Everything I know about Richard Rohr from personal experience in his presence, reading his writing, listening to many addresses he has given, and from others who know him better than I, tells me he is a genuinely gentle, humble, gracious human being.

His message is consistently compassionate, loving, and respectful. He calls us to honour the welcoming vision of life and love that he sees everywhere in the teaching and life-practice of Jesus. All of these qualities are evident in an address Rohr gave in 2005 somewhere  in the United Kingdom that has been given the title “How Do You Awaken Love?” It is not easy to find, but you should come across it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOyMwwIYScY&feature=youtu.be

In the context of this address however, Rohr also demonstrates an ability to offer a deeply challenging word when he invites us to consider how we respond to the reality of pain in life. Rohr’s words are not easy to hear. You may find yourself resisting what he says about how we might work with the pain we find in life. You may want to say, “Yes but…” And no doubt, Rohr himself would qualify his words with some nuance if he were engaging you in conversation. But, if we can receive these words with an open heart and without rushing to defensiveness, we may hear a ring of truth and a call to open to a deeper realm of the Spirit.

Speaking about how we live with the reality of pain, Rohr says:

All great religion is about what you do with your pain. If you do not transform your pain, you will always transmit it.

Everyone else has to deal with your garbage because you yourself have not held it like Jesus did, as he held his pain and let it transform him.

You see, pain in all of its forms is the only thing strong enough to destabilize the ego. There’s no way you’re going to let go of the private little sense of self and how important you are, and what you deserve, and how you have been hurt, and how you’re a victim, and all the pity parties we get involved in. And for some people that just becomes a way of life – victimhood as a way of life. I have been hurt more than you’ve been hurt. We make an art form out of it in our country.

It’s really a way of getting control, to prove that you’re the ultimate victim. And on one can touch you once you play the victim. And it’s always the person who has not come to an adequate sense of self, and so they’re always looking for. your notice or your affirmation or your validation. They’re looking for something outside themselves.

The entitlement self is always saying, “I deserve more.” The true self, the abundant self, the God-self is saying, “Everything is a gift. I don’t even deserve this moment of life.”

What you think you need, what you think you deserve, what you think you have a right to… that’s what has to die. It’s all a mind-game that keeps you perpetually unhappy, accusing others of not meeting your needs, and they don’t have to. It’s wonderful when they do, but, when they do, you say, “It’s a gift. Thank you.”

When I create an identity out of my pain, I will never move through that identity and find the freedom that, deep in my heart, I know I was created to embody. When I let go of my identity as one who suffers, I begin to find release from those external forces that have controlled my life. I move to that place within myself where, it becomes possible to follow Jesus’ instruction:

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. (Luke 6:29)

I do not need to retaliate because I have allowed the pain to do its work on me. There is no longer anything to defend, protect or preserve. My identity does not depend upon how I am treated or how you respond to me. I am grounded in a deeper place within myself where I find the truth about my identity as a person rooted in love. This is the path to true freedom. It is not the end of pain; but it is the journey to that place were the pain no longer controls my life. It is the way beyond victimhood; it is the way I hear both Jesus and Richard calling me to walk.