„Prayer is not the avoiding of distractions, but precisely how you deal with distractions. (See note)
Contemplation is not the avoidance of the problem, but a daily merging with the problem, and finding its full resolution.
What you quickly and humbly learn in contemplation, is that how you do anything is probably how you do everything.
If you are brutal in your inner reaction to your own littleness and sinfulness, your social relationships and even your politics will probably be the same—brutal. One sees a woman overcome this split in St. Therese of Lisieux’s autobiography, Story of a Soul. This young contemplative nun is daily dealing with her irritations, judgments, and desire to run from other sisters in the convent. She faces her own mixed motives and pettiness. She is constant in her concern for those working actively in the missions, and her goal is always compassion and communion.
Yet she suffers her own powerlessness to be compassionate until she can finally
break through to love. She holds the tension within herself (the essence of contemplation) until she herself is the positive resolution of that tension. Therese always gets to the second gaze.
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 so impatient. 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.
A life of solitude and silence allows them both, and invariably leads me 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.
I named my little hermitage East of Eden for some very specific reasons, however, not because of John Steinbeck’s marvelous novel (and movie) of the same name. On a humorous level, it was because I moved here thirteen years ago, 300 yards “east” of Holy Family Friary where I had previously lived. (…) All my needs and desires were met in very good ways. It was a sort of “Eden.”
But I also picked the name because of its significance in the life of Cain, after he had killed his brother Abel. It was a place where God sent Cain, this bad boy, after he had failed and sinned, yet ironically with a loving and protective mark: “So Yahweh put a mark on Cain so that no one would do him harm. He sent him to wander in the land of Nod, East of Eden” (Genesis 4:15-16).
By my late 50’s I had had plenty of opportunities to see my own failures, shadow, and sin.
The first gaze at myself was critical, negative, and demanding, not helpful at all, to me or to others. I am convinced that such guilt and shame are never from God. They are merely the protestations of the false self as it is shocked at its own poverty—the defenses of a little man who wants to be a big man. God leads by compassion toward the soul, never by condemnation.
If God would relate to us by severity and punitiveness, God would only be giving us permission to do the same (which is tragically, exactly what has happened!). God offers us, instead, the grace to “weep” over our sins more than to ever perfectly overcome them, to humbly recognize our littleness rather than become big. It is the way of Cain, Francis, and Therese of Lisieux, who called it her “little way.” It is a kind of weeping and a kind of wandering that keeps us both
askew and awake at the same time.
So now my later life call is to “wander in the land of Nod,” enjoying God’s so often proven love and protection, and look back at my life, and everybody’s life, the One-And-Only-Life, marked happily and gratefully with the sign of Cain.
Contemplation and compassion are finally coming together. This is my second gaze. 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, which are always eyes of compassion. It is from this place that true action must spring.
Otherwise, most of our action is merely re-action, and does not bear fruit and “fruit that will last” (John 15:16). It is all about me at that point, so I must hold out for the second gaze when it becomes all about God, about others, and is filled with compassion for our suffering world.
This alone deserves to be called Christian activity, and is far beyond the mere political or doctrinal correctness of either the Right or the Left.”
By Richard Rohr
This text is from
The Eight Core Principles of the Center for Action and Contemplation
- The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point. (criterion)
- We need a contemplative mind in order to do compassionate action. (process)
- The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same. (emphasis)
- Practical truth is more likely found at the bottom and the edges than at the top or the center of most groups, institutions, and cultures. (perspective)
- We will support true authority, the ability to “author” life in others, regardless of the group. (non-tribal)
- Life is about discovering the right questions more than having the right answers. (primacy of discernment)
- True religion leads us to an experience of our True Self and undermines my false self. (ultimate direction)
- We do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. (praxis over theory)