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Center for Action and Contemplation

Celebrating 35 Years of Action and Contemplation

Reflecting on the CAC’s Past and Future
October 7th, 2022
Celebrating 35 Years of Action and Contemplation

After I had been engaged for fourteen years in a community of committed members, I deliberately wanted to do something different in New Mexico. Our main intention was not to found a community, but to gather people who had a vision of service to the world, to train them and make them qualified for this work. We were confident that, in so doing, another kind of community would come into existence as a by-product.1  —Richard Rohr  

You did not choose me, no, I chose you; and I commissioned you to go out and to bear fruit, fruit that will last. —John 15:16 (NJ) 

In 1986 Richard Rohr left behind his community of New Jerusalem and moved to New Mexico to start a “school for prophets”—and a year later, in 1987, the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) was born. 

With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to consider this move a good decision, but I doubt this was the case at the time. What madness could have possessed such a popular, successful, and much-admired person to leave everything behind and start over on the other side of the country —in the desert, no less? 

Simply this: “I felt called.”2 And this: he responded.  

The CAC was founded to provide spiritual grounding for a movement of contemplative activists and prophetic leaders by teaching the path of praxis and prayer, or action and contemplation. And as Richard has said on many occasions, the most important word in the CAC’s title is neither action nor contemplation, but the word and.  

In English grammar “and” is called a coordinating conjunction, and it is used to connect two words, phrases, or clauses together—much like the year 1986 seems to connect the first and second halves of Richard’s life. I like the word coordinating because it does a good job describing how things are brought together, which is a bit like a call and a response.  

But to respond is not always easy. First, we must listen for the call, and this demands a certain degree of stillness, quietness, attention, and receptivity. A response is also by definition something that happens in reaction to something else, and this presents us with a second difficulty: the form of a response is necessarily dictated by what we are responding to—it requires a certain degree of acquiescence, an experiential loss of power given up as the cost for coordinating with what initiated the call in the first place. 

A third difficulty: what if our response is the wrong one? 

Richard came to Albuquerque during a very challenging time in his life: “I didn’t want to get up in the mornings. I woke up with dread . . . I didn’t want to keep going through the motions.”3 His rising star had given him a case of what his spiritual director at the time had termed success guilt. “I knew I was not the saint people thought I was. I felt like a phony, a hypocrite. It tore me up. My public image was so inflated that it made me feel all the more like a fake.”  

And yet, he responded.  

Now, we must be careful to not mistake this movement as heroic—at least not on Richard’s part, nor in the way the world tends to understand its heroes, which are rarely still, quiet, receptive, or acquiescent. “I think grace eventually leads us into some situation that we can’t fix, that we can’t control or even understand. That is where I was and that’s when real faith begins.” 

So, if we are to consider Richard heroic, let us do so because of his faith. Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) describes faith as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And here we find the way through the third difficulty: “The great and merciful surprise is that we come to God not by doing it right but by doing it wrong!”4  

As we approach the thirty-fifth anniversary of its founding, the CAC finds itself in an extended moment of transition—caught between its current life with Richard and its future life without him—and I am reminded of 1986, the year of its gestation, and this fills me with hope. 

Because while Richard is still very much with us, his gradual withdrawal from the day-to-day of organizational and public life continues. And yet . . . from within the growing space of this creeping absence I have begun to hear the call— have you?—to carry this work forward. 

Richard once wrote that “God always uses unworthy instruments so we can never think that it is we who are accomplishing the work.”5 What is the work? To discover that we must listen for the call. For despite the burden of challenging times or our own feelings of inadequacy or fear of being wrong, it is enough for us to simply respond with yes. 

There is a great need right now for such unworthy instruments—people on the path of praxis and prayer, action and contemplation. We each have a part to play in this work: a whole body, a whole community, a whole movement of people. 

And though I do not know what the future of the CAC will look like, I am filled with hope in the promise that we will discover it together

[1] Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (Chestnut Ridge, PA: Crossroad, 2004), 37.

[2] Richard Rohr, “Justice Close to Home,” Center for Action and Contemplation, June 22, 2018,

[3] Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2018), 145.

[4] Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, 145.

[5] Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, 145.

[6] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (Chestnut Ridge, PA: Crossroad, 2003), 21.

[7] Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, 258.

Brandon Strange is the Director of Engagement at the Center for Action and Contemplation where he has worked since 2019. Born and raised in Oklahoma, he now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his wife Erin. 

This reflection appears in the Fall 2022 issue of the Mendicant, our quarterly donor newsletter.

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