In my first post introducing this series, I spoke of how the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) was undergoing a period of disorder and reorder at this stage in our institutional journey. This period began shortly after I joined the CAC team in 2014, and our board of directors tasked us with clarifying the vision for the organization beyond the lifetime of our founder, Richard Rohr.
Early in the process, CAC faculty member Jim Finley reflected, “Since its founding, the CAC has been about Fr. Richard. But Richard isn’t about Richard. So, the question is, how can the CAC be about what Richard is about?”
Jim’s insight summarized our challenge well. Richard always intended for the CAC to be about much more than himself. His hope was to found a “school for prophets,” as he wrote in the first edition of our Radical Grace newsletter, rooted in contemplative wisdom and supporting social and spiritual renewal. However, as he often shares, his teaching gift is largely intuitive. Translating his teachings into a clear organizational identity and strategy for the CAC has never been his gift. As a result, over the course of CAC’s history, the thread of Richard’s founding vision has always been present, but not always apparent among evolving priorities and interpretations.
Helping to transform the world
In the early days of the 1980s, the CAC was a center of formation grounded here in New Mexico training people to develop a contemplative mind and prophetic social action. It was a form of alternative community focused on spiritual renewal, and Richard’s intention for the organization was to be a radical example of the message itself. It was primarily volunteer-oriented, and all were expected to make a commitment to simplicity, active non-violence, and the practice of contemplation. Aside from Fr. Richard’s recordings, which we copied and shipped all over the world, the focus was mainly local.
As Fr. Richard’s followers started sharing his teachings among their communities, however, the reach of his message began to rapidly expand. People from around the world had transformative experiences listening to the “cassette tape priest,” and many lives were changed.
At the same time, demand for Fr. Richard’s teachings and CAC’s expanding reach also generated internal conflict and growing pains. Some team members preferred that the CAC stay a “mom and pop” organization because it met their desire for local community and activism — even at the expense of broader impact. The breadth of Richard’s teachings also lent itself to competing interpretations of the CAC’s core purpose. Over the years this resulted in many different mission statements and a wide spectrum of programming, including everything from backyard permaculture classes to large-scale events and publishing, from maintaining a herd of sacred sheep (seriously!) to worldwide men’s retreats, from leading local protests of nuclear arms to hosting long-term interns and the Living School.
Transformed people working together
All of these initiatives can be credibly connected to Fr. Richard’s vision and hold an important part of his message. But the lack of clarity and alignment has also contributed to confusion and cross-purposes. Historically, it was unclear what the CAC was truly about, what exactly it hoped to affect in the world, and how our different programs could work together to support this vision.
In our work to articulate a clear vision for the organization, we studied our own history and consulted with Richard, trusted faculty, partners, and community members. Gradually, consistent through threads in his lifetime of work became discernable, especially around Richard’s unique role as a conduit for contemplative renewal within Christianity.
Though being in disorder is often painful, it is also an opportunity to discover what’s important and true—and what isn’t. Across the many discussions and conversations with our community, what consistently stood out the most was the impact of Fr. Richard’s teachings as a gateway to a contemplative worldview and path of transformation. Our programs validate the questions more and more people are asking about the limitations of inherited faith communities and expressions and help them to both discover and follow the mystical wisdom at the heart of our Christian tradition.
This is the core of why Fr. Richard founded the CAC and the purpose behind everything we do, and we have now revised our mission and vision statements to reflect this:
To introduce Christian contemplative wisdom and practices that support transformation and inspire loving action.
Transformed people working together for a more just and connected world.
Good mission and vision statements are short, simple, and to the point. They can bring clarity and alignment. The mission describes what you do, who you do it for, and the benefit you provide. The vision statement describes what the future will look like once we achieve our mission – no small task!
We hear from many of you how this wisdom can be healing and transformative on a personal level, but I want to emphasize how it is also increasingly vital to human and planetary flourishing. I don’t believe religious traditions are meant to be competing monopolies on Truth, but companion schools of love dedicated to supporting the flourishing of all life. (How much our world would change if every church and faith community understood this as their mission!) This connection — between the personal and the systemic, the inner and the outer — is what drew me to Richard’s work in the first place.
By building on Fr. Richard’s work introducing seekers to contemplative wisdom, I believe the CAC can become a catalyzing force for a change of consciousness inside Christianity, impacting individuals and leaders working across and beyond the usual denominational expressions and structures for a more just and connected world. In this way, our work seeks to bring Christianity’s greatest gifts alongside other spiritual traditions and movements in service to systemic change — just like Richard envisioned all the way back in 1987.
Thank you to all!
Center for Action and Contemplation
The Center for Action and Contemplation, its Core Faculty, and Board of Directors invite you to accompany us on this journey of transformation as we do the challenging work of reclaiming our founder’s vision for action and contemplation in a time of global change and contemplative renewal.
Returning to the Center will be an opportunity to reflect together with our community on our discoveries and growing pains as an institution on the path of praxis and prayer, action and contemplation. You can expect regular updates on our progress in this work as well as institutional history, community stories, staff essays, videos, and even opportunities to contribute. You will find the latest posts on our website as well as social media and in the News from New Mexico, the CAC’s monthly newsletter. We welcome your feedback!