A Revolutionary Matter

Contemplation: Week 2

A Revolutionary Matter
Monday, December 17, 2018

Contemplation is beyond the normal consciousness of the mind, granting access to the mystery, known only by love. Here, the normal activities of the human personality come to rest, in order to hear what has remained unheard and to see what has been hidden or veiled. The mystics call this kind of knowing “unknowing” insofar as it approaches reality from the spiritual core of the person and not from the mind alone. Far more than a meditative practice or a temporary respite from worldly concerns, contemplation revolutionizes conventional attitudes and roles in order to transform the foundation upon which life is lived. And to illuminate the hidden teaching of love inscribed in our souls. —Beverly Lanzetta [1]

Contemplation is radical in that it goes to “the root” (radix) of all our problems. Contemplation is the heart of the matter because it changes consciousness and thus transforms how we enter into communion with God, with ourselves, with the moment. Without the contemplative mind, all our talk about and action for social change and justice can actually do more harm than good. In working for social change, we all get angry, disillusioned, alienated, and hurt. We make mistakes, we don’t agree with others, we discover that change takes longer than we’d hoped and the solution isn’t as simple as we’d imagined. I have seen far too many give up, grow bitter, or just nurse a quiet cynicism when they can’t hold disappointment with a contemplative, nondual consciousness. Action needs to be accompanied by contemplation for us to stay on the journey for the long haul. Otherwise, we’re just constantly searching for victims and perpetrators, and eventually we start playing the victim or perpetrator ourselves.

Contemplation is not a new idea; it’s one of the treasures of our Christian tradition. Jesus himself modeled this way of praying and being. It was taught systematically in monasteries for centuries, for example, by Francisco de Osuna (1492–1540), a Spanish Franciscan friar, whose writing liberated Teresa of Ávila. The desert mothers and fathers in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Cappadocia understood and cultivated it for centuries. While systematic contemplative teaching was largely lost for the last 500 years, today interfaith and inter-denominational interest in contemplation continues to grow all over the world.

In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI invited Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Church in England, to address the Synod of Catholic Bishops. Williams emphasized the foundational and radical importance of contemplation:

[Contemplation] is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom—freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that come from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative prayer is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter. [2]

References:
[1] Beverly Lanzetta, The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life (Blue Sapphire Books: 2018), 51-52.

[2] Rowan Williams, “The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Address
to the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops
on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” (October 10, 2012), 8, emphasis mine, http://rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2645/archbishops-address-to-the-synod-of-bishops-in-rome.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Contemplation and Action: An Informal Session of Questions, Responses and Teachings, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009), MP3 download; and

Transforming the World through Contemplative Prayer, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Dancers in Green and White Dresses, Vinicius Vilela.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The word contemplation includes but does not require silence or solitude. Instead, contemplative practices can be identified in public prayers, meditative dance movements, and musical cues that move . . . toward a communal listening and entry into communion with a living God. —Barbara Holmes

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