“Most of us assume that the self we’re meant to ‘die to’ is the body self, the sexual self, and the emotional self. We assume that if you just get rid of your body or emotion or sex then we’ll fly towards God. But there’s no evidence for that. In fact, quite the contrary.
“Thomas Merton gave us the language of the true self and false self, instead of the body self and spirit self. It’s not your body self that needs to die, but your false self — your persona, or in Freudian terms your ego, the person you think you need to be, the persona you need to live up to.”
The positive spin on all this talk about death-to-self is that we should, he suggests, passionately, constantly choose God, and union with God. “Prayer is a daily choice to live out of the Great Self, not the small self — the God self, not the you self.”
The act of contemplation helps us to observe the “unobserved” or false self, and by so doing, to gradually detach ourselves from it. But it is not something that comes naturally in our culture. “We are a capitalist society, into accumulation, not detachment,” Fr Rohr says. “That’s why people are attracted to Buddhism. Buddhists have kept their vocabulary and their honesty about the need for detachment up to date, whereas we’re just people who have invested heavily in our own opinions and rightness, with disastrous results.”
The secret to detachment, he suggests, is to learn how to live more fully in “the now, not the past or the future”.
Some people do discover “presence”, he explains, “in love-making, in nature, in the presence of great music. As a spiritual teacher, that would be my whole desire, to say: ‘Don’t just look to the churchy moments.’ If you’re contemplative, you’re going to find these moments everywhere. And once that begins, life is no longer divided into the sacred and the secular: it’s one world.”
Perhaps the main threat to the rise in interest in authentic contemplation is that it becomes just another individualistic pop-spirituality technique, or a therapeutic tool alone.
This is something Fr Rohr is painfully aware of. “In some circles, contemplation is the new trendy thing; but when you draw close to some of these people, you find they have no love for the poor or the outsider. It’s just a new way to feel pious.”
From a 2008 Church Times interview with Fr. Richard Rohr OFM
This interview neatly sums up why I am always so excited about Fr. Richard’s teaching, and why I quote him so often on this blog. If you can, I would urge you to go and hear him at the Third Order sponsored conference this September in London. Oh, I know sometimes there are things in Rohr’s writings that come over, especially out of context, as if he is just another trendy guru of the latest Christian craze, or worse, as if he is just a Christian face for some generalised New Age spirituality. But it really isn’t so. Rohr is a Franciscan through and through, the genuine article, and if you listen to his homilies you will get a sense of how far he is from being a product of his age. As far as the Emerging Church is concerned, it’s much more nearly the case that his age is a product of him!