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On this episode of Unlocking Us

I flew to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to spend the day with Father Richard Rohr. We laughed, I cried a little, we laughed some more, and I told him why his work pisses me off sometimes. He thoroughly delighted in that last part. In Part 1 of this special two-part series recorded at the Center for Action and Contemplation, we focus on his writing in Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps and just a few of the quotes — on spirituality, suffering, gratitude, and grace — that have changed and rearranged me over the years.

About the guest

Father Richard Rohr

A Franciscan friar and ecumenical teacher, Father Richard Rohr bears witness to the deep wisdom of Christian mysticism and traditions of action and contemplation. The founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Father Richard teaches how God’s grace guides us to our birthright as beings made of Divine Love. He is the author of numerous books, including The Universal Christ, The Wisdom Pattern, Just This, and Falling Upward.

Show notes

Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, by Richard Rohr

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, by Richard Rohr

Spirituality, Certitude, and Infinite Love, Part 1 of 2Unlocking Us podcast episode with Father Richard Rohr

Spirituality, Certitude, and Infinite Love, Part 2 of 2Unlocking Us podcast episode with Father Richard Rohr


Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown and this is Unlocking Us. Today, I am talking to someone who has really shaped and blessed my life in profound ways, Father Richard Rohr. This is Part 1 of a two-part special. I actually flew to Albuquerque and met with Father Richard at the Center for Action and Contemplation. It was an incredible trip, just a beautiful space holding beautiful ideas and beautiful people. I don’t know what else to say. We had Richard on earlier this year talking about infinite love and we’re going to dig into some of my quotes from a couple of my favorite books. And we’re going to talk about, I guess, the things that are really matter the most. I’m glad you’re here.

BB: Before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about Father Richard. He is a Franciscan friar and teacher, an internationally recognized author and spiritual leader. He teaches primarily on incarnational mysticism, non-dual consciousness, and contemplation, with a particular emphasis on how these affect the social justice issues of our time. He is the author of, I don’t know, 60 books and he has been a huge influence on my life. I wanted to connect with him about his writings and ask him about a number of my favorite quotes and so in this episode we focus on his writing in… Ah! This book is so dang good, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps.

BB: Then we talk about the cult of innocence, permission to make up prayers, [chuckle] a little bit on living as an Enneagram one, which I don’t think I realized he was, but I am, the thing that made me so mad at church that I had to leave. And unrelenting and humiliating grace. I’m glad you’re here. Father Richard.

Richard Rohr: Yes, good day.

BB: Good day. I’m so… I can’t even tell you what it feels like to be with you here.

RR: Really?

BB: Yes.

RR: That’s so humbling. Thank you. Brené is here at our Center in Albuquerque.

BB: It feels special here. It does.

RR: Well, it is. We have good people and good places. We have three facilities on this one street so people from the neighborhood call it Vatican City along here.


RR: And the Franciscan church is on the corner, and my little hermitage is behind that, so everything’s in this one mile long road. Isn’t that interesting?

BB: That’s a special mile.

RR: Well, it is. In fact, one of the people who worked for the city said, “This neighborhood… ” and it’s the poorer part of town as you can tell, but, “has the lowest crime rate of the whole city of Albuquerque,” and he attributed it to us. I don’t know if that’s true. I doubt if it’s true, but it wasn’t that a loving thing to say?

BB: And your tree.

RR: The beautiful tree.

BB: Wow!

RR: Yes.

BB: I don’t know what I expected. I’ve been reading about the Center for so long and I didn’t know what it would look like but I thought I knew what it would feel like and it feels like what I thought it would feel like.

RR: Oh, that’s good to hear.

BB: Yeah.

RR: That’s right, it is talked about in a number of books. People have had great experiences there. And it’s like the work of art. We have a lot of art around the place that’s sent to us, but this one was here already and gathered us, I think.

BB: It gathered us.

RR: Yes, yes.

BB: And now it’s gathered me. [chuckle] I was ripe for the gathering, I was ready.

RR: We’re glad of that. Very glad, thank you.

BB: Well, we’re going to do a two-parter that you’ve generously agreed to do, and the first part is the two books, I think all of your books, have had messages for me that… I told you this before we started, changed me and really made me angry. And then they made me angry, then they changed me. Is that how it works sometimes?

RR: Oh, God. That’s beautiful. Because that’s true, that’s the way it works. Yeah, go ahead. I want to hear.

BB: Okay, so the first book is, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. So, I’ve been sober 26 years.

RR: No kidding?

BB: Yeah. And this has been a big book in my life.

RR: Did you have it already at the beginning or no?

BB: No.

RR: No.

BB: I didn’t have it in the beginning, but I had it the week it came out.

RR: Really?

BB: Yeah.

RR: The tapes or the book? The book.

BB: I think it must have been the tapes because I think I listened to it in my car first.

RR: Yeah, they came out first.

BB: Yeah.

RR: That’s right, and it was only in later years that I made it into a book. Wow.

BB: Yeah, so…

RR: Well, thank you for your trust.

BB: So, I want to start with, I’ve grabbed four or five quotes. The first one is several sentences long, so I thought we’d break it up and the first thing I want to talk about is this quote. “When religion does not move people to the mystical or the non-dual level of consciousness, it is more a part of the problem than the solution whatsoever. It solidifies angers, creates enemies, and is almost always exclusionary of the most recent definition of sinner. At this level, it is largely incapable of its supreme task of healing, reconciling, forgiving, and peacemaking.” Whoa.

RR: I know. What good day did I say that on? That says a lot in one paragraph because, forgive me, but it’s true. It’s really true. If you don’t come to the contemplative, mystical, non-dual mind, Christianity ends up being more a part of the problem. I hate to be so critical of my own religion, but I think the recent years have proven it. The amount of Christians who are racist or misogynistic or greedy. We’re not really transforming people in the modern age. I think we did at one time in culture, but now, it’s an accoutrement for our superiority, our saved-ness, or…

BB: I reread it before this podcast, and I wonder sometimes, I think about my church and other churches, I wonder if the people who run churches gather and say, “Don’t forget everybody. Our supreme task is healing.”

RR: Yes.

BB: Do you think that’s happening at churches around the world?

RR: No, at least not in the Northern Hemisphere. You’ll find little churches in Africa and South America where the majority are such suffering people that the message can’t be avoided. It’s everywhere. But we can avoid it here. We’ve created what I’ve been calling lately, and I’ll try to explain this sometime in our talk, a cult of innocence.

BB: What does that mean?

RR: I know. That I think a lot of people become Christian or remain Christian to prove that they’re right, to prove that they’re innocent, they’re good, they’re holy. It doesn’t create a flexible personality that is ready to change, which is the first words Jesus used. It’s translated, “Repent,” which of itself is a terrible translation, because the word repent connotes nothing like the word change.

BB: No.

RR: Really doesn’t. So, this cult of innocence, you see it in the quick need a lot of Christians have to blame other people. I mean, just listen to the news or interview people, it’s always, “Well, the Jews did that to us or the Blacks did that to us, or… ” It’s always scapegoating, projecting our evil elsewhere so I can be deemed innocent, I can be deemed saved. It’s a tragic place we’ve got ourselves into. I don’t think it was always this way, but the postmodern mind, which created critical thinking, Christians decided not to buy into that.


RR: They did. “We don’t need critical thinking, it’s what we Catholics call it, ‘The Protestant Instinct,’ to protest everything.” It’s an anti-stance. Now, it doesn’t have to be, but it often is. And until you get beyond the anti-stance of, “I’m here to change other people, to get other people to join my club,” I don’t think you’ve got true religion in even close. It’s just a belonging system that tells me I’m right.

BB: That’s seductive, though. Isn’t it?

RR: Oh, it is.

BB: To the ego, especially, right?

RR: And they only gained the self-confidence to talk that way. I mean, what, I’ve been a priest 52 years now. By observing, just observe the patterns, here and in so many other countries. You said something I didn’t respond to, what’d you say?

BB: That it’s seductive to the ego?

RR: Seductive to the ego, that’s it. See, we never… Mainline Christianity didn’t really attack the ego, it attacked the shadow and we learned how to hide our shadow. I mean, that’s the name of the game.

BB: That’s the name of the game.

RR: It’s hide it, hide it, hide it. That’s what I mean. It’s a cult of innocence. Now, when you spend all your time fighting the shadow instead of the ego, you end up with people who can live in high levels of illusion. I mean, let’s use a dramatic symbol. A religion that can justify slavery is so far from anything Jesus talked about, but that a large percentage could buy it. “Yeah, this is what Jesus expected.” I was just reading this morning letters that freed slaves sent to their former masters and oh, they just make you weep. But they weren’t vengeful letters, they were just, “Why did you do this? Why did you treat my little daughter, my little boy, my husband this way?” And when you read it, you say, “It was once that real for people.”

BB: Yeah.

RR: Oh, God. And then we’re dealing with the leftovers of it in our racist culture.

BB: Every day. Yeah, every day.

RR: But we’ve refused to call it racism. It’s something else.

BB: And a lot of white churches are doubling down.

RR: You’re absolutely right. It’s just hard to believe.

BB: I mean, especially when I think about this, like, could you imagine going to a church that where the task was healing, reconciling, forgiving, and peacemaking? That’s why I think the Sunday after George Floyd was murdered, I thought, “Boy, if that’s not the topic of every sermon in every church, we’re missing something.”

RR: We’re missing something major. That’s so true, Brené. When I was helping Francis MacNutt, he was a Dominican priest who restarted the healing ministry in the Catholic Church in the 1970s, and I served on his team several times. And he used to say often in an opening talk, “Most Catholics don’t even know the word healing applies to the gospel. The gospel is much more about, ‘Forgive me.’” I can get away with saying it because I’m a priest. I guess I can. It’s about punishing, not healing. And everything according to the depth of the sin deserves a greater and greater punishment. Now, when you’re concentrating on reward, punishment, you never get to healing.

BB: Wow.

RR: Those are two different tracks.

BB: Such duality in punishment.

RR: Yeah. Reward, punish.

BB: Reward.

RR: Where you did find those characteristics that you read there is in many, not all, but many Black inner city churches who healing is the first sentence out of a lot of people’s mouth. And I suspect that was the crowds that followed Jesus. They had nothing left except to ask for healing. How different than asking for salvation, which keeps you selfish. You got it. A lot of people don’t get that. The desire for salvation is a… Basically a mercenary, egotistical desire of my own self preservation.

BB: It’s definitely self-protection, right?

RR: Doesn’t demand an altruistic personality in the least.

BB: It’s self-focused, not other-focused, right?

RR: There you go, yeah.

BB: Let me go into this because this is the sentence that I’ve probably read, no joke, a hundred times.

RR: Oh, I can’t wait. What is it?

BB: It’s still part of this.

RR: Let me hear it.

BB: So, this is a continuation, “When religion does not give people an inner life or a real prayer life, it is missing its primary vocation. Let me sum up, then, the foundational ways that I believe Jesus and the 12 steps of AA are saying the same thing but with different vocabulary.” Woo, here we go. This is big. “We suffer to get well. We surrender to win.”

RR: I worked on that. Go ahead, let me hear it. It’s been years.

BB: Yeah. I mean, it’s incredible. “We suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live. We give it away to keep it. This counterintuitive wisdom will forever be resisted as true. It’ll be denied and avoided until it’s forced upon us by some reality over which we are powerless, and if we are honest, we are all powerless to the presence of full reality.”

RR: Thank you for trusting that. That was an inspired day when I wrote that.

BB: Whoa, let me read the…

RR: Thank you for appreciating. God bless you.

BB: I mean, “We suffer to get well. We surrender to win. We die to live, and we give it away to keep it.”

RR: Yeah.

BB: This does not feel like the world we live in right now.

RR: No. The gospel is totally counterintuitive, it isn’t what we think it should be. We suffer to find who to blame for the evils of the world. That’s very different.

BB: I don’t know whether it was you or Anne LaMott because in the version of the book that I have, Anne LaMott wrote the foreword and someone said, “For all the things that we are finally able to give away, they all have claw marks on them.”


RR: Wow. She is so good. It was a delight to teach with her or you had to sit at the same table or on a panel, you know? I just keep looking over at her. She’s a little genius, she really is.

BB: Oh, yeah. For sure.

RR: Spiritual.

BB: Spiritual, yeah. I want to fight to win. I don’t want to surrender to win.

RR: Yes.

BB: [chuckle] I don’t want to.

RR: No and if you make me honest, I’d say the same thing.

BB: I want to fight to win.

RR: Mm-hmm. Not surrender to win?

BB: No.

RR: That’s why, I know you’ve read Falling Upward, yeah. It’s the second half of life religion which is used almost entirely in Western cultures as a first half of life religion to create a container for me to live my life inside of and feel safe and superior.

BB: Safe and superior sounds so good.

RR: And feels so good.

BB: What do you think about made up prayers? Because I’m asking because I made up a prayer…

RR: Good.

BB: From a sentence in Breathing Under Water. I made up a prayer from one of your sentences, and I say it to myself all the time.

RR: Let me hear it.

BB: Are you ready?

RR: Yes.

BB: I am trapped by certain grace and enclosed in the constant need for mercy.

RR: That’s lovely.

BB: Well, you wrote it.

RR: Oh, I did?


BB: Yeah.

RR: That’s how self-centered I am.

BB: I know. I just turned it into a prayer, because I think to myself, “I don’t want to surrender to win. I want to fight to win. I don’t want to die to live. I want to fight. I want to fight on all these, and I don’t want to give anything away to keep it. I want to fight for it and keep it. I want to fight. I want to fight all the time.”

RR: Are you an eight on the Enneagram?

BB: I’m a one.

RR: Oh, you poor thing.


RR: You’re like me. We’re both one. He is too. [Referring to another person in the recording room.] Yeah, yes. Oh, this is a good energy in this room.

BB: We can get stuff done, that’s for sure.


RR: You’re a one. You have such a nice smile. You know, a lot of ones don’t know how to smile. It takes this man a while to smile, I think, but he does. You do, but you have to work on him for a while.

BB: It’s really hard because you’re like recording the podcast for us, and we’re talking about you, and you feel like you can’t talk back.

RR: See? And I know he can take it. He’s humble.

BB: Because he’s a one.

RR: He’s a one.

BB: Yeah, because I want to fight. I want to fight for everything.

RR: Yeah.

BB: And win and do it right and play by the rules.

RR: Do it right. Then we remain inside of the quid pro quo universe, which is the one we prefer. Where two plus two equals four.

BB: Yes.

RR: That’s what we want.

BB: Yes.

RR: If we’d be honest. All of us. Me too. And you change that equation, it’s only a non-dual mystical God-touched person who can be comfortable with it. Where it’s no longer two plus two equals four. But I put my two in, I put another two in, and I get back eight or something like that, or six.

BB: Yeah, that’s terrible.

RR: Yeah. Because I’m not in control anymore. See quid pro quo gives you control by good behavior. And we once learned it real well. Almost all of us had one rather demanding parent. For me it was my mother. Most people this is their father. But my mother, and I was her favorite. So I never felt her rejection or anything, but that underlying demand that her love was conditional. “I love you, Dickie, if… ” And I knew that from age one.

BB: Oh yeah, I’m the good girl. The oldest of four.

RR: Good girl. Good girl.

BB: Nicknamed Sister Superior. [laughter] Are you laughing? You know, speaking of number one on the Enneagram and the quid pro quo, let me tell you the thing that made me so mad at church one day that I almost had to leave.

RR: Let me hear it.

BB: The Vineyard Parable.

RR: Oh, go ahead.

BB: So I loved it though because Joe Reynolds, the dean, I’m an Episcopalian, and the dean at our church said he called it the Un-American Parable.

RR: It’s very good.

BB: Yeah, it was the whole idea that workers got there at 6:00 in the morning and they were excited because this person paid well, and then other workers came at noon, and workers came at 3:00, and everybody got paid the same, and it was a fair wage. But if the people have been working there the longest, it doesn’t…

RR: It goes against every instinct.

BB: No. You know what I was thinking? I was thinking, I hope your cart breaks down on the way home and it costs you exactly the amount that you got overpaid.

RR: Oh, wow. Wow. Wow. Clever, clever.

BB: But terrible, right?

RR: Yes. It should be preached twice a year in every American church because we don’t believe it, we don’t like it, it’s wrong. It’s wrong. And I’ve had people tell me that in the vestibule. In my opinion, that parable is precisely to undo the quid pro quo worldview. And precisely. And that means nothing to God is what Jesus is saying.

BB: Yeah, like God saying, you’re going to get my grace whether you like it or not. This is my prayer. I’m trapped in certain grace and enclosed in the need for constant mercy. This does not make me happy.

RR: God, it doesn’t.

BB: No.

RR: Because I’m on the receiving end. I’m on the vulnerable end. You figure it out. Without vulnerability, you can’t get the gospel. You just can’t. If it’s another steering exercise, a way to steer my life.

BB: It’s more complicated than that. Isn’t it?

RR: It puts you back in control again. Not surrender, but control.

BB: And you can weaponize it.

RR: Easily. In fact, it most often is.

BB: I think, it was really funny, I was teaching vacation Bible school and I thought, I’m going to teach these fourth graders the Vineyard Parable. And so what I did is I had Monopoly money and I said to three or four of the kids, I had 20 kids, start doing jumping jacks right now and I’m going to give you $100 of Monopoly money. And then I had some kids start later and some kids start and only do it for like 20 seconds and I paid them all the same. And the kids that had been doing it the whole time were like, the first one said, “You suck, ma’am.” And I said, “What?” “You suck. I’m telling my parents.” And I said, “What are you telling them?” “I’m telling them you’re not fair.”

RR: Yeah. Capitalistic worldview. It isn’t fair. It isn’t. Objectively, if that’s your worldview. Which it is for almost all of us.

BB: This is another quote from Breathing Under Water.

RR: Let’s hear it.

BB: Yeah. Tell me what this means because I think it’s going to make me crazy. “All mature spirituality in one sense or another is about letting go and unlearning.”

RR: Unlearning. Not learning, but unlearning. The patterns that come so naturally to the ego. Yeah. It’s not about learning, which is what we made it into.

BB: Yeah.

RR: I taught in Germany a lot, and those dear little German evangelicals just memorized, memorized. He worked in Germany. They love their Bible, but… I don’t know. Well, no, Richard, shut up. It just, it didn’t necessarily make them vulnerable. In fact, the opposite. When you always have the answer for everything, you’re anything but vulnerable. You’re… Well, you used the word before, you’re weaponizing the gospel. It’s a way to be in control, be right. You know this for certain, I could say it without knowing you well. Smart people I met in my life are people who ask good questions.

BB: Oh yeah, me too.

RR: Oh, it’s so obvious like you’re doing right now. And we made smart people, people who have a quick answer for everything. And we thought we’d give them the answer. We Catholics were given the Baltimore Catechism, which we had to in great part memorize. And poor evangelicals were given Bible quotes. How many do you have to memorize each week? He can’t talk.

BB: You can talk. How many do you think?

Speaker 3: Several.

RR: Several, several. Yeah.

BB: Let me ask you about this unlearning, because I’m unlearning right now. I’m unlearning about mercy and grace right now, because I kind of want a deposit withdraw system around grace. I would like grace to be a meritocracy.

RR: Of course you do. No, of course you do. You’re an American. We pick up capitalism with our mother’s milk. It’s the way everything is framed. Little kids already think in terms of payment and performance.

BB: I’m not even sure I want… God seems tricky to me.

RR: Yeah. Go ahead with that.

BB: I mean, that it’s a catch-22 a little bit.

RR: Go ahead.

BB: That I don’t actually want grace when I’ve done something wrong or messy or imperfect.

RR: No.

BB: I don’t want it, because I don’t want to give it to people when that happens. And yet again, my prayer, I’m trapped in certain grace. I mean, I cannot get out of God’s grace if I try. It seems unrelenting.

RR: It’s so well said. One of my books, I don’t think it’s even in print anymore. I said, in the frontest piece of the book, “Grace will always be a humiliation for me.”

BB: Oh, [chuckle] wait, say that again.

RR: “Grace will always be a humiliation for me.” And when I realized I didn’t earn that by performance or by worthiness or by attainment or education, it was given, a creatio ex nihilo. We had to learn Latin, of course. Creation out of nothing. And the ultimate creatio ex nihilo is grace. It’s just, no reason. And you receive it by being ready for such a world, allowing such a world, even expecting such a world. When I used to give a lot of retreats, one of the exercises was, I’d send people out for silence in the woods and say, now pick an artificial line in the sand or the ground, a log across the road or a certain small patch of something. And before you step over, say to yourself, “On that side, I’m going to see something very special.” Just say it to yourself. Fully expect, it’s going to happen over there. Once you’ve convinced of that, step over. The stories, the stories I have from those retreats, people in tears sometimes.

RR: “My God, it happened.” Just something laying on the ground that struck them as a religious symbol that they needed. But when it isn’t a land of enchantment, as we call New Mexico here, it won’t be enchanting for you, it won’t. And our spiritual teachers did not tell us how to expect a land of enchantment. We basically don’t believe in the reality of the spiritual world. We believe in the reality of the logical world. And as long as you’re there, not much new is going to happen to you, really, unless God whomps you on the side of the head, which God does with a lot of people.

BB: Oh, I’ve been whomped, yeah.

RR: You’ve been whomped?

BB: I’ve been whomped, yeah.

RR: Yeah. You couldn’t know what you’d do without it, yeah.

BB: Yeah, no, I’ve been whomped, for sure. What is one of your quotes? Let me think about it. I don’t have it.

RR: Well, you know my little quotes better than me. Let me hear it.

BB: It’s a great… No, it’s a good one. Religion… [chuckle]

RR: Oh, what?

BB: Wait, this is good. You write, I don’t remember what book it’s from. “Religion is for people who are scared to go to hell.”

RR: Oh, yeah.

BB: “And spirituality is for people who’ve been through hell.”

RR: Been through hell. I never said that enough, because it’s true.

BB: What do you mean? Tell me what you mean. It’s like one of my favorite, but…

RR: Well, been through hell is the ego had to suffer a major humiliation, a major failure, a major “I can’t do it, damn it. I don’t even like this God.” Some crisis of faith, and that’s hell. It’s hell when you’re in the middle of it. So you’ve heard my wisdom pattern, order, disorder, reorder, until you go through that disorder and come out more alive, more expansive on the other side. There’s a whole bunch of things you don’t know. You just don’t. I mean, I met saints my 14 years in the jail here, just in cell after cell, not always, by any means, but enough, more than I do on the streets of the city, who just had been defeated to the core and now weren’t blaming anybody, weren’t blaming God, weren’t blaming themselves, but just in some way smiling. That’s reorder.

BB: Stepped over that line and found something magical.

RR: Yes. I don’t think you can preach the gospel. You have no right to preach the gospel until you’re on the other side. And you don’t learn that in a seminary. You don’t learn how to fail gracefully and really fail. I have a big black eye for those of you listening. Have your face pushed in the dirt.

BB: I was interviewing Chris Germer, who is a Buddhist and teaches mindful self-compassion. And I asked him… We were talking about spirituality, and I said, “What is your favorite kind of compassion?” And he said, “I like in-the-trenches compassion.” And I said, “Yeah, me too.” I’m really close to a very specific kind of honky tonk Jesus. So when I saw your shiner, I was like, “Yeah, this is the home of honky tonk Jesus.” I like it.

RR: Thank you.

BB: I don’t trust… I don’t know, I don’t trust a spirituality that doesn’t have dirt under its nails.

RR: It’s too antiseptic.

BB: Yeah, it just gets… It worries me a little bit.

RR: Remember Ken Wilber… Maybe you’ve heard this, “Cleaning up, growing up, waking up, showing up.” Most people never get beyond the cleaning up stage. They use religion to appear pure.

BB: The cult of innocence.

RR: Yeah. The cult of innocence. There you are again. And growing up, maybe 25%. This is just, waking up, these are numbers off the top of my head, but I’d say less than 10% really overcome the myth of dualism. And showing up, which doesn’t sound that exotic at all, it might be even less. People who go back to serve the people in the trenches, just like the Buddhist Bodhisattva. I find that paradigm very helpful, but that’s from Ken Wilber, who in my opinion is the wisest philosopher of religion on the American scene.

BB: Wow. We’ll put a link in the page for people who want to read more. Last quote from Breathing Under Water. “Only hour-by-hour gratitude is strong enough to overcome all temptations to resentment.” God, resentment is so tempting.

RR: Isn’t it? For us ones especially. We like to have a grievance, because if we can have a grievance, it puts us on a higher pedestal. That person didn’t do their job.

BB: Oh, I love a grievance.

RR: Yes. If we’d be honest.

BB: I love several of them.

RR: At the same time.

BB: Yes.

RR: I know. And you hear people, I won’t mention… A former president that we had here, whose whole talks are just grievances. A man who has had everything to his material success, and he lists his grievances and people applaud for it.

BB: A litany of grievances.

RR: It’s just… Come on! You don’t know how good you have it. Yeah.

BB: So, hour-by-hour gratitude.

RR: Did I write that?

BB: You did. You wrote hour-by-hour gratitude.

RR: I was inspired the summer I wrote that book, I guess. Because it’s so well received in jails and prisons, really.

BB: And my house.

RR: And your house.

BB: Jails, prisons, and Brené. And let me tell you something. That’s not the distance you think it is.

RR: How do you mean?

BB: From jail to prison to Brené.

RR: Oh, thank you.

BB: No, I mean, it’s just not the distance. I mean, like, there but for the grace, you know?

RR: Got you, got you, got you.

BB: Yeah. What does hour-by-hour gratitude look like? I mean, are you being literal here?

RR: Where it presses up, it’s not a willful choice, it’s just owning itself within you for no reason in particular. Either gratitude is universal, or it doesn’t last. Yeah. You just feel it toward… This is all undeserved. That I opened my eyes this morning. Undeserved. That I’m almost 80. I never thought I’d live this long. 80, undeserved. That I’ve been able to write these books. Undeserved.

BB: That’s strong. That’s a serious word that you’re using there. Undeserved. Like, just mercy, grace?

RR: The very word gratuity, gratuitous, means undeserved.

BB: I don’t think I knew that.

RR: And if you look for a way to prove that you did deserve it, you’ve lost it at that moment. I see people even regarding the war in Ukraine now talking about, what did those people do to deserve that? Nothing. It works both ways. Evil is gratuitous, and grace is gratuitous. And if we’re not programmed to receive grace, we’ll normally gravitate toward grievance. Why the world has done me in, done me wrong.

BB: Can’t catch a break.

RR: Yeah, yeah.

BB: Yeah, I… Yeah. This book, man.

RR: You’re clearly not there, but thank you for bringing back these quotes that I forgot I wrote.

BB: Yeah, they’ve changed. They’ve rearranged and changed. Your quotes have been a whomp upside the head, just if I want to be honest. Some of my whomps came right from you.

RR: Thank you.

BB: He says thank you.


RR: I don’t know, you would normally wouldn’t call that a friend, would you? Who’s whomping you on the side of the head.

BB: Sometimes whomps are really important. Sometimes grace comes in the form of a whomp, right?

RR: And you know, much of my middle years was men’s work. If you think that’s true for women, it’s very true for men. We have a much more defended ego, a much more self-sufficient, well, I don’t have to tell women that, but we got a huge problem with the male in our culture. Look at the Senate and the House. I mean, my God.

BB: And the fragility of that ego and the self-protection around it, can lead to really dangerous things.

RR: Dangerous.

BB: Talking about a need for some whomping.

RR: Major whomping. But I’m a Senator. I don’t need a whomp. I mean, like this whole past few years of denying obvious deceit, denying obvious untruths. And I’m supposed to look up to you as an elder? You’re not in the first grade. I’m not trying to be overly judgmental, although that’s our sin as ones. We’re overly judgmental.

BB: You don’t think we’re just good observers?


RR: Now there you go. Let’s say that we’re very good astute observers. Well, we do see it in ourself.

BB: Yes. Oh, no, for sure.

RR: Yeah. And we’ve gotten so good at seeing it in ourself that we transfer it outside ourself.

BB: It takes skills.

RR: Yeah, it takes skills. That’s good.

BB: Okay. Thank you so much. And I can’t wait to go to Part 2.

RR: Okay.


BB: All right, it’s just more to come on this conversation brought to you from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Just… I don’t know. I don’t know what to say, really. Just so important to me. And I’m grateful to be able to share it with y’all because y’all are important to me, too. You can find the podcast on and you can find links to all of Richard’s books. As someone who’s been sober for a long time and hopes to be so tomorrow, Breathing Under Water is a really important book for me. So stay awkward, brave, and kind and open yourself up to some unrelenting grace.

BB: Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil. And by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and Andy Waits, and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.

© 2022 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2022, December 14). Brené with Father Richard Rohr on Breathing Under Water, Falling Upward, and Unlearning Certainty, Part 1 of 2. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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