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Center for Action and Contemplation
Prophets: Part One
Prophets: Part One

The Path to Justice

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Prophets: Part One

The Path to Justice
Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB is a theologian, author, and speaker. Her latest book is The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage—I hope you’ll read it! We recently met and talked at Oprah’s house, as we were both filming Super Soul Sunday on the same day. When I tried to pay my restaurant bill, I found out Joan had already paid for it—Benedictine hospitality! Today enjoy an excerpt from a talk she gave many years ago:

The Sufis tell a story of the Holy One who said to his disciples, “What’s better, do you think? Is it contemplation, or is it action?” . . . They said, “Why, Holy One, it’s action, of course. What good is contemplation in a suffering world?” And the Sufi said, “Ah, yes, but what good is action that proceeds from an unenlightened heart?”

The danger in the contemplative life is that it may become only one half of the spiritual life. . . . Contemplation is not for its own sake. . . . The contemplative life is not spiritual escapism.

Contemplation is immersion in the God who created this world for all of us. And the mystics of every major religion . . . remind us of that. Hinduism tells us that within the cave of the heart, God dwells, not just in the forest. And the Buddhists say, “Buddha is present in all places, in all beings, in all things, in all lands, not just in the monastery.”  “Where can I go to flee from your presence?” the Jewish Psalmist says [Psalm 139:7]. “Whithersoever you turn, there is the face of God,” Islam teaches. And Christianity reminds us always: “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” [Romans 1:20]. . . .

God is not contained in any one people, in any one kind of place, or in any one tradition. . . . God wills the care of the poor as well as the reward of the rich. . . . God wills the end of oppressors who stand with the heel on the neck of the weak. . . . God wills the liberation . . . dignity and full development of all. . . . God takes the side of the defenseless. And, thus, therefore, must the true contemplative, otherwise that contemplation is not real. . . . The true contemplative, the truly spiritual person, then, must do justice, speak justice, insist on justice. . . .

Thomas Merton spoke out from a cloister in Kentucky against the Vietnam War. Catherine of Siena walked the streets of the city feeding the poor. . . . Hildegard of Bingen preached the word of justice to emperors and to popes. Charles de Foucauld lived among the Arab poor as a sign of their goodness . . . and God’s love for them in the face of the enmity around them. Benedict of Nursia . . . came out of his solitude to shelter strangers and educate peasants in the fifth century. And so must we do whatever justice must be done in our own time if we’re going to claim to be serious about really sinking into the heart of God.

Joan Chittister, Prophets Then, Prophets Now, disc 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2006), MP3 download.

Image credit: Frieze of the Prophets (detail), John Singer Sargent, circa 1892, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Scripture shows the Hebrew prophets speaking to the people as one of their own, not above or apart from the community. —Richard Rohr
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