The real contemplative takes the whole world in and shelters it, reveres it, and protects it with a body made of the steely substance of a justice that springs from love. —Joan Chittister, Illuminated Life
Like Father Richard, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister connects contemplation with the pursuit of justice:
The contemplative responds to the divine in everyone. God wills the care of the poor as well as the reward of the rich; so, therefore, must the true contemplative. God wills the end of oppressors who stand with the heel in the neck of the weak; so, therefore, does the true contemplative. God wills the liberation of all human beings; so, therefore, must the true contemplative. God desires the dignity and full development of all human beings. Thus, God takes the side of the defenseless. And, thus, therefore, must the true contemplative; otherwise, that contemplation is not real, cannot be real, will never be real, because to contemplate the God of justice is to be committed to justice. The true contemplative, the truly spiritual person, then, must do justice, must speak justice, must insist on justice, and they do, and they always have, and they are.
Thomas Merton spoke out from a cloister in Kentucky against the Vietnam War. Catherine of Siena walked the streets of the city when women were not permitted to walk the streets of the city feeding the poor. Hildegard of Bingen preached the word of justice to emperors and to popes. . . . A spiritual path that does not lead to a living commitment to the coming will of God, to the present Reign of God, to the Kingdom of God within and around us everywhere for everyone, is no path at all. . . .
From contemplation comes not only the consciousness of the universal connectedness of life, but the courage to model it as well. Those who have no flame in their hearts for justice, no consciousness of personal responsibility for the Reign of God, no raging commitment to human community may, indeed, be seeking God, but make no mistake, God is still at best only an idea to them, not a living reality.
Indeed, contemplation, you see, is a very dangerous activity. It not only brings us face to face with God, it brings us, as well, face to face with the world, and then it brings us face to face with the self; and then, of course, something must be done . . . because nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. We become new people, and in the doing, see everything around us newly too. We become connected to everything, to everyone. We carry the whole world in our hearts, the oppression of all peoples, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the earth, the hunger of the starving, the joyous expectation every laughing child has a right to. Then, the zeal for justice consumes us. Then, action and prayer are one.
Adapted from Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr, Prophets Then, Prophets Now (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2006). Available as MP3 download.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Poor People’s Campaign co-founder Liz Theoharis on the kingdom of God.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Nathan Garcia, Untitled (detail), 2019, photograph, Albuquerque. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.
Image inspiration: Imagine our world illumined by love and justice.
Story from Our Community:
Reading the Daily Meditations has inspired me to cultivate a spirit of non-violence and illuminated a deep knowing in my own heart. My brother-in-law challenges me. We don’t agree on much—especially on issues of politics, and I found that spending any amount of time with him caused me great anxiety. I began to pray that his heart be transformed—but what actually happened was that my own heart cracked open. I now see my brother-in-law as someone who yearns for love and acceptance. More than that, I sense an emerging love within myself that is pure and unconditional, just like God’s love for each of us. —Melissa S.
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.