The fundamentals of Christian spirituality lie in the triune God that is the center of Christian faith. In Ronald Rolheiser’s book, The Holy Longing, he strives to give the reader a deeper understanding of and ability to practice this Christian spirituality and its different dimensions within the reader’s life. It is the way he does this, piece by piece, without making any assumptions about any aspect of spirituality that makes his book an effective tool for spiritual growth.
As many people often look at their lives, they will often question their spirituality and level of faith. While the insightful and spiritual pondering is, no doubt, a good thing, many people do not get very far in this mode of deliberating. The reason that the deliberation is to no avail is not because the person is not trying nor is it because they are not smart enough to identify and deal with problems. Simply many people cannot accurately identify what exactly spirituality is. Certainly if one is to ask a group of people what spirituality is, a preponderance of them are not going to be able to answer the question and will stumble over their own words with no intelligible remarks said.
Rolheiser differs from these people, the first thing he does in this book is to define what exactly spirituality is and then further get into application of the defined spirituality. “There is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace. (Rolheiser, p.3)” This fire, which is desire in its many forms as Rolheiser explains, pushes people toward all things that are tempting. Spirituality then is how this fire is kept under control and at bay. If our “urgent longings, or Eros (p.7)” are heading in positive, single direction, we are then, according to Rolheiser saints because we are masters of our spirituality. It is the desire to experience all things and the inability to make the difficult sacrifices that have people incapable of channeling Eros therefore acting in a manner that is away from what is seen as moral.
Now able to identify what spirituality is, how then can a person channel his Eros and use his spirituality in a manner that positively affects others? Well, to identify a cure, one has to first identify the problems. The first major problem that Rolheiser identifies is the unwillingness of people to hand over their trust and faith into the hands of God. There is an intrinsic desire among people to want to control every aspect of their own lives, but there has to be a presence, at least in the souls of those who seek salvation, of humility and serenity to let God help sort through the most difficult of problems. The other problems that he identified are some that directly relate to the inability of most to channel Eros. Rolheiser seems to be going in a circle at this point because the problems identified deal with the basic question, but he quickly steps out of this circle and lays a foundation to begin problem solving.
Placing the beginning of challenging the struggles faced in human life, he puts spirituality on four pillars, the “nonnegotiable essentials of a Christian spirituality. (p.53)” If one has all four of these pillars standing tall and strong, he will, according to Rolheiser, be able to deal with his spiritual problems in a manner prudent and swift. The four pillars that he identifies, coming from Jesus are “Private prayer and private morality, social justice, mellowness of heart and spirit, and community as a constitutive element of true worship. (p.55)”
The goal of private prayer and private morality is to create a personal relationship with God by keeping the commandments to keep Christianity from becoming “a philosophy, an ideology, and a moral code. (p.63)” Without this living this pillar Rolheiser argues, a person will not be in a situation where he can live fully and passionately because of a lack of personal understanding about one’s place in this world and with God. This is plagerized. Having little or no understanding, this person would feel useless and hopeless about salvation because he would feel his place in creation is completely separate from God, not in some form of unity with Him.
Social justice, the author says is just as important as prayer and morality. The responsibility that a Christian has to his community and those who are less fortunate is an integral part of faith in general. According to Christ, it is how one treats the poor that will be the determining factor as to salvation. The need to help those with less not only has an effect on life here on earth but also the afterlife. This selflessness as Rolheiser is quick to point out, is a necessary in the community of the church where selfishness is often taught against. The common thought is that people are not on this earth to serve themselves, rather to serve God and others. As a vital part of the church’s and Jesus’ teaching, this pillar is vital to spirituality as well.
Doing the right thing for the right reasons is at the base of the next pillar, mellowness of heart and spirit. If a person is doing the right thing, say serving the poor, for the wrong reason, like to look good for one’s company; his action has no real value because of the false nature. The nature of true salvation is having a private relationship with God while serving him and his people with a faithful heart.
“How we relate to each other is just as important religiously as how we relate to God. (p.68)” This line sums up the final pillar of essential Christian spirituality, community as a constitutive element of true worship. We have to be a part of church and an active member of society in order to be a true member of God’s community. If one is to live in a bubble with no contact with the outside world yet he prays and gives money to the poor with a good heart, the society and community does not gain from his presence. To be an active participating member of society and prepare and better the community for the next generation, this person will be in greater standing with God because of the lasting positive effect that he will have on the world.
To take these four pillars and use them as a basis for every action and as a building block for character, one is going to be a person of high spiritual morality, thus being a member of God’s community and a part of his economy of salvation. To take these pillars into one’s life is where the real difficulty comes in because the genuineness they command and the taxing steps they entail.