom here.        


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