The Third Way — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Third Way


The Third Way
Monday, June 4, 2018

The Christian way is to risk the attachments of love—and then keep growing in love. All of life is a lesson in learning to love more deeply and truly.

As we start trying to love, we begin to realize that we’re actually not loving very well. We are mostly meeting our own needs. The word for this is “codependency.” This kind of love is still impure and self-seeking and thus is not really love at all. So, we have to pull back and learn the great art of detachment, which is not aloofness but the purifying of attachment.

Our religion is neither solely detachment nor attachment; it’s a dance between the two. It’s neither entirely isolation, as symbolized by the desert, nor is it complete engagement, as symbolized by the city. Jesus moves back and forth between desert and city. In the city, he feels himself losing perspective, love, and center; so, Jesus goes out to the desert to discover the real again. And when Jesus is in the desert, his passionate union with the Father drives him back to the people in the city.

The creative, transformative dance between attachment and detachment is sometimes called the Third Way. It is the middle way between fight and flight, as Walter Wink describes it. [1] Some prefer to take on the world: to fight it, change it, fix it, and rearrange it. Others deny there is a problem at all. “Everything is beautiful,” they say and look the other way. Both instincts avoid holding the tension, the pain, and the essentially tragic nature of human existence.

The contemplative stance is the Third Way. We stand in the middle, neither taking the world on from another power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We hold the hardness of reality and the suffering of the world until it transforms us, knowing that we are both complicit in evil and can participate in wholeness and holiness. Once we can stand in that third spacious way, neither directly fighting or fleeing, we are in the place of grace out of which genuine newness can come. This is where creativity and new forms of life and healing emerge.

[1] See Walter Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way (Fortress Press: 2003).

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 240-241.

Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Contemplation hastens the evolution of the human species. Whoever finds this out and practices it will hasten the evolutionary future of the human family. —Thomas Keating
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