Richard Rohr: The Naked Now. Learning To See As the Mystics See

rr-naked-now

The book is a big disappointment to me. How I was on fire as a teenager for his both books “Der nackte Gott. Pladoyer für ein Christentum aus Fleisch und Blut.” (I don’t know the English title.) and “The Wild Man’s Journey: Reflections on Male Spirituality” How much they did promote my faith. As far as I can remember they contained talks, which Richard Rohr gave in front of real people, face to face. On every page of his books you can feel his passion. His message was new at that time, and breathed new life in a in large parts dusty Christianity. Books, which I sensed as inspiring, and which made hungry for a Christianity from “flesh and blood”.

Unfortunately I hardly can say a lot of positive things about his book “The Naked Now: Learning To See As The Mystics See”. The one star is for the nice design of the book. There the designers did a good job (German Edition). There are a lot of better books to the topic mysticism or spirituality, for example “Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen” or “Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind,- Beginner’s Mind”. Both with a Buddhistic background. If that is too touchy for you as a Christian, the books of Anthony de Mello can be recommended to you. First of all to the topic “Sadhana: A Way to God – Christian Exercises in Eastern Form” and then all other books by him, which contains profound and exhilarant daily stories. Or “Arul M. Arokiasamy (Ama Samy)” whose book “Warum Bodhidharma in den Westen kam oder kann es ein europäisches Zen geben?” (only in German available as far as I know), which was the trigger for me to travel to his meditation center in India. He establishes ties between Zen-Buddhism and Christian Faith. Certainly one author must be mentioned, who perhaps is the basic at least for all contemporary Christian books: The master of mysticism from the Middle Ages: Meister Eckhart.

Well, one may ask, what are all these book recommendations supposed to mean? I mentioned these examples to show how books about spirituality or mysticism also can be. Clear and being written in a comprehensible language. Books which are simple because they have been coming from simple hearts. By male and female authors, whom you believe their mystical experiences, because every line and every word is authentic. Even the amusing stories by Anthony de Mello say more about mysticism by talking in pictures around the matter and so revealing the essence of mysticism as any line of thought of Richard Rohr. For me it’s easier to understand Meister Eckhart than Richard Rohr. Therefore, because he thinks clearer and formulates more precisely. And Meister Eckhart is not only as a “child of the middle ages”, but also because of the topic “mysticism” certainly not easy to understand.

I have read several chapters of Rohr’s book, hoping that eventually something comprehensible were popping up – but negative report. In addition the overlong preface got on my nerves, in which Richard Rohr as in a little biography describes all the influences to his spiritual background. Certainly I don’t want to deny that Richard Rohr by himself made mystical experiences. But a lot seems to be a collection of other male and female mystics. There is the mystic, who is so shocked and deeply impressed by the meeting with God that he hardly can say a clear sentence in the face of the experienced – and therefore rather keeps silent. But Richard Rohr talks and talks.

I wasn’t able to give account of the fogginess of his thoughts and searched for all possible reasons to keep the “myth Richard Rohr” alive for myself: “Of course, maybe the German translation is poor.” But Richard Rohr is translated by his “german voice” Andreas Ebert here too, who has accompanied him since the beginning.

With all the complexity of the book, it seems that Rohr really wants to say something to everything, it is obvious that he frequently only touches the topics and treats them very superficially. And a lot is wrong. E.g. his definition of “wisdom”: “Wisdom is living in the presence”. (back translated from the German translation) Yes it can be, that you experience wisdom in the moment, because you catch a whiff of eternity in the moment, but wisdom also is wisdom of a life, which arose over the years. Wisdom comes from experience, from loving and suffering in and at life. But nothing to read here about that. It would be good for the book, if it were conceived less wide but more deep.

I reckon also as poor, what Rohr writes about prayer. He speaks of “resonance”. Actually no bad idea. How the small self resonates with the big self. But what he is writing here is too little differentiated. God is, besides all experiences of oneness of the human with God, also the big You – and counterpart. Totally dialogic and dialectic. That of course hardly fits in Rohr’s concept of the oneness with God. It would already fit, if you speak of different mental states or different possibilities of experiences in prayer. There is both, I know it by own experience, to feel to be one with God and to know oneself sheltered, then on the other hand an amazement in front of God’s greatness and holiness and the experiencing of grace facing my little human being. Because Christ unites God and me – a small and sinful human – in his person. I and the father are one.

Rohr is using special terms like e.g. “software”, seemingly to speak modern, but which rather sound technocratic and borrowed by the psycho scene, but which simply doesn’t fit to the topic. These terms are puzzling for a Christian, because they are actually used in a totally different context with a different meaning. Thereby you don’t do a favor to the topic, to the reader and also not to the misused terms.

At the end still something, that made me particularly annoyed. Rohr sees himself still as the big reformer of Christianity, who he also was in the above mentioned books. It resonates in every line: I have understood it, you are already not so far. Rohr is far away of the humbleness of a mystic, who has experienced the own limit in the face of God’s greatness, or in face of the universe.

The book ““The Naked Now: Learning To See As The Mystics See””is no help to become a mystic. Therefore not because it leads only into the author’s intricate thoughts and not into freedom. The reader remains intellectually stuck in his head. The heart is not touched. The Zen wisdom that the teaching is passed on “from heart to heart” also applies to the Christian faith. For this book it must be called “from head to head”. However, the head of the reader hardly understands the head of the author. Bummer!