The Holy Longing: Guidelines for a Christian Spirituality

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Ronald Rolheiser makes sense of what is frequently a misunderstood word: spirituality. In posing the question "What is spirituality?" Father Rolheiser gets quickly to the heart of common difficulties with the subject, and shows through compelling anecdotes and personal examples how to channel that restlessness, that deep desire, into a healthy spirituality.

This book is for those searching to understand what Christian spirituality means and how to apply it to their own lives.  Rolheiser explains the nonnegotiables—the importance of community worship, the imperatives surrounding social action, the centrality of the Incarnation, the sustenance of the spiritual life—and how spirituality necessarily impacts every aspect of human experience.  At the core of this readable, deeply revealing book is an explanation of God and the Church in a world that more often than not doubts the credibility of both.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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

"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 of Milwaukee

"Anyone searching for substance and balance in the Christian spiritual life will welcome the wisdom in Ronald Rolheiser's words.  His writing is at once learned and clear, not only warming the heart, but also giving light to the mind and guidance to feet stumbling amidst the complexities and ambiguities of our age.  He steers clear of the fluffiness and fuzziness clouding today's spirituality superhighway, homing in on the essential elements of a Christian spirituality both sober and sane."
—Michael Downey, Professor of Systematic Theology and Spirituality, St. John's Seminary/Archdiocese of Los Angeles

"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: The Three Passages of the Spiritual Life with Dante as Guide

"He writes clearly and engagingly, his language can at times be lyrical.  He is never sentimental—and all the time he is absolutely grounded in reality."
—Herbert O'Driscoll, author of A Doorway in Time

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.
Library Journal
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385494182
  • Publisher: Crown Religion/Business/Forum
  • Publication date: 7/28/1999
  • Edition description: 1st U.S. Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Ronald Rolheiser, O.M.I., is a specialist in the fields of spirituality and systematic theology. His regular column in the Catholic Herald is featured in newspapers in five different countries. He is the author of the prizewinning The Restless Heart as well as Forgotten Amongst the Lilies, The Shattered Lantern, and An Infinite Horizon. He lives in Canada.

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Read an Excerpt

The Situation

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.


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.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix
PART ONE THE SITUATION What Is Spirituality? 3
The Current Struggle with Christian Spirituality 20
The Nonnegotiable Essentials 45
Christ as the Basis for Christian Spirituality 73
Consequences of the Incarnation for Spirituality 82
A Spirituality of Ecclesiology 111
A Spirituality of the Paschal Mystery 141
A Spirituality of Justice and Peacemaking 167
A Spirituality of Sexuality 192
Sustaining Ourselves in the Spiritual Life 213
Notes 243
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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted November 30, 2010

    Definitely Recommend

    I majored in Religious Studies at a private Catholic university. In my 4 years of study I found this particular book to be the most enjoyable and useful.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    Thought-provoking inspiration

    This book is very helpful if you are looking for a book to explore your spirituality. Every chapter gives you food for thought.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 1, 2007

    Full of Hope

    The book is a little slow in the beginning, but once you get in to it, it is absolutely wonderful. It really gets you to think about things using a different perspective. It offers a good explanation as to why we need church to have real faith. It also provides a good explanation of why face to face confessions are good for our souls. It also explains how if we substantiate God within ourselves, we do not need to hand someone the bible or to preach using words to bring God to others,but we will 'radiate the compassion and love of God,-in our faces and our actions.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 25, 2014

    From the first paragraph of the preface to the final quote by Ju

    From the first paragraph of the preface to the final quote by Julian of Norwich, The Holy Longing was both tender hearted and intellectually stimulating. There was something to underline on 99% of it's 257 pages, and I crammed the margins with notes. 

    (That great line from the preface was a quote from Tielhard de Chardin, who said that most sincere people who lack belief in God lack Him because they have never heard about Him in a correct way.) 

    The Holy Longing compels engaged reading. This book contains the best annotation on The Lord's Prayer that I have ever read, and I love his chapter on participating in the Incarnation. As one person said, half in wonder, half in objection, "It can't be true because it is too good to be true!"

    As Ronald Rolheiser quotes from the Goethe poem in the first chapter, we are troubled guests on a dark earth. That is the state of everyone at one point or another, often over and over again. We are born with longings and desires, some that can be satisfied here and some which never seem to be. You can tell me that you don't have a spirituality, but as a human being you do have a spirit, with those desires and fears and hopes, and you are doing something about it. From Mother Theresa to Janis Joplin to Princess Diana, no human being- Religious or Irreligious- gets away from being spiritual. 
    The question is, in those three women's lives, did their spirituality make them whole or did it help tear them apart?

    This fascinating first part would make great dialogue with any seeker, and once Mr. Rolheiser starts talking about specific Christian spirituality I don't think they would stop reading. He carries us from the general to the particular so gently that we can all make the journey. 

    Once he has laid this framework he applies his winsome, conversational tone to the Church as a body of believers, the Paschal Mystery, and social justice and peace…. among other things. 
    He writes real and he writes with reverence,  just like he explains that the body of Christ contains the delightful and the unpalatable, and we are called to be in communion with both. 
    And I'd recommend this book. Get ready to ask questions. Reading a good book is an experience, and not a passive one. 

    (Just for example, these are some thoughts that this book inspired:  "We live in a grand, detailed, singing world, and it begs us to respond to it. How can we not throw up our arms and embrace the pale blue sky?" 
    "Like Ravi Zacharias asks, are we promised exactly what we want from the prayer vending machine, or are we promised the presence of Christ?" 
    "If Christianity did not revolve around sacrifice, crucifixion, and stigmata all pointing to redemption, then all people in pain, depression, abandonment and illness, all those hospital bound and divorced and dying, they'd know we were lying about Divine and human nature." ) 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    wow good book

    wow good book

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    Posted February 26, 2010

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    Posted February 19, 2010

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