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Center for Action and Contemplation
CAC's Eight Core Principles
CAC's Eight Core Principles

A Second Gaze

Monday, October 10, 2022

The Second Core Principle of the CAC: We need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action. Richard shares how contemplation has transformed his view of reality through a “second gaze”:

The first gaze is seldom compassionate. It’s too busy weighing and feeling itself: “How will this affect me?” or “What reaction does my self-image demand now?” or “How can I regain control of this situation?” Let’s admit that we all start there. Only after God has taught us how to live “undefended” can we immediately stand with and for others, and for the moment.

It has taken me much of my life to begin to have the second gaze. By nature I have a critical mind and a demanding heart, and I am so impatient. These are both my gifts and my curses, yet it seems I cannot have one without the other. They are both good teachers. A life of solitude and silence allows them both, and invariably leads me to the second gaze. The gaze of compassion, looking out at life from the place of Divine Intimacy, is really all I have, and all I have to give, although I don’t always do it.

I named my little hermitage “East of Eden” because of its significance in the life of Cain, after he killed his brother Abel. God sent Cain to this place after he had failed and sinned. Yet ironically God gave him a loving and protective mark: “So YHWH put a mark on Cain so that no one would do him harm. He sent him to wander in the land of Nod, East of Eden” (Genesis 4:15–16). I have always felt God’s mark and protection.

By my late 50s I had plenty of opportunities to see my own failures, shadow, and sin. The first gaze at myself was critical, negative, and demanding, not at all helpful to me or to others. I am convinced that such guilt and shame are never from God. They are merely protestations of the false self when shocked by its own poverty. God leads by compassion, never by condemnation. God offers us the grace to weep over our sins more than to perfectly overcome them, to humbly recognize our littleness rather than to become big. This kind of weeping and wandering keeps us both askew and awake at the same time.

My later life call is to “wander in the land of Nod,” enjoying God’s so-often-proven love and protection. I look back at my life, and everybody’s life, the One-and-Only-Life, marked happily and gratefully with the sign of Cain. Contemplation and compassion are finally coming together. This is my second gaze. It is well worth waiting for, because only the second gaze sees fully and truthfully. It sees itself, the other, and even God with God’s own compassionate eyes. True action must spring from this place. Otherwise, most of our action is merely reaction, and cannot bear “fruit that will last” (John 15:16).


Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Contemplation and Compassion: The Second Gaze,” Radical Grace 25, no. 4, The Eight Core Principles (Fall 2012): 13–17.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Claudia Retter, The Villa Stairwell (detail), used with permission. Claudia Retter, Via Galuzza (detail), photograph, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 1 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images by Claudia Retter and Arthur Allen appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Stairs and buildings provide structure for our movement and safety. The CAC’s eight core principles guide us in exploring the context and substance of our lived experiences.

Story from Our Community:

When I started dating again after 5 years, I thought it would be impossible to find someone who had similar spiritual points of view. The Universe stepped in to prove me wrong. Within a few months, my wife and I went on our first date, and during our wonderful conversation, she mentioned that she read the Daily Meditations from the CAC. She shared that day’s meditation with me, which was coincidentally on the topic of Love. I remembered thinking, “I love this heart-driven attention to a spiritual way of living and thinking. I want to explore more about this and the wonderful woman sitting next to me…” We were married a year later. We continue to read the Daily Meditations every day. They enrich our relationship to God and to each other. What a difference the CAC has made in our lives! —Kim M.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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