Meeting Richard Rohr

This last weekend at the Church Health Center was certainly a full one! With our annual community walk Walking as One going on at our Wellness facility and the Westberg Symposium for faith community nurses in full swing at the Peabody Memphis Hotel, the Church Health Center was certainly living out its mission of helping others live their healthiest, most joy-filled lives.

Dr Morris westberg

Named after Granger Westberg who held an unwavering conviction that the church can do more to help people find healing, the Westberg Symposium focuses on helping faith community nurses help others all over the world.

My colleague at the Church Health Center Antony Sheehan was even named an honorary Peabody Duckmaster, if you can believe it.

Antony Sheehan as Honorary Duckmaster

Antony really gets to have all the fun.

I had one more item on my weekend agenda, though, that had nothing to do with ducks. I spent a portion of the weekend in Albuquerque with Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation. Some of you might know his writings very well, which include Everything Belongs, Adam’s Return, and The Naked Now. I admit I had not read anything of his before the weekend, but I am now a big fan.

Scott Morris and Richard Rohr

Fr. Rohr, a provocative and excellent communicator, has devoted himself to a life of contemplation yet spends a great deal of time teaching others about the contemplative life. He’s carved out his niche in speaking to people in positions of power about the spiritual life; almost everyone at the small event was the CEO of a major company. He begins his seminars with ways to become powerless.

Of all the things he said, his emphasis on the power of being present with others resonated most with me. Achieving full presence requires great effort and focus that cannot be faked; you have to live in the moment. This is an idea I have talked about for years and try hard to practice, but it is so hard. It is easy to always be looking over the person’s shoulder you are talking to for someone more important or more interesting. As humans, we are prone to think of the next thing we want to say or the next thing we want to do. However, only by being fully-present in the moment do you have a chance to know what God has in store.

Fr. Rohr also points out that Christians do not have a lock on knowing what God wants for our lives. He quotes Hindu scriptures that were written 2,500 years before Jesus and shows how what they say sound a lot like what we read in the Bible. We are wrong to think that only our “tribe” has all the answers. In fact, such “tribalism” is exactly why the world is threatening to blow apart today. None of us knows God in a way that is exclusive to our small band of followers. We need to learn from others if we ever want to grow.

My goal was to get him to come to Memphis, but he explained to me that now that he is 72 he no longer travels. But I now have a long list of his writings to read. I am starting with Falling Upward which is what much of his thoughts over the weekend reflected. What was equally good was I made several new friends who are working around the country to make a difference in God’s world just like we are here in Memphis.

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