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Center for Action and Contemplation

Moving Forward Together

Transformed people working with and for each other in service to a more just and connected world.
June 6th, 2022
Moving Forward Together

Returning to the Center is a series of communal reflections on what we — the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) — are learning in our journey to renew our founding vision in a time of significant growth, change, and contemplative renewal.

In my first post in this series, I spoke of the great need for unworthy instruments — people on the path of action and contemplation — in today’s religious, environmental, and political climate, and how I am convinced this is the way forward for each of us individually and collectively (including CAC and organizations!). My second post discussed Father Richard’s unique role as a conduit for contemplative renewal, and the CAC’s work to institutionalize his vision for our organization as a gateway to a contemplative worldview and path of spiritual transformation.

As Richard has often said, “Transformed people transform people.” I would add: transformed people, working together, transform communities and systems. In this post, I will dive more deeply into how we understand this connection between inner and outer change, the personal and the systemic. This thread through Richard’s teaching is what drew me to his work in the first place, and it’s why I believe that by building on Father Richard’s work of introducing seekers to contemplative wisdom and practices, the CAC can not only support individual healing and growth but also be a catalyzing force for change inside Christianity and each of our communities — as part of movements of transformed people working together for a more just and connected world.

“There is a great need right now for unworthy instruments — people who have done the necessary work to ground compassionate action in contemplative, non-dual consciousness. When you experience the reality of your oneness with God and Creation, actions of justice and love will naturally follow.”

—Richard Rohr

Being About What Richard Is About

For the past two years Father Richard has been engaged in a gradual process of stepping back from public life. This has included a reduction in his public speaking and travel schedule as well as less involvement in the day-to-day operations of the CAC.

That’s not to say Richard is never around – he continues to be a very active presence in many projects. Yet we are drawing close to the time when Richard will fully release his role at the center of this organization and our community — an inevitable future that, if I’m being honest with myself, I both grieve and sometimes resist. Richard has been my own primary spiritual teacher now for over a decade, and the idea of carrying on without him feels unthinkable. In many respects, he is wholly irreplaceable, a larger-than-life teacher, personality, and mentor.

However, I also know there is nothing that would horrify him more than the CAC becoming a monument to Richard-the-person. None of this has ever been about him, but always about the message and supporting a movement of people who are bringing it to life in the world. That is the theme (and plumbline) of our entire visioning and future-planning process here at CAC: how can we equip our organization — and this whole community — to be about what Richard is about?

In the first letter he ever published about CAC, way back in 1987, Richard shared his hope for the organization to become a “school for prophets” rooted in contemplative wisdom that supports social and spiritual renewal by forming individuals and sending them back out into the world — a founding purpose succinctly captured in our new mission: to introduce Christian contemplative wisdom and practices that support transformation and inspire loving action.

I firmly believe our integrity as an institution is a function of our ability to be faithful to what Father Richard founded us to be. That means CAC programs will continue to serve as a gateway to the contemplative path — affirming the questions that increasing numbers of people are asking about the limitations of inherited faith paradigms, encouraging them into deeper spiritual practice, and walking with them on the way of loving action. It also means being faithful to what’s happening out there — being in service to the community that’s gathered, the community to come, and to graced Transformation wherever it’s bubbling up. Though the already-arriving future looks different in some ways than the CAC of old, in other ways it feels like a return to what we’ve always been about. As we continue to prepare for life after our founder, I remind myself to welcome the future from a posture of trust. Because whatever happens, it will be okay. If I’ve learned anything from Richard, it has to be this: whatever happens, all is already okay.

Transformed People Transforming People

As we see it, more and more people are being drawn to contemplative wisdom because it not only supports personally healing but is also vital to human and planetary flourishing. Considering the unprecedented crises we face, the task of developing a way of being in the world together that bridges difference and embodies the reality that all life is sacred and connected is an urgent one.

More and more people are seeking out this new way of being. A momentous shift is underway, a historic breakthrough for contemplative consciousness, born from the pains of our collective evolutionary process. Fr. Richard refers to this shift as the “Great Turning,” a phrase we borrow from beloved CAC friend and former teacher JoAnna Macy. And Father Richard’s message, drawing from Jesus and mystics from all traditions, is a vital part of contributing to it.

However, at this stage in his life, Richard’s deep desire is to create space for the rest of us to step in and carry his work forward. He has done his part to point the way, and it is increasingly up to the rest of us to now write the next chapter. Throughout history, spiritual movements have often begun with individual visionaries and then only truly flourished in successive generations. That’s true of Christianity, whose radical message of universal belonging and belovedness eventually upended the Roman empire, as well as renewal movements like the Franciscans, Quakers, and Anabaptists.

“If history is a horizontal line of time, then there are a few times where the vertical line of God that is infinitely sustaining all things breaks in, and there is an eruption that reminds us of the mystery that is always arising in the depth dimension. We are on the verge of such a momentary eruption, a movement of the spirit.”

—James Finley

The Great Turning is much bigger than any one organization or even any single spiritual tradition. But by introducing seekers to contemplative wisdom, we believe that the CAC will continue being a catalyzing force for this change of consciousness within Christianity and each of our communities.  As Richard has said, “There is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness.” Our work seeks to bring Christianity’s greatest gifts alongside other spiritual traditions and movements in service to systemic change and a more life-sustaining future that serves all – ALL! — of us.

This work invites each of us to play a part — a whole body, a whole community, a whole movement of people grounded in a shared vision, values, and experiential knowing of God’s presence in our life showing up in the world together. Our hope is not in avoiding the realities of death and discomfort, but instead in choosing to live meaningfully as witnesses to the mystery of Love with whatever we are given.

Today, Father Richard and his contemporaries are passing the metaphorical baton to the next generation — “people who have done the necessary work to ground compassionate action in contemplative, non-dual consciousness” — to step up and continue with the work of the contemplative recovery well underway. So, let’s do it. Let’s show up to our meditation cushions and communities of practice and seek to become transformed agents of love in the world together. When you need support or guidance, we at CAC will be here with you and for you, as partners in the work of building a more just and connected world.

Thank you to all!

Michael Poffenberger
Executive Director
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!

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