Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr just keeps releasing wonderful books. Immortal Diamond: The Search For Our True Self picks up the language of Cistercian authors like Thomas Merton and M. Basil Pennington, who have written about the “true self” and the “false self” as ways of understanding the spirituality of being human. These terms point to a distinction between the “false” self-protective dynamics of the various egoic masks that people wear to simply function in the world (or to bolster feeling of self-importance or superiority) and the “true” or eternal place deep within us, what Merton called le point vierge, and Eckhart called the spark of the soul — that place where I and God are not-two; the dimension of deep authenticity that Julian of Norwich said “never consented to sin and never will.”
I put “true” and “false” in quotation marks because the risk of seeing these categories dualistically is, frankly, a problem (in my first book, Spirituality, I call these two dimensions “survival mind” and “playful mind,” which to me is a far less judgmental way of understanding the distinction we’re trying to describe here). To Rohr’s great credit, he repeatedly insists that we should refrain from deeming the “false” self as bad, or sinful, or evil, even though because it is prone to fear and self-aggrandizement, the false self really can be the starting-point of all sorts of mischief. But it doesn’t have to be, and frankly, it is a false-self strategy to judge and condemn: even if it ends up judging and condemning itself! So I appreciate Rohr’s sensitivity that these labels have their own problems; and I also understand that, after some fifty years of these terms being in the contemplative vocabulary, they aren’t going away.
Unlike some of Rohr’s best-known books (such as Everything Belongs or The Naked Now), Immortal Diamond is not especially about contemplation or mysticism (although I would say that the theology presented herein is clearly a contemplative way of seeing). In the book’s preface the author says “I am writing for secular seekers and thinkers, believers and nonbelievers alike, and that huge disillusioned group in recovery from religion itself.” Of course, since Rohr is a Christian priest and this is a book about the dynamics of the human spirit, it does have plenty of religious language, but Rohr does try to be sensitive to the concerns and perspectives of those who spiritually independent, acknowledging that God-talk is very much a characteristic of Christianity and that those outside the religion may well use different language to describe similar reality.
Written in Rohr’s usual informal, almost to the point of breezy, style, the book begins by explaining the distinctions between the true self and the false self, but then goes on to consider such issues as fear of death, the unity of the true self with the divine (historically understood as being created “in the image and likeness” of God), and even dances around the question of universal salvation, à la Rob Bell. Stressing the joyful and unconditional love of God, Rohr deconstructs the reward/punishment model that all too often seems to characterize mainstream Christianity. After all, reward & punishment are favorite strategies of the false self, which is always keeping score and worrying about what is “fair” even to the exclusion of closing down relationships. By contrast, the immortal diamond (the true self) simply relaxes into the already-available unconditional love of God that can’t be earned, can’t be deserved, can’t be anything other than freely given and freely accepted. The paradox, of course, is that while we are busy trying to find the immortal diamond, in reality the loving God who created us has already found us — and is simply waiting for us to notice!
I think, especially for those who might be a little uncomfortable with concepts like mysticism or contemplation, Immortal Diamond can be a wonderful introduction to the visionary and optimistic of Richard Rohr’s teaching. Even long-standing fans of his work will enjoy this book, if for no other reason than to see his profoundly spiritual insights presented in a new way. If this is your first book by Rohr. You’re in for a treat. Follow up with either Everything Belongs or The Naked Now (and if you’re over 40 years old, Falling Upward as well).
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