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Center for Action and Contemplation

A Hidden Wholeness

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Contemplation in Action: Week 2

A Hidden Wholeness
Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Charles Péguy (1873–1914), French poet and essayist, wrote with great insight that “everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.” [1] Everything new and creative in this world puts together things that don’t look like they go together at all but always have been connected at a deeper level. Spirituality’s goal is to get people to that deeper level, to the unified field or nondual thinking, where God alone can hold contradictions and paradox.

When people ask me which is the more important, action or contemplation, I know it is an impossible question to answer because they are eternally united in one embrace, two sides of one coin. So I say that action is not the important word, nor is contemplation; and is the important word! How do you put the two together? I am seventy-four now and I’m still working on it! The dance of action and contemplation is an art form that will take your entire life to master. Like Moses at the burning bush, many of us begin with a mystical moment and end with social action or what looks like politics. But it also works in the other direction. Some start by diving into the pain of the world and that drives them toward their need for God.

Unfortunately, too often Christianity has focused on one or the other. But there are some masterful teachers who emphasize the integration of action and contemplation. One of these was John Main (1926–1982), a Benedictine monk. He taught the necessary fixed point, the place to stand, which for him was the stability of the mantra and the disciplined practice of twice-daily formal meditation. And from that daily practice flowed action. [2]

Though he didn’t talk directly about social or political issues, Main drew attention to our basic distractibility and superficiality. In this he was a prophet, seeing to the depth of things. He spoke from a place of critical distance from the illusions of this world, and in that way his words have weight and substance.

People like John Main and Thomas Merton continue to have a tremendous impact—even though each was just a single human being—because their vision was both radically critical of consumer culture and also in love with God and the world. They overcame the seeming tension and found underneath it a unified field. Merton called this the “hidden wholeness” [3] and it is what Lady Julian of Norwich saw when she looked at a single hazelnut and understood, “It is all that is made.” [4] She is either delusional or seeing what most of us do not see. Mystics always see in wholes.

Gateway to Silence:
Give me a lever and a place to stand.

[1] Charles Péguy, Notre Jeunesse (Paris: Cahiers de la Quinzaine, 1910), 27. Original text: “Tout commence en mystique et finit en politique.”
[2] John Main, John Main: Essential Writings, ed. Laurence Freeman (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002).
[3] Thomas Merton, “Hagia Sophia: Dawn.” See Thomas Merton, In the Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, ed. Lynn R. Szabo (New York: New Directions, 2005), 65.
[4] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, chapter 5.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 6, 11.

Image credit: CAC Interns in Action (detail), Juarez Mexico, 2008. CAC Archives.
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