Book Review – Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr

by Mark Votava


I absolutely love this book from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi.  It is filled with wisdom that you won’t hear inside the structural boxes of Christianity in North America.  It is essential reading for anyone who wants to embrace finding a way to live life in our twenty-first century world.

This book covers territory about our dualistic thinking, embracing simplicity, awareness of our connectedness, seeing the sacredness of all of life, trusting our own souls within, the inner authority of suffering (letting go of control), the integration of the masculine and feminine, mysticism and contemplation.

I like how letting go of control is a primary theme in the writing.  He says that letting go of control is the way we experience suffering in our lives.  And suffering leads us to an inner authority we will find in no other way.  Those who suffer and love have the deepest wisdom that nobody can understand completely.

Richard Rohr makes mysticism something that is accessible to us all by stating it as an experiential knowledge of our spirituality.  I constantly long for an experiential spirituality that is not based on abstract theology or ideas about God, but is based on something authentic in everyday life.  Exploring a mysticism where we are all ordinary mystics who live out our experiential spirituality in community together with others is what I want to embody.  This is hopeful to me like nothing else.

This book has inspired my imagination beyond the status quo life of mortgages and luxuries to find God in the ordinary.  Rohr has led me to embrace a simplicity where I find solidarity with the marginalized, where they are no longer a threat to me and I stop objectifying others for my own gain.  This seems like freedom from the empire I find myself in.

I love how the book talks about how St. Francis brought the feminine back into our spirituality.  He integrated the masculine and the feminine together.  When we lose the feminine side of spirituality we do things like the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and all others forms of colonial violence because masculine spirituality tends to be about being right and competition.  The feminine side tends to be more relational and about the embodiment of love through collaboration and partnership.

Rohr says that we are taught to mistrust our souls.  I am coming to see that we can trust what is deepest within us, our true self, the authentic longing that lives within.  We are created in the image of God and are beloved.  We need to honor this true self within ourselves and allow it to live more fully as the Spirit of love lives within us.

Subverting a dominant narrative of the sacred/secular divide to see all of life as sacred is essential to the book.  All sorts of distortions happen to us when we live in our dualistic thinking of separating life into little compartments of our own making.  When we do this all of life cannot be embraced as sacred and we live in dualities.  This is not healthy and will lead us to believe in a narrative of separation from ourselves, God and one another.

  • Mysticism is experiential knowledge

“The most unfortunate thing about the concept of mysticism is that the word itself has become mystified – and regulated to a ‘misty’ and distant realm that implies it is only available to a very few.  For me, the word simply means experiential knowledge of spiritual things, as opposed to book knowledge, secondhand knowledge or even church knowledge.”

  • Taught to mistrust our own souls

“We were taught to mistrust our own souls – and thus the Holy Spirit!”

  • Everything is a revelation of the divine

“The Christ Mystery refuses to be vague and abstract, and is always concrete and specific.  When we stay with these daily apparitions, we see that everything is a revelation of the divine…  There are henceforth no blind spots in the divine disclosure, in our own eyes, or in our rearview mirrors.  Our only blindness is our own lack of fascination, humility, curiosity, awe, and willingness to be allured forward.”

  • All of the world is sacred

“In Franciscan mysticism, there is no distinction between sacred and profane.  All of the world is sacred…”

  • Refound on a new level

“What the crucified has revealed to the world is that the real authority that ‘authors’ people and changes the world is an inner authority that comes from people who have lost, let go, and are refound on a new level…”

  • Some form of suffering is absolutely necessary

“If suffering is ‘whenever we are not in control’ (which is my definition), then you see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and give that control back to God.  Then we become usable instruments, because we share our power with God’s power…”

  • A kind of crucifixion

“…to accept full reality will always be a kind of crucifixion both for God and for ourselves.  For us, it is a sure death to our easy opinions, our forced certitudes, any futile attempts at perfect control, our preplanned life, any intellectual or moral superiority, and eventually any belief in our separateness from God.”

  • Our mortgages, luxuries, and chosen lifestyles control our whole future

“Today most of us try to find personal and individual freedom even as we remain inside of structural boxes and an entire system of consumption that we are then unable or unwilling to critique.  Our mortgages, luxuries, and chosen lifestyles control our whole future.  Whoever is paying our bills, and giving us security and status, determines what we can and cannot think.  You cannot remove the plank that you are standing on.  Self-serving institutions that give us our security, status, or identity are almost always considered ‘too big to fail’ and are invariably beyond an honest critique for the vast majority of people.  And thus corruption grows.  The way of radical Christianity is simply to stay outside of such systems to begin with, so they cannot control your breath of thinking, feeling, loving, and living out universal justice.”

  • When you agree to live simply

“When you agree to live simply, you do not consider the immigrant, the refuge, the homeless person, or the foreigner as a threat to you or see them as being in competition with you.  You have chosen their marginal state for yourself…”

  • People cease to be possessions

“When you agree to live simply, people cease to be possessions and objects for your consumption or use.  Your lust for relationships or for others to serve you, your need for other people’s admiration, your desire to use other people as a kind of commodity for your personal pleasure, or any need to control and manipulate other people, slowly – yes, very slowly – falls away.”

  • Fragile and vulnerable

“The true Gospel always leaves us both fragile and vulnerable…”

  • An inner capacity to live with paradoxes and contradictions

“…contemplation gives us an inner capacity to live with paradoxes and contradictions.  It is a quantum leap forward in our tolerance for ambiguity, mystery, and paradox.  More than anything else, this new way of processing the moment is what moves us from mere intelligence, or correct information, to what we normally mean by wisdom or non-dual thinking.”

  • The beginning of training in non-dual thinking

“Paradox held and overcome is the beginning of training in non-dual thinking or contemplation, as opposed to paradox denied, which forces us to choose only one part of any mysterious truth.  Such a choice will be false because we usually choose the one that serves our small purposes…”

  • Live into new ways of thinking

“…humans tend to live themselves into new ways of thinking more than think themselves into new ways of living…”

  • Honest self-knowledge

“Honest self-knowledge, shadow work, therapy, and tools like the Enneagram are dismissed with such hostility by many fervent believers that you know they are hiding something or afraid of something.  They disdain this work as ‘mere psychology’…”

  • Overcompensate with external window dressing

“When you have not had any internal experience of God and grace, you almost always overcompensate with external window dressing.  The ‘window dressings’ are not wrong in themselves, but do tend to make nonessentials into the essentials that we obsess about and divide over.  When you have done this for half your life, it is very hard to let go of it…”

  • Patriarchy frames life as essentially competition

“By patriarchy (‘the rule of the fathers’), I mean when any group or individual operates in such a way that others must concede so that the dominant group is always first, in control, and right.  Patriarchy frames life as essentially competition and ‘the survival of the fittest,’ and there must be clear winners and losers.  This is an obvious case of the dualistic mind at work…”

  • In the male world, humility looks like weakness

“In the male world, humility commonly looks like weakness, lack of exposure to the ‘real world,’ or even low self-esteem; but it is not an admirable virtue or any kind of needed strength…”

  • Love is the nature of being

“The divine pattern is first and itself love, as opposed to thinking that God can be rationally understood, and this God then orders us to love.  Love is then a mandate instead of the nature of being itself…”

  • No such thing as failure

“If your only goal is to love there is no such thing as failure…”

  • Incarnation is actually our ordinary life

“…there is shock involved when we suddenly see that incarnation is actually our ordinary life, now, everywhere.  At first, it is a disappointment.  But once we become practiced at a contemplative worldview, a ‘thisness’ way of seeing, there is nothing trivial anymore and all is grace.  But those who have chosen a split world of sacred or profane don’t know how to live in a world where everything is sacred…”

  • Life is about being connected

“Life is never about being correct, but only and always about being connected.  Just stay connected!  At all costs stay connected.  Our only holiness is by participation and surrender to the Body of Love, and not by any private performance.  This is the joining of hands from generation to generation that can still change the world – and will.  Because Love is One, and this Love is either shared and passed on or it is not the Great Love at all.  The One Love is always eager, and, in fact, such eagerness is precisely the giveaway that we are dealing with something divine and eternal.”

Have you read Eager to Love?  What would you give the book from 1 to 10?