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Center for Action and Contemplation

Responsive Vulnerability

Monday, February 21, 2022

Father Richard believes that we can only experience true intimacy when we are willing to be vulnerable ourselves:

The big and hidden secret is this: an infinite God seeks and desires intimacy with the human soul. Once we experience such intimacy, only the intimate language of lovers describes what is going on for us: mystery, tenderness, singularity, specialness, nakedness, risk, ecstasy, incessant longing, and also, of course, suffering. This is the mystical vocabulary of the saints.

Our biggest secrets and desires are often revealed to others, and even discovered by ourselves, in the presence of sorrow, failure, or need—when we are very vulnerable, and when we feel entirely safe in the arms of love. When that happens, there is always a broadening of being on both sides. We are larger people afterwards.

And it is only when we are in such a tender place that God can safely reveal the “inside” of God to us. All self-sufficient people remain outsiders to the mystery of divine love because they will always misuse it. Only the need of a beloved knows how to receive the need and gift of the lover, and only the need of a lover knows how to receive the need and gift of the beloved without misusing such love. It is a kind of deliberate “poverty” on both sides. A mutually admitted emptiness is the ultimate safety net for love.

“Fullness” in a person cannot permit love because it leaves no openings, offers no handles, no give and take, nor is there any deep hunger. Human vulnerability gives the soul an immense head start on its travels.

Our desire for intimacy or communion first creates the very hunger that God, with a little help from God’s friends, can then satisfy (though never totally) in this world. In fact, the bit of satisfied desire only increases the desire for more and again! The mystics (those who personally know the inner space of God) are aware that they have been let in on a big and wondrous secret. Anyone not privy to this inner dialogue would call such people presumptuous, foolish, or even arrogant. This is without a doubt “God’s secret, in which all the jewels of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (Colossians 2:3).

The secret becomes unhidden when people stop hiding—from God, from themselves, and from at least one other person. Such risky self-disclosure is what I mean by intimacy and it is the way that love is transmitted. Some say the word comes from the Latin intimus, which is interior or inside. Some say its older meaning is found by in timor, “into fear.” In either case, the point is clear. Intimacy happens when we expose our insides and this is always scary. We never really know if the other can receive what is exposed, will respect it, or will run fast in the other direction. We must be prepared to be rejected. It is always a risk.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 164–165, 166, 167, 168–169.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 1 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Jack Delano, View of crowd dancing to the music of “Red” Sounders and his band, at the Club DeLisa, Chicago, Illinois (detail), 1942, photograph, New York Public Library, public domain. Nathan Dumlao, Untitled, 2020 (detail), photograph, Unsplash, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.

The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with historical images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: In the center photo we see two bushes, separate but entwined, touching and sharing space. Human intimacy requires us to come as ourselves, undefended, co-creating a space for connection. Friends, lovers, communities who share raw hopes for change: we welcome each other into the intimacy of authentic presence.

Story from Our Community:

As a frontline nurse working through this pandemic I found the practice of reading the R. Rohr daily meditation emails first thing in the morning quite grounding and actually essential to my day. I realize my spiritual transformation is only at its very beginning. Thank you for challenging me to do better, be better, and try every day to look at the world, and all those in it including myself, with love instead of frustration.
—Marjorie K.

Share your own story with us.

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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Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.