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Action and Community

Monday, May 4th, 2020


Action and Community
Monday, May 4, 2020

I truly believe that the Gospel calls the whole world to gather into small communities of basic shared values. But community is an art form, and there are obviously many possible ways of coming together, even as much of the world shelters in place. Who would have thought that creating physical distance from others would be an authentic way to care for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable? Here at the Center, our staff members join together daily to share online contemplative prayer. Many of them are creating some form of contemplative space in their own homes—often in the midst of children and household jobs. Then there are the generous individuals building networks of support for people who need help by cooking and delivering meals for hospital staff and essential workers, offering free mental health and spiritual direction services, volunteering for food pantries, and more.

Over the years, I have met many people who live in monasteries but who don’t have actual capacity for community life; they’re too imprisoned in themselves. And, at the same time, I know religious sisters who live alone in apartments but are totally community-oriented, bound up and interconnected with the lives of many people. The secret to community lies in the way we let other people get through to us and the way we move out of ourselves. This is, of course, the mystery of spirituality, of vulnerability, and powerlessness. When a person on a serious inner journey to their own vulnerability is also in immediate contact with the vulnerable of the world, then some form of community will almost always result.

Without an interior life and a love of justice, most communities just serve themselves. We who live in the United States have to look out for this in particular. We’re rather narcissistic as individuals and as a society, always looking out for “Number One,” whether it’s our self, our child, our church, our race, or our political party. But that is clearly not the kind of community Jesus created! He was always moving beyond the boundaries of his own kinship circles.

When we named the “Center for Action and Contemplation,” we deliberately put action first. We learn and are healed by committing ourselves to others, especially those at the margins. At one time this type of service was mostly an act of faith, but now we have evidence to back it up: serving others is a healing balm to our own souls. [1] Faith and science support each other on this, as does Step 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous. [2] We do not fully have it until we hand it on to others.

[1] See https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/volunteering-may-be-good-for-body-and-mind-201306266428.

[2] Step 12 of the Twelve Steps: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Simplicity (Crossroad Publishing: 1991), 38, 41, 50–51.

Image credit: Dressing for the Carnival (Detail), Winslow Homer, 1877, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We learn and are healed by committing ourselves to others. —Richard Rohr
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