Richard Rohr on the contemplative stance

Went and hear Richard speak last night and it was completely mindblowingly fantastic. I made the following notes from just one-liners he gave that summarised some wonderfully tranformative points. Essentially he sees contemplation as the basis for action; that is, if we can get the contemplative stance right (for want of a better term – right isn’t quite it), acton automatically follows. So here are some of the pearls he cast before this swine:

How to see is how to be.
You get a sense of the kind of seeing he’s talking abou there in the Mary Oliver poem ‘Snow Geese’ (below). It’s a kind of presentness to the moment that relinquishes judgement or criticism, and em.

Love and death are the only things worth writing about, the only things going on in the world.
See the opening line of the Mary Oliver poem below.

“What matters is that when I saw them, I saw them” (Mary Oliver). Experiencing your experiences.
He made this point via the following Mary Oliver poem:

Snow Geese
Oh, to love what is lovely, and will not last!
What a task
to ask
of anything, or anyone,
yet it is ours,
and not by the century or the year, but by the hours.
One fall day I heard
above me, and above the sting of the wind, a sound
I did not know, and my look shot upward; it was
a flock of snow geese, winging it
faster than the ones we usually see,
and, being the color of snow, catching the sun
so they were, in part at least, golden. I
held my breath
as we do
to stop time
when something wonderful
has touched us
as with a match,
which is lit, and bright,
but does not hurt
in the common way,
but delightfully,
as if delight
were the most serious thing
you ever felt.
The geese
flew on,
I have never seen them again.
Maybe I will, someday, somewhere.
Maybe I won’t.
It doesn’t matter.
What matters
is that, when I saw them,
I saw them
as through the veil, secretly, joyfully, clearly.

What matters is that when I saw them, I saw them. The contemplative stance, Richard says, is about seeing with more than just a critical eye. Most of the time we operate out of a dualistic mindset, which is about discrimination, good and bad, right and wrong.

Classic dualistic arguments (liberal, conservative, Liberal/Labor, etc.) are based in the idea that if you argue for long enough or persuasively enough, the other person will simply capitulate and you’ll emerge the winner. But as Richard says…when has that ever happened? Instead, what we get most of the time is classic addictive behaviour – behaviour that is repeated despite nothing changing (or the situation worsening). Something needs to be transformed.

Most people don’t see things as they are, they see things as they are.

Obviously, the emphases are important here. Basically, he was saying we make the world in our own image – our perspective, who we are, determines in many ways what we see. In a contemplative stance, we attempt to open our eyes to see what is really there – see things as they are, not as we are.

Religion is what you do with your pain. Whatever is not transformed is transmitted/ transferred.
The first part, Richard said, is one of his most quoted sayings. The second is the heart of nonviolence. Either our violence towards each other is transferred to another (counter-violence or the fight reflex), taken into oneself (passivity or the flight reflex), or it is transformed (nonviolence). It’s classic Jung.

Nothing is wasted – everything belongs.
The idea that nothing is wasted is mindblowing. “Everything belongs” is the title of his best-selling books; he assumes this is because of the title.

God comes to us disguised as life.
I think his point here was something like: we seem to constantly engage the age old problem of evil – that is, if God is good, why is there so much suffering in the world? – and yet, in the entire Bible, God never answers this question. God is simply present in the suffering; willing healing and reconciliation, but present. In the spirit of “everything belongs” we can accept it and look for God’s presence in it rather than assuming God’s absence when things go wrong.

Grace is always a defeat for the ego; it is always humiliation.
Wow! What a profound thought. No wonder we reject the mercy of God so often, and make it into an “I must have to earn it!” thing, even if it’s just by acceptance or whatever. The fact that God loves us unconditionally is a scary thing because we can’t control it – thus grace is a defeat for the ego because regardless of what we are or do, we are loved, with a love that cannot increase or decrease.

The contemplative stance is most often experienced as a letting go. All you can do is get out of the way.
And yet how rarely we do let go!

There was some real resonance with stuff that’s going on for us at the moment – talking about the cross and how Bonaventure saw it as being wedged between two extremes because he rejected (or embraced) both. This is precisely what’s been happening at Urban Seed with the whole G20 thing – by embracing both ends of town, the rich and the poor, we have found ourselves wedged.

So if you get the chance to hear Richard speak, on audio tape or CD or read his books, do it.

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