Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Spirituality is about what we do with our unrest... [it] is about what we do with that incurable desire, the madness that comes from the gods, within us." Rolheiser (Restless Heart) contends that the late 20th century is marked by a kind of spiritual restlessness, even though the spiritual landscape is littered with a variety of "spiritualities." He argues that there is richness in such spiritual diversity and plurality, but that many seekers lack direction in their spiritual search. Rolheiser develops a Christian spirituality that he believes offers some definite direction for seekers. At the heart of a healthy Christian spiritual life, he says, there must be four essentials: "private prayer and private morality; social justice; mellowness of heart and spirit; and community as a constitutive element of true worship." At the base of Christian spirituality, he notes, is the Incarnation of God in human flesh. If Christians can focus on the embodied character of their theology, then the four essentials of Christian spirituality become easier to embrace. In the latter half of the book, Rolheiser develops sketches of a spirituality of community (ecclesiology), a spirituality of sexuality and a spirituality of justice and peacemaking. We can sustain ourselves in the spiritual life, he notes, by being a mystic, sinning bravely, gathering ritually around the Word and breaking the bread, and worshipping and serving the right God. Rolheiser's program for Christian spirituality is reminiscent of the best work of Henri Nouwen and Daniel Berrigan. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
This book tries to be a guidebook of sorts for those who have found Christianity less than palatable. Rolheiser, a popular columnist for the Catholic Herald and author of several books (e.g., Against an Infinite Horizon, Crossroad, 1996), teaches the meaning of Christian spirituality and how to apply it. He tackles belief in the Incarnation, community worship, social action, and sustaining spirituality in daily life, using formidable substance, good sense, and compelling anecdotes to reach the everyday person. Though aimed at Christians, Rolheiser's spiritual lessons are stripped to their essentials with sensitivity to various traditions. Public libraries staying current in contemporary spirituality will want to add this title, as will those aiming to keep their shelves stocked with popular religious dialog.--Leroy Hommerding, Citrus Cty. Lib. Syst., Inverness, FL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
“One of the best books on Christian spirituality ever written. I have recommended The Holy Longing to literally dozens of people–from the devout believer to the doubtful seeker–and all have found it a great help in moving closer to God. Rolheiser's introduction to the spiritual life is accessible, inviting, useful, insightful and wise. And his chapter on sexuality is one of the best essays I've read on the topic–anywhere.”
– James Martin, SJ, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything
“A master weaver is at work here–I found my soul on every page. At last we have a guide who helps us know what to do with the fire of desire within us. At last a comprehensive, life-giving approach to sexuality. At last a dynamic understanding of how the paschal mystery plays in our own lives. At last a way to weave love for the poor and struggling people with the highest mystical love of God...I love this book.”
–Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking
“Rolheiser dares to ask the hard questions but they are our questions–the deep ones we are slow to let surface. Then he dares to answer them with clear answers delivered in simple, straightforward language. But he doesn't corner us with his clarity. He lets us look at different spiritualities, even a spirituality of sexuality. This is a book that engenders hope because it shows there are paths for each one of us.”
–Rev. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O.
“Spiritual books abound but few hit the mark. Ronald Rolheiser's latest book is one of the few. Sound good sense and insight are combined with genuine sympathy and understanding for the majority of us who struggle spiritually.”
–Alban McCoy, The Tablet
“Spirituality is often given a bad name because it can mask a damaging sentimentality. The Holy Longing is a bracing alternative to religious posturing. Truly incarnational, Ronald Rolheiser grounds his vision of the spiritual life in hard real-life experiences and tells tough truths. In the end, it is the hard truths of compassion, forgiveness, and action in the world, that give us a true and lasting hope. A much needed antidote to the consumerist view of religion, this book is both a delight and a challenge to read.”
–Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral and author of The Soul's Journey
“He writes clearly and engagingly, his language can at times be lyrical. He is never sentimentaland all the time he is absolutely grounded in reality.”
–Herbert O'Driscoll, author of A Doorway in Time
“Without doubt, Ronald Rolheiser's The Holy Longing is one of the best books about Christian spirituality that has been published in many a year. Its insights are just what all of us need at this moment of history. It blends the old and the new in ways that few other authors can do.”
–Most Reverend Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., Archbishop Emeritus of Milwaukee
Read an Excerpt
Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
Because the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.
In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you
when you see the silent candle burning.
Now you are no longer caught
in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making
sweeps you upward.
Distance does not make you falter,
now, arriving in magic, flying,
and finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.
And so long as you haven't experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.
--JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE, "The Holy Longing"1
What Is Spirituality?
"We are fired into life with a madness that comes from the gods and which would have us believe that we can have a great love, perpetuate our own seed, and contemplate the divine."2
Desire, Our Fundamental Dis-Ease
It is no easy task to walk this earth and find peace. Inside of us, it would seem, something is at odds with the very rhythm of things and we are forever restless, dissatisfied, frustrated, and aching. We are so overcharged with desire that it is hard to come to simple rest. Desire is always stronger than satisfaction.
Put more simply, there is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace. This desire lies at the center of our lives, in the marrow of our bones, and in the deep recesses of the soul. We are not easeful human beings who occasionally get restless, serene persons who once in a while are obsessed by desire. The reverse is true. We are driven persons, forever obsessed, congenitally dis-eased, living lives, as Thoreau once suggested, of quiet desperation, only occasionally experiencing peace. Desire is the straw that stirs the drink.
At the heart of all great literature, poetry, art, philosophy, psychology, and religion lies the naming and analyzing of this desire. Thus, the diary of Anne Frank haunts us, as do the journals of Thérèse of Lisieux and Etty Hillesum. Desire intrigues us, stirs the soul. We love stories about desire--tales of love, sex, wanderlust, haunting nostalgia, boundless ambition, and tragic loss. Many of the great secular thinkers of our time have made this fire, this force that so haunts us, the centerpiece of their thinking.
Sigmund Freud, for example, talks about a fire without a focus that burns at the center of our lives and pushes us out in a relentless and unquenchable pursuit of pleasure. For Freud, everyone is hopelessly overcharged for life. Karl Jung talks about deep, unalterable, archetypal energies which structure our very souls and imperialistically demand our every attention. Energy, Jung warns, is not friendly. Every time we are too restless to sleep at night we understand something of what he is saying. Doris Lessing speaks of a certain voltage within us, a thousand volts of energy for love, sex, hatred, art, politics. James Hillman speaks of a blue fire within us and of being so haunted and obsessed by daimons from beyond that neither nature nor nurture, but daimons, restless demanding spirits from beyond, are really the determinative factors in our behavior. Both women's and men's groups are constantly speaking of a certain wild energy that we need to access and understand more fully. Thus, women's groups talk about the importance of running with wolves and men's groups speak of wild men's journeys and of having fire in the belly. New Age gurus chart the movement of the planets and ask us to get ourselves under the correct planets or we will have no peace.
Whatever the expression, everyone is ultimately talking about the same thing--an unquenchable fire, a restlessness, a longing, a disquiet, a hunger, a loneliness, a gnawing nostalgia, a wildness that cannot be tamed, a congenital all-embracing ache that lies at the center of human experience and is the ultimate force that drives everything else. This dis-ease is universal. Desire gives no exemptions.
It does however admit of different moods and faces. Sometimes it hits us as pain--dissatisfaction, frustration, and aching. At other times its grip is not felt as painful at all, but as a deep energy, as something beautiful, as an inexorable pull, more important than anything else inside us, toward love, beauty, creativity, and a future beyond our limited present. Desire can show itself as aching pain or delicious hope.
Spirituality is, ultimately, about what we do with that desire. What we do with our longings, both in terms of handling the pain and the hope they bring us, that is our spirituality. Thus, when Plato says that we are on fire because our souls come from beyond and that beyond is, through the longing and hope that its fire creates in us, trying to draw us back toward itself, he is laying out the broad outlines for a spirituality. Likewise for Augustine, when he says: "You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."3 Spirituality is about what we do with our unrest. All of this, however, needs further explanation.
From the Hardcover edition.