Contemplation: A Life’s Journey
Sunday, July 12, 2020
I believe that the combination of human action from a contemplative center is the greatest art form, one that takes our whole lives to master. When action and contemplation are united, we have beauty, symmetry, and transformation—lives and actions that heal the world by their very presence. Jesus is the perfect example of this, but we can also point to the lives of many saints, mystics, teachers, and even people we know who share this gift.
For most people, the process begins on the side of action. We learn, we experiment, we do, we stumble, we fall, we break, and we find. Gradually, our thoughts and actions become more mature, but it is only when we begin to question our own viewing “platform” that we begin to move into the realm of contemplation. The contemplative side of the soul will reveal itself when we begin to ask, “How can I listen for God and learn God’s voice? How can I use my words and actions to expand and not to contract? How can I keep my heart, mind, and soul open, even ‘in hell’?”
Contemplation is a way to bring heaven to earth, but it begins with a series of losses, largely of our illusions. If we do not enter the learning process deeply, with curiosity and openness, we will use our words and actions to defend ourselves. We will seek to protect ourselves from our shadow, and build a leaden cover over our soul and our unconscious. We will settle for being right instead of being whole and holy, for saying prayers instead of being prayer.
True contemplation is really quite down to earth and practical. It does not require life in a monastery. It is, however, an utterly different way of receiving the moment, and therefore all of life. In order to have the capacity to move the world, we need some “social distancing” and detachment from the diversions and delusions of mass culture and our false self. Contemplation builds on the hard bottom of reality—as it is—without ideology, denial, the contemporary mood, or fantasy.
The reason why the true contemplative-in-action is still somewhat rare is that most of us are experts in dualistic thinking. And then we try to use this limited thinking tool for prayer, problems, and relationships. It cannot get us very far. We cannot grow in the great art form of action and contemplation without a strong tolerance for ambiguity, an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and a willingness to not know—and not even need to know. This is how we allow and encounter Mystery.
This week the Daily Meditations feature contemplative activists who encountered Mystery and felt called to live out Jesus’s prayer that God’s will be done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Their lives embody the beautiful struggle that is revealed when we seek to hold heaven and earth together through our love and faithfulness to God, humanity, and creation.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014) 1, 2, 3.