Richard Rohr on timeless wisdom in Immortal Diamond

RICHARD ROHR inspires you—even if you don’t recognize his name. From his base in the American Southwest, this Franciscan priest has become a master teacher of other famous teachers, including Rob Bell. In fact, Rob wrote the first review praising Richard’s new book, comparing it to “sitting around the tribal fire, listening to the village elder give words to that which we’ve always known to be true, we just didn’t know how.” Richard wants to reach ordinary men and women like you and me. Ask your friends to list writers who have moved them and you’re likely to hear Richard’s name.

THE MESSAGE of his latest book, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self: As is usually the case with Richard’s books, the idea can be conveyed in a single sentence: At the core of each life is true, eternal goodness—and the key to a successful life is opening up that true self so that we can compassionately connect with God’s world. After reading that sentence, dozens of questions spill from our lips: You mean, we’re born good!?! We’re not born evil? We’re not trying to deny the deepest truths about ourselves? We don’t need to fear what’s truly and honestly in our heart? So, how do we find that true self? And, why didn’t anyone tell me this before?

Here’s how Richard puts it himself in Immortal Diamond:

CLICK THE BOOK COVER to visit its Amazon page.I am writing this book for secular seekers and thinkers, believers and nonbelievers alike, and that huge disillusioned group in recovery from religion itself. Surprisingly, these are often more ready to see and honor Mystery than many religious people are. I can no longer wait for, or give false comfort to, the many Christians who are forever “deepening their personal relationship” with a very tiny American Jesus—who looks an awful lot like them. I would much prefer to write for those like Jane Fonda, who said recently, “I feel a presence, a reverence humming within me that was, and is, difficult to articulate.” Well, Jane, we are going to try to articulate and affirm that humming here.

Because far too many religious folks do not seriously pursue this “reverence humming within them,” they do not recognize that something within them needs to be deeply trusted and many things must be allowed to die—not because they are bad, but because they perhaps cannot get them where they want to go. Spirituality tends to be more about unlearning than learning. And when the slag and dross is removed that which evokes reverence is right there waiting!

Many religious people seem to think that God, for some utterly unexplainable reson, loves the human past—usually their own group’s recent past—instead of their present or the future of this creation.

Are you muttering something like: Wow? Or, Amen? Or, hey wait a minute! If not, re-read that italic excerpt from Richard’s book and think, again, about how sweepingly he slices through a lot of what passes for organized religion in America. Perhaps a second reading will prompt the: Wow. Or the: Wait! If this has piqued your interest, then Richard already is inspiring you. Please, read onward to enjoy the new interview in which ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Richard Rohr about Immortal Diamond.

One more important truth about Richard Rohr’s work: While Richard’s aim always is to explain simple truths—much like Frederick Buechner has done over many decades—Rohr (also like Buechner) has great depth within his teaching. In his personal life, Richard enjoys puzzles and Buddhist Koans. His new book’s title, for example, is simple on the face of it: In 2 words “Immortal Diamond” describes the good core of our True Selves. But the 2 words also reference one of the most powerful poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a 19th-century Jesuit poet beloved by spiritual seekers to this day. And, while Rohr does provide a few lines of Hopkins’ famous poem in the opening pages of Immortal Diamondif you locate the entire poem, say, in the volume of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Poems and Prose by Penguin Classics, then you’ll discover the full sweep of Hopkins’ poem, titled: That Nature Is a Haraclitian Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection. And next, you may wonder: So, what was this Heraclitian Fire? And, does it relate to that ancient Greek—Heraclitus? Who was he? Well … then—from a two-word title on the cover of Richard’s new book—you’re off and running through an entire weekend of fascinating spiritual reflection.

Welcome, please, Father Richard Rohr in …


Father Richard Rohr. Coutesy of the author.

DAVID: So far, you’ve written or contributed to more than 30 books. If readers already have a well-stocked shelf of Richard Rohr books—how is this new book unique from the others we’ve enjoyed in recent years?

RICHARD: In many ways, the other books led up to this. Falling Upward was the immediate prequel. All my life, I’ve tried to clarify what’s the Self that has to die—using Jesus language here—and the Self that has to live. This runs through all of my teaching and, now, I have finally put down in writing what has become so clear to me about this over the years.

Here is how this book came to be: I was inspired by all the people in Christian circles who choose some Advent readings before Christmas and some Lenten readings before Easter. But I haven’t found a good set of readings on the period from Easter to Pentecost—resurrection readings. When I presented that idea for a book to Jossey-Bass, they asked: Why don’t you connect that idea to your work on the True Self / False Self? So, this book amounts to a commentary on what Christianity means by resurrection and uses that as a skeleton on which to teach about True Self / False Self.

DAVID: Your writing seems timely as Americans move through an era of lowered expectations. ReadTheSpirit, through the OurValues portion of our online magazine, has reported extensively on issues like the growing wealth gap and the diminished economic expectations for millions of Americans. Your teachings about what truly matters in life seem appropriate for this era in our history.

RICHARD: I’m glad you connect these themes in that way. Yes, this is a time in which so many of us are struggling. We grow up as natural optimists as Americans. My generation of Catholic priests—we were so hopeful as we watched the Vatican II experience. Now, it’s a punch in the belly to see what has happened in the church and the world. Dualistic thinking seems to have taken over the church and our politics to a really neurotic degree. I’m not arguing that my books are the answer for everything that’s wrong in the world, but I do find that a disturbing amount of our liberal-conservative wrangling is still framed in a win-lose, False Self framework. Leading up to the American election in November, we saw a lot of that False Self talking in our public square.


CLICK THE COVER to visit the book’s Amazon page.DAVID: This new book offers a strong salute to the teachings of Matthew Fox, the former Dominican priest who got into great trouble with the Vatican for declaring that men and women are born with an original blessing instead of in “original sin.” You write in your new book, that, in the 1980s, Matthew’s book Original Blessing “was groundbreaking for many Christians, and it well deserves to be. … We are all grateful that it was a Dominican who brought this essential truth forward.”

RICHARD: Yes, I think this is Matt Fox’s great contribution. My saying this may seem ironic, because there was this rivalry between Franciscans and Dominicans centuries ago. The Dominicans represented the more cerebral, perfectionist streak. And we Franciscans were known as the laissez-faire God-is-in-everything folks. The Franciscans supposedly were the let’s-be-jolly and let’s-not-worry-so-much-about-sin folks. So, for Matt, as a Dominican, to have raised this so clearly is very important. That book changed many people’s understanding of our Christian message. I could almost say: Forget about reading all of his other books if you want, but make sure you read Original Blessing. Matt and I have met several times. He wrote me just last year. I am thankful for his writings.

DAVID: A lot of readers will take note of Rob Bell’s strong endorsement of your new book. You know that, in the second half of 2012, Rob hit a few disappointing bumps in his own road. He continues to have a huge following—but nothing came of his high hopes for a new TV series on spiritual themes. And, by the end of the year, that venerable historian of American religion, Martin Marty, took a shot at him, publicly warning Rob that he’d better watch out about becoming too independent. Your thoughts?

RICHARD: Rob and I have emailed back and forth. I had lunch with him. We’ve invited him to be one of the faculty in our school along with Brian McLaren and they both have told me that they’re willing to do that. We don’t want our center to be too Catholic. We want to be open to the evangelical world. Frankly, I regard them as two of the best spokesmen for evangelical Christianity. Some evangelicals may disagree with my saying that. And, I know it’s hard for anyone as talented as Rob is to find his way, but I believe that he has a lot to offer the world.

DAVID: So, let me ask about another figure you’re strongly endorsing. We’ve talked about Matt and Rob. Your choice of prominently quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins is striking—leaping back to the 1800s and to a whole different kind of religious reflection, right?

RICHARD: I think Hopkins still has a lot to teach us today. I find myself digging not only into Hopkins and Heraclitus afresh—but also Aldous Huxley and others.

DAVID: And, in that regard, let me put in a plug to our readers for Don Lattin’s newest book, Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk. I’ve never seen anything quite like this book Don has reported about the spiritual influence of Aldous Huxley, Gerald Heard and Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.


Poet Gerard Manley HopkinsRICHARD: One of the many reasons I’ve loved Hopkins through the years is that I think he clearly understood the Gospel that we come to God by doing wrong, not by doing right. That’s what Bill Wilson understood, too. One of the great perversions of the Gospel is this private obsession with perfection in which we hide our wounds and our dark side. In Hopkins’ poem, he shows us how to appreciate the broken flaw in the human situation and how to see that God has fallen in love with us because of this flaw.

DAVID: I’ll let our readers get your book and explore these deeper themes on their own, but—just to give them a personal hand along that pathway—let me ask: How do you understand the Hopkins poem?

RICHARD: I think the poem is saying that, eventually, we must fall into that utterly broken, wounded character of the human situation. We might call it the tragic sense of life. In my last book, I called that awareness: Falling Upward. If you live your life with any authenticity, then you experience this more and more. You can react to that flaw in the human situation with massive disillusionment—and some people do that. But, if you get to the bottom of it, you can trust in God or Love and you can reach this point of affirming—as Hopkins does—that “I am all at once what Christ is.”

DAVID: I’m hoping that readers going through our interview will be intrigued by these questions, too, so that they will grab your book and begin exploring these central truths.

RICHARD: I do hope that people realize my book is quite optimistic. For Christians reading this book, we might say that the Paschal Mystery shows us that everything changes form. The cycle of life and death is unstoppable, but death always leads to a transformed sense of life. I am speaking in a hopeful way to people who are afraid of death—and who isn’t afraid of death? By the end of the book, I am urging a cynical world to proclaim with the resurrection that love is stronger than death. And I’m not simply coming at this as a priest telling people: Hey, we have to believe this as Christians. I am arguing that this is true throughout the universe. We start in love—and we will end in love. Huxley called this Perennial Philosophy—the idea of central truths that run throughout our spiritual traditions.

DAVID: Another example of this idea was just expressed in an interview we published with Dr. Matthew Lee, the chief researcher in a major university-based study of congregations. In The Heart of Religion, Lee and his team report that millions of churchgoers are experiencing the compassionate love of God, then they are inspired to share that compassionate love with others. This becomes a virtuous loop of more experience with God leading to more sharing with others. Lee and his team have studied Christians, at this point, but their conclusion sounds like a more universal truth.

RICHARD: What you are describing to me amounts to the first and second commandments for Christians: Loving God and loving our neighbor. So simple and yet, think about it: If that flow of love from God to neighbor isn’t flowing in your life, then you’re just playing with junk religion. What you’re describing in this work by Matthew Lee, it seems to me, is certainly moving toward the core of authentic religion.


DAVID: I don’t want to leave readers feeling that you’re pushing toward something exotic here. One of our authors at ReadTheSpirit, Dr. Benjamin Pratt, has enjoyed some of your books and Ben sent me an email describing your work as “pre-Renaissance.” You’re reaching back for earlier truths about our faith, before things became overly complicated in our modern era. Does that make sense?

RICHARD: I think your friend gets it. I think that’s what Perennial Philosophy is all about. I certainly don’t want us all to move back to living like they did in the 13th Century. (laughs) But I am looking for something timeless that keeps recurring. I am reaching back to truths that, from a psychological perspective, some may describe as a collective consciousness. As a Christian, I say it’s the Holy Spirit moving. In the modern tradition, the danger is that we all select our own little piece of what might be the Perennial tradition and we run off and emphasize these individual elements in our own little corners. I want to bring people together, to bring people to truths that, yes, go back a very long way. Despite our flaws and the inevitable cycle of life and death—I am reaffirming: Love is stronger than death.

Care to read more?

GET THE BOOK: Click on the book’s title, Immortal Diamond, or click on the book cover above to visit the book’s Amazon page.

LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW RICHARD INSPIRES PEOPLE: We suggest, today, that you simply ask friends who enjoy spiritual reading—and you’ll likely find stories about Richard’s work. Also today, ReadTheSpirit is publishing a column from the Rev. John Emmert, a semi-retired Episcopal priest in Pennsylvania who is one of Richard’s ordinary readers nationwide.

SHARE AN ANCIENT PRAYER: Richard Rohr helps us share a centuries-old Christian prayer, focusing on the hope for resurrection.

ENJOY OUR EARLIER COVERAGE OF RICHARD ROHR: In 2011, we published a review of Richard’s earlier book, Falling Upward. We also published a joint interview with Brian McLaren and Richard Rohr on the spiritual challenges of aging in America.

SEE RICHARD IN ONE THE MOVIE: Richard appears in one of the most-talked-about feature-length documentaries about spirituality, a movie called simply ONE. In 2012, when the movie ONE was booked to air on Oprah’s TV network, we published several film clips from the film—including a video of Richard.

VISIT HIS WEBSITE: His Center for Action and Contemplation website includes a box on the right-hand side of the opening page where you can sign up for Richard’s free Daily Meditations emails.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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