Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Holy Longing: Spirituality Needs Community

(Reflections on THE HOLY LONGING: The Search for Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser. New York: Doubleday, 1999.)

Ten years after I first read this book, I can attest to its staying power. Early on, Rolheiser tells of a frightened little girl, dissatisfied with reassurance that"God is with you." The girl needs "someone with skin on!" Rolheiser impressed upon me that I and every member of the church serve as Jesus, his spirit "with skin." We are the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27), he writes, and this is "no metaphor" (249).

Likewise, as part of the body, I have no choice but to be involved, whatever I may think of certain aspects of the institutional church or fellow parishioners.  Ecclesia (translated "church") he says, means being "called out," or "roped into service" the way a bystander becomes involved when there's an accident. He cites the notorious Genovese murder which neighbors witnessed, each assuming that someone else would do something to stop the perpetrator (122).

Rolheiser begins and ends his book with discussions of eros, a Greek word that has come to be associated in our culture with "genitality."  In Rolheiser's world, "sexuality" includes the pride and pleasure of a grandfather in seeing his grandchild -- what we might call a broad view of the term.  In his final chapters, Rolheiser cites the root of the word "sex" ("secare," to separate) to show that sexual desire is just one aspect of the "holy longing" to be part of God and part of others' lives. Augustine, that recovering libertine, had the same insight:  "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in You" (5).

Rolheiser emphasizes another Greek word, sarx, used by Jesus at the institution of eucharist -- "unless you eat of my body, you shall not have life within you."  The word suggests all the unpleasantness that we associate with bodies, unlike the word "soma" which conjures a Platonic perfect body in the abstract.  For Rolheiser, this means that Jesus demands that we partake of the bad with the good, or fail to be Christ's followers .

He aims to give us a "spirituality," but he eschews the popular notion that "spirituality" is some private, personal communing with the divine.  It's ministering to others, preparing others for death (as the woman anoints Jesus for death p. 134), and working alongside others for justice that consitutes true spirituality.  

His bottom line is that "spirituality" is meaningless apart from from "organized religion."

Of related interest:  My reflections on Rolheiser's Sacred Fire.

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