Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Journey with Ronald Rolheiser

 Father Ronald Rolheiser is a well-known Catholic writer on spirituality who wrote a book titled The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. The book really made more sense to me that many books on spirituality I had read. I started buying all his other books, but kept coming back to The Holy Longing for more inspiration.

I used the chapter called “A Spirituality of Sexuality” in mentoring several couples for getting married. I used the chapter called “A Spirituality of Justice and Peacemaking” as required reading for my cross-cultural groups. I took many quotes from the book to share in a course I teach at EMU called dealing with suffering and loss. To say that I was influenced by his writing would be an understatement.

But the way it most influenced my thinking had to deal with his “four nonnegotiable essentials of a healthy spirituality” outlined in chapter three of his book. The four are: 1) Private prayer and private morality. This has to do with our relationship with God, and deals with deeper contemplative prayer forms than “now I lay me down to sleep” before going to bed. 2) Social justice. This deals with our relationship to the poor and marginalized. 3) Mellowness of heart and spirit. This looks at how legalistic and uptight we become in our religious practices and helps us to avoid such uptightness. Finally, 4) Association with a community of faith for true worship and communion.

Few Christians would argue about the relationship to God or meeting for worship in a community of faith, but social justice would cause a few to doubt Rolheiser’s definition of an essential of a healthy spirituality. I buy wholeheartedly these three essentials, but was caught up short by “mellowness of heart and spirit.” Nowhere in my study of Christian spirituality had I come across this concept. I decided it was worthy of further development and decided to write a book on the concept.

I wrote to Father Ron from an email address on his website. I was hoping that he would endorse my project and get one of his publishers to consider the concept since my work was to be based on his ideas. I never heard directly from him, but his assistant answered every email and was very courteous. According to her, he was very supportive of the idea, and even suggested books for me that had influenced his own thoughts on the idea of mellowness. He also said he wanted to read my book when it was published.

I received the name of an agent with whom he worked, but after an initial expression of interest, never received anything back from that agent in spite of several attempts at opening communication again.

In the meantime, I cajoled my sister into writing the book with me. After writing an introduction and several chapters, we set out on our own to seek a publisher. To our great delight, Herald Press, the publisher for Mennonite Church USA and Canada, agreed to publish it.

Herald Press contacted Rolheiser to do an endorsement of the book for us since we had borrowed so heavily from his ideas and quoted him a lot. He graciously declined stating the amount of such requests he receives and his limited time. Quite understandable.

So the book is now published with the title The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening. I asked Herald Press if they wouldn’t send Rolheiser a copy of the book since we based our book one of his basic ideas. They agreed.

Imagine my delight when today I received a personal letter in the mail signed by him. “Thank you for writing this and developing the concept of a ‘spacious heart,’” he wrote in his letter. “I much enjoyed the book.” In addition he wrote, “thank you for your wonderful insight and balance.”

I must confess, that after reading so many of his books, and admiring his view of spirituality, to receive these complimentary words from him made me more than a little proud.  

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