Creating Peaceful Change
Sunday, August 18, 2019
The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else, and from Being Itself. When we don’t know how to consciously live out of union (which is called love), we resort to violence, fighting anything that is not like us and that we cannot control. Contemplative practice teaches us to honor differences and also realize that we are all much more than our nationality, skin color, gender, or other labels which are all aspects of the passing and thus false self. Contemplation brings us back to our True Self, who we are in God.
When we can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then we will, ironically, find that we are more than enough. This is the wisdom of the Gospel that is especially emphasized in Franciscan spirituality. At this place of both poverty and freedom we have nothing to prove or protect. Here we can connect with everything and everyone. Everything belongs. This cuts violence at its very roots before there is any basis for fear, anger, vengeance, or self-promotion—the things that often cause violence.
One of the reasons I founded the Center for Action and Contemplation thirty-two years ago was to give activists some grounding in spirituality (their True Self) so they could continue working for social change, but from a stance much different than anger, ideology, or oppositional willpower. Many activists I knew in the 1960s loved the nonviolent teachings of Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968). But it became clear to me that theirs was often a mere intellectual appreciation rather than a participation in the much deeper mystery.
To create peaceful change, we first have to get the “Who” right. Who are you? Most of us, particularly pragmatic Americans, lead with strategic questions—what, how, when. These are secondary questions. Before we act or react, we need to wait—wait for communion, wait until we’re reconnected to the Ground of Being and even in our “enemies,” wait until we’re conscious, wait until a “yes” appears within us.
When we begin by connecting with our inner experience of communion, our actions can be pure, clear, and firm. This kind of action, rooted in one’s True Self, comes from a deeper knowing of what is real, good, true, and beautiful—beyond labels and dualistic judgments of right or wrong. From this place, our energy is positive and has the most potential to create change for the good. This stance is precisely what we mean by “being in prayer” and why we must pray always to maintain this state of constant prayer.
I’m not telling you not to act. The Gospel offers a way to make our action sustainable and lasting over the long haul. People on the Right tend to be perpetually angry, fearful, and overly defensive, and people on the Left tend to be perpetually cynical, morally righteous, and outraged. The Gospel calls forth a refined instrument beyond these two falsehoods that can really make a difference because it is a new level of consciousness altogether. Such activists are themselves “a new creation” (Galatians 6:15) and the lightning rods of God’s transformative energy into the world.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Healing Our Violence Through the Journey of Centering Prayer, discs 1 and 2 (Franciscan Media: 2002), CD.