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Center for Action and Contemplation

This Fella in the Straw Hat

Paul Swanson reflects on the fateful day he discovered Richard Rohr’s teachings
November 3rd, 2023
This Fella in the Straw Hat

Paul Swanson is on staff at the CAC. He is a jackleg Mennonite and novice in the new monastic Community of the Incarnation. Paul and his wife, Laura, have two feral and beloved children. Learn more about Paul’s work kindling the examined life for contemplatives in the world at

I discovered a place that would alter the direction of my life while working at a small Bible College in western Canada. It was the winter of 2007, and I was reading “Geez Magazine,” a mischievous spiritual publication high on humor and low on religiosity. They mentioned this funky and long-winded place called the Center for Action and Contemplation. I was intrigued by what was stirred up in me by the name. An experience a few weeks prior — that I would later call “mystical”— flashed before me that I recognized had unconsciously prepared me to zero in on that title.  

I looked up this Center online. Shooting past the mug of some fellow in a brown robe, I studied the list of their Eight Core Principles. Stunned and enamored with the idea that such pursuits could be guidelines, I began to cry. Before me was a list of how I wanted to show up in the world and live my life as a follower of Jesus. The principle that was the knockout punch was this: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.” As a budding self-righteous Christian activist, this principle landed as the corrective lens that I needed. I submitted my resignation at the Bible College and applied to become an intern at this shop of contemplation and action.  

On the first day of the internship, I was sitting in the kitchen eating a big bowl of granola and watching this older fella in a straw hat walk by the window. Someone said, “There he is!” Another person rushed to the window, saying, “It’s Father Richard.” I didn’t even get up. I didn’t want my breakfast to get soggy.  

It’s now funny to look back nostalgically on that naïve twenty-something young man. It had not fully registered that this Franciscan in the straw hat was the one who had founded the CAC and inspired its Eight Core Principles. I quickly learned that these teachings had legs which had traversed the globe, inspiring folks to engage in the incarnational and of life, the space that holds, connects, and envelops action and contemplation.  

The internship changed my life. Fr. Richard and the CAC encouraged me to deepen my practice, expand my theological horizons of possibility, support my neighbors, and face my shadow while celebrating my gifts, wrestling with community, and owning the joyful humiliation of being human.  

Sixteen years later, I realize the past has arms that reach into the present with memories, stories, and sayings. The further away I get from my “discovery” of Fr. Richard and the CAC, the more I cannot help but shake my head at the mysterious grace that has shaped this little life of mine.

This reflection appears in the Fall 2023 issue of the Mendicant, our quarterly donor newsletter.

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