Tag Archives: Contemplation

Jesus as Scapegoat

Image credit: White Crucifixion (detail), Marc Chagall, 1938, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

I share this piece by Rev Richard Rhor of the Center for Action and Contemplation. I hope you enjoy it.

Blessings, Irvin

Cross as Agenda

In terms of healing and symbolism, everything hinges on the cross. The cross is about how to fight and not become a casualty yourself. The cross is about being the victory instead of just winning a victory. The cross is about refusing the simplistic win-lose scenario and holding out for a possible win-win scenario.

The cross clearly says that evil is to be opposed but we must first hold the tension, ambiguity, and pain of it. “Resist evil and overcome it with good,” as Paul says (Romans 12:21). The cross moves us from the rather universal myth of redemptive violence to a new scenario of transformative suffering.

On the cross of life, we accept our own complicity and cooperation with evil, instead of imagining ourselves on some pedestal of moral superiority. As Paul taught: “everyone has sinned” (Romans 5:12) and Jesus the Lamb of God had the humility to “become sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21) with us.

The mystery of the cross teaches us how to stand against hate without becoming hate, how to oppose evil without becoming evil ourselves. Can you feel yourself stretching in both directions—toward God’s goodness and also toward recognition of your own complicity in evil? If you look at yourself at that moment, you will feel crucified. You hang in between, without resolution, your very life a paradox, held in hope by God (see Romans 8:23-25).

The goal of God’s work is always healing reconciliation, not retributive justice.  And like Jesus, we must invest ourselves in this work of reconciliation that “the two might become one” (see Ephesians 2:13-18).

Human existence is neither perfectly consistent, nor is it total chaos, but it has a “cruciform” shape of cross purposes, always needing to be reconciled in us.To hold the contradictions with God, with Jesus, is to participate in the redemption of the world (Colossians 1:24). We all must forgive reality for being what it is. We can’t do this alone, but only by a deep identification with the Crucified One and with crucified humanity. Christ then “carries” us across!

The risen, victorious Jesus gives us a history and hopeful future that moves beyond predictable violence. He destroys death and sin not by canceling it out; but by making a trophy of it. Think about that for a long time until it cracks you open. And it will!

Rev. Richard Rhor OFM

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Non-Dual Consciousness

Non-dual or contemplative consciousness is not the same as being churchy or reflective or introverted. Unfortunately this is the way the word is often used even by people who should know better. Contemplation is a panoramic, receptive awareness whereby you take in all that the situation, the moment, the event offers without eliminating anything. That does not come naturally. You have to work at it and develop practices whereby you recognize your compulsive and repetitive patterns.

It seems we are addicted to our need to make distinctions and judgments, which we actually call “thinking”! Most of us think we are our thinking, yet almost all thinking is compulsive and habitual. And educated people are just as bad as the uneducated, sometimes even worse.

That is why all forms of meditation and contemplation are teaching you a way of quieting the dualistic “thinking” mind. After a while you see that this kind of thinking is not going to get you very far, simply because reality is not all about you and your preferences! And frankly, the universe is not all about any one of us, but only all of us together and with God.

Non-dual consciousness is about receiving and being present to the moment and to the now exactly as it is, without judgment, without analysis, without critique, without your ego deciding whether you like it or whether you don’t like it. It is a much more holistic knowing, where your mind, heart, soul, and senses are open and receptive to the moment just as it is. You are not dividing the field of the moment (and eliminating anything that threatens your ego), but holding it all together.

The non-dual, contemplative mind is a whole new mind! With it, you can stand back and simply observe the self and the event from the standpoint of the “stable witness,” or what Christians would call the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16). Now you can laugh or weep over your little dramas and dances, without being attached to them or hating them. You can look at yourself and others calmly and compassionately because you are able to see things as they are in themselves and not from the viewpoint of how they affect you.

Adapted from Jesus and Buddha: Paths to Awakening by Richard Rhor

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Contemplation and Action, Why Not?

For a number of years now I have sought to deepen my relationship with God by opening myself to His ongoing presence in my everyday living. For me this has come about by sacred reading, retreats, and prayer practices both ancient and not so ancient. I have found myself inwardly led to read and study a variety of works that are written for the specific purpose of bringing creation into contact with the Creator. Such contact is far more than knowledge-it is awareness.

A word that is often used to describe that awareness is contemplative. A contemplative is a person who dedicates himself to live where heaven and earth intersect. William Thiele is the founder and director of The School for Contemplative Living here in New Orleans. In a recent article he cut right to the heart of an important, though fundamentally misunderstood, contemplative principle. “So where exactly is the first place contemplatives belong? The answer is: wherever there are people who’ve been excluded by others. A Christian contemplative seeks to follow the Jesus who always preferred to hang out with the very people excluded by others. Aren’t there enough stories in the gospels to make it crystal clear that those sinners, (non-religious people), and tax collectors were his best buddies? And didn’t Jesus manage to also get himself excluded and eventually killed by the religious people who were doing the excluding?” I want to ponder on that a little.

 There is an undeniable relationship between being a person of contemplation and one that cares and reaches out to the hurt and injustice of the world. When we are called to prayer and silence, we think we are called to isolation and abandonment. The twentieth century mystic monk, Thomas Merton, spent months at a time living as a hermit, but he reminds us of something he learned in isolation, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”  The desert mystics went to the desert to escape the empire, but also to direct others on a path towards God. Many of those that they taught made a great difference in their world. Can we be people of contemplation and compassion without being people of action?

 I think not. Jesus assigns us to be the “salt and light” of the earth. The real thought that I am playing with here is action. As contemplatives we must be people of action. We are stirred to action by our passions. A contemplative must feel enough, care enough to do something. When you have your time of prayer and solitude, emerge from it with full awareness of the world that surrounds you.

  Do you have the spiritual fortitude to think as George Bernard Shaw did? “Some men see things as they are and say why, others dreams things that never were and say, why not?”

 Contemplatives are compelled by the very presence of Him they seek to say, “Why not?”

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Art of Belonging

the prayer room

The journey of every believer brings him to the tough intersection of the world and our desire to be one with God. Oneness with the One who created us in His own image is built into our souls. Thomas Merton once said: “Contemplation will be denied to a man in proportion as he belongs to the world.” The world refers to the things we love of the world -the busyness, prestige, glitzy things, and pride that so represent us to those around us. We are called away from such a life as we seek to be contemplatives. We begin to practice the art of belonging.

As we approach that intersection, and we approach every day, we must make the decision of just how much time we have for the things of the spirit. I would be the first to admit that we don’t have the option of becoming monastic hermits, but we do have the option of giving some priority time to contemplation.  To be contemplative in our world we must establish a pattern and routine of prayer.

Prayer comes in many forms. For some it is silence, for others it is much more active. How do you practice prayer in your life? Prayer has to be much more than a weekly worship time, it must be a special part of your day that keeps you focused on the things of God. Pray the daily office, practice Lectio Divina, centering prayer, or journaling and know that these practices will lead you closer to God. Contemplation and prayer is movement toward belonging to God.

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Closeness to God

Thomas Merton's hermitage at The Abbey of Our ...

Thomas Merton’s Hermitage

It would be a great mistake to think that mystical contemplation necessarily brings a whole litany of weird phenomena-ecstasies, raptures, stigmata and so on. These belong to quite a different order of things. They are “charismatic” gifts, and they are not directly ordered to the sanctification of the one who receives them.

—-Thomas Merton “What is Contemplation?”

The great cry of our time is,” Let me see it!” This cry pushes in on every aspect of our existence, even our spiritual journey. Somehow, we have begun to believe that every act of faith requires some sort of proof or outward manifestation for it to be real. Merton reminds us that not all things are for our own self-gratification. The “gifts” in particular, are for the edification of the church, and when we practice contemplation we should not expect some spectacular results that make us some guru of great faith. Contemplation and centering are acts of the individual and bring us to understand what it means to be close to a loving God. Through such closeness we can live a life that is spiritually fruitful and face the many trials that we encounter.

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