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Center for Action and Contemplation
Healing Our Violence
Healing Our Violence

A Loving Inner Witness

Monday, July 31, 2023

Richard continues to explain how contemplation heals us from the judgments and thoughts that so often lead to violence against ourselves and others.  

We each carry a certain amount of pain from our very birth. If that pain is not healed and transformed, it actually increases as we grow older, and we transmit it to people around us. We can become violent in our attitudes, gestures, words, and actions. 

We must nip this process in the bud by acknowledging and owning our own pain, rather than projecting it elsewhere. For myself, I can’t pretend to be loving when inside I’m not, when I know I’ve had cruel, judgmental, and harsh thoughts about others. At the moment the thought arises, I have to catch myself and hand over the annoyance or anger to God. Contemplative practice helps me develop this capacity to watch myself, to let go of the thought, and to connect with my loving Inner Witness. Let me explain why this is so effective and so important. 

If we can simply observe the negative pattern in ourselves, we have already begun to separate from it. The watcher is now over here, observing ourselves thinking that thought—over there. Unless we can become the watcher, we’ll almost always identify with our feelings and our judgments. They feel like real and objective truth. 

Most people I know are overly identified with their own thoughts and feelings. They don’t really have feelings; their feelings have them. That may be what earlier Christians meant by being “possessed” by a demon. That’s why so many of Jesus’ miracles are the exorcism of devils. Most of us don’t take that literally anymore, but the devil is still a powerful metaphor, and it demands that we take it quite seriously. Everyone has a few devils. I know I’m “possessed” at least once or twice a day, even if just for a few minutes! 

There are all kinds of demons. In other words, there are lots of times when we cannot not think a certain way. When we see certain people, we get afraid. When we see other people, we get angry. For example, numerous studies show that many white Americans have an implicit, unacknowledged fear of Black men. Most of us are not consciously or explicitly racist, but many of us have an implicit and totally denied racial bias. This is why all healing and prayer must descend into the unconscious where the lies we’ve believed are hidden in our wounds and embedded in the social reality of our cultures. 

During contemplation, forgotten painful experiences may arise. In such cases, it helps to meet with a spiritual director or therapist to process old wounds and trauma in healthy ways. Over a lifetime of practice, contemplation gradually helps us detach from who we think we are and rest in our authentic identity as Love. At first this may feel like an “identity transplant” until we learn how to permanently rest in God. 


Adapted from Richard Rohr, Mary and Nonviolence (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2002), CD. No longer available for purchase.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Izzy Spitz, Tuesday Chemistry (detail), digital oil pastel. Izzy Spitz, Field Study 1 (detail), oil pastel on canvas. Taylor Wilson, Field of the Saints, print. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

How can we move outside our constricting and restricting patterns of violence? We need each other. We need all the colors. 

Story from Our Community:  

Recently, the Daily Meditations addressed the topic “Everything Belongs.” Specifically, loving our enemies. Reading the meditation, I felt my heart harden. I asked myself: “Why on earth should I love someone who consistently says and does evil things?” As I continued to read, something inside me began to shift. I began to pray for God’s healing grace to allow me to experience caring for a specific person in my life that challenges me. In my mind, I began to see this person as a child. It dawned on me that this person did not come out of his mother’s womb the way he is today. The image of him as a child made it easier for me to pray for this person’s healing. I’m so grateful for these Daily Meditations. They are slowly bringing me closer to my God. —Mary W. 

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In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.