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Center for Action and Contemplation
Tending the Fire Within
Tending the Fire Within

Cultivating a New Heart

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Father Richard teaches that the inner flame of contemplation is cultivated through regular spiritual practice: 

Practice is an essential reset button that we must push many times before we can experience any genuine newness. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we are practicing all the time. When we operate by our habituated patterns, we strengthen certain neural pathways, which makes us, as the saying goes, “set in our ways.” But when we stop using old neural grooves, these pathways actually die off! Practice can literally create new responses and allow rigid ones to show themselves. 

It’s strange that we’ve come to understand the importance of practice in sports, in most therapies, in any successful business, and in creative endeavors, but for some reason most of us do not see the need for it in the world of spirituality. Yet it’s probably more important there than in any other area. “New wine demands fresh skins or otherwise we lose both the wine and the container,” as Jesus said (see Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37–38). Practices, more than anything else, create a new container for us, one that will protect the new wine we wish to take in. 

Many are convinced that rituals and “practices” like daily Eucharist, the rosary, processions and pilgrimages, repetitive chants, genuflections and prostrations, physically blessing oneself (as with the sign of the cross), singing, and silence have operated as a kind of body-based rewiring. Such practices allow us to know Reality mystically and contemplatively from a unitive consciousness. But, over time, as these practices turned into repetitive obligations, they degenerated; most people came to understand them magically as divinely required transactions. Instead of inviting people into new consciousness, such practices often froze people in their first infantile understanding of those rituals, and transactions ended up substituting for transformations

Mindless repetition of any practice, with no clear goal or clarity of intention, can in fact keep us quite unconscious—unless the practices keep breaking us into new insight, desire, compassion, and an ever-larger notion of God and ourselves. Automatic repetition of anything is a recipe for unconsciousness, the opposite of any genuine consciousness, intentionality, or spiritual maturity. If spirituality does not support real growth in both inner and outer freedom, it is not authentic spirituality. It is such basic unfreedom that makes so many people dislike and mistrust religious people.  

Any fear-based “rattling of beads” reflects the “magical” consciousness that dominated much of the world until it began to widely erode in the 1960s. Yet each of these practices can also be understood in a very mature way. 

It’s a paradox that God’s gifts are totally free and unearned, and yet God does not give them except to people who really want them, choose them, and say “yes” to them. This is the fully symbiotic nature of grace. Divine Loving is so pure that it never manipulates, shames, or forces itself on anyone. Love waits to be invited and desired, and only then rushes in. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2017), 94–95, 96–97, 98. 

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), Washington, 2020, photo, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. Within our deep and tender inside spaces there is a bright light to tend and care for.

Story from Our Community:  

Recently I was moved by words from Ilia Delio: “I let go over and over again and jump into the lap of God’s loving embrace.” It reminded me of a photo I found in my mother’s things after she died last year. In the photo, I’m leaping into my mother’s arms in a swimming pool. I’m so grateful that in the early days, I learned how to trust my mother’s safe embrace. That faith has prepared me to trust God in all things as I live a new stage of life today. —Linda B. 

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