Book Review: On Making Small Differences: A Note of Appreciation to Richard Rohr

by The Rev. John Emmert

Although Richard Rohr is a prolific writer, I must admit I have never read one of his books.  I know him only through his daily blog from the Center for Contemplation and Action.  I no longer remember exactly who brought these daily gems of inspiration to my attention, but they have become anticipated touchstones of theology, thoughtfulness, and thought-provokingness that I would miss more than my morning coffee.

They are short—never more than a brief paragraph or two: an idea, a reminder of a Christian season or celebration, elucidation of a verse or two of scripture, development of a weekly theme.  A few words that set a tone or raise an issue—personal, spiritual, ecclesiastical, vocational, life-style—that more often than not lead to small changes of thinking and living, which accumulate quite significantly.  I cannot count the number of times these inspirational pieces “coincidentally” touch a theme I am pondering with a friend or colleague, and influence our discussion and/or decision and/or action.

They are pithy, but practical.  I’ve tried to think of a general descriptor, but none is quite adequate.  “Where-the-rubber-meets-the-road” theology?  A coincidence of exegesis and praxis?  Where heart-mind-body-and-spirit/Spirit touch?  Where presence and Presence animate one another?

Although Rohr is a Franciscan priest in the Roman Catholic tradition, his writings are catholic, in the broadest understanding of that word as we use it in our shared creeds.  He invites us to join him in the quest for universal Truth to which all religious language points.

They are old—vintage, richly-aged and time-tested, but new and fresh and re-born, with a twist or side-ways glance, that either opens my eyes (or narrows them), as I try to see more clearly, more deeply yet again.  In any case, they function well in inviting a daily attitude adjustment and course correction, especially when navigating rough seas.

They are both personal and corporate.  They regularly cross boundaries between private and public, individual and cultural, I and my neighbor.  They reflect God’s Call to us to be accountable both personally and corporately.  Perhaps this is just a different way of saying they are an invitation to both Contemplation and Action.

 A question: are these blogs particularly challenging, thought-provoking, and useful to clergy?  They certainly are challenging to those of us in the spiritual insight “business”--we who are most involved in and yet often most dismayed by religious institutions, who can be the blindest of guides as we seek, and seek to show the way, to Light.

I have tried to find a niche for Richard—a person I’ve never met, who yet now occupies a place of AnamCara, soul friend, in my life.  I think he reminds me most of Nouwen, e.g., the 7 Dec piece on “Advent: Learning to Receive” remarks on Mary’s “fertility and fruitfulness” in contrast to our culture’s pretentious productiveness, a theme I first heard many years ago from Nouwen.  So, Gordon Cosby, Madeline L’Engle, Elizabeth O’Connor, Eugene Peterson, Jim Wallis,  Steven Charleston—name your own roster of “near” and known questors for Truth and Wisdom.  Thank you, Lord, for such Grace-bearers and sharers; Richard is on my list.

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