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Contemplation and Action Summary

Contemplation and Action Summary

Saturday, January 2, 2021
Summary: Sunday, December 27, 2020—Friday, January 1, 2021

When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. If we’re working to create a more whole world, contemplation will give our actions nonviolent, loving power for the long haul. (Sunday)

I’ve often said that we founded the Center for Action and Contemplation to be a place of integration between action and contemplation. I envisioned a place where we could teach activists in social movements to pray—and encourage people who pray to live lives of solidarity and justice. (Monday)

God offers us quiet, contemplative eyes; and God also calls us to prophetic and critical involvement in the pain and sufferings of our world—both at the same time. (Tuesday)

Rather than being about hiding out in the chapel for hours on end, my contemplative practice has led me to an activism that is expansively grounded in compassion and care for others. —Sister Simone Campbell (Wednesday)

Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity have that amazing and rare combination of utter groundedness and constant risk-taking that always characterizes the true Gospel. (Thursday)

The gaze of compassion, looking out at life from the place of divine intimacy is really all I have, and all I have to give. (Friday)

 

Practice: A Commitment to Nonviolence

My longtime friend, Catholic priest and peace activist John Dear, has dedicated his life to the practices and teaching of nonviolence. His work with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and other organizations is truly an example of contemplation expressing itself in action for peace and justice. He has now founded “The Beatitudes Center for the Nonviolent Jesus.” Our executive director, Michael Poffenberger, and I recently visited John at his new home in California, and received much gracious hospitality and kindness.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation [FOR] has worked to bring together people on all sides in all the conflicts of the world, in pursuit of peace and reconciliation. . . . FOR started a wide variety of campaigns—sending delegations around the world . . . teaching people creative alternatives of nonviolence. . . . In the 1940s, FOR helped form the Congress of Racial Equality and set up “Journeys of Reconciliation,” which promoted integration in the segregated South. . . . [Today,] after nearly a century of dedicated peacemaking, members of the Fellowship of Reconciliation remain as committed as ever to the mission of promoting peace, justice, and nonviolent action. . . .

FOR is learning the great wisdom of the ages: that making peace requires persistent reconciliation. Peace does not happen overnight. There is no immediate result. It is a lifelong struggle and requires a lifetime commitment. It necessitates patience and dedication, even facing the worst odds. The challenge of reconciliation is to keep at it—to keep opponents talking, to encourage compassionate listening, to invite forgiveness, to compromise for the sake of peace, and to never give up the dream.

When FOR moved from being exclusively Christian to truly interfaith in the late 1950s, it broadened its mission to include building bridges between all the world’s religions for the sake of peace. Today, FOR embraces Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, other people of faith, and those with no formal religious affiliation. Through this interfaith commitment to nonviolence, we are forging a modest, new path into a new future for us all.

In contemplation, we empty ourselves of our own hurts, agendas, and even some of our most treasured beliefs. It is a practice of inner nonviolence, which gives us confidence to join with others to create a more peaceful world. John Dear continues:

The work of peace and reconciliation is not only political, it’s human work, and it’s spiritual. The God of peace is determined to reconcile the human race, and employs whomever will help in this great project. . . . As we have seen from the abolitionist, suffragist, civil rights, antiwar, human rights, and environmental movements, patient grassroots organizing and reconciliation over time has the power to transform nations and the world.

True contemplation always leads to action on behalf of a world in desperate need of healers and peacemakers, channels of God’s grace by any name. How might you join in that work in the year ahead?

Reference:
John Dear, Living Peace: A Spirituality of Action and Contemplation (Doubleday: 2001), 207–208, 210–213.

For Further Study:
Simone Campbell, Hunger for Hope: Prophetic Communities, Contemplation, and the Common Good (Orbis Books: 2020).

Contemplation in Action, Richard Rohr and Friends (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2006).

John Lewis with Brenda Jones, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America (Hachette Books: 2017, ©2012).

Albert J. Raboteau, American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice (Princeton University Press: 2016).

Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014).

“Unity and Diversity,” Oneing, vol. 6, no. 2 (CAC Publishing: 2018), especially the essays “Unity and Diversity in the Land of Nonviolence,” by John Dear, and “Love and Kenosis: Contemplative Foundations of Social Justice,” by Gigi Ross.

Image credit: Going to Church (detail), William H. Johnson, 1940‒1941, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and Creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. —Richard Rohr
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Contemplation and Action Summary

The Second Gaze
Friday, January 1, 2021
New Year’s Day

Contemplation happens to everyone. It happens in moments when we are open, undefended, and immediately present. —Gerald May

Even after fifty years of practicing contemplation, my immediate response to most situations includes attachment, defensiveness, judgment, control, and analysis. I am better at calculating than contemplating. A good New Year’s practice for us would be to admit that that most of us start there. The false self seems to have the “first gaze” at almost everything.

On my better days, when I am “open, undefended, and immediately present,” [1] I can sometimes begin with a contemplative mind and heart. Most of the time I can get there later and even end there, but it is usually a second gaze. The True Self seems to always be ridden and blinded by the defensive needs of the separate self. It is an hour-by-hour battle, at least for me. I can see why all spiritual traditions insist on some form of daily prayer; in fact, morning, midday, evening, and before-we-go-to-bed prayer would be a good idea too! Otherwise, we can assume that we will fall right back in the cruise control of small and personal self-interest, the pitiable and fragile smaller self.

The first gaze is seldom compassionate. It is too busy weighing and feeling itself: “How will this affect me?” or “How does my self-image demand that I react to this?” or “How can I get back in control of this situation?” This leads to an implosion of self-preoccupation that cannot enter into communion with the other or the moment. In other words, we first feel our feelings before we can relate to the situation and emotion of the other. Only after God has taught us how to live “undefended” can we immediately (or at least more quickly) stand with and for the other, and for the moment.

It has taken me much of my life to begin to get to the second gaze. By nature, I have a critical mind and a demanding heart, and I am impatient. (I’m a One on the Enneagram!) These are both my gifts and my curses, as you might expect. Yet I cannot have one without the other, it seems. I cannot risk losing touch with either my angels or my demons. They are both good teachers. The practice of solitude and silence allows them both, and leads to the second gaze. The gaze of compassion, looking out at life from the place of divine intimacy is really all I have, and all I have to give, even though I don’t always do it.

In the second gaze, critical thinking and compassion are finally coming together. It is well worth waiting for, because only the second gaze sees fully and truthfully. It sees itself, the other, and even God with God’s own eyes, the eyes of compassion, which always move us to act for peace and justice. But it does not reject the necessary clarity of critical thinking, either. Normally, we start with dualistic thinking, and then move toward nondual for an enlightened response. As always, both/and!

References:
Richard Rohr, “Contemplation and Compassion: The Second Gaze,” Contemplation in Action, Richard Rohr and Friends (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2006), 15–16, 18–19, 20.

Image credit: Going to Church (detail), William H. Johnson, 1940‒1941, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and Creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. —Richard Rohr
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Contemplation and Action Summary

Changing Ourselves, Not the Other
Thursday, December 31, 2020
New Year’s Eve

In 1998, I spent three days immersed in the life, spirit, and ministries of Mother (now Saint) Teresa’s (1910‒1997) community at the motherhouse in Calcutta—a year after her death. Our work together ended on October 1, the feast day of her patron, St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897). (Who is, as many of you know, one of my top five favorite mystics!) All 400+ community members return for this day of teaching, praying, and celebrating in the manner of the poor.

Through that experience, I finally met a “conservative” yet fully contemporary form of religious life that I could trust. The sisters were not rigid; rather, they were simply devoted women. They did not need security, answers, and order, as we see in most traditionalist movements in the West. In fact, they were willing to live without security, with very few answers to their questions of mind and heart, and amid almost total disorder. All in union—hour by hour—with God. They lived that amazing and rare combination of utter groundedness and constant risk-taking that always characterizes the true Gospel.

The sisters didn’t waste time fixing, controlling, or even needing to understand what is wrong with others. Instead, they put all of their time and energy into letting God change them. From that transformed place, they serve and carry the pain of the world, which they are convinced is the pain of God. This is the synthesis on a communal level that I am always seeking. I have encountered it in many individuals, but hardly ever in public and social form.

I do not believe that the lifestyle of the Missionaries of Charity answers all questions or that they are holier than many other Christians I have met. Yet there is a radical and utterly clear gift of God that is revealed through them. I even dared to ask one of the leaders about one of the most common criticisms of Mother Teresa: “Why did Mother not speak out against social injustice? Why did she not point out the evil systems and evil people that are chewing up the poor? Why did she not risk some of her moral ‘capital’ to call the world, and even the church, to much-needed reform?”

The answer was calm, immediate, and firsthand. Mother Teresa felt that if she took sides, or played the firebrand, that she could not be what Jesus had told her to be—love to and for all. She said that if she started correcting and pointing out “sinners” she could no longer be an instrument of love and reconciliation for them. Humiliated and defensive people do not change. Like her patron Thérèse of Lisieux, “her vocation in the church was to be love.” She knew that her primary message had to be her life itself, not words or arguments or accusations. She had found that “third something” that is always beyond the calculating and dualistic mind.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “A Passage through India,” Contemplation in Action, Richard Rohr and Friends (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2006), 123–125.

Image credit: Going to Church (detail), William H. Johnson, 1940‒1941, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and Creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. —Richard Rohr
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Contemplation and Action Summary

Models of Integration
Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS is someone who truly lives out her commitment to the contemplative path by her actions in the world. She has served as the executive director of NETWORK, the Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, since 2004. You may know her as one of the Nuns on the Bus. Here’s a glimpse of what powers her:

Over the past thirty-five years or more, it [my contemplative practice] has become the foundation of who I am and impacts every aspect of my existence. Rather than being about hiding out in the chapel for hours on end, my contemplative practice has led me to an activism that is expansively grounded in compassion and care for others. . . .

Our call to do our part is at the heart of the gospel message. We need to pitch in, listen to others, and stay open to the Spirit. We are the ones who have been sent out. The gospel of love will not be experienced unless we live the deeply contemplative truth that our prayer leads to community, which leads to action to heal this fractured world. . . .

It is those whom we encounter and who break open our hearts who keep us faithful. Together we know our existence as one vibrant organism created at every moment by the Divine. This is the source of a hope beyond our wildest understanding. [1]

Thomas Keating (1923–2018), whose teachings are foundational to our modern understanding of contemplation in the Christian tradition, speaks of a similar movement from inner prayer to action on behalf of the world. He writes:

The power of the stars is nothing compared to the energy of a person whose will has been freed . . . and who is thus enabled to co-create the cosmos together with God. God’s top priority is the creation of a world in which the goods of the earth are equitably distributed, where no one is forgotten or left out, and where no one can rest until everyone has enough to eat, the oppressed have been liberated, and justice and peace are the norm among the nations and religions of the world. Until then, even the joy of transforming union is incomplete. The commitment to the spiritual journey is not a commitment to pure joy, but to taking responsibility for the whole human family, its needs and destiny. We are not our own; we belong to everyone else. [2]

My teachings have always emphasized the middle ground—the balanced need for both contemplation and action. Sister Simone and Father Thomas have operated primarily on opposite sides of the spectrum—but I hope you can see how they ultimately come to the same conclusion! It is not a dualistic choice between contemplation and action, but a natural outflowing of God’s love in all directions.

References:
[1] Simone Campbell, Hunger for Hope: Prophetic Communities, Contemplation, and the Common Good (Orbis Books: 2020), 17–18, 131, 144.

[2] Thomas Keating, The Mystery of Christ: The Liturgy as Spiritual Experience (Continuum: 1994), 104.

Image credit: Going to Church (detail), William H. Johnson, 1940‒1941, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and Creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. —Richard Rohr
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Contemplation and Action Summary

Standing Still, Moving the World
Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Give me a place to stand, and I will move the whole earth with a lever. —Archimedes

Archimedes (c. 287–c. 212 BCE), a Greek philosopher and mathematician, noticed that if a lever was balanced in the correct place, on the correct fulcrum, it could move proportionally much greater weights than the force actually applied. He calculated that if the lever stretched far enough and the fulcrum point remained fixed close to Earth, even a small weight at one end would be able to move the world at the other.

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 to allow time for withdrawal from business as usual, for contemplation, 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. The fulcrum, that balancing point, must be in the real world.

True contemplation, the great teachers say, is really quite down to earth and practical, and doesn’t 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 need some distancing and detachment from the diversionary nature and delusions of mass culture and the false self. Contemplation builds on the hard bottom of reality—as it is—without ideology, denial, or fantasy.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t have a fixed place to stand, a fulcrum of critical distance, and thus we cannot find our levers, or true “delivery systems,” as Bill Plotkin calls them, by which to move our world. [1] We do not have the steadiness of spiritual practice to keep our sight keen and alive. Those who have plenty of opportunities for spiritual practice—for example, those in monasteries—often don’t have an access point beyond religion itself from which to speak or to serve much of our world. We need a delivery system in the world to provide the capacity for building bridges and connecting the dots of life.

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; and 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.

References:
[1] Bill Plotkin, Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World (New World Library: 2008), 306.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 5–7.

Epigraph; Archimedes, from Tzetzes, Chiliades, II.130.

Image credit: Going to Church (detail), William H. Johnson, 1940‒1941, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and Creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. —Richard Rohr
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Contemplation and Action Summary

The Politics of Prayer
Monday, December 28, 2020

I’ve often said that we founded the Center for Action and Contemplation to be a place of integration between action and contemplation. I envisioned a place where we could teach activists in social movements to pray—and encourage people who pray to live lives of solidarity and justice. As we explained in our Center’s Radical Grace publication in 1999:

We believed that action and contemplation, once thought of as mutually exclusive, must be brought together or neither one would make sense. We wanted to be radical in both senses of the word, simultaneously rooted in Tradition and boldly experimental. We believed . . . that the power to be truly radical comes from trusting entirely in God’s grace and that such trust is the most radical action possible. [1]

To pray is to practice that posture of radical trust in God’s grace—and to participate in perhaps the most radical movement of all, which is the movement of God’s Love.

Contemplative prayer allows us to build our own house. To pray is to discover that Someone else is within our house and to recognize that it is not our house at all. To keeping praying is to have no house to protect because there is only One House. And that One House is Everybody’s Home. In other words, those who pray from the heart actually live in a very different world. I like to say it’s a Christ-soaked world, a world where matter is inspirited and spirit is embodied. In this world, everything is sacred; and the word “Real” takes on a new meaning. The world is wary of such house builders, for our loyalties will lie in very different directions. We will be very different kinds of citizens, and the state will not so easily depend on our salute. That is the politics of prayer. And that is probably why truly spiritual people are always a threat to politicians of any sort. They want our allegiance, and we can no longer give it. Our house is too big.

If religion and religious people are to have any moral credibility in the face of the massive death-dealing and denial of this era, we need to move with great haste toward lives of political holiness. This is my theology and my politics:

It appears that God loves life—the creating never stops.

We will love and create and maintain life.

It appears that God is love—an enduring, patient kind.

We will seek and trust love in all its humanizing (and therefore divinizing) forms.

It appears that God loves the variety of multiple features, faces, and forms.

We will not be afraid of the other, the not-me, the stranger at the gate.

It appears that God loves—is—beauty: Look at this world!

Those who pray already know this. Their passion will be for beauty.

References:
[1] Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace, anniversary edition (December 1999).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Prayer as Political Activity,” Radical Grace, vol. 2, no. 2 (March–April 1989).

Image credit: Going to Church (detail), William H. Johnson, 1940‒1941, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and Creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. —Richard Rohr
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Contemplation and Action Summary

Grounding Compassionate Action
Sunday, December 27, 2020

Our theme for the Daily Meditations in 2020 has been Contemplation and Action. We hope that you, our larger CAC community, have found some sort of regular contemplative practice to be sustaining in these challenging times. We hope contemplation has helped you discern what actions have been yours to do to confront systemic injustices and to help those most affected by the pandemic. Looking ahead, we trust that our contemplative practices will support us as we seek a path forward for healing, respect for those with whom we differ, and pursuit of unity in our world.

At the Center for Action and Contemplation, we seek to ground compassionate action in contemplative, nondual consciousness. When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. If we’re working to create a more whole world, contemplation will give our actions nonviolent, loving power for the long haul.

The civil rights leader John Lewis (1940–2020) has been an inspiration to many of us this year. How did this saintly public man avoid deeper recognition for so long? His words read like a prayer for contemplative action:

Study the path of others to make your way easier and more abundant. Lean toward the whispers of your own heart, discover the universal truth, and follow its dictates. Know that the truth always leads to love and the perpetuation of peace. Its products are never bitterness and strife. Clothe yourself in the work of love, in the revolutionary work of nonviolent resistance against evil. Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul and embed this planet with goodness. Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won. Choose confrontation wisely, but when it is your time don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice. And if you follow your truth down the road to peace and the affirmation of love, if you shine like a beacon for all to see, then the poetry of all the great dreamers and philosophers is yours to manifest in a nation, a world community, and a Beloved Community that is finally at peace with itself. [1]

In an interview several years ago, I offered the following words, which are still applicable now: “Some form of contemplative practice is the only way (apart from great love and great suffering) to rewire people’s minds and hearts. It is the only form of prayer that dips into the unconscious and changes people at deep levels—where all of the wounds, angers, and recognitions lie hidden. Only some form of prayer of quiet changes people for good and for others in any long-term way. It sustains and deepens the short-term wisdom we learn in great love and great suffering.” [2]

References:
[1] John Lewis with Brenda Jones, Across That Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America (Hachette Books: 2017, ©2012), 208.

[2] Richard Rohr, interview with Romal J. Tune, “Richard Rohr on White Privilege,” HUFFPOST (January 15, 2016; updated December 6, 2017).

Image credit: Going to Church (detail), William H. Johnson, 1940‒1941, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we experience the reality of our oneness with God, others, and Creation, actions of justice and healing naturally follow. —Richard Rohr
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