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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Left Hand of God

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Contemplation in Action: Week 1

The Left Hand of God
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Part of integrating the inner and the outer is looking at both sides of life clearly and honestly. We must be able to face the joy and wonder of life as well as its pain, injustice, and absurdity. I call the dark side of life the left hand of God or the painful mystery of things. My several encounters with cancer are good examples. I have long preached about the painful mystery of things, but with each of three diagnoses, it reached out and grabbed me and got my attention.

That’s often how it happens. You’re going along and things are just fine, then wham bam—you’re struck by the left hand of God. The longer you live the more you see the terrible pain, injustice, and absurdity as part of the entire world and the lives of those around you. You can’t make any logical or pleasing sense out of it. Then, if you are open, you’re driven back to an inner place of grace where the paradox is simply held by Love. The only alternative is a life of cynicism.

This brings to mind Rilke’s beautiful poem:

God speaks to each of us as [God] makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand. [1]

Truly compassionate, effective action means looking hard at both sides of life, and that look will drive you back to a God-centered, always daring, contemplative place—which in turn will drive you forward with a passion to do something about all of this pain according to your own gift. If your spiritual practice doesn’t lead you to some acts of concrete caring or service, then you have every reason not to trust it.

St. John Cassian (c. 360-435) called this pax perniciosa or “dangerous peace.” [2] We might also call it the Pax Romana, maintained by force and injustice, instead of the Pax Christi, which comes from love, operates in love, and leads to a love that flows toward the world. Love’s core characteristic is flow—always flowing outward!

Gateway to Silence:
Be still and still moving.

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (Riverhead Books: 1996), 88. Used by permission.
[2] John Cassian, Conferences, 4.7

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 107-108.

Image Credit: The Incredulity of Thomas (detail), painted by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio between 1601 and 1602. Sanssouci Picture Gallery, Potsdam, Germany.
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