Richard Rohr, Eager to Love; The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2014), 294pp.
One of Henri Nouwen's editors once joked that the Dutch priest kept writing the same book over and over. The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr has written some thirty books, many of which are variations on the same theme. Not long into this book he says as much in a footnote. The idea that "our deepest identity is hidden from us," and that the purpose of authentic religion is to help us recover our true identity in God, is "the core message of this entire book, and really my only message in all of my books" (pp. 66, 276).
In this version of that theme, Rohr returns to his Franciscan roots to help us recapture the "experiential heart of the gospel," its original and primitive "form of life," which stands in stark contrast to spirituality that's little more than theological concepts, religious ritual, and institutional conformity. Authentic spirituality lives on "the edge of the center" rather than at the "conformist center." And so his definition of the slippery word "mysticism." For Rohr, "the word simply means experiential knowledge of spiritual things, as opposed to book knowledge, secondhand knowledge, or even church knowledge."
A perennial question arises at this point: how does the individual relate to the institutional? How do you bottle the lightning of the gospel with all its subversive implications without extinguishing the flame or shattering the bottle? It's an age-old conundrum that many people have observed — nothing much happens without radical revolutionaries like Francis, but nothing lasts without institutions. As Rohr acknowledges, "movements that do not institutionalize do not tend to last" (197). This is as true for the Franciscan movement as it is for your local church. And so thanks to Richard Rohr for challenging us to let go of the old to make room for the new wine of the gospel.