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Center for Action and Contemplation
Discerning What is Ours to Do
Discerning What is Ours to Do

Contemplation and Right Action

Monday, August 22, 2022

Father Richard shares about an important time of discernment in his own life:

There are two spiritual disciplines that keep me honest and growing: contemplative prayer and the perspective from the bottom. In 1985, I was freed for a year to pursue the contemplative part of my vocation. It was a major turning point. Father William McNamara’s definition of contemplation—“a long loving look at the real”—became transformative. [1] The world, my own issues and hurts, all goals and desires gradually dissolved into proper perspective. God became obvious and everywhere.

Ultimately, we do not earn or find God. We just get ourselves out of the way. We let go of illusions and the preoccupations of our smaller selves. As the cheap scaffolding falls away, the soul stands revealed. The soul, or True Self, cannot be created or achieved by our work. It just is, and it is already. The soul is God’s “I AM” continued in me. That part of me already knows, desires, and truly seeks God. Discernment of God’s will comes naturally to the True Self because here “I” and God seem to be one “I.”

Richard reflects on how this extended time of contemplation brought him to a point of decisive action:

After my sabbatical year, I found my way to the conviction that I should open the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. I wanted to help people get thoroughly involved in the issues and goals of social justice, to help people work in solidarity with those on the margins, but from the right point of departure. It is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons!

Contemplation is a way to hear with the Spirit and not just with the head. Contemplation is the search for a wide-open space, a space broad enough for the head, the heart, the feelings, the gut, the subconscious, our memories, our intuitions, our whole body. We need a holistic place for discerning wisdom.

The effect of contemplation is authentic action; if contemplation doesn’t lead to genuine action, then it remains only navel-gazing and self-preoccupation.

I’m convinced that if we stick with it, if we practice contemplation regularly, then we will come to an inner place of compassion—for ourselves and for others. In this place, we notice how much the suffering of the world is our suffering. We become committed to this world, not cerebrally, but from the much deeper perspective of our soul. At this point, we’re indestructible, because in that place we find the peace that the world cannot give. We don’t need to win anymore; we just need to do what we have to do, as naive and simplistic as that might sound. That’s why Augustine could make such an outrageous statement as “Love [God] and do what you will”! [2] People who are living from a truly God-centered place instead of a self-centered place are dangerously free precisely because they are tethered at the center.


[1] William McNamara as quoted by Walter J. Burghardt, “Contemplation: A Long, Loving Look at the Real,” in An Ignatian Spirituality Reader, ed. George W. Traub (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008), 91.

[2] Augustine, Ten Homilies on the First Epistle of John to the Parthians, tractate 7.8.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 133, 141–142.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Bellingham, used with permission. McKenna Phillips, Free Hands (detail), 2018, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), 2020, photograph, Albuquerque, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: What is next?  We may want to know, right now. We may want this suspended droplet of water to drop, right now, but it will take its own time. It is beyond our control. We are invited to trust the suspension of liminal moments.

Story from Our CAC Staff Community:

Morgan Overton had the gift of truly seeing people. The rawness of her gift made her a deeply feeling person — empathy for another’s pain, anger at injustice, and absolute joy in the happiness of others.

Morgan died on Aug. 5, 2022, at the age of 32. Working at the CAC for more than a decade, she created the web pages and emails with the same loving care that went into writing them.

Morgan was a fiercely loyal friend who was uncompromisingly honest — even when she was second-guessing herself (which was a lot of the time). She had the sharpest wit and the most attuned sense of comedic timing, as is often the case with people who carry the burden of feeling and seeing this world as it truly is.

In this way Morgan was like a prism — disclosing, in essence, a fractal of intertwining joy and sorrow, humor and hardness. She could ease tension as well as create it, but she was always right there with you, her whole self, in the present moment. It may not have been easy to be Morgan Overton, but it was certainly easy to love her.

Morgan leaves behind two wonderful sons, a large and caring family, and a strong network of friends all over the world. She loved music, cooking big meals, and always knew the perfect quote from the TV show “The Office” for any occasion. Coming from a long line of military service members, she believed that love, honor, and unity were things worth dedicating your life to. She spent her free time supporting women and families in her various communities.

Morgan witnessed first-hand the restoration of spirit that so many people experience through the Daily Meditations. There is a piece of Morgan in every email, every word. There is a piece of her in me. There is a piece of her in you. And we are all better people for it.

—Sara Palmer, Marketing Manager

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.

Listen to the prayer.


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