Richard Rohr wants us to be ok with darkness. He hopes we will embrace imperfection and dryness and let go of our longing for “gooey feelings.”

In a recent Podcast with Luke Norsworthy, Richard Rohr extols the virtue of letting go of our determination to eliminate imperfection and avoid, what Rohr calls, “tragic reality.” Rohr says:

You don’t need people to be perfect to love them. We thought perfection was the elimination of imperfection. Divine perfection is precisely the ability to include imperfection.

One of the Achilles heals of Protestantism is that it has very little teaching on darkness and dryness. Without good teaching on darkness, you really think that the role of Christianity is to engage warm fuzzy feelings.

But I would have to say that the last fifteen years are mostly just putting one foot in front of the other. I don’t have gooey feelings about Jesus anymore.

You remember in the darkness what you once experienced in the light. Our word for that is faith. You hold on. And then you realize that Someone else is holding on to you. But it’s not based on feelings anymore.

The feelings are withdrawn and you decide for love.

(from the Podcast: “Newsworthy With Norsworthy” 11 & 18 March 2019)

Rohr is speaking here from genuine personal experience. He recently had a heart attack and continues to journey with a recurrence of cancer. He has earned the right to speak about “holding on.” There are times when “just putting one foot in front of the other” is absolutely the best that could ever be expected.

But I am not sure it is going to be easy to sell a religious package that embraces imperfection and walks the way of “darkness and dryness.” “Warm fuzzy feelings” seem much more marketable.

But perhaps, in the religion game, marketing is not actually the point. Rohr seems more interested in honesty, authenticity, and gentleness. These qualities have the capacity to go the distance in a conflicted, complex, complicated, and often broken world.

The problem with “gooey feelings about Jesus,” or anything else for that matter, is that they do not last. Like any romantic attachment, over time, those feelings will diminish. When they run up against “tragic reality,” they will dissipate, lose their intensity or perhaps disappear altogether. If we attach “faith” to “gooey feelings,” we will be left, in their absence, to either abandon faith altogether or, perhaps even worse, to lie.

To lie about the reality of our inner state is perhaps the most damaging route. Faith that pretends is not faith. It is dishonesty and hypocrisy. It forces the liar to put on a false face and present a facade that does not correspond to any internal reality.

Jesus saved his most harsh words for those who present themselves as one thing on the outside but are something completely different within. He said they are

like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. (Matthew 23:27)

Dishonesty is the enemy of faith. It is driven by the fear that there is something in my life that God cannot love and would not accept. I feel the need to pretend to a piety I know I do not possess because I secretly believe the darkness is too horrible to embrace. But Richard Rohr argues that

Faith at its essential core is accepting that you are accepted! We cannot deeply know ourselves without also knowing the One who made us, and we cannot fully accept ourselves without accepting God’s radical acceptance of every part of us. And God’s impossible acceptance of ourselves is easier to grasp if we first recognize it in the perfect unity of the human Jesus with the divine Christ. Start with Jesus, continue with yourself, and finally expand to everything else. (The Universal Christ)

Darkness, imperfection, doubt, uncertainty, unknowing – these are the rich soil in which faith takes root. This may in part be why suffering and struggle are an integral part of the human journey. We do not get to true, deep, authentic human flourishing without passing through troubled waters.