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Richard Rohr

This interview is an archived recording from our Conversations with Masters program. During this multi-year teleseries, we invited our members to participate in live conversations with a broad range of thought leaders, spiritual teachers, and academics. This series exposed our community to inspiring insights and timeless wisdom.


Rand Stagen: I’m going to hand the call over to one of your peers in the community, Father Scott Brown completed the Integral Leadership Program in 2011 in the Lincoln class. Upon his commencement, he demonstrated an appetite to continue to develop more mastery of the content and has through the years become an adjunct faculty member. In addition to his day job, which is being a headmaster of a college preparatory school called Texas Military Institute, the TMI. He is also a student of integral leadership. Scott is going to be leading our call and introducing our speaker, so I’m going to hand it off to him at this point. I will join Scott on the other side of the breakout in the Q&A, so you’ll hear my voice in about 45 minutes, but between now and then, it’s Scott and Father Richard and then your breakout.

Rand Stagen: Scott, the call is yours.

Scott Brown: Thank you, Rand. What an honor and privilege it is today to serve as the interviewer for a man that I highly respect and look up to, someone that I have read and studied and followed, Father Richard Rohr. I’ll let him tell you all a little bit more about himself. He’s a Franciscan priest serving in New Mexico, where he started a Center for Contemplation and Action and we’ll talk more about that in a minute.

Scott Brown: First off, welcome Father Richard. Glad to have you today.

Richard Rohr: It’s great to be with you. Thank you.

Scott Brown: A true privilege. I want to start and ask you, there’s a quote we use in the ILP, the Integral Leadership Program, that’s by a man named Howard Thurman, who was Martin Luther King, Jr’s teacher. Howard Thurman said this, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Scott Brown: I just want to start and ask you what makes you come alive? What makes Richard Rohr come alive?

Richard Rohr: That’s a beautiful quote. Gosh, I’m surrounded by so many creative people. We have almost 40 on our staff here. Especially this new Millennial generation, when I see their spiritual curiosity. I’ve been a priest for almost 50 years and I have to say one of my great disappointments in much of organized religion is there isn’t a lot of spiritual curiosity. They just want to be reassured that what they already think is enough. I think that’s what brings me to life, when there’s one student or counselee in front of me that is coming alive visually on their face, you can see it, that’s enough to keep me going the whole day. Alive people make me alive. It’s all contagious.

Scott Brown: You used the word spiritual curiosity, which is a great word. In Stagen, we sometimes use the word the learner mindset, just that desire to keep learning. Why do you think that’s so hard for us stubborn human beings?

Richard Rohr: Why is that? I think the ego is afraid of change. It likes a falsely created homeostasis, where it can just build a silo around itself. And it gives the ego a false comfort. That’s the only way I can understand and why Jesus talked so much about change. The word that is translated in most of our bibles, repent, is a very moralistic and poor translation. The literal Greek means change, so Jesus was a change agent, a growth facilitator, and we pretty much him into old-time religion instead, which didn’t do the gospel or Jesus or ourselves any favor.

Scott Brown: I’m laughing because it seems so simple and yet it’s so difficult. We sometimes talk about the performance paradox in the Stagen world, the idea of taking one step backwards to take two steps forwards. If change guaranteed us an ROI, a return on our investment, we’d dive in headfirst, yet the reality of it is so darn difficult. Why do you think we struggle with the practice of it, when the theory sounds like such a no-brainer?

Richard Rohr: Is it fear? I use that word, contagious, before. I think you need to have a few people who rubbed off on you in your life, who you see are not afraid of growth and change. If you’ve never seen that, it’s almost hard to imagine it. You tend to stay in your little box, where it seems adequate, even though it usually isn’t. I’m not really answering your question, I’m asking it with you. I don’t know why so many people are afraid of change, but I see it in myself. I reach a certain level of comfort and I just want to assure that that won’t change.

Scott Brown: Your center is called the Center for Action and Contemplation, the both, and. On the phone call is a lot of people that get the action part, achiever mindset, success-oriented, kick butt and take names. We get that part. The contemplation piece is often something that is put on a shelf and drawn out on a Sunday morning or occasionally for a meditation or some quiet. Talk a little bit about your desire to marry action and contemplation in community and that balance.

Richard Rohr: Do we have two hours? Let me try to say just a little bit. Let me make a strong statement to begin with. I think the wedding, that you rightly called it, of action and contemplation is the great spiritual art form. It’s the heart of the matter. Jesus for us, from the Christian background, exemplified it, but you have ancient texts like the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, the whole thing three thousand years ago is about action and contemplation.

Richard Rohr: Let me try to describe it in this way. How do you remain engaged, involved, the push and pull of the motions and agendas from a centered grounded place? That you don’t let the emotion of the moment jerk you here and there. We now have a word for that. We call it co-dependency and sometimes I think we’re all co-dependents. We let the emotion, the politics, the fear of the moment just jerk us around and pretty soon we don’t know what our center is, which I call the true self, who we are in God from all eternity.

Richard Rohr: On the other side, when you are at prayer maybe in a conscious, deliberate, even religious sense, how are you not a solitude? How are you holding with you the pain of California and Puerto Rico and Houston and Florida and all the other sufferings of Syria and so forth? I don’t think we can extract ourselves from that. So it comes at us from both sides. When we’re praying, we got to be holding the suffering of the world, I believe, consciously. All suffering, the mystic said, is the suffering of God. It’s one suffering. Yet that’s something you only know at the contemplative level.

Richard Rohr: Let me draw this together by trying to describe for you what I mean by the word contemplative or contemplation. First of all, it does not mean being an introvert. It does mean being especially thoughtful even, that I reflect on things a great length. I hope we do all that, but actually contemplation is an early word that emerged already in the desert fathers and mothers in the second and third centuries of Christianity, because they realized we had to put on a different mind. I’m going to describe this mind as a mind that is not argumentative. It is not dualistic. It does not create two alternatives like black, white, gay, straight, Catholic, Protestant, Republican, Democrat and then think because you chose one side, you’re smart. I’ve got to caricature of it. That’s called dualistic thinking.

Richard Rohr: Brothers and sisters, we’ve got to be honest. That’s the way almost all Western people think. Creating two choices, then thinking because you decided for one of them that you’re smart or you’re holy or you’re wise or you’re true. They discovered that what the spiritual person had to do was hold the field of the moment open, to refuse two stark alternatives. Let it be what it is in all its ambiguity, subtlety, mystery. Basically the contemplative mind is a high tolerance for mystery, for balancing knowing with not knowing and not needing to know. We had a word for that. In the New Testament we called it faith. The ability not to need to have an answer for everything, but to live in that liminal space of enough knowing, not to need to know everything.

Richard Rohr: Basically, what the contemplative mind does, it creates humble people and patient people. I think we could pretty much agree that is not the characteristic of our country right now. We haven’t learned patience and humility in our knowing. For me, that reveals that the churches have not been doing their work of training people in the contemplative mind. We taught what to think instead of teaching people how to think. What contemplation is is thinking in a non-dualistic way. If you could just hold on to that, I hope that doesn’t sound too scary. It isn’t. It really isn’t. It’s a way that’s patient with mystery.

Scott Brown: Scary, maybe not. Courageous, you bet. I heard a quote you said the other day. You said, “I’ve prayed for some years for one good humiliation a day.”

Richard Rohr: Most days I get it. I got it yesterday.

Scott Brown: Tell us about it.

Richard Rohr: We were having, I hope this isn’t too vulnerable, a staff and faculty discussion and there was a particular hire being considered and I added what was somewhat a critical comment why this wouldn’t be a good hire. I was invested in it even. Then, I was offered, in a very kind way, some alternative information that I did not know. I had to withdraw my criticism and admit that what I’d said was an overstatement and was made without full information. That was my daily humiliation yesterday.

Scott Brown: But leaders are supposed to have all the answers and leaders are supposed to be right and leaders aren’t supposed to admit when they’ve missed the boat, right?

Richard Rohr: That’s it. That’s precisely why I need it, because I’ve been in leadership positions for 40 some years and when you get used to everybody kissing up to you and honoring you and respecting you, that does a real dangerous thing to the ego. You get used to being right. You get used to being in charge. I have to watch how I react to the humiliation, how I react to being shown to be wrong or not completely right. That indicates for me, in my own soul, am I operating in union with God or just as the little Richard self, which I call the false self. Nothing wrong with little Richard, but sometimes he’s too little and invested in his own agenda.

Scott Brown: This community at Stagen is filled with people who have felt this nudge or this call to true self, deeper self, call it what you want. Call it the hero’s journey, accepted the call to go out to encounter then the crisis of the battle and God willing the transformational return home. I know you use the word order, disorder, reorder. Tell me a little bit about the hero’s journey for you.

Richard Rohr: I use that a lot in my men’s work that we started here 20 some years ago. Of course at that time Joseph Campbell was very popular, but really was retrieving much the perennial tradition. By the perennial tradition, I mean those patterns that keep recurring century after century, religion after religion, and that tells we’re dealing with the work of the spirit. The hero’s journey would be part of that. It’s much of the gist of my book, Falling Upward. I’ve always been surprised how people respond to that book, but I think it’s the title itself that’s very intriguing.

Richard Rohr: In Christianity, we can this the paschal mystery. That the way up is the way down. Maybe we called it the way of the cross in Christianity. But that we come to wisdom not by climbing and achieving and performing or as Meister Eckhart said, “The spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition.” For Western capitalists, that’s just an entirely different frame for consciousness. The way I put it is, I think the soul comes to God not by doing it right, but much more by doing it wrong. That’s what the 12 step people have discovered. When the church stopped believing, I would say the Holy Spirit comes in through the air duct and has to teach us our own wisdom in new formats.

Richard Rohr: Many movements, like integral theory, like the recovery movement, are examples of that. We have to be told what we thought we really believed all the time anyway, but we had made the message so bound in religious vocabulary, that we almost stopped understanding it. We just repeated the religious vocabulary. Often, to Catholics, my fellow Catholics, I have to say, I hope not in a rude way, but what does that phrase really mean? Give me a phenomenology of what does salvation mean? What does redemption mean? Very often, they fumble for words, because they haven’t had the spiritual curiosity to say what does that really mean? I hope I’m helping in one little way, people to do.

Scott Brown: You’re very helpful. I’m listening to you and thinking great, I get it, but I don’t have that connection like Richard has with this deeper, truer self. I want it theoretically, but I get in the meeting and he hijacks me or she triggers me, so what’s the advice you have to me, to anyone on the call, who’s thinking man, I’d love to be more contemplative in the moment, in the action, but the baby steps, I just don’t know how to begin it.

Richard Rohr: Let me go back to that language I introduced a moment ago of true self, false self. It’s actually language taken from Thomas Merton, the great monk in Kentucky. We all know, if you were raised Christian at least, that Jesus said there was a self we had to lose and unless we lost it, we wouldn’t find another self. Now unfortunately, what most of us concluded was the self we had to lose was the body self, the physical self, the material, sexual, emotional self. Merton made a very strong case that we were missing the point. The body self is not the problem. The problem is the illusory self, which he called a false self.

Richard Rohr: Basically, the false self, which we all get snagged by and addicted to, is who you think you are and your thinking doesn’t make it so. It’s your attachment to your public image. I’m called Father by Catholics and I have the Franciscan initials after my name. I wear the appropriate vestments and habit at the appropriate time, but those are all costume. They’re not the substantial self. The trouble is we spend much of our life defending them, living up to this public. I ask you to apply that to your own title or status or job description. It’s what’s going to die when you die. It’s passing, it’s just window dressing. That’s the false self.

Richard Rohr: The true self, let me describe it as succinctly as I can and forgive me if you’re not familiar with scripture. I’m going to use quotes from Paul, the self hidden with Christ in God. Who you were from the very beginning in Christ, as Ephesians might put it. It’s who you were from the moment of your conception. You don’t create it. You can’t lose it. The word most of us use for that was the soul. The soul, we were told, was the eternal. It doesn’t come and go. It’s not up and down. It isn’t worthy or unworthy, it just is in God. Of course, that’s its ultimate worthiness. Its final dignity.

Richard Rohr: What that takes away from us, thank God, is any ability to choose. He’s got it. She doesn’t. He’s black. She’s gay. Just stop it. Once you get to the language of the true self, all of that window dressing you realize is just window dressing. You are not knocking upon the substantial self. The substantial self is held in God, is given by God. You can’t lose it. You can’t increase it. You can’t decrease. You can only honor it, recognize it, draw upon it. This is good stuff, if I can say so myself. This is what religion should be about, announcing people’s identity in God, that we were created, as we said in Latin, in the imago dei, the image of God from all eternity.

Richard Rohr: Just read the first chapter of Ephesians. It’s clear. It’s very clear, but we gave Christians the impression this was something they gained by good behavior. That you gained by going to church services or by being moral. No, that’s your response to this recognition. It is not creating your identity, it’s the fruit of your identity, if that makes sense.

Richard Rohr: I threw a lot at you in five minutes. I hope we’ll have time to talk about that, and you can ask me questions on it.

Scott Brown: Absolutely. It reminds me, looking in the mirror is not always easy though, to dive to that false self. There’s a quote we use in Stagen and you’ve used similarly, but we say, if I’m being honest, we say, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” I’ve heard you say, “The truth will set you free, but first it makes you miserable.” The challenge of looking in the mirror then is not an easy one, but one that is so rewarding.

Richard Rohr: Especially, Scott, because we’ve spent so many years identified with it. Promoting it, defending it, advertising it. When you put 30 years of work into how wonderful you are and how special you are, well, you’re addicted to that self. It’s all you have. That’s why we normally grow when God, at least for a moment or through an event, takes it away from us, that we lose our reputation for a while or we lose our house or our money or our good looks, which of course is going to happen anyway. The earlier it can happen, the better.

Richard Rohr: Two points come to mind that I just touched upon here. First of all, this notion of dualistic thinking. Could you share with someone else in your circle how you can see yourself doing that? Because we all do. It’s almost the only mind left in Western civilization. The dualistic mind of being presented with two alternatives, stark alternatives, glibly defined and it gives the ego comfort to choose one side. Try to give one another an example of how you are addicted. You are. I don’t even know you and I can tell you that you are. You’re addicted to dualistic thinking, which works in the mathematical world, the engineering world, the practical world of left and right. But in the spiritual world of dealing with things like love, death, suffering, God, eternity, sexuality, the dualistic mind is now dealing with mystery and it can’t do it.

Richard Rohr: So give one another an example of how you yourself see the pre-eminence and even dominance of dualistic thinking and almost suffer how it seems impossible to get beyond it. Only when you recognize how addicted you are to it can we talk about contemplation and you can understand it.

Richard Rohr: The word that comes to mind, it was so endearing. The vulnerability, the humility, the honesty. What you could hear, at least the few I was able to overhear, was sincere seeking, recognizing that most of us, and this is what I call the task of the first half of life, probably the first half of life goes all the way to the late 50s now. We have to go down these sojourns and journeys with the false self. We have to seek ourselves through achievement, performance, accomplishment. That’s all good. God is going to use all of that.

Richard Rohr: It’s just that what tends to happen in the wisdom years, and your groups were already going there, is you start to see the inadequacy of it. It’s not wrong, it’s just inadequate. I heard several of you say, “But what’s the goal? What’s the goal?” The goal has to be not the one with the most toys wins, as you almost seem to say. I could hear you moving toward resolution without even realizing it.

Richard Rohr: Now, let me put it probably in an oversimplified way, but we tend to think in the first half of life that it’s about private wholeness, private perfection, private achievement. What the great spiritual traditions would say is that the goal is union, not perfection. Can you feel the difference between those two? Union, you let go of some of your ego performance and perfection and it’s much more about connection. It’s much more not about being right, but being in right relationship.

Richard Rohr: Now that only begins to dawn on most people, although people who suffer will come to it earlier usually, but those of us in first world developed success-oriented cultures, we don’t tend to come to this until late 50s, early 60s, where we realize that which satisfied me totally and invested me totally at 35, it isn’t working anymore. There’s got to be some goal beyond this. That’s when the true self begins to emerge. So I would just encourage you to trust those intuitions. Your actually going deeper at that point. But God and grace will lead you there. You don’t have to figure this all out ahead of time.

Richard Rohr: Let me just stop at that and let people ask questions.

Rand Stagen: We’re going to get Hernan’s mic on, so you are live, Hernan.

Hernan: Thank you. I’m actually going to go broader than this call. I’m going to start by thanking Father Richard. I read your book about two years ago, when I was starting a sabbatical from my job. It fundamentally changed my life.

Richard Rohr: Which book was that?

Hernan: Falling Upwards.

Richard Rohr: Falling Upwards, okay.

Hernan: It opened my eyes to a different form of Catholicism and to probably another 25 books that I would have never read. During the time that I was on leave, finding my truth, I always found that living my true self was very. I am back at work and every day I have a sense of dissonance. I start my day trying to live my truth out. As soon as I I find that Hernan takes over.

Hernan: The question I have for you is, by the way, I get your daily email and I try to keep it in my computer as a reminder that I need to find my true self. For those of us, living incredibly intense lives in a work setting, but that are trying to find our true self, what is your recommendation to fight that horrible dissonance and to fill the container in Christ instead of build a container?

Richard Rohr: Okay, let me try this. Thank you for your sincere question. It’s actually doing it wrong, so-called, falling into your false self and all of its addictions and attachments and neediness and co-dependency that allows you to re-choose your true self. That’s why the false self isn’t wrong. It’s just inadequate. You’ve got to keep falling into it to choose beyond it. I hope that makes sense.

Hernan: Yep.

Richard Rohr: Don’t see the dissonance as, aw, what’s wrong with me? It’s a part of the deal. The two steps backward are in effect what catapult you into the three steps forward. That’s the entire spiritual life. That’s what I mean by falling upward. You got to do it wrong before you can increase your consciousness of what rightness might mean. Does that make sense?

Hernan: Yes, yes. Does that mean that forever we will be staying as human beings, in perfect human beings, we will be taking a couple of steps backwards to take a couple of steps forward?

Richard Rohr: Yes. The only key is to see it, to recognize that response I just gave was immature or selfish or rude or whatever. If you don’t see it, well you’ll just keep stepping backwards. But you’ve got to see that was an inadequate, unloving, I can do better than that. So you’ve got to do it wrong to desire what is better.

Hernan: Thank you, Father Richard. We are blessed to have you.

Richard Rohr: You’re kind. Thank you.

Rand Stagen: Alright, thank you Hernan for the first question. We’re going to now go to Tulsa and Frank Murphy, you are up.

Frank Murphy: Thank you Father, I really appreciate it. It’s a real honor to be able to engage with you today. This has been fantastic and I think one of the best masters series that Stagen has ever put on, so thank you also, Rand.

Frank Murphy: My question really is, I guess I should say that it’s taken me a long time, but I think I’m now at the beginning of what you called the wisdom years. Probably had I had more adversity in my life, I might have gotten there earlier, but now I’m certainly feeling very much at the beginning of that. So my question really is if we’ve been successful in this, even in a conscious capitalistic manner, if we’ve been successful in this world that’s dominated by this dualistic thinking and we have somewhat of a platform, at the beginning of this journey, I’m just trying to figure out where to go from here? What’s the goal? How might I use this platform to help evangelize something going forward? I know that I’m supposed to be uncomfortable in this space that I’m in right now, so that part is working, but I am a little off in terms of where I should go from here.

Richard Rohr: Okay, Frank. I think you’re already answering your question. What I hear in you is a generative energy, an energy that outflow somehow. It’s not a stingy. It’s not an implosion. It’s the beginning of an explosion. That means that you’re probably right where you should be. Then, you don’t want to do anything heroic, that too much appeals to the ego, but after a while, you’ll be able to feel the difference between outflow and sucking in. The first is love, the second is not love. I’m afraid we all do a lot of sucking in in our early years and we have to to create our ego structure, to give ourselves a sense of identity, purpose, boundaries. That’s all necessary and good.

Richard Rohr: But you can’t do that your whole life, keep hardening the silo of your own identity and your own specialness and your own importance. But if you’ve done that job well and you put it well. I’m like you, I talk about these things as priest, as a Franciscan, but in fact I’ve had a fairly easy life too, much more characterized by success than suffering. Yet I still have to recognize that this isn’t about, as Jesus would put it, building bigger barns or building a bigger tower. Thomas Merton said once, “You spend your whole life climbing the tower of success and you get to the top of the tower or the ladder and you realize it’s leaning against the wrong wall. There’s nothing up there.”

Richard Rohr: You’re already recognizing that. With that kind of humility, that kind of openness, just pray for the willingness to recognize the doors that God will undoubtedly open in front of you, to recognize the doors. Then you’ll have the courage to walk through at least one of them. But you don’t have to preplan it. You don’t have to figure it out. I think that’s one of the great consolations of authentic faith, this ability to trust in guidance, that the guidance will come, will be given, as long as my egocentricity is decreased just a little bit. As Jesus put it, “Unless the single grain of wheat die, it remains just a single grain of wheat.” It sounds to me like you’re right where you should be, Frank. You’re beginning to let that single grain of wheat, the little Frank self, to recognize that it’s not the whole self.

Richard Rohr: Let me say one more thing. The journey is first characterized by contraction, constriction, pulling back. Then you reach a point where God has to put some cracks in that hardened silo and that’s when the movement reverses, the engines reverse and you move into your more generative life, where it’s not about me being special, it’s about making some other people special. You’re already there, I think.

Frank Murphy: Thank you very much.

Rand Stagen: Thank you, Frank. We are going to go to the next person in the queue, which is Mark Carlson up in Chicago. Mark, you are live.

Mark Carlson: Good morning, everybody. I have to admit, this was not what I was expecting. This is my first call with the masters. As I was listening to Father Rohr, early on in my life, just based on different life experiences at 18, I lost my faith. Didn’t believe in God and suffered for a long period of time until I got into my mid-30s and I actually found my faith again and started to spend more time exploring that self rather than the false self that I had spent probably the majority of my early life chasing just based on the dynamic of our family and our business. And met my wife.

Mark Carlson: The two questions that I have is now that I’m in a position of leadership with our family business, it tends to pull me back into that whole false self. Do you have any recommendations on daily practices and things that help continue that exploration of what your true self is? Then my second question is once you’ve started to explore that true self, can you coexist in an environment where the temptation to go back to that false self is still very prevalent in your life? Or once you go down that door that you mentioned, do you really just have to fully commit and leave that false self behind?

Richard Rohr: Thank you, Mark. Again, your question shows a lot of humility. You’re very teachable and that’s all that matters. Once the teachability is there, whatever lessons come your way, your more likely than not to learn them. You’re also recognizing the nature of temptation. Temptation is simply, I’m not talking about the hot sins that we usually identify with temptation, but it’s just the attraction to regress, to slow down, to not trust your better voices. I think you’re positioned well. You’re recognizing that the business world is built on a lot of low level motivation. We got to say that. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to be a businessman. You’re producing products that make our lives easier.

Richard Rohr: But the constant temptation to settle for the low level motivation, merely the profit motive, merely the success and status and comforts that my earnings give me, that temptation will always be there. But you’re already seeing that. I’ve got a book coming out this Friday, since you asked for practices, and it’s called Just This. It’s about 50 little prompts and practices to help people pull back into present moment and see that how I do this, how I do anything is how I do everything. Let the moment become the entrance way to the universal.

Richard Rohr: I don’t know if that would be helpful to you, but I was impressed that you asked is there a practice? I think the future of organized religion, and I’m not sure John Wesley wasn’t saying this when he told the Methodists he was going to give them some methods. We have to have practices that rewire the psyche, that rewire our response, or otherwise we stay at the early ego-centric practice knee jerk response. I think the future of Christianity, instead of being so obsessed with what do you believe, teaching you concrete practices. That’s what I’m trying to do in Just This. Just do it. Don’t agree with it or disagree with it. Try it before you write it off, so you’re asking for the right thing. You need little methods that help you recognize what you’re not doing, what you’re doing wrong, what is merely brain function and has nothing to do with hearing God. It’s simply the way your brain works. I’m almost 75 and this still humiliates me every day, how I revert to my old brain, my comfortable patterns.

Richard Rohr: I don’t know if I answered your question at all, but I hope I told you you’re not crazy and you’re not on a dead end. I promise you that.

Mark Carlson: No, I think that was very helpful.

Richard Rohr: Oh, good.

Mark Carlson: I look forward to reading your book. Thank you.

Richard Rohr: You’re welcome.

Rand Stagen: I find myself really appreciating, Father Richard, your willingness to share that you’re still in your own practice and Hernan opened up the Q&A with this inquiry into is this what it’s like indefinitely in this lifetime, of this constant dance between the ego and the true self. Just hearing you acknowledge that on a daily basis, you’re still in that dance yourself. It’s very comforting for I think all of us who struggle every day.

Rand Stagen: We’ve got time for two more questions and then a wrap. The next one is Matt Stringer. We’re going to come back to Dallas for Matt and then followed by Chris Willis. Matt, you are live.

Matt Stringer: Thank you, Rand. Father Rohr, I just want to express my appreciation for your teachings and the impact they’ve had. I had a great question all planned out that I’m realizing is self-serving. As I sit here, the question I really want to ask is much different and that’s as a person begins the second journey that I hope I’ve started on and starts to recognize that dualistic thinking and challenge that, which I’m doing through meditation and studying and learning. If that leads to changes in your life, which it will, do you have any advice on how you go about working with your loved ones as those changes that you make can have significant impact on your family and loved ones?

Richard Rohr: Well, I’ll try. Again, a very mature question, very humble question. Now I’m using the word a third time, contagion. I think high level responses, faith itself, can not be taught, it’s caught. You catch it almost out of the corner of your eye. When you have people around you who exhibit high level responses, they don’t buy in to the racist joke, they don’t buy in to the too easy job at a politician. You say why didn’t Bill, why did Mary need to do that? Maybe I could do that too.

Richard Rohr: I really do believe spirit is contagious. If you’re a loving man, and you sound like you are, I bet it’s because you’ve had loving people in your life already. I hope starting with your parents or other people in your family or teachers, it rubs off. It’s all rubbing off. You’re already asking the generative question, how do I help other members of my family? I think we’ve learned now that it’s not by preaching to them, not that you were saying that. It’s not by nagging them, critiquing them. It’s by modeling something better. That’s long-haul method. It really is.

Richard Rohr: One of our Franciscan mottoes is this: the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. My father St. Francis didn’t preach. He just lived with joy and freedom and love and it rubbed off on all the people around him. Just keep growing up yourself. Sounds like you’re off to a good start. And let God take it from there. Preaching, especially with the inner circle, with wife or children, it just usually doesn’t work. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s not effective. It just invites pushback.

Matt Stringer: Thank you.

Rand Stagen: I find myself really appreciating you bring St. Francis and the quote at least that we’re familiar with, Father Richard, which is, “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

Richard Rohr: Only when necessary. That’s right. And I feel bad, because I use too many words, but go ahead.

Rand Stagen: We’re going to go to our last question before Scott and I wrap the call and that is to Chris Willis.

Chris Wiliis: First, Matt, thank you for that previous question. Rand, thank you, tremendous gratitude for setting this up. Father Brown, as well, and Father Rohr. My question involves your comments around union. I really had a fullness and strong appreciation when you were talking about union. I think you said it goes from private achievement, private protection, the goal is really union not perfection. That’s when you let go of the ego. Then you talked about right relationship and not being right. That resonates me from a Christian context, but I would also love to hear a little bit more about, because you talked about it for about 15 seconds and I’d love to hear a little bit more as we finish up.

Richard Rohr: Shows you were a good listener, because, if I could say so, that is pretty profound, to recognize that private perfection is not what God is talking about. It’s about connection. Not about being correct, but being connected. My constant experience as a confessor, as a spiritual director, is that people come to divine union precisely through their mistakes. I’d say why didn’t someone tell me that when I was young? Because I was an overachiever young Franciscan too. Because I was an American. That’s the only way we can think is about climbing.

Richard Rohr: It only works for a while. It finally always disappoints you, because you realize a lot of your climbing is pretending and performing. It frankly doesn’t satisfy the soul after a while. The language of the saints and the mystics is much more the language of letting go, of surrender, of allowing. I know it feels like reversing the engines, especially for good businessmen and women, like a lot of you are. But the irony is, and I promise you this to be true, when you can allow that letting go of needing to be right or perfect or correct, actually it’s a paradox. You actually end up being more effective, more productive. But that’s not your reward anymore. It gives you comfort. I’m comforted by the success of some of my books, but that isn’t what I wake up for in the morning.

Richard Rohr: What I wake up for, I live in a little tiny house that I call a hermitage. I light my candle. I sit with my cup of coffee and try to wake up and what I seek satisfaction in is being in union with the moment, which is to be in union with God. They’re the same thing. God is just another word for reality. God is reality with a face. Reality with a personality. We’ve given it that personality. If you’re not in union with the day, the moment, what the day offers, you’ll do it negatively. You’ll do it oppositionally. You’ll do it in an attempt to over assert yourself. Everybody will see it but you.

Richard Rohr: A spiritual teaching is to help you to see it, so you don’t waste too many years on that path.

Chris Wiliis: Thank you very much.

Richard Rohr: I hope it helps. Thank you.

Scott Brown: Thank you, Rand. Because I know Father Richard won’t do it, I’ll make a plug for joining me and the 300000 people every day that get his daily meditation, so go to Center for Action and Contemplation, you can google or search Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, and easily find his daily meditation. It is a gift from God and I’m grateful that God uses Father Richard to feed so many. I would invite you to stay in the conversation through that daily meditation.

Scott Brown: Father Richard, as I was thinking about how we would end it, I thought perhaps the best way is to give you the space and invite you and your tradition to close us with a prayer, to gather up this time together and send us forth with a blessing of courage and purpose into our daily lives as we go forth to lead those that God has called us to lead.

Richard Rohr: Let me say, first of all, thank you for even honoring the notion of prayer. I know in our functional world, our pragmatic world, a lot of people do it with embarrassment or hesitation. Your readiness allows me to offer something spontaneous and I hope true.

Richard Rohr: All merciful one, and I do know you as mercy, that you love the parts of me that I find hard to love, that you let go of what I hold against myself. I bless you, I thank you, I praise you for this moment of life, which I know is total gif. I don’t deserve to be here. I don’t deserve to talk to these many good people that I’ll probably never meet. Thank you for making such connection, such communion, I hope, possible. Whoever you are, I have grown to know your love and I thank you for loving me and for today loving us together. May we all be instruments of this love as it flows through us into this suffering world. We are aware, we hold in our hearts the immense suffering of so many people.

Richard Rohr: We pray therefore in Jesus’ name and in all of the holy names of God. Amen.


Fr. Richard Rohr is a globally recognized ecumenical teacher bearing witness to the universal awakening within Christian mysticism and the Perennial Tradition. He is a Franciscan priest of the New Mexico Province and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fr. Richard’s teaching is grounded in the Franciscan alternative orthodoxy—practices of contemplation and self-emptying, expressing itself in radical compassion, particularly for the socially marginalized.


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