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Center for Action and Contemplation
Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind
Cultivating a Beginner’s Mind

Be Present as a Child

Monday, March 20, 2023

Father Richard describes how a beginner’s mind opens us to awe, wonder, and true presence with God and others:  

Let me try to sum it up and describe it in this way. Beginner’s mind is a readiness to always be in awe, to always be excited. We see it in children and in people who don’t filter everything through the brain. Beginner’s mind is one’s mind before the hurts of life have made us cautious and self-protective. We can still be excited, we can still be in awe, we can still expect tomorrow to be different than today. Mostly, beginner’s mind is someone who’s not in their mind yet. That’s the freedom. They can still experience naked being apart from filtering it through mental categories. That’s what it comes down to. And I think those people are capable of what Catholics would call “Real Presence.” Presence cannot be defined. Presence can only be experienced. We tried to define the Eucharist, how Jesus was in the bread and wine, and we divided churches over these mental categories. But the only people who can experience “Real Presence” are those who are vulnerable and don’t have any ego boundaries to defend. [1] 

Author Cole Arthur Riley identifies the freedom available to us when we return to childlike awe and wonder: 

Children are made of awe. We have much to learn from them, but we seldom aim to. When we encounter the freedom of a child, we can choose to participate in their liberation, or we can grow to resent the freedom in them. The words childish and juvenile are made derogatory as we become overly concerned with the serious. It is a feigned superiority. The tragedy is that as we distance ourselves from the delight of our youth, we become increasingly prone to disillusionment. Wonder and beauty are not precise cures for disillusionment, but they certainly can stave off the despair of it. To reclaim the awe of our child-selves, to allow ourselves to be taken by the beauty of a thing, allows goodness to take up the space it’s often denied in our interior worlds…. 

As we grow older, the “serious” becomes a simulacrum for wisdom and even honor. Impoverished by the honor withheld from us in childhood, we become very willing participants in a kind of spiritual maturation that honors the profound and grave, even at the expense of the simple and beautiful. In fact, the path to wonder is not sophistication or intellect or articulation; it is a clock wound backward….  

My faith is held together by wonder—by every defiant commitment to presence and paying attention. I cannot tell you with precision what makes the sun set, but I can tell you how those colors, blurred together, calm my head and change my breath. I will die knowing I lived a faith that changed my breathing. A faith that made me believe I could see air. [2] 


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Beginner’s Mind (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2002). Available as CD and MP3 download. 

[2] Cole Arthur Riley, This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us (New York: Convergent, 2022), 29, 30–31, 41. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Jenna Keiper, Winter Bird. Jenna Keiper, Mystic. Jenna Keiper, North Cascades Sunrise. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

There is humility in accepting how much we don’t know. 

Story from Our Community:

Until I was in my 50s, my fundamentalist faith offered me both certainty and confusion. I knew who God was—or thought I did. Eventually, I came to believe that much of what I had been taught simply didn’t make sense. That confusion escalated in into a painfully long “dark night of the soul.” Eventually, I found Fr. Richard’s teachings and the work of so many others. As I move into my 60s, the beautiful and healing process of “unknowing” has been underway for several years. I find myself “shedding my neat conceptions of the divine … and emerging into the world bare, vulnerable, and new again.” For me, that is worth everything. To everyone at the CAC and the contributors on the Daily Meditations, know that you are sustaining the ups and downs of so many of us around the world. We feel you wrapping arms of love around us. Thank you! —Annamarie F. 

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