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Center for Action and Contemplation
Contemplative Activists
Contemplative Activists

Two Revelations of Faith

Friday, July 17, 2020

Contemplative Activists

Two Revelations of Faith
Friday, July 17, 2020

Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics. —Charles Péguy

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 slowly be taken away from us. When we practice 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 clearer and more 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 in people on both sides of any issue.

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 (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. We need only look at the lives of the contemplatives in action that we read about this week to know that it’s true. Our hope is that contemplation really can change us, and guide our actions for compassion and justice in the world.

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

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

Epigraph: Notre Jeunesse (Cahiers de la Quinzaine: 1910), 27. Original text: “Tout commence en mystique et finit en politique.”

Image credit: Fannie Lou Hamer (detail), courtesy of artist Robert Shetterly and Americans Who Tell the Truth, c. 2007. The portrait is not for sale and travels with the collection. It is currently on exhibition in Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia. Used with permission of the artist.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Fannie Lou Hamer faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson.  —Barbara Holmes
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