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Center for Action and Contemplation

The Third Way: A Transformative Dance

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Transformation: Week 1

The Third Way
Tuesday, June 28, 2016

As I explore transformation as a process of letting go of the ego’s needs and accomplishments, you may think I’m overemphasizing detachment. But when you look at Jesus on the cross, you see that Christianity also fosters attachment. Jesus tells us to love and to pay the price for loving. The heart and the soul are the first to attach to things and fall in love. Look at the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His heart is out in front of his chest. It may not be great art, but it is great theology. The heart is given, and the price is paid. When we attach, when we fall in love, we risk pain and we will always suffer for it. The cross is not the price that Jesus had to pay to convince God to love us. It is simply where love will lead us.

Jesus names the agenda: If we love, if we give ourselves to feel the pain of the world, it will crucify us. (This understanding of the crucifixion is much better than thinking of Jesus as paying some debt to an alienated God who needs to be appeased into loving us.) We may prefer to remain aloof and detached, but that’s not the Christian way. The Christian way is to risk the attachments of love—and then keep growing in what it actually means to love.

As we start trying to love, we begin to realize that we’re actually not loving very well. We are mostly meeting our own needs. The word for this is “codependency.” This kind of love is still impure and self-seeking and thus is not really love at all. So we have to pull back and learn the great art of detachment, which is not aloofness, but the purifying of attachment. Our religion is neither solely detachment nor solely attachment; it’s a dance between the two. It’s neither entirely isolation, as symbolized by the desert, nor is it complete engagement, as symbolized by the city. Jesus moves back and forth between desert and city. In the city, he feels himself losing perspective, love, and center; so Jesus goes out to the desert to discover the real again. And when Jesus is in the desert, his passionate union with the Father drives him back to the pain of the city.

The transformative dance between attachment and detachment is sometimes called the Third Way. It is the middle way between fight and flight, as Walter Wink describes it. [1] Some prefer to take on the world: to fight it, to change it, fix it, and rearrange it. Others deny there is a problem at all; it suits their needs as it is. “Everything is beautiful,” they say and look the other way. Both instincts avoid holding the tension, the pain, and the essentially tragic nature of human existence.

The contemplative stance is the Third Way. We stand in the middle, neither taking the world on from another power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We hold the dark side of reality and the pain of the world until it transforms us, knowing that we are both complicit in the evil and can participate in wholeness and holiness. Once we can stand in that third spacious way, neither directly fighting nor denying and fleeing, we are in the place of grace out of which genuine newness can come. This is where creativity and new forms of life and healing emerge.

Gateway to Silence:
Teach me how to see.

[1] See Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Fortress Press: 2003).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999), 169-171.

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