Every time I read or hear Richard Rohr, I connect with something he says. I appreciate his witness and his words. Rohr is a Franciscan priest who founded and headed up the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM a few years ago. I am sure part of why I like what Rohr is doing is the fact that he is basically the same age I am. Although he grew up in a rather pious Catholic home in Kansas and I in a less than pious Quaker home in Indiana, we nevertheless have a good bit in common.
I still use a couple of his books in classes I teach, so periodically I have a chance to reread some of my favorite lines. However, it is also true that rereading a book always seems to lift up something you know you read the first time, but somehow it did not catch your attention in that first read. That just happened to me when I turned to a chapter in his book, Everything Belongs.
I landed on a page that deals with hope. I know I read this once, but I don’t recall that it made any impression on me. This time, however, the words jumped out at me. Let me share a few lines with you. Rohr feels like our contemporary world has to a large degree lost its sense of direction and meaning. He says, “Our cosmic egg of meaning has fallen apart. My generation is still reacting way too much.” I would have to agree. When I see things around me, I do think too many of us---maybe especially those of us who are older---are reacting.
Rohr does not despair, which is always the temptation when folks think things have gone wrong. I like his observation, which is really a nascent form of hope. Rohr says, “Maybe the next generation will learn how to put it together. It certainly seems to be a difficult time to live, especially for younger people.” Again, I have to agree. Of course, there are those who come from wealth who have significant advantages. But we also know our times see more and more people living with parents long after most of us moved out and moved on. What can be said about our times?
I like how Rohr puts it in the context of “reconstruction.” When he uses this language, I think he is talking about reconstructing our world with a sense of meaning and purpose. In spiritual language it is a form of kingdom building in this world and in this life. I want to be involved in this world. In this work we can join people of all ages.
Rohr comments on it in a challenging manner. “Our major concern, as we talk about reconstruction, is our passion for children. We must believe in such a way that we give hope and meaning to the next generation.” That entire last sentence is in italics, which clearly means that Rohr wants us to take it seriously. I know he wants to take this to heart. It is important that we pick this apart in order to understand it completely.
I understand having passion for children. I had it for my two girls and I have it for grandkids. Passion means they have your whole heart. Your heart burns to do well by them. I have passion for the young ones who are students in my class and students I know at the University. My heart burns for them too. Can I extend it even wider? Can I have passion for all the young people in my community? Is there any way I and we can take it countrywide? I am not sure my heart is that big, but it is not too late to grow it.
It would take a book to detail what all this might mean. I would simply like to use one more sentence from Rohr to indicate what the commitment looks like. I know he sees this as a spiritual task. Rohr says, “If those of us in my generation do nothing more with the rest of our lives than so live that we give hope and meaning to the next generation, we will have accomplished a great deal. That’s what our lives are for: to hand on the mystery to those who are coming after us, which means that we have to appropriate the mystery ourselves.”
I know the work is spiritual when Rohr uses the language of “mystery.” Mystery is tied up with God. At the deepest level, God is mystery. All theology is a human attempt to talk about and describe the mystery that is God. We gain a sense of hope when we grasp a sense of Mystery’s presence---creative and caring presence. This is spiritual work. And when that work bears fruit, then we have hope.
To give hope and meaning to the next generation is to suggest we have to come to know the spiritual center of life and, indeed, the universe. We have to connect with and communicate that spiritual center in such a way that hope is engendered in the hearts and souls of all of us---especially the young ones. Ultimate answers do not lay with materialism or technology---although that may be useful. Ultimately, meaning and purpose are found when we find our center and in that discovery find the Center Itself.
It is from this center that we are able to give hope. I would like to dedicate every day that I have yet to live to this job: giving hope.