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Center for Action and Contemplation

Catching Violence at the Beginning

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Healing Our Violence

Catching Violence at the Beginning
Sunday, October 18, 2015

Another significant theme in my wisdom lineage is the teaching of nonviolence. This week I’ll explore the contemplative foundation of nonviolence, and next week I’ll briefly introduce several of the peace-makers who have had the greatest impact on me.

The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from Being itself, from being one with everyone and everything. When you don’t know how to consciously live out of your union with Love, you resort to violence, fighting people who are not like you. Contemplative practice teaches you to not make so much of the differences, but to return to who you are beyond your nationality, skin color, gender, or other labels. It brings you back to your True Self, who you are in God.

When you can become little enough, naked enough, and honest enough, then you will ironically find that you are more than enough. This is the wisdom of the Gospel, and it is surely the Franciscan emphasis. At this place of poverty and freedom you have nothing to prove and nothing to protect. Here you can connect with everything and everyone. Everything belongs. This cuts violence at its very roots before there is even a basis for fear, anger, protection, vengeance, or self-promotion—the things that often cause violence.

One of the reasons I founded the Center for Action and Contemplation twenty-eight years ago was to give activists some grounding in spirituality so they could continue working for social change, but from a stance much different than anger, ideology, or willpower pressing against opposing willpower. Many activists I knew loved Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings on nonviolence. But it became clear to me that theirs was often an intellectual appreciation rather than a participation in the much deeper mystery. I saw people on the left playing the victim and creating victims—exactly what Jesus did not do. It was much more subtle than the same game on the right, but it still proceeded from an unkind and self-righteous heart.

To create peaceful change, we first have to get the “Who” right. Who are you? Most of us, particularly pragmatic Americans, lead with strategic questions—what, how, when. These are secondary questions. Before we act or react, we need to wait—wait for communion, wait until we’re reconnected to the Ground of Being, wait until we’re conscious, wait until a “yes” appears.

Don’t operate out of the unconscious, don’t begin with a “no,” which is the constricted and self-promoting you. When you begin by connecting with your inner experience of communion, your actions can be pure, clear, and firm. This kind of action, rooted in one’s True Self, comes from a deeper knowing of what is real, good, true, and beautiful, beyond labels and dualistic judgments of right or wrong. From this place, your energy is positive and has the most potential to create change for the good. This permanent stance is precisely what we mean by “being in prayer” and why we must pray always to maintain it.

I’m not telling you not to act. The Gospel wants to offer you a way to make your action sustainable and lasting over the long haul. People on the right tend to be perpetually angry and overly defended, and people on the left tend to be perpetually cynical and outraged. The Gospel is trying to call forth a refined instrument that can really make a difference because it is a new level of consciousness altogether. The activists who are themselves “a new creation” (Galatians 6:15b) are the lightning rods of God’s transformative energy into the world. Picture Pope Francis in his series of talks given to Congress, the UN, the clergy, and the crowds in his September visit to the U.S. He literally worked miracles!

Gateway to Silence:
Love your enemies.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Healing Our Violence Through the Journey of Centering Prayer (Franciscan Media: 2002), discs 1 and 2, CD.

Image credit: St. Francis embracing the leper, by Lawrence Zink, reprinted from Francis: The Journey and the Dream, copyright © 1988, Murray Bodo, St. Anthony Messenger Press, p. 13. Used with permission.
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