Contemplation vs Activism
“But how do we remain contemplative and engage in activism?”
A question I didn’t even know I had until I heard myself ask it. Better to say The Question I didn’t know I had. Or maybe I did. Maybe that question is what some of my earlier writing was asking, but I was not ready to hear the answer.
There is a quiet place, a room beyond Right and Wrong, Win or Lose. But I can’t find the key. I’ve read about it. I’ve seen it practiced. I’ve imagined what it would look like. And every time I think I’ve found a way in…
There is a tweet
A relative or friend
And I’m in a fiery rage, a 0 to 60 vehement rant. So certain of my moral superiority and intellectual prowess that I’ve already vilified “the other” and glorified myself before I’ve taken a second breath. My rage impresses me. My biting tongue and quick wit fuel the fire and it’s hours before my heart rate slows down. And I feel righteously justified every minute. But I’ve done nothing. Changed nothing.
There is another way.
I am learning it.
What is Contemplation?
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
-1 Corinthians 13:4-8
As with most truths, it’s been there all along. When I started this journey, a contemplative life seems so foreign, so “new agey”. The more I relax into contemplation the more familiar it becomes.
Kind, peaceful, reflective, patient, true.
Contemplation is the practice of existing in and reacting out of a place of love. It is allowing The Divine presence found in all things to “rewire” our minds to thinking beyond categories, instead striving to exist in a place of kindness and compassion. Contemplation is not self-seeking, it is not out to dishonor another, but it does speak Truth.
Contemplation is not self-seeking, it is not out to dishonor another, but it does speak Truth.
Contemplation & Activism
I am learning, painstakingly, that there is no division between action and contemplation. (For the Christians in the room, we don’t have to choose between Mary and Martha- they were sisters…) I am not called to ignore the pain and ignorance I see for the sake of nicety. After all, this is what got Jesus killed, King assassinated, and Malala shot. If we feel the pain of this world in every fiber of our being we have no choice but to respond. But the response, my friends. It is in our response to the ignorance, the pain, the hate, where we see how contemplation guides our activism and makes it more fruitful.
The frenzy of our activism neutralized our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.- Thomas Merton
Contemplation and Activism dance with one another. A contemplative, thoughtful, and loving life invites us to look beyond the surface. It does not ignore suffering but rather it expands our ability to hold the vast suffering in the world without placing the burden on our shoulders. We don’t turn away from the darkness, we lean into it, but we lean into it together. We continue to fight for change and instead of demonizing the other, we invite them to take part of the change. It is not “checking out” of this world, it is recognizing our unique passion, and using it to help lift the world.
We continue to fight for change and instead of demonizing the other, we invite them to take part of the change.
This Contemplative Life
(“We’ve come to act four of our program, act four”)
Contemplation requires inner work. And speaking for myself, it requires A LOT of inner work.
I am learning to respond with love and leave the impulse to “otherize” at the door. I beginning to realize that I will not change someone’s beliefs by replacing them with my own (as much as I may want to). Any change that does happen, will not occur after one conversation, but over hundreds. Daily, I am struggling to cultivate stillness in the face of chaos and to align myself inwardly with love before taking any action. It is a paradox of passion and detachment. I am learning that “winning” looks different in a contemplative life.
When I look into the face
Of my enemy
I see my brother
I see my brother
Forgiveness is the garment
Of our courage
The power to make the peace
We long to know
Open up our eyes
To see the wounds that bind
All of humankind
May our shutter hearts
Greet the dawn of life
With charity and love
I am training my mind to see the humanity of those I’d rather turn into monsters by finding that which I can love in those I’d rather hate. Reactionary divisiveness only creates more enemies. I am learning that activism needs to be grounded in contemplation and community.
Perhaps most importantly, I learning to see the moments of quiet activism.
Making a cup of tea for a sick friend.
Sitting with those who are grieving.
Giving away a smile to those I pass by.
I am trying to slow down and notice the color purple. I am enjoying long car rides, hurried conversations, and the warm face of the barista greeting me in the morning. Just like the adagio of a grand symphony, I am resting in the contemplation of activism.
Contemplation and Activism are a dance.
It is listening and
Showing up and
And it will mend this broken world.
Cultivating your own Contemplative Practice
I am by no means an expert on contemplative life (as witnessed by many, many of my posts!) but here are some resources that have helped me in this journey:
The Center for Action and Contemplation, Fr. Richard Rohr
The Contemplative Way , Dr. James Finley
The Contemplative Society, Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault
The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See
Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer
The Heart of Centering Prayer: Christian Non-Duality in Theory and Practice
I practice Contemplative Prayer communally here in Los Angeles, if you are interested let me know and I’ll give you the details. But wherever you are located I encourage you to dig into contemplation, maybe even finding your own community practice with.
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