On this episode of Unlocking Us
In Part 2 of my conversation with Father Richard Rohr, we talk about facing our shadows and living and loving through the second half of life, and we laugh. A lot. What a gift to be with him at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque. A deep and true blessing.
Listen to the episode
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 2” Unlocking Us podcast episode with Father Richard Rohr
“Spirituality, Certitude, and Infinite Love, Part 2 of 2” Unlocking Us podcast episode with Father Richard Rohr
“Songs of Surrender and Carrying the Weight of Our Contradictions, Part 1 of 2” Unlocking Us podcast with Bono
“Songs of Surrender and Carrying the Weight of Our Contradictions, Part 2 of 2” Unlocking Us podcast with Bono
Brené Brown: Hi, everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is Unlocking Us. We are back with Part 2 of a very special conversation with Father Richard Rohr. We had this conversation in-person at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. What a sacred trip that was. I just… Again, an incredible place, doing deeply meaningful work. I got to meet the staff, got to meet Opie, the dog, and living heart of the center, I think. In the first episode, we talked about some of my favorite quotes from Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. And in this one, we’re talking about quotes from another one of my favorites, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. We talk about the powerful trinity of paradox, contradiction, and mystery, why I miss church so much, and how hard it is to unlearn and let go of certainty. 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. I’m glad you’re here.
BB: Father Richard, welcome back to Part 2.
Richard Rohr: Well, good to be with you. Easy to be with you. Thank you.
BB: Oh, easy to be with you too.
RR: Thank you.
BB: Okay, can I start this podcast with a great story?
BB: So, a couple of weeks ago, I was interviewing Bono, the lead singer for U2.
RR: Oh yeah.
BB: And [chuckle] we’re sitting on the stage, and just like right here in your office in Albuquerque, I had 10 pages of notes, and about 30 minutes into the interview, we’re talking about God, the name of his book is Surrender.
BB: And he says, “Let me ask you something. Have you ever heard of a fellow named Richard Rohr?”
RR: No? He said that.
BB: And I said, “What?” And we were already in weirdly connected, divinely connected in this moment. And I said, “Have I ever heard of Richard Rohr? Yes, I’ve read every book he’s written.” And then I turned and I showed Bono this page of seven quotes of yours that I wanted to ask him about. And he said, “Whoa, man, we’re synced up.” And I said, “Yeah.”
RR: Yeah, he’s…
BB: Bono and Brené via Richard Rohr.
RR: He’s a spiritual son to me. He just… He gets it. Yeah, he gets it.
BB: We were talking about paradox.
RR: And transfers it to the music realm, which I know nothing about, so it’s wonderful. Yeah.
BB: I wore this t-shirt for you today.
RR: You did, Johnny Cash!
BB: Johnny Cash. [chuckle] Because I always think of you as the Johnny Cash of God. I don’t know why. Like, I always think truth teller, he’s the guy in Folsom Prison.
BB: Yeah. Sitting with…
RR: I can see why you’d say that. All right. Let’s go.
BB: Okay, let’s go. Spirituality. This is Falling Upward.
RR: All right.
BB: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Okay. You write. “In the second half of life, we do not have strong and final opinions about everything, every event or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us.”
RR: Oh, I’m glad I wrote that. That’s in the second half of the book, though, yeah.
BB: Yes, it is. I’m experiencing this right now. I’m in my 50s. And all of a sudden, I keep thinking to myself, man, I should have done more stuff in my 30s when I knew everything.
RR: Yes, because you have this low level of healthy doubt about everything you say and believe and do.
BB: I do.
RR: Yeah, yeah, that’s good.
BB: It is?
RR: That’s as it should be. Yeah.
BB: You don’t think we should be getting more certain?
RR: See, wherever you got that from, it’s not the true gospel. We have two great traditions of spirituality. One, forgive the big words, one was called the cataphatic, have you heard that word before?
BB: I have.
RR: And the other is the apophatic. The Western Church almost entirely, except for the Catholic mystics and a few Protestants like George Fox and, so forth, we never taught the apophatic after the first few centuries. And the apophatic is knowing by not knowing, coming to clarity by not needing to be so certain, that’s what I’m saying there. First half of life is filled with opinionated people, like most of America. I don’t mean to be anti-American, but people’s level of opinion is just sad today, they’re so certain and they’re not even well educated about the subject. It’s usually a prejudice. Yeah.
BB: I call it common enemy intimacy.
RR: Oh, yeah.
BB: “I don’t know you, but we hate the same people.”
RR: “We both hate together.”
BB: Yeah, we hate together.
RR: Yeah, yeah.
BB: That’s how we’re in community.
RR: Right, right.
BB: Wow, so this whole idea that in the second half of life we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us.
RR: It’s just they are what they are.
BB: And truly influence us. Yeah, I love this. Okay, second quote. This is a doozy.
RR: Oh, you’re too much.
BB: “One of the great surprises is that humans come to full consciousness precisely by shadowboxing, facing their own contradictions and making friends with their own mistakes and failings. People who have had no inner struggles are invariably both superficial and uninteresting. We tend to endure them more than communicate with them because they have little to communicate.”
RR: Oh, God, that’s true.
RR: That is. He says good things. But see, I’ve forgotten that I ever said that. I’ve forgotten that I believe it.
BB: Do you still believe it?
RR: Oh, very much so. The only roadway into the unconscious, which is most of all of us, is through shadowboxing, facing your own dark side, your own contradictions, the paradox that you are. There’s no other way we get into the unconscious except crawling through the shadows. If it’s all about certitude and light, “I believe this. I know that to be true.” And God gives that to children, thank God. When I see smiling, happy children, who of us is unhappy for them? But it can’t last. You can endure it even through your teenage years to the senior prom, as we were saying before, but soon after, maybe at the senior prom, you have to see how selfish you are, how narcissistic you are, whatever. It’s always… Your shadow is not your bad self. You know this. It’s just what you don’t want to see about yourself. Now why is it you don’t want to see something because it’s covering up what you don’t like about yourself. So, I dare not look at it. People who help you see your shadow in a gentle way, they can’t push it in your face. It’s what a good marriage is for, I think. And if it’s not a good marriage, it isn’t any good for you. Yeah.
BB: It’s interesting because I call my 50s this reckoning, Brené’s Home for Wayward Girls. Like I’m having to call all these parts of myself back home.
BB: That I wanted to really orphan.
BB: Do you know what I mean? And the things that I didn’t think were allowed to coexist.
RR: I know, I know.
BB: You have this great line. I can’t remember it. I don’t know what it’s from, but it’s one of the lines I read to Bono, because we were talking about paradox. And you said about straddling the tension of opposites that Jesus was crucified between a good thief and a bad thief.
BB: Between heaven and earth.
RR: A male body and a female soul.
BB: A male body and a female soul. And…
RR: What else did I say?
BB: Just this whole idea that these two things can be true at the same time.
RR: Yeah. There are saints, mystics, who said that you can almost tell the truth of a doctrine. And I would agree with this, if it has a character of paradox to it. Let me take our central one as Christians, Jesus is human and divine. That’s a paradox. And they normally cancel one another out. But we hold them together. Mary is virgin and mother. They normally cancel one another out. God is three and one. There’s always, no, that can’t be. So, they’re set up to invite you into non-dual thinking, mystical thinking.
BB: Oh, I love this.
BB: I just…
RR: Oh, you get it.
BB: I do.
RR: And that’s part of what I said to the Pope when we had our half-hour together was, unless we get this mind, all of our doctrines that we teach in the Catholic Church are unable, unable to be understood by contemporary people, because they can’t deal with paradox, contradiction, and mystery. And well, and you knew if you were Catholic for a while, it’s bread, but it’s Jesus.
BB: It’s bread, but it’s Jesus.
RR: And that’s meant to be a big slap in your logical face. How could it be? How could it be?
BB: But that’s the mysteries of faith, right?
RR: Yeah, that’s the mystery of faith. Well, the mystery of faith is the Paschal mystery. Christ has died, Christ is risen, order, disorder, reorder. That’s the…
BB: It’s the big mystery of faith.
RR: That’s the biggie, yeah.
BB: Christ will come again.
RR: Yes. And we come to resurrection through a necessary crucifixion. You can’t avoid it. You can’t hop over it. You can’t go under it. You got to go through it. It will always be a mystery. Yeah.
BB: I was talking to someone about why during COVID I missed church so much. And this person said, “I thought you really struggle with a lot of things in church.” And I said, “I do, but I really love to go for a couple of reasons. I like to pass peace with people that I really think bad things about.”
BB: I like to go to the rail, and take communion with people I kind of want to punch in the face. And I want to sing with people I don’t get along with. And he just said, “I don’t think that’s okay.” And I said, “I actually think that’s… ”
RR: I don’t think that’s okay?
BB: Yeah, but I think, I was like, “But isn’t church the home of paradox? Isn’t it the home… ”
RR: Most people don’t think that way. You’ve heard me with that quote with Karl Rahner. “Either,” he said, “by the next century, the church becomes mystical or we might as well close shop.” Yeah.
RR: It’s only the mystical mind that can endure through the trials that I think are still coming to the earth and so forth. That much sadness, that much tragedy.
BB: Carl Jung said the paradox was humanity’s greatest spiritual gift and the only thing that came close to describing the real human experience.
RR: Really? And who said this?
BB: Carl Jung.
RR: Oh, yes.
RR: Okay. I was going to say, “Carl Jung said something just like that.” I wasn’t listening. Okay, good, good, good.
BB: And speaking of this, this is a paradox you write about in every one of your books. I think this is everything. “Your concern is not so much to have what you love anymore.”
RR: Oh yes.
BB: “But to love what you have right now.”
RR: To love what you have.
BB: “This is a monumental change from the first half of life.” And this is what you write. This is bold. “So much so that it’s almost a litmus test of whether you are in the second half of life at all.”
RR: You’re in your second life… Yes. I would still agree with that.
BB: You would?
RR: Yeah. You’ve got to have it when you’re young.
BB: Accomplish. Acquire.
RR: That’s why most people can’t get to love, it’s all lust. I’ve got to have it. I can’t enjoy it without controlling it, possessing it. And the passover line of maturity is when, whatever I have is already good. It’s… I can sincerely appreciate it, and I don’t have to have things that I don’t have. I’ve often felt that while being in a city. Like you, I was on the speaking circuit and I’d walk around towns and see these beautiful objects. And, as a Franciscan, I never had the money that I could buy such things. But the freedom that I don’t need to buy it. I just look at it and it’s beautiful. And that’s enough. That’s the contemplative mind. It can enjoy without possessing. Can enjoy without possessing. And when you don’t have that, almost all love becomes lust. Oh, here, you want to a pen?
BB: Can I borrow your pen?
RR: Well, of course, it’s not a great big…
BB: It can enjoy…
RR: Without possessing.
BB: I’m writing it down, y’all.
RR: And my favorite place, in fact, I went to, in Houston, was to the art museum to go alone for two hours. And just, I don’t have to buy that picture and hang it in my living room. I’ve seen it. And it’s had its effect on me. And I love it. And that is more than enough satisfaction. That’s the contemplative gaze where you enjoy it for being what it is in itself. Apart from you.
BB: Apart from you?
RR: Yeah, apart from you.
BB: Can I ask a question?
RR: Yeah, ask me anything.
BB: You can enjoy it without possessing. One of the things that has been… And just feels vulnerable to share because it’s not a great portrait of me, but I think in my 30s and even into my 40s, I could not appreciate talent in other people without thinking I should be able to do that. But now I appreciate without having to compete or do.
RR: See, you’re there. Yes. And I believe you. You couldn’t have said it that way any… Otherwise. Yeah, it’s… You’re so imprisoned.
BB: It’s a prison.
RR: Yeah, yeah. I know this won’t surprise you or you either. I walked with men who have to look up every woman up and down or other men up and down and then make some crude statement. And it’s like, there is nothing wrong with saying that’s beautiful, that woman, that man, but that need to have it. I’ve got to have it. And most sexual language reveals that need for possession, that need to plunder. Is that the right word? I don’t know.
RR: Yeah, yeah.
BB: It’s a strong word.
BB: The second half of life to be able to enjoy without possessing, appreciate without competing.
BB: Love without possession.
RR: Or comparing.
BB: Yes, or comparing.
RR: Not comparing even. It’s just that’s that and that’s that, I don’t… And I’m bad about that. I tend to compare.
BB: Oh, I’m a comparer too.
RR: Yeah, yeah.
BB: Is that a little bit of one in the Enneagram?
RR: It is. It comes with our judgmental function.
BB: I thought we agreed on the first podcast that we were not judgmental, we were great evaluators.
RR: Oh, that’s nice. Evaluators we are. Yes. Oh, I’m much less so now. But I was. Always comparing, I do that with the staff. Aren’t you going to give me a smirk?
RR: “He’s hardworking. She’s on time. And those who aren’t, are a little less.” I don’t know how I get rid of that.
BB: It’s tough. Yeah, because that’s where I got all my points growing up.
RR: It’s true of most of us.
BB: Last two questions. They’re big.
RR: Oh. Let’s hear them.
BB: What is the good word and what isn’t the good word?
RR: The good word is whatever… I’m just stabbing at this, but whatever points you toward, what we call the three transcendentals in scholastic philosophy, the good, the true, and the beautiful. The good, the true, and the beautiful. If it points you toward those, it’s a good word. That’s why I often think some comedy, some… Is just teaching you how to be cynical. It doesn’t point you toward the good, the true, and the beautiful. And I enjoy Seinfeld as much as the next person, but just when you go on for half an hour with cynical remarks about everything, you destroy the contemplative mind. You can’t just see the good that’s there, the true that’s there.
BB: The beauty.
RR: Yeah, and the beautiful that’s there. In the Franciscan School of Philosophy, beauty was the dominant one. The Dominican’s, it was the true, Veritas.
RR: Veritas, yeah. Who had the good? I guess the Redemptorists, I don’t know. Jesuits. Yeah, probably the Jesuits. This judgmental critical mind about, and thank God for them, but if you don’t have a desire for the good, the true, and the beautiful, you won’t get very far in the spiritual life. You’ll settle for very little, put it that way. It’s not that you’re going to do bad things, but you’ll settle for very little.
BB: The good, the true, and the beautiful.
RR: Good. You never heard that listed in that way before?
BB: I never, ever… I mean, Catholic schools, Catholic college, I’ve never heard.
RR: And here’s the one good thing… Well, there’s probably more than one, but one of the good things, the Catholic field, when you’re exposed to it, and most people aren’t, is such a big, wide field that you can find plenty that’s good there. But the typical church on the corner doesn’t give… We don’t have time for that. We just got to teach them mortal sin and venial sin and… It’s such a shame, how few Catholics are really Catholic. And you know what it means? Universal.
RR: Yeah. Yeah.
BB: Last question. What’s your favorite prayer?
RR: Do I have one? They seem to always change. There’s never one that I’ve held on to all my life. Yeah. I don’t know.
BB: They change with the seasons?
RR: I guess so. And the Prayer of St. Francis really wasn’t composed by St. Francis.
RR: No, it wasn’t. But it reflects Franciscan spirituality so well that we let people think it was. It’s so poetic, too.
BB: Do you know it?
RR: Oh yeah, “Lord make me an instrument.” Yeah. Do you know it?
BB: I do.
RR: And it sounded like you did, yeah. Because that’s the language of Francis. Don’t make me peaceful, make me an instrument of peace, for other people. Isn’t that good?
RR: So, I’ll settle for that one today. The Peace Prayer of St. Francis. Yeah.
BB: I love it.
RR: Thank you.
BB: Thank you for being on the podcast.
RR: Oh my goodness. The privilege is 100% mine. Thank you, Brené.
BB: Wow. And thank you for inviting me here.
BB: It’s amazing.
RR: Now you can picture us.
BB: Now I can picture you.
RR: In our little adobes here on Five Points Road.
BB: I know I said… Someone of your staff said, “Is it what you thought?” And I said, “I didn’t know what it was going to look like, but I knew what it was going to feel like.”
BB: And it feels just like…
RR: Have we lived up to it? Oh, I hope so.
BB: Yeah. Yeah.
RR: I hope so.
BB: Thank you.
RR: Thank you, for what you’re doing for the world.
BB: Thank y’all again for being here for this two-part special. It meant a lot to me and it again means a lot to me to be able to share it with you. You can go to brenebrown.com. Every podcast has an episode page where we put links and quotes and assets and all kinds of great stuff. You can find links to both books here and you can find links to all the books. And I’m so glad that we got to talk to Father Richard, it was just… Whenever I go places like that and talk to people, I always think you’re with me. So, I think we talked to them, the Unlocking Us awkward, brave, and kind community. We were there in New Mexico. We’ll be back with more next week. Thanks, y’all.
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.
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