Contemplation in Action: Week 2
Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Moses’ experience of the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6) links action and contemplation as the very starting place of the Judeo-Christian tradition. His encounter is surely an inner one, but it immediately drives him outwardly, as deep inner experience tends to do. It is a transcendent experience, yet note that it is based in nature rather than a synagogue or temple. Often it is in the open spaces of the natural world that the inner world is most obviously recognized, as the Desert Fathers and Mothers and Celtic Christianity remind us.
Immediately after Moses had his heart-stopping experience, YHWH said to him: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. Now, go! Tell Pharaoh to let my people go” (Exodus 3:7, 10). God gives Moses an experience of an unnamable Presence, and it has immediate practical—and in this case socio-political—implications and direction. Rather than invite Moses to worship or attend a church service, God says, “Go make a difference, Moses!”
The fire burned for him, then in him, and finally through him.
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is another example of inner conversion leading to outer service of others. In Bill Wilson’s twelfth step, alcoholics learn that they will never really come to appropriate the power and importance of the first eleven steps until they personally take it upon themselves to give it away to at least one other person. This necessary reciprocity is an essential hook from which too many Christians have released themselves and we all have suffered because of it. In avoiding their need to pay back, many Christians have lost whatever they might have gained in their private devotions.
Love is like an electric circuit; it can never flow in just one direction.
If I have grown at all in my decades as a priest, it’s in part through this role of being a preacher and teacher. I have had to stand before crowds for years and describe what I thought I believed, and then I often had to ask myself, “Do I really believe that myself?” And in my attempt to communicate it, I usually found that I’d only scratched the surface of my own understanding. In sharing what you have experienced and learned, you really own the Gospel message beyond what you ever imagined.
In giving away you are recharged.
Regardless of our different political opinions and values, we must admit that the tenor of public and even private discourse in America is often infantile and usually dualistic. Yet many people know of no other way of thinking. No one told them about the wonderful alternative, a third way beyond fight or flight. This tells me that Christianity has not been presenting the Gospel in a way that really changes people. Meditation makes it almost inevitable that your politics will change, the way you spend your time is going to be called into question, and any snug socioeconomic perspective will be slowly taken away from you.
Gateway to Silence:
Give me a lever and a place to stand.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 12-14, 18.