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Center for Action and Contemplation

Connecting with Universal Meaning

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Rebuilding on a Contemplative Foundation

Connecting with Universal Meaning
Sunday, July 9, 2017

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
—St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) [1]

Contemplation is a most radical form of self-surrender and kenosis (letting go). Yet surrender is only possible if there is a profound trust that there is Someone trustworthy to whom we can surrender. Paradoxically, self-forgetfulness leads to a firm and fearless sense of self-responsibility. There is a co-creation going on, a synergism between surrender and personal responsibility, God “co-operating with those who love God” (Romans 8:28). We are on a cosmic trust walk.

Contemplation is challenging and even unnatural in an overstimulated culture. It is next to impossible as long as we identify with our passing feelings and opinions. No new perception, no new engagement, no honest name for God will emerge in our cluttered existence apart from a contemplative stance which relativizes the shallow and egoic chatter in our minds.

I am convinced that many, if not most, modern neuroses are a direct result of the lack of a common, shared story under which our individual stories are written. As a result, our tiny lives lack a transcendent referent, a larger significance, a universal meaning. Our common life is a “dis-aster,” literally disconnected from the cosmic “stars.” We are lost in insignificance.

The Universal Christ, described by the Apostle Paul, is not a problem-solving Christ, not a denominational or cultural Christ, not a Christ domesticated by the churches, but the One who names in his life and person what matters, what lasts, and finally what is. He holds it all together in significance, reveals the redemptive pattern that we call the life and death of things, and holds the meaning and value of our lives outside of ourselves (see Colossians 1, Ephesians 1, John 1).

Because Christians no longer “worship” such a Christ, we are condemned to worship smaller gods and to build our lives around smaller stories, none of which are big enough or real enough to give universal order and meaning. We look to the private psyche, but it is just not connected enough to encompass human spiritual longing. Christianity’s efforts at evangelization will remain trapped in culture and fundamentalism until we ourselves are large enough to proclaim a cosmic notion of Christ.

Gateway to Silence:
Build on the positive; build on love.

[1] Teresa of Avila, Nada te turbe.” Soon after Teresa’s death, these lines were found written in her prayer book. See note in The Complete Works of St. Teresa of Avila, trans. and ed. E. Allison Peers, vol. 3 (New York: Burns and Oates, 2002), 288.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 19-20.

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