Everything Belongs Book Review

Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer. New York, NY: Crossroads Publishing Company, 2003.

Richard Rohr, A Franciscan monk who writes and teaches in the field of Christian spirituality and men’s ministry, has made a real contribution with his work, Everything Belongs. The primary thesis of the book is that the “egoic-operating system,” which is simply a reference to a person who operates chiefly out of the personal ego, must be dealt with in order to be transformed by God. We cannot be highly transformed people without dealing with our egocentrism.
Rohr describes what he terms as “dividing the field” which is simply a dualistic way of meeting reality that functionally divides all people, places and things we encounter into things we like and things we don’t like, things which are good and bad, etc. Rohr believes the Christian story is necessarily non-dualistic. In order to live deeply in the Christian story, one must learn to get beyond the egoic operating system to the place of true wisdom as taught and lived by Jesus. This only happens through great suffering, great love, or contemplation.
Contemplation is merely the process of learning to catch one’s self in playing dualistic, egocentric, small-self games. I once heard him say that contemplation is so easy, that it’s hard to teach. It’s certainly not new to us, but is an ancient practice. Dualism is pounded into us by the culture in which we live. The enlightenment/modern era is predicated on dualistic categories – it cannot function without them. This is why there is often a vitriolic, hateful response to the teachings of Christian contemplation. Once the innate dualism is subverted, then “everything belongs,” which is to say that we meet reality without initially judging it – dividing the field – but forgive all of reality for its shortcomings in real time. We no longer need to prove we are right and others are wrong. Instead we accept them as they are and invite them to deeper levels of understanding and wisdom by our hospitality and bearing. We also come to see that the pain and suffering of life belongs as well. It is part of our experience and is important. God uses it to transform us as well as others around us.
Rohr invites the reader to give up on our patterns of judgment, control, in order to embrace the teachings of Jesus which he says involved “integrating the negative.” He argues the entire gospel is based on the idea that Jesus, when faced with the negative, did not eliminate it, but found a way to include it and eventually to redeem it. This is the ministry we have all been given. I heard Rohr say once that one of the chief issues with the way we read the gospels, is that we are trying to read a non-dualistic teacher through dualistic lenses. In other words, we make Jesus say what we want him to say according to our prior epistemological commitments – which is the very definition of idolatry. We cannot read the gospels with dualism underlying our belief system. For it is that very dualism which Christ subverts with both his words and his actions.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book by Richard Rohr. I find little to quibble with. On the contrary, I was challenged, informed and inspired at every turn. I’m especially enamored with his thinking about contemplation as the only way (except for great pain and suffering, or love which he says assumes pain and suffering), to the truly transformed life. What we offer to God, essentially, is a vacuum. He clearly follows the wisdom of John of the Cross and Teresa Avila in this book. I think this book is essential for those who are entering the second half of life or those in their thirties who are mature. However, I would be very careful about who I recommended this book to. Rohr is not averse to including the wisdom of Jewish, Buddhist, and Islamic spiritualists. He simply assumes that all wisdom is from the one true God and thus any truths which people of other faith’s have stumbled onto comes from the one true God. I find this refreshing and effective, especially since he does so as an unapologetic Christ follower, but many of you may find it off-putting. But if you are looking for someone to learn from who is working in the arena of Christian Mysticism, Rohr is one of the best teachers of Christian contemplation I’ve encountered.

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