Contemplation in Action: Week 2
The Balancing Point
Monday, July 3, 2017
Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world. —Archimedes
Archimedes (c. 287–c. 212 BC), a Greek philosopher and mathematician, noticed that if a lever were balanced in the correct place, on the correct fulcrum, it could move proportionally much greater weight than the force applied. Archimedes imagined a fixed point, the fulcrum, in space. If the Earth rested on the short end of a lever, close to the fulcrum, and Archimedes was pulling down on the other extremely long end of the lever, then theoretically his small weight would be multiplied enough to move the world.
The fixed point is our place to stand. It is a contemplative stance: steady, centered, poised, and rooted. To be contemplative, we have to have a slight distance from the world—we have to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for meditation, for going into what Jesus calls “our private room” (Matthew 6:6). However, in order for this not to become escapism, we have to remain quite close to the world at the same time, loving it, feeling its pain and its joy as our pain and our joy. So the fulcrum, that balancing point, must be in the real world.
True contemplation, all the great masters say, is really quite down to earth and practical and does not require life in a monastery. It is, however, an utterly different way of receiving the moment, and therefore all of life. In order to have the capacity to “move the world,” we ironically need some distancing and detachment from the diversionary nature and delusions of mass culture and false self. Contemplation builds on the hard ground of reality—as it is—without ideology, denial, or fantasy.
Some degree of inner experience is necessary for true spiritual authority, but we need some form of outer validation, too. We need to be taken seriously as competent and committed individuals and not just “inner” people. Could this perhaps be what Jesus means by being both “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)? God offers us quiet, contemplative eyes, but God also calls us to prophetic and critical involvement in the pain and sufferings of our world—both at the same time. This is so obvious in the life and ministry of Jesus that I wonder why it has not been taught as an essential part of Christianity.
And so the cycle of life and prayer begins. And you are never sure which is feeding which, or whether it is action or contemplation that comes first. They live through one another, and neither of them can exist healthily by themselves. But finally you will have both your lever (your action or delivery system) and your prayerful place to stand. From there, you can move your bit of the world, because you are being moved yourself inside a Much Larger Flow and Dance.
Gateway to Silence:
Give me a lever and a place to stand.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 5-8.