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Center for Action and Contemplation
Encountering Reality
Encountering Reality

Our Limited Perspectives

Monday, March 11, 2024

For Father Richard, contemplation begins as we realize the limits of our own perspective. Reality is far vaster than we can perceive.

Every viewpoint is a view from a point. Unless we recognize and admit our own personal and cultural viewpoints, we will never know how to decentralize our own perspective. We will live with a high degree of illusion that brings much suffering into the world. I think this is what Simone Weil meant by stating, “The love of God is the unique source of all certainties.” [1] Only an outer and positive reference point utterly grounds the mind and heart.

One of the keys to wisdom is that we must recognize our own biases, our own addictive preoccupations, and those things to which, for some reason, we refuse to pay attention. Until we see these patterns (which is early-stage contemplation), we will never be able to see what we do not see. Without such critical awareness of the small self, there is little chance that any individual will produce truly great knowing or enduring wisdom. [2]

Only people who have done their inner work can see beyond their own biases to something transcendent, something that crosses the boundaries of culture and individual experience. People with a distorted image of self, world, or God will be largely incapable of experiencing what is Really Real in the world. They will see things through a narrow keyhole. They’ll see instead what they need reality to be, what they’re afraid it is, or what they’re angry about. They’ll see everything through their aggression, their fear, or their agenda. In other words, they won’t see it at all.

That’s the opposite of true contemplatives, who have an enhanced capacity to see what is, whether it’s favorable or not, whether it meets their needs or not, whether they like it or not, and whether that reality causes weeping or rejoicing. Most of us will usually misinterpret our experience until we have been moved out of our false center. Until then, there is too much of the self in the way. Most of us do not see things as they are; we see things as we are. That is no small point.

When we touch our deepest image of self, a deeper image of reality, or a new truth about God, we’re touching something that opens us to the sacred. We’ll want to weep or to be silent, or to run away from it and change the subject because it’s too deep, it’s too heavy. As T. S. Eliot wrote, “human kind cannot bear very much reality.” [3]

That’s why I—and so many others—emphasize contemplation. It’s the way of going to the experience of the absolute without going toward ideology. There’s a difference. It’s going toward the experience of the good, the true, the beautiful, the real without going into a head trip, or taking the small self—or one’s momentary vantage point—too seriously. [4]

[1] Simone Weil, “God in Plato,” in On Science, Necessity, and the Love of God, trans. and ed. Richard Rees (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), 104.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2020), 12–13.

[3] T. S. Eliot, “Four Quartets: Burnt Norton,” in The Complete Poems and Plays, 1909–1950 (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1980), 118.  

[4] Rohr, Wisdom Pattern, 140–141, 141–142.

Image credit: Benjamin Yazza, Untitled (detail), New Mexico, 2023, photograph, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. We learn from the coyote curiosity and exploration. We also learn curiosity about our own perception and projection onto another being: what is the first thing we think when we see a coyote?

Story from Our Community:  

During a recent power outage, I shared a candlelight scripture reading with my parents. My father shared his thoughts on the readings, as did my mother. I spoke about how I related the passages to my life and the world around me. My father said he had never really considered relating scripture to his feelings or reality; he had always interpreted scripture as a set of rules. At the end of our Sunday reflection without lights, he said he appreciated my way of reflecting on the readings. I realized we can become more enlightened when we realize that scripture can illuminate the light within us.
—Jason O.

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