There are some people I would make every effort to hear if they were in my area of the USA. Richard Rohr is one of those folks. And some people write things that I want to read---whether it is a new book, an article or a blog. Again, Richard Rohr is one of those people. Rohr is a Franciscan who lives in Albuquerque and runs a Center for Action and Contemplation. I have met him, but we are not friends. I have many of his books and I like to read his daily blog.
In a recent blog he talked about human development. Of course for him, human development includes spiritual development. Rohr would not consider someone fully human unless that person were also fully developed spiritually. The blog was aptly called, “Growing into Belonging.” Suffice it to say here, no one is fully human and spiritual all by himself or herself. The end game is unity, not individuality. Let’s use a couple of his thoughts to develop this idea.
When I read Rohr, I move along through the text fairly quickly. I have read enough to have a sense of where he is going. But inevitably, I will run across a sentence or an idea that arrests me. My reading slams to a stop and I ponder the gem I just read. I hit one of those sentences in this blog and I share that as our jumping off point. Rohr comments, “Many who are judgmental and unforgiving seem to have missed out on the joy and clarity of the first childhood simplicity, perhaps avoided the suffering of the mid-life complexity, and thus lost the great freedom and magnanimity of the second simplicity as well.” This kind of sentence describes my experiences so well, I have to declare it true in a deep sense.
Every one of us has known some people who are judgmental and unforgiving. To be honest, there are times when I am sure I have been just such a person! To develop humanly and spiritually means we don’t have to get stuck in this place of judgmentalism. Rohr offers an answer that I would like to pursue.
Rohr suggests that these types of people missed out on the joy and clarity of first childhood simplicity. I have had my own kids and now I am watching some grandkids grow into being little people. I do think children desire a kind of simplicity. This extends from taking things literally---like Santa Claus to believing their little animals are real. Life is simple and with that comes a clarity and joy. It makes perfect sense.
Obviously, there are also children who parents have troubles or whose circumstances make life difficult. These children are deprived of the simplicity that enables healthy nurturing and development. We all know that life gets complex and complicated soon enough. Often we do it to our own kids by pushing them too hard in school, etc. “Let kids be kids,” we often hear. There is some truth to that.
The other observation Rohr makes about people who are judgmental and unforgiving is their luck to have avoided the suffering that do come to most of us---by middle age, if not sooner. While suffering is never desirable, it can be a teacher and molder of character. While I might be fortunate if I can avoid this kind of suffering, perhaps I will be deprived of the kind of developmental process that eventually makes me a suitable citizen of God’s kingdom. When confronted by suffering, I don’t want it and I don’t want to miss its lessons! Rohr calls this a kind of irony.
Rohr states, “The great irony is that we must go through a lot of complexity and disorder (another word for necessary suffering) to return to the second simplicity.” I don’t think I know this second simplicity, but I do think I have hints of it. I am old enough, but perhaps I have not yet suffered enough! Again, I am not sure it makes sense to volunteer for suffering, but you can be ready for it when it comes your way. And you can choose the route of compassion, which means you are willing to suffer with others who are mired in their own suffering. People like Mother Teresa committed her whole life to this compassionate being-with.
The second simplicity is like the first simplicity, except it has been honed and steeped in the suffering. To go through this experience brings us ultimately to a free and magnanimous place, as Rohr states. These are the older, wise ones who seem to have it all figured out. Of course, they may not have all the answers, but they do have an “ease and peace” about them.
The second simplicity is people are free. They are free of the attachments and bondages that still stifle those of us on the way. They become big-hearted people---indeed, willing to give away their hearts. They are a delight and a light to the world. I am not there; but if I can keep growing, I can more closely approximate a second simplicity kind of person.