A Man
Overboard

 

 

An Interview With Fr. Richard Rohr


Eight Times Blessed

If you’d like to experience your own divine truth, then delve into the life and work of Richard Rohr. You’ll end up discovering more about yourself than him. I suppose that’s the way of the Servant King, and Rohr certainly is one.

He is first and last a humble Franciscan Father of the New Mexico Province. He seems to have that easy going conversational way Don Jones would use talking on his back porch near his lake in Indiana. Rohr knows many men from The ManKind Project who read his works and attend his seminars.

My conversation with this Catholic friar was more like a transcendental confessional than an interview. I’d heard of him, but hadn’t read anything until right before our conversation. Right here I say that studying this man’s prolific writings is a must for men of MKP.

His work with the Enneagram personality system is truly revolutionary. With the help of Andreas Ebert, Rohr has taken this magical tool from ancient Christian and Sufi traditions and applied them to modern mytho-poetic and psychological uses.

“If you know Myers-Briggs [the Jungian based personality typing approach] you’ll see it doesn’t light a candle to the archetypal truth that is involved in the Enneagram,” Rohr told me.

In my experience, it’s true. As Shakespeare would say, it held the mirror of NATURE up to me.

Rohr has been working with the Enneagram for 32 years, so when I had my conversation with him by telephone, he worked me like a piece of dough before it’s bread. And yet, it was with a warmth and kindness from him that was more like a blessing than a work over. He referred to the Enneagram process as a “tool for discernment and a gift of the Spirit which can help transform lives, lead people to God, and release the great giftedness in us.

My friend, John Miller, called me up one day awhile back and told me I just had to read Richard Rohr and that he thought I was probably an eight on the mandala-like circle of personalities. My first inclination is that no one is going to categorize me. Then he read me Rohr’s five declarations of what constitutes an initiated man: "The entire process that we call initiation somehow made it possible for a man to experience these five essential truths. They became the five essential messages of initiation: 1) Life is hard 2) You are not that important. 3) Your life is not about you. 4) You are not in control. 5) You are going to die."

I felt like someone had just hit me in the gut. Breathe.

That was enough to get my attention, so over one weekend I read The Enneagram, Quest For The Grail, and Adam’s Return – all by Rohr. (And all gifted to me by my friend John.) This was enough to put me in a cosmic liminal space that continued into my I-Group where I did a clearing with a man and I heard myself say, “I don’t believe in my King.” I was stunned. Breathless.

I told Rohr about this experience and instead of shaming me he told me that only a mature king can make that statement. Wow, what a paradox. I thought about my mission: to create a blessed world by living in my Sacred King. So, when I gave voice to my shadow’s mission which was to create a world of chaos by NOT believing in my Sacred King (more like believing in a tyrant of narcissistic king) I was better able to see my true mission. How mysterious this work is to me.

Rohr talked about how the archetypal wounded Fisher King is “the supreme way to touch the Sacred King.”

This Catholic man does not utilize the usual religious language in describing the paths of human development. He borrows from all traditions including Judaism, the Sufis, Buddhism, and from the men’s mytho-poetic experience. And yet, Rohr is definitely Christian.

“I’ve often said that if I had a way of naming Christianity, I would name it the way of the wound. We’re the only religion that worships a naked wounded man, a strange god image. I think what Jesus is telling the Christian tribe is that the wound is the way into the soul, into transformation. The act of suffering breaks down the imperial ego so we can ask deeper questions, broader questions, real questions. I would assume that no man can become a True King without having endured or triumphed over some major wounds. I think that’s the real meaning of Christ’s temptation scenes. The Great One has to be wounded at a deep level. Jesus experienced early woundings of constant hostility even before the crucifixion. Before the crucifixion he exercised his grand ego as the Son of God by refusing the temptations in the desert. He faced his need to be special, spectacular, relevant, and the need to fulfill expectations.”

In our talk, Rohr and I both acknowledged Robert Moore’s great work with the temptation of “grandiosity.”

By now Richard Rohr is in Europe where his work has caught hold amongst many of the former communist nations who are seeking after Spirit, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, along with England and Ireland (His books have become very popular over there.) He’ll finish up his trip by teaching in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.

I immediately thought of Jung in Switzerland, and I had to comment that his work seemed to be influence by C.G. Jung (one of my requirements for appreciating an author). He said, “I’m soaked in Jung.

So, Jung’s work with personality typing (I’m an ENTJ) was an important encounter for me many years ago. It began helping me to understand that there was a way to be judgmental (who can stop?) without the inner critic annihilating the subject – you or me. The genius of Jung was that he showed me how to embrace and teach my shadows, and to find the gold in them.

The Enneagram predates Jung by 1500 hundred years, because it originates in the Desert Fathers analysis of the "capital sins" and then was refined for centuries in the Sufi schools of spiritual direction, finally reaching the West through the Jesuits and others.

“I would never have come to many of my insights if I was not relying upon a greater scholarship, or authority, or a greater tradition,” Rohr noted. “With the help of the Enneagram, I am learning how to piece together a greater connection with Spirit.”

Rohr referenced many ancient scholars who worked with this mystical system throughout the ages, particularly Evagrius Ponticus, Blessed Raymond Lull, and Gurjieff. It was a way of teaching wise people how to "read souls" and to be deeply transformed themselves.

I hope you have guessed by now that you don’t have to believe in Christ to “get” Rohr’s insights and increase your own spirituality.

The author said he has brought “contemporary language, psychological awareness, and basic insights I learned from this hidden and lost tradition and made it understandable in Western educated ways.”

This is for everybody, including those with Christian phobias.

Like the NWTA, this “lost tradition” is experiential. It’s personal. It’s self-described. Trust me, you’ll know yourself when you see it. IMJ, men do not initiate men. According to the shamans and poets, men initiate themselves in a secure circle of mature men through the power of NATURE. It’s NATURE that initiates. Rohr is connected to NATURE.

As I read the previews of each personality type, I immediately went to the eight and felt like I was reading words from my own soul. Strumming my soul with the Word. It’s amazing. Indescribable. It was like reading an extended horoscope (if that sort of thing were true) into the shadow and gold of my own hard-wiring. After all the personal work I’ve done, I have definitively concluded that I am predisposed to certain archetypal constellations. Understanding this fundamental truth does not limit me, it assists me in becoming whole.

“The Enneagram number you find is not for the sake of mere self categorization,” Rohr continued, “it is for the enlightenment of the person, by helping them to recognize their own addictive pattern of seeing and thinking, and how to say ‘no’ to it so one can see clearly and not just egocentrically. Most historical religions understood this paradox of the ‘sacred no.’”

Rohr was quick to add that not all “no’s” are sacred in our current culture.

“The current use of ‘no’ is about taking away stuff. Today’s ‘no’ is not in a sacred culture. The true nature of ‘no’ is given with some kind of authority, love and purpose for that person seeking their transformation. It’s never done for control or out of meanness.”

I’m an eight on the Enneagram. That won’t mean anything to you, but it did to me as Rohr began talking to that part of me.

“Eights are fascinated by the masculine and drawn to it,” he told me. “The invitation to eights is mercy. The shadow is that unredeemed eights are merciless toward themselves and others. Because eights are afraid of their ‘soft core’ … among the life tasks of eights is to confront the question of power. Power is not in itself bad: it can become a blessing or a curse. Only the encounter with truth can set them free and enable them to see and accept their own weakness. From this experience they can learn to endure and accept the weakness of other people.”

I asked Rohr about how a man – an eight – can stay in a place of truth. Because, I can’t.

“I think that’s a healthy response,” he assured me. “That’s a response outside of grandiosity.”

Oh, God … maybe there’s hope for me!

“Not being in a constant state of grace is recognizing the power and importance of the ordinary. You don’t have to walk around like a Superman. You can find God in the ordinary. You don’t have to be heroic all the time … heroic can be a distrustful word in many languages. Heroic language so appeals to the young warrior in the first half of life. One has to be careful of it. Wars are appealing to that youthful heroic instinct. Usually, God is not operating in a need to be special or larger than life way. There is great freedom in being ordinary.”

Most religions like fundamentalist Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, and Mormonism are described by Rohr as “externalized” - focusing on external behavior where there’s no room for fault and ultimately no real wounding. So, real transformation of the self is rare.

“Everything pivots around the wounding,” Rohr stated emphatically. “All the dramatic archetypes and heroic images are what the Hebrew prophets called ‘the stumbling stone.’ God will be something you have to trip over. He’s not just a ‘giving’ God. He’s a contradiction. I think that’s the transitional point where you have enough ego structure to let go of the very ego that you’ve built – and to move beyond it. The very self you’ve concocted in the first 35 years is basically what you have to slowly let go of in the second half of life. Jesus says to Peter that “when you were young you dressed yourself, when you’re older someone else will dress you, and lead you where you would rather not go. (John 21:18) It’s a both/and world. You don’t throw out the first half of life; you simply become less attached to it – to the formulations. You’re less dogmatic. It’s a compassion that you see in the old wise man. He deals with the imperfections, the flaws, and the brokenness. This is the language of all the mystics … the nature of the Son of God … you’ve got to go there yourself. It’s not that I am God. I came forth from God, from the place of the divine indwelling. Too many religions are afraid to say we are sons and daughters of God. There’s a great fear or embarrassment. My deepest me is God. Like St. Catherine of Genoa: she ran through the streets of Genoa, Italy saying ‘My deepest me is God! My deepest me is God!’"

And of course, people thought her a quack and a fool.

“At the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) we are moving toward a more mystical Christianity. Too often we’ve been raised in ‘moral’ behavior modes without an inner experience. Once I go into my inner experience, I discover my DNA is divine. That’s the mystical insight. "I am a son of God" is the final realization after every true initiation. People who will fight you will be the Sunday-Go-To-Meeting Christian. They are so eager to prove the distinction between God and humanity that they make the mystical connection impossible. Good ritual and good liturgy reminds us who we already are, and gives an inner experience of the same. The Eucharist, for example, reminds us that we have to just chew on Christ until it dawns on us that we are what we eat. You cannot know that conceptually. It is too much. You can only know it experientially or 'sacramentally.'"

Jung talked about the archetypal “Christ figure” in all of us. Rohr happily acknowledge that.

“People who have not experienced that archetypal ‘Christ figure’ will think you are experiencing it arrogantly or superficially. But that is the one and only job description of all healthy religion, to make one out of two,” he added. “Thus the ancient Christ icons always show him holding up two fingers. 'I am the synthesis. I have put it together', as if to say."

Rohr said he considered himself more of a talker than a writer. This is incredible considering his 19 books and dozens of CDs, cassettes, and videos, including (just to name a few) How Do WE Breathe Under Water? – Spirituality and the 12-Steps, Men Matter: A Quest for the True Self, Beloved Sons Series: Masculine Spirituality, The Male and Female Journeys, The Wild Man’s Journey: Reflections on Male Spirituality, Soul Brothers: Men in the Bible Speak to Men Today, Rebuild the Church – Richard Rohr’s Challenge for the New Millennium, The Path of Descent, and Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (which Rohr said was very Jungian oriented).

“If you’re in the process of individuation [Jung’s word] then you’ll take what the religions are very good at with creating ego structure and containment in the first part of life … limits, order, authority, etc. … all those bad words. That’s just a container, not the content. That’s the second half of life. Move beyond the container, beyond wine skins and get to the wine. Reid, what you’ve told me about yourself sounds like you’re oriented for the second half. You can value structures, including the ego from the first half of your life – it has served you well. I’m 62 and I couldn’t go back to the first half of life. It would drive me crazy. I can value it. It was Catholicism that gave me the criteria and values by which I criticize Catholicism. We don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

So, I confessed a little more to Fr. Rohr. I told him that during my last I-Group experience I also owned my “little terrorist.” (I realize I’m at risk using this word, but in my personal psychological work it was an opening into my own shadow. I promise I don’t blow anything up.)

Here’s where Rohr let me have it.

“The eight is phallic, macho, and likes to use power to humiliate stupid people,” he said. “You revel in using it. And, if you can get some creative control over that energy, you’ll find a freedom and a humility that will bring you great joy.”

Wow. I take a breath, here.

In the midst of the ‘sacred no’s,’ Rohr encouraged me to embrace the ‘yes’ energy that comes from God as a desire to follow Spirit into the maturity of the eight - which is this radical grace called “mercy.”

So, the next time an MKP man yells out “mercy” it’s going to mean a lot more to me. This is my work.

In a spirit of petition, and even as a prayer for you my brothers in the world, I invite you to read a little Rohr and discover your own true meaning with the divine. Visit Richard Rohr’s website for more information: www.cacradicalgrace.org

© 2005 Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.



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