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Center for Action and Contemplation
Loving a Suffering Planet
Loving a Suffering Planet

Prayer and Politics

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.Charles Péguy, Notre Jeunesse 

Father Richard shares how a regular practice of contemplation changes how people behave in the world, even on a larger scale:   

It seems to me that a regular practice of contemplation makes it almost inevitable that our politics are going to change. The way we spend our time is going to be called into question. Our snug socioeconomic perspective will be slowly taken away from us. When we practice contemplative prayer consistently, the things that we think of as our necessary ego boundaries fall away, little by little, as unnecessary and even unhelpful. 

Whatever our calling on behalf of the world, it must proceed from a foundational “yes” to God, to life, to Reality. Our necessary “no” to injustice and all forms of un-love will actually become even more clear and urgent in the silence. Now our work has a chance of being God’s pure healing instead of our impure anger and agenda. We can feel the difference; so many works of social justice have been undone by people fighting from their small or angry selves.   

Because contemplation feels like dying and is, in fact, the experience of the death of our small self, we can only do this if Someone Else is holding us in in the process, taking away our fear. If we trust that Someone Else to do the knowing for us, we can go back to our lives of action with new vitality, but it will now be much smoother. It will be “no longer we” who act or contemplate, but the Life of the One “who lives in us” (see Galatians 2:20), now acting for and with and as us! 

Henceforth it does not even matter whether we act or contemplate, contemplate or act, because both articulations of our faith will be inside the One Flow, which is still and forever loving and healing the world. Christians would call it the very flow of life that is the Trinity. “We live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) inside of this one eternal life and love that never stops giving and receiving. This is how we “die by brightness and the Holy Spirit,” according to Thomas Merton. [1] 

Contemplation is no fantasy, make-believe, or daydream, but the flowering of patience and steady perseverance. When we look at the world today, we may well ask whether it can be transformed on the global level; but I believe that there is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness. The Book of Wisdom says, “the multitude of the wise is the salvation of the world” (6:24). Our hope is that contemplation really can change us and the society we live in by guiding our actions for compassion and justice in the world. 

[1] Thomas Merton, “The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to a Window,” in The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton (New York: New Directions Publishing, 1980), 47. 

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014), 13–14, 17–18, 4–5, 100. 

Image Credit and inspiration: Renzo D’souza, death and new life (detail), India, 2020, photo, Unsplash. Click here to enlarge image. How can we care for the tender seedlings on the parched soil of our beloved earth? 

Story from Our Community:  

I am currently in a season of life in which I am experiencing deep wounding and rejection from the Church. The Daily Meditations on radical resilience, coupled with a long-standing practice of centering prayer and the wise presence of a beloved spiritual director, have not only helped prevent a spiral into despair, but have been a true source of hope. I take comfort in knowing I am not alone. —Kathleen B. 

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