Models of Integration — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Models of Integration

Contemplation and Action Summary

Models of Integration
Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS is someone who truly lives out her commitment to the contemplative path by her actions in the world. She has served as the executive director of NETWORK, the Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, since 2004. You may know her as one of the Nuns on the Bus. Here’s a glimpse of what powers her:

Over the past thirty-five years or more, it [my contemplative practice] has become the foundation of who I am and impacts every aspect of my existence. Rather than being about hiding out in the chapel for hours on end, my contemplative practice has led me to an activism that is expansively grounded in compassion and care for others. . . .

Our call to do our part is at the heart of the gospel message. We need to pitch in, listen to others, and stay open to the Spirit. We are the ones who have been sent out. The gospel of love will not be experienced unless we live the deeply contemplative truth that our prayer leads to community, which leads to action to heal this fractured world. . . .

It is those whom we encounter and who break open our hearts who keep us faithful. Together we know our existence as one vibrant organism created at every moment by the Divine. This is the source of a hope beyond our wildest understanding. [1]

Thomas Keating (1923–2018), whose teachings are foundational to our modern understanding of contemplation in the Christian tradition, speaks of a similar movement from inner prayer to action on behalf of the world. He writes:

The power of the stars is nothing compared to the energy of a person whose will has been freed . . . and who is thus enabled to co-create the cosmos together with God. God’s top priority is the creation of a world in which the goods of the earth are equitably distributed, where no one is forgotten or left out, and where no one can rest until everyone has enough to eat, the oppressed have been liberated, and justice and peace are the norm among the nations and religions of the world. Until then, even the joy of transforming union is incomplete. The commitment to the spiritual journey is not a commitment to pure joy, but to taking responsibility for the whole human family, its needs and destiny. We are not our own; we belong to everyone else. [2]

My teachings have always emphasized the middle ground—the balanced need for both contemplation and action. Sister Simone and Father Thomas have operated primarily on opposite sides of the spectrum—but I hope you can see how they ultimately come to the same conclusion! It is not a dualistic choice between contemplation and action, but a natural outflowing of God’s love in all directions.

[1] Simone Campbell, Hunger for Hope: Prophetic Communities, Contemplation, and the Common Good (Orbis Books: 2020), 17–18, 131, 144.

[2] Thomas Keating, The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience (Continuum: 1994), 104.

Image credit: Going to Church (detail), William H. Johnson, 1940‒1941, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and Creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. —Richard Rohr
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