By: Ronald Rolheiser
Publisher: Doubleday ISBN: 9780385511155
I’m in the process of reading through this book a second time already. I read it for the first time a few months ago while spending a month in a School for Spiritual Direction at a monastery in New Mexico. The Restless Heart wasn’t part of my required reading, but something I picked up while there. It would be an understatement to say I’m glad I found it, because this book is still bringing new insights and understanding to me even five months after having first read it.
The complexities of the human condition are such that it is so very difficult to discuss the issues of loneliness and restlessness of the soul without diving into clinical descriptions and categories. Before long, the discussion begins to get weighted down to the point it is difficult to follow…at least this is true for me. The problem with this situation is that almost every human soul is afflicted with issues of loneliness and each of us strives to deal with it in some way. Trying to understand the nature of our affliction and how to meet it or overcome it becomes one of the major questions in life.
I found the writing of Ronald Rolheiser very amenable to my knowledge, experience, and ability to understand the nature of my own struggles with loneliness. Over and over as he explained the nature and condition of the restless and lonely soul, I was able to connect with the illustrations and stories as my own. I think, perhaps for the first time, the proverbial “light bulb” came on and I started to realize the nature of loneliness and how pervasive it is in every soul. Not only was I able to get a glimpse into the deep longing of my own soul, I was able to understand and empathize with the struggles others face and the subsequent consequences of their struggles. Each of us is affected in our relationships and our spiritual formation by the loneliness of our souls and restless search for true spiritual community.
The notes from the publisher on the back of my (paperback) copy tell that this book is a “thoughtful exploration…in the tradition of Henri Nouwen’s classic Reaching Out.” I might suggest that title for reading too. I am currently reading it myself and see the two studies as complimentary to one another.
Rolheiser’s study in loneliness has two major movements. He first addresses the nature of loneliness. In this section he deals with the clinical side of loneliness. I found this very objective and well presented; it was easy to follow and I found myself subconsciously nodding with agreement as I read through the chapters discussing the problems, dangers, and types of loneliness. This section was a great setup for part two of the exploration which deals with understanding loneliness from a Christian perspective. In this section Rolheiser details what the ancient Hebrew texts say about loneliness and then moves to discussions from the New Testament Scriptures. Following the Biblical contexts of the study, he addresses the thoughts of classic Christian theologians; Augustine, Aquinas, and John of the Cross to name a few.
The study is summarized with the closing chapters, The Potential Value of Loneliness and Toward a Spirituality of Loneliness. It is in these chapters that Rolheiser brings the message home to the reader and teaches about the unexpected joys and opportunities that exist in the quiet places of loneliness. I am able to see this very clearly in the writings of Henri Nouwen from Reaching Out, but I’m not sure if that would have been so clear to me had I not spent several months pouring over Rolheiser’s The Restless Heart. I feel very fortunate to have found this book and even more glad that I have my own copy to refer to over and over again. It is, in my opinion, a spiritual classic and deserves to be read by anyone seeking to grow deeper in their journey with Jesus Christ.