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Center for Action and Contemplation
A Prayerful Rhythm of Life
A Prayerful Rhythm of Life

Balancing Heart and Action

Friday, July 5, 2024

Father Richard describes how practicing contemplation moves us beyond dualistic thinking:  

I used to think most of us begin with contemplation and a unitive encounter with God and are then led through that experience to awareness of and solidarity with the suffering in the world by some form of action. I do think that’s true for many people, yet as I read the biblical prophets and observe Jesus’ life, I think the reverse also happens: first action, and then needed contemplation.  

No life is immune from suffering. When we’re in solidarity with people facing pain, injustice, war, oppression, colonization—the list goes on and on—we face immense pressure to despair, to become angry or dismissive. When reality is split dualistically between good and bad, right and wrong, we too are torn apart. Yet when we’re broken, we are most open to contemplation, or nondual thinking. We’re desperate to resolve our own terror, anger, and disillusionment, and so we allow ourselves to be led into the silence that holds everything together in wholeness.  

The contemplative, nondual mind is not saying, “Everything is beautiful,” even when it’s not. However, we may come to “Everything is still beautiful” by contemplatively facing the conflict between how reality is and how we wish it could be. We must face dualistic problems, name good and evil, and differentiate between right and wrong. We can’t be naive about evil, but if we stay focused on this duality, we’ll become unlovable, judgmental, dismissive people. I’ve witnessed this pattern in myself. We must eventually find a bigger field, a wider frame, which we call nondual thinking.  

Jesus doesn’t hesitate to name good and evil and to show evil as a serious matter. Jesus often speaks in dualistic images; for example, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). He draws a stark line between the sheep and the goats, the good and the wicked (Matthew 25:31–46). Yet Jesus overcomes these dualisms by what we would call the contemplative mind. We must be honest about what the goats fail to do, but we can’t become hateful, nor do we need to punish them. We keep going deeper until we can also love them, as Jesus did. 

Beginning with necessary, dualistic action and moving toward contemplation seems to be the more common path these days. We see this pattern in Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others. Such people enter into the pain of society and have to go to God to find rest for their soul, because their souls are so torn by the broken, split nature of almost everything, including themselves.  

The most important word in our Center’s name is not Action, nor is it Contemplation, but the word and. We need both action and contemplation to have a whole spiritual journey. It doesn’t matter which comes first; action may lead us to contemplation and contemplation may lead us to action. But finally, they need and feed each other.  

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 246–248. 

Image credit and inspiration: Jenna Keiper, windows + sky fire (detail), 2020, photo, Albuquerque. Click here to enlarge image. Like these everyday windows at sunset, it’s possible to create conditions that reflect the beauty of Spirit in our very normal, everyday lives. 

Story from Our Community:  

In this tumultuous year, I’ve been drawn to a new morning ritual. I rise before dawn, light a candle, read the Daily Meditations, and then sit in Centering Prayer and writing. In the rhythm of receiving, releasing, and returning, I have found a pattern that carries me through my day. As news of politics and injustice continue to come in, I absorb what I can and let the rest go. I am restored in the Divine, as I pray others are as well. 
—Susan S. 

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