Theme:
Action and Contemplation: Part Two

Action and Contemplation: Part Two

Summary: Sunday, January 12—Friday, January 17, 2020

In order to become truly prophetic people who go beyond the categories of liberal and conservative, we have to teach and learn ways to integrate needed engagement with a truly contemplative mind and heart. (Sunday)

The job of religion is to help people act effectively and compassionately from an inner centeredness and connection with God. (Monday)

Contemplation helps us discern what is truly important in the largest, most spacious frame of reality and to know what is ours to do in the face of “evil” and injustice. (Tuesday)

A contemplative lens is the only frame through which we can recognize and address the three sources of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil. (Wednesday)

Jesus’ social program was a quiet refusal to participate in almost all external power structures or domination systems. Jesus chose a very simple lifestyle which kept him from being constantly co-opted by those very structures, which we can call the sin system. (Thursday)

God’s intention is never to shame the individual (which actually disempowers), but solidarity with and universal responsibility for the whole (which creates healthy people). (Friday)

 

Practice: All Senses Meditation

Our human senses of hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching are five distinct ways of knowing or experiencing the same thing, but in very different “languages.” True spirituality always brings us back to the original bodily knowing that is unitive experience. We cannot do all our thinking with our minds! During times of stress, remembering how to come back to our bodies can be tremendously beneficial. The following practice from meditation teacher Lorin Roche helps us connect with each of our senses and encounter something through each. Roche explains:

What happens is that your primary perceptions, unsocialized, get a chance to come out without editing. This trains you to let yourself be surprised by perception, to let new and fresh perceptions emerge.

This exercise also lets you practice giving speech to your immediate perceptions. Since childhood, you may not have had a chance to speak freely without editing first.

Set aside ten or so minutes to “play” with all your senses following Roche’s simple guide:

  1. Sit or stand anywhere you like and let yourself get settled for a minute. Do any settling-down movements you want. Stretch or yawn. Then notice the ebb and flow of your breathing.
  2. Begin to speak softly saying, “Now I am aware of seeing. . . .” Continue by saying whatever comes to mind that is visual, whether it is in the outer world or a mental image. The sentence can be said very slowly. Go on like this for a minute or so, just speaking the sentence, “Now I am aware of seeing. . . .”
  3. When you get to the word seeing, say whatever image your mind or eyes are on at that exact moment. As in, “I am aware of seeing the rain.”
  4. Switch to another sensory mode, “Now I am aware of smelling . . .” and say whatever you are smelling.
  5. Continue this way, starting each sentence with “Now I am aware of . . .” and then choosing another sense. Improvise off your immediate perceptions. . . .

Move through the senses in any order you wish:

Now I am aware of seeing. . . .

Now I am aware of smelling. . . .

Now I am aware of hearing. . . .

Now I am aware of tasting. . . .

Now I am aware of touching. . . .

Now I am aware of moving (fast, slow, being still, etc.). . . . [1]

Reference:
[1] Lorin Roche, Meditation Made Easy (Harper Collins: 1998), 59-60. Roche offers this meditation in more detail at http://www.svarasa.com/meditations/meditations/senses.html.

For Further Study:
Richard Rohr, CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call for Compassionate Action and Contemplative Prayer (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2007), CD, MP3 download

Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018)

Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993)

Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with Evil? (CAC Publishing: December 2019)

Image credit: Algerian Woman Preparing Couscous (detail), Vincent Manago (1880–1936).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: By contemplation, we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of the world. Action, as we are using the word, means a decisive commitment toward involvement and engagement in the social order. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry

Action and Contemplation: Part Two

Love at the Center
Friday, January 17, 2020

When we named the Center for Action and Contemplation, I hoped our rather long name would itself keep us honest and force us toward balance and ongoing integration beyond the first generation. However, over the last thirty-five years, I have witnessed how many of us attach to contemplation or action for the wrong reasons. Introverts use contemplation to affirm quiet time; those with the luxury of free time sometimes use it for navel-gazing. On the other hand, some activists see our call to action as an affirmation of their particular agenda and not much else. Neither is the delicate balance and art that we hope to affirm.

By contemplation, we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of the world. Action, as we are using the word, means a decisive commitment toward involvement and engagement in the social order. Issues will not be resolved by mere reflection, discussion, or even prayer, nor will they be resolved only by protests, boycotts, or even, unfortunately by voting the “right” way. Rather, God “works together with” all those who love (see Romans 8:28).

Though “Love” is not in our Center’s name, I hope that it is the driving force behind all we do, just as it was for Jesus who knew God’s love intimately and fully, and for the early church who proclaimed that “God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). In our vision statement, we profess both our hoped-for role for CAC’s future and the energy that drives us:

Amidst a time of planetary change and disruption, we envision a recovery of our deep connection to each other and our world, led by Christian and other spiritual movements that are freeing leaders and communities to overcome dehumanizing systems of oppression and cooperate in the transforming work of Love.

We never could have become the organization that so many of you trust if we didn’t continually return to Love as our source. It is where we rest in times of anxiety, find strength in times of trouble, discover joy in good times and solace in bad ones. “Love never fails” to help us grow, question, and forgive—both ourselves and others.

The only way out and through—for either side of any dualism, including that between action and contemplation—is a kind of universal forgiveness of Reality for being what it is; it thus becomes the bonding glue of grace which heals all the separations which law, religion, or logic can never finally or fully restore.

We are all on this journey together and we are all in need of liberation (which might be a better word than salvation). God’s intention is never to shame the individual (which actually disempowers), but solidarity with and universal responsibility for the whole (which creates healthy people). That is an act of radical solidarity that few Christians seem to enjoy but to which the CAC is committed to fostering.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Not the Center for Activism & Introspection,” Radical Grace, vol. 4, no. 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: December 1991-January 1992).

Image credit: Algerian Woman Preparing Couscous (detail), Vincent Manago (1880–1936).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: By contemplation, we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of the world. Action, as we are using the word, means a decisive commitment toward involvement and engagement in the social order. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry

Action and Contemplation: Part One

A Quiet Refusal
Thursday, January 16, 2020

Because Jesus did not directly attack the religious and institutional systems of his time until his final action against the money changers in the temple [1], his primary social justice critique and action are a disappointment to most radicals and social activists. Jesus’ social program, as far as I can see, was a quiet refusal to participate in almost all external power structures or domination systems. Once we have been told this, we see it everywhere in the four Gospels. Jesus chose a very simple lifestyle which kept him from being constantly co-opted by those very structures, which we can call the sin system. (Note that the word “sin” is often used to describe individual wrongdoing, but I’m using it in a much more corporate way, as I believe Jesus and Paul did.) Here are a few examples:

The city of Sepphoris was the Roman regional capital of Galilee and the center for most money, jobs, and power in the region where Jesus lived. It was just nine miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. Yet there is no record that Jesus ever went there, nor is it mentioned once in the New Testament, even though he and his father, Joseph, were carpenters or “workmen” and Jesus traveled through many other cities much farther away. He also seems to have avoided the money system as much as possible by using “a common purse” (John 12:6, 13:29)—voluntary “communism,” we might say. Go ahead and hate me!

Jesus healed the poor woman whose doctors made her spend all she had “while she only grew worse” (Mark 5:26). His three-year ministry was, in effect, offering free healing and healthcare for any who wanted it (Jew and non-Jew, worthy and unworthy). He consistently treated women with a dignity and equality that was almost unknown in a patriarchal culture. He never married, which could be interpreted as a critique of the idealized family consisting of father, mother, and children (which became the justification for both Catholic priests’ celibacy and the vocation of single life). He clearly respected eunuchs, which would have been the generic term for nonbinary or trans- genders (see Matthew 19:12), probably inspired by the universalism of Isaiah 56:4-5. Then, at the end of his life, he surrendered to the punitive systems of both empire and religion by letting them judge, torture, and murder him. Jesus was finally a full victim of the systems that he refused to worship. Is this not a much more coherent explanation of why Jesus died?

What can we learn from Jesus’ life about how we might address the systems of inequity and oppression in our own cultures? One lesson seems to me that we have to “start local.” Jesus doesn’t begin in Jerusalem or head off to Rome to take on empire. Rather he starts in his own hometown, among his own people, helping those who are hurting and naming those who are responsible without a hint of self-righteousness. He simply goes around doing what he knows to be right, which he surely discovered during his long periods of solitude and silence (a form of contemplation) on the outskirts of town, and others begin to join him.

References:
[1] Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:13-16.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with Evil? (CAC Publishing: December 2019), 71-72.

Image credit: Algerian Woman Preparing Couscous (detail), Vincent Manago (1880–1936).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: By contemplation, we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of the world. Action, as we are using the word, means a decisive commitment toward involvement and engagement in the social order. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry

Action and Contemplation: Part Two

Radical Solidarity
Wednesday, January 15, 2020

A contemplative lens is the only frame through which we can recognize and address the three sources of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we remain in egoic consciousness, evil (especially in its first hidden forms that look so much like goodness), will take over unchallenged. This is exactly what Brazilian archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara (1909–1999) said many years ago when he talked about the “spiral of violence”: institutional violence provokes a violent response, which in turn is met with “necessary” repression, [1] and then the same pattern repeats, each level growing more and more violent without really resolving the underlying problem (or evil).

The spiral feeds upon itself. The individual zealot tries to rise above “the rotten, decadent system,” [2] as Dorothy Day called it, by attempting solutions that usually attack the symptoms. That attempt may make the individual and the state feel moral, but it rarely touches the underlying causes. Think of the policies that led the United States to build a wall at the border instead of honestly asking why people want to come to begin with. Why was a wall terrible in Berlin but salvific in Juarez, San Diego, and the present state of Israel? We criminalize the actions of desperate individuals, but rarely question the global economic systems and untouchable corporations that keep such unequal circumstances in place for their own gain.

Frankly, addressing root causes and taking appropriate action require a lot more work and spiritual intelligence. Our egos will always be on the lookout for a quick fix and immediate satisfaction, which too often leads to a deeply flawed solution. But the gift of contemplative practice is the ability to remain humble and hold the tension between the rightness and wrongness on each side of the issue until the Spirit moves in and offers us a wiser course of action.

Câmara saw how many righteous cures were worse than the disease itself (for example, communism as a response to poverty, fascism as a desire for social order, prohibition as a solution to alcohol abuse, or our current inability to tackle the issue of immigration in an intelligent way). Non-contemplative “cures,” which lack love and holistic wisdom, never address the underlying violence which most people have already agreed not to see. We support the evil of the system and then pretend to hate this same evil in individuals.

This lack of recognition of the root causes of evil is the source of much of the moral powerlessness of most Christian nations, institutions, and individuals. Because we thought we had God on our side, we believed all the things we did were good or even God-blessed! But many people now recognize that isn’t true and never has been, which leads me to believe we are more than ready for authentic and effective contemplative action.

References:
[1] Hélder Câmara, Spiral of Violence, trans. Della Couling (Dimension Books: 1971), 30-31, 34.

[2] Dorothy Day, “On Pilgrimage,” The Catholic Worker (September 1956), https://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday/articles/710.html.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with Evil? (CAC Publishing: December 2019), 65-66,67, 69.

Image credit: Algerian Woman Preparing Couscous (detail), Vincent Manago (1880–1936).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: By contemplation, we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of the world. Action, as we are using the word, means a decisive commitment toward involvement and engagement in the social order. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry

Action and Contemplation: Part Two

Bigger Than Personal Moral Failure
Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Contemplation helps us discern what is truly important in the largest, most spacious frame of reality and to know what is ours to do in the face of “evil” and injustice. As a confessor, I know for a fact that many people beat their breasts about trivial things while not spotting the real evils that are likely poisoning their hearts and minds and countries. I have often said that hearing most (though not all!) Catholic confessions is like being stoned to death with marshmallows. We trained people to feel guilty about certain “sins” but allowed them to neglect the evils that are all around us and ignored.

Early Catholic moral theology taught that there were three major sources of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil. My moral theology professor always added emphatically: “In that order!” Yet, up to now, most Christians have placed almost all of our attention on the secondary “flesh” level. We have had little education in or recognition of what Paul meant by “the principalities of the world” and even less understanding of what he meant by “the ruler who dominates the very air” (Ephesians 6:12). The world and the devil basically got off scot-free for most of Christian history while individual humans carried the majority of the blame. Just look at poor Eve! The implications have been massively destructive, both for the individual and for society, leading to many twentieth-century catastrophes that often took place in Christian countries.

When we are made to feel individually responsible for “the sin of the world” (John 1:29), we become overwhelmed by too-muchness, which will paralyze us and keep us from working to improve things that we can improve, further increasing our shame. It is a vicious cycle, one that most of us are probably familiar with. I believe contemplation is one of the only things that can free us from it. Contemplation draws us deeper into the mystery that we are a part of the problem, but not all of it, and that our actions are essential to solving it, though they may not seem to be doing anything at all. Perhaps this is what it means to “act in good faith!”

Both Jesus and Paul passed on to their disciples a collective and historical understanding of the nature of sin and evil, against which individuals still had to resist but in which they were usually complicit. Jesus and the prophets judged the city, nation, or group of people first, then the individual. This is no longer the starting point for many people, which leaves us morally impotent. We do not reproach our towns, our own religion, or our nation, though Jesus did so regularly (Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 10:10-16).

My hope is that this recognition of Jesus’ and Paul’s emphasis on the collective nature of evil will increase both personal responsibility and human solidarity, instead of wasting time on feeling bad about ourselves, which helps nobody.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, What Do We Do with Evil? (CAC Publishing: December 2019) 18, 21, 22-23.

Image credit: Algerian Woman Preparing Couscous (detail), Vincent Manago (1880–1936).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: By contemplation, we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of the world. Action, as we are using the word, means a decisive commitment toward involvement and engagement in the social order. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry

Action and Contemplation: Part Two

Dancing Polarities
Monday, January 13, 2020

The words action and contemplation aptly describe the two dancing polarities of our lives. In classic Christian philosophy, Thomas Aquinas and many others stated that the highest form of spiritual maturity is not action or contemplation, but the ability to integrate the two into one life stance—to be service-oriented contemplatives or contemplative activists. By temperament we all tend to come at it from one side or the other.

Full integration doesn’t happen without a lot of mistakes and practice and prayer. And invariably, as we go through life, we will swing on a pendulum back and forth between the two. During one period we may be more active or more contemplative than at another time.

It does concern me how often all kinds of inner work are called contemplation, but they do not lead us to a full contemplative stance. We shouldn’t confuse insight-gathering and introspection with contemplative spirituality. Contemplation is about letting go of what is false and incomplete much more than it is about collecting what is new, no matter how true, therapeutic, or helpful it is. In other words, if personal growth is still our focus, I do not think we are contemplative yet. True transformation demands that we shed ourselves as the central reference point. Jesus said, “Unless the single grain of wheat dies, it remains just a single grain,” and it will not bear much fruit (John 12:24).  Self-help and personal growth are not of themselves the open field of grace where we move beyond self-preoccupation.

An exalted self-image of “I am a spiritual person” is far too appealing to the ego. I am afraid it’s not uncommon in the religious world for “innerness” to become disguised narcissism and overly self-serving. Thomas Merton (1915–1968) even warned against confusing an introverted personality with being a contemplative. [1] They are two different things. The introvert finds solitude quite comfortable, while the mystic and hermit use solitude to discomfort themselves.

Having said that, I’ll point out the other side of the problem. Too much activism without enough inner work, insight, or examination of conscience inevitably leads to violence—to the self, to the project at hand, and invariably to others. If too much inner focus risks narcissism and individualism, too much outer focus risks superficiality, negativity (passing for love of justice), and various messiah complexes. Those on the right can lack love, and those on the left can lack love—they just wear two different disguises. We need both inner communion and outer service to be “Jesus” in the world! The job of religion is to help people act effectively and compassionately from an inner centeredness and connection with God. The need to be right is not love.

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, Seeds of Destruction (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 1964), 325; and

The Inner Experience: Notes of Contemplation, ed. William H. Shannon (HarperSanFrancisco: 2003), 147.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Near Occasions of Grace (Orbis Books: 1993), 105-107.

Image credit: Algerian Woman Preparing Couscous (detail), Vincent Manago (1880–1936).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: By contemplation, we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of the world. Action, as we are using the word, means a decisive commitment toward involvement and engagement in the social order. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry

Action and Contemplation: Part Two

Ours to Do
Sunday, January 12, 2020

I founded the Center for Action and Contemplation more than thirty years ago because I saw a deep need for the integration of both action and contemplation. Over the years, I met many activists who were doing excellent social analysis and advocating for crucial justice issues, but they were not working from an energy of love except in their own minds. They were still living out of their false self with the need to win, to look good, to defeat the other side, and to maintain a superior self-image.

They might have had the answer, but they were not themselves the answer. In fact, they were usually part of the problem. Most revolutions fail. Too many reformers self-destruct from within. For that very reason, I believe, Jesus and other great spiritual teachers first emphasize transformation of consciousness and awakening of soul. Unless that happens, there is no lasting or grounded reform or revolution. When a subjugated people rise to power, they often become as controlling and dominating as their oppressors because they have not yet faced the shadow side of power. We actually need fewer reformations and more transformations.

The same dualism often masquerades in a new form which only looks like enlightenment. We are all easily allured by the next new thing until we discover that it’s also run by unenlightened people who in fact do not love God/Reality but themselves. They do not love the truth but the illusion of control. The need to be in power, to have control, and to say someone else is wrong is not enlightenment. Such unenlightened leaders do not want true freedom for everybody but only for their own new ideas. My great disappointment with many untransformed liberals is that they often lack the ability to sacrifice the self or create foundations that last. They can neither let go of their own need for change and control, nor can they stand still in a patient, humble way as people of deep faith can. It is no surprise that Jesus prayed not just for fruit, but “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Too many conservatives, on the other hand, idolize anything that appears to have lasted, but then stop asking the question, “Is this actually bearing any fruit?” It is the perennial battle between idealism and pragmatism.

In order to become truly prophetic people who go beyond the categories of liberal and conservative, we have to teach and learn ways to integrate needed activism with a truly contemplative mind and heart. I’m convinced that once we learn how to look out at life from the contemplative eyes of the True Self, personal politics and economics are going to change on their own. I don’t need to tell you what your politics should or shouldn’t be. Once you see things contemplatively, you’ll begin to seek the bias toward the bottom (not the top, which is far too defended and idealized), you’ll be free to embrace your shadow, and you can live at peace with those who are different. From a contemplative stance, you’ll know what action is yours to do almost naturally.  And what you do not need to do at all!

Reference:

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Essential Teachings on Love, ed. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018), 154-155.

Image credit: Algerian Woman Preparing Couscous (detail), Vincent Manago (1880–1936).
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: By contemplation, we mean the deliberate seeking of God through a willingness to detach from the passing self, the tyranny of emotions, the addiction to self-image, and the false promises of the world. Action, as we are using the word, means a decisive commitment toward involvement and engagement in the social order. —Richard Rohr
Read Full Entry
FacebookTwitterEmailPrint