Richard Rohr’s latest book, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, is a rare companion for the Easter to Pentecost season. Few have written about this liturgical period in such depth, often focusing on what the resurrection means for end-times and eternal bliss. It is much easier to believe and defend the literal resurrection of Jesus’ body than to ask ourselves whether “we could really change or resurrect.” Rohr invites us deeper into the symbolism and metaphor of Jesus’ resurrection, not denying its occurrence, but exploring the subtle, powerful meaning within and behind the familiar story.
The book’s title is taken from the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (read the full poem here): “That Nature is a Heraclitian Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.”
Fall to the residuary worm; | world's wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
The “comfort of the resurrection” is a miraculous, oft misunderstood thing. Christian tradition has too often held the promise of resurrection off in the distance as a reward for right belief and good behavior. Of course, we claim it’s all about grace, that there’s no meriting this stupendous favor from God. Yet it is almost always presented as something to look behind or forward to, not as a gift for this moment.
Rohr begins by asserting: “Resurrection is not about a man returning to his body, nearly as much as a universal man leading us into a universal future—and doing that by making use of all the past and transforming it (Ephesians 4:15-16).” Within Jesus’ own story of coming-to-full-life is a promise for every other human being—that we can experience real metanoia.
Our earthly life is about uncovering this immortal diamond, the “True Self.” Rohr describes the True Self as “that part of you that knows who you are and whose you are, although largely unconsciously.” This is what it means to have the mind of Christ. When we remember our True Self, when we are aware of our belovedness, then we are truly alive and one with Jesus, as he is with the Father. “I am all at once what Christ is….”
Rohr encourages us to experience resurrection within our very selves, during our one human existence on Earth. The promise of Jesus’ resurrection is not just for later. It is for now. As Jesus says, the kingdom of God is within you. It is about finding in this life our true identity in God, as recipient and participant in God’s love, united in Jesus’ resurrection with God’s own self.
And yet, as Rohr reminds us, resurrection necessitates first a dying. The terror of unknown death keeps many Christians satisfied with the literal meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the far-off trumpet call to eternal life. Death is a fearsome thing. It means letting go, giving up security and safety, saying goodbye to the familiar.
What must die before resurrection into God’s life can happen? Rohr calls it the False Self, the identity we construct from childhood onward, a pretend and protective persona that helps us succeed in the ordinary world. He says, “Your False Self is just who you think you are—but thinking doesn’t make it so.” Our False Self is the image we’ve made to fit our particular family, social group, culture, religion. It is not in and of itself “bad.” We need its structure to help us function. But it gets in the way of our True Self’s call to be and act within Grace. When our False Self dies, our beliefs about who we are, whether superior or inferior, specially set-apart or excluded, deserving or undeserving, all pass away, and we are left with the very basic fact of our identity, that we are God’s.
In three simple statements Rohr summarizes the message of Immortal Diamond:
1. The goodness of God fills all the gaps of the universe, without discrimination or preference…. Grace is not something God gives; grace is who God is.
2. Death is not just a physical dying, but going to full depth, hitting the bottom, going the distance, beyond where I am in control, fully beyond where I am now…. If we are honest, we acknowledge that we are dying throughout our life, and this is what we learn if we are attentive: grace is found at the depths and in the death of everything.
3. When you go into the full depths and death, sometimes even the depths of your sin, you come out the other side—and the word for that is resurrection…. The tomb is always finally empty.
Rohr quotes a poignant and disturbing poem, “They Have Threatened Us with Resurrection,” by Guatemalan poet Julia Esquival, reflecting on the killings of her people in the mid-1900s. Esquival describes sleepless nights and urges her readers:
Join us in this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
Then you will know how marvelous it is to live threatened with Resurrection!
To dream awake
to keep watch asleep,
to live while dying,
and to know ourselves already resurrected!
We are threatened with the most dangerous of perils—to lose ourselves to find our True Selves. Somehow the threat is as comforting as it is terrifying. As Jesus prayed on the night of his betrayal, stay awake and pray. Don’t live a partial life, but enter fully into suffering and resurrection—the way of Jesus the Christ.
Rohr writes this book for “secular seekers and thinkers, believers and nonbelievers alike, and that huge disillusioned group in recovery from religion itself.” Immortal Diamond is a book for any stage of the spiritual journey, though I must warn that it will ask more of you than you may be ready to give. If you want to stay comfortable in your current way of living and can’t stand to be threatened by the real power of resurrection, don’t crack the cover. But if you dare to experience death and resurrection for yourself, be assured you’ll find the best comfort there is, that of knowing who you are in God Who Is Grace.
Immortal Diamond, like the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaeus, challenges our old ways of thinking and being, inviting us to a deeper and more authentic encounter with the living Christ who now lives in us.
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Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest “on the edge of the inside”, is not always welcome in Catholic congregations; however, he speaks internationally to ecumenical audiences and has written numerous books, including Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life and Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1987 as a means to support and nurture those working for justice. The CAC seeks to empower individuals to live out their sacred soul tasks in service to the world.
Joelle Chase is Director of Messaging for the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Joelle graduated from Andrews University with a Bachelors in Elementary Education and spent two years teaching in a one-room Adventist school in Montana before moving to Albuquerque. She and her husband, Peter, are putting down roots on a small urban homestead with their two dogs, fruit trees and water cisterns.