“And this is the strangest of all paradoxes of the human adventure; we live inside all experience, but we are permitted to bear witness only to the outside. Such is the riddle of life and the story of the passing of our days.” -Howard Thurman
The Spirit’s movement that nudges me into the quietest spaces of myself also nudges me to bend in time with that movement. If I do not act on the transformations of Spirit, then my contemplations is useless. If not useless to me, they are certainly useless to my community around me.
I enter in silence into those solitary places not to shut the world out, but rather to come to a realization of how to put feet under my faith. Too often I fall back on the fear that my journey is becoming too “works-based”, or that my gospel is becoming a “social justice” gospel. But there’s the rub: I fall back on fear. Any fear is to noted, observed, but ultimately denied.
I fear that my faith is so works-based that I fail to do anything at all. I pray, I study, I theologize, but I fail to act when my neighbours plead their desperate cause. If I do act, it is to pray over or for rather than with these people (had they even asked for prayer?). I speak flowery words that rise to heaven when my community fights hell on earth.
Richard Rohr deliberately named his retreat — The Center for Action and Contemplation — as he did because action is a needed and natural rhythm of life. Our world needs people who will choose to live life on the inside, even while being able to bear witness only on the outside. We cannot afford to wile away our precious days contemplating the mysteries of the universe when the universe is screaming “Get UP!”
I often witness this anemic faith in our Self-Help Culture. We race after whatever makes us happy, whatever pacifies us, whatever keeps us as the centre of our own little worlds, and express fear guised as disdain for others who have already gotten up. Bookstore shelves are bleeding self-help books, all designed to make us feel good for a moment; but rarely are they deep enough to expose us to the realities of the world, whether we knew of these realities beforehand or not.
If contemplation without action renders faith anemic, action without contemplation renders faith thoughtless and insincere. Perhaps that sounds harsh, but how often have we marched into the lives of our neighbours and communities with all the good intentions in the world only to discover that we’re really only paving the way to somewhere else far worse?
Action without the movement and transformation of the Spirit can lack wisdom, insight, empathy, and understanding. I see it in the well-intentioned actions of white people, such as myself, who experience racial privilege on a daily basis. We know what will help (do we?) and rush to save the lost. I sense the good intentions of non-affirming people when they tell me that life can be so much better if I was straight.
It was Trinity Sunday this past Sunday — celebrating the mystery that Christians call God the Father/Creator, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I could speak of balance or substance or authority. But I prefer to speak of the Trinity as it was explained to the small children at church: it is a dance. God in a mysterious dance, moving and bending and being. All God. All Three.
And God Created.
And God Lived.
And God Dwells.
Movement. Action. Relationship.
All such incomprehensible notions that hurts my insides to dig into. And yet, even as they draw me into connection with God, they move me outwards. I begin to see with the eyes of the person next to me, imperfect though my vision remains.
Is there room in our world for mysticism and contemplation?
There is internal bleeding the size of the world’s oceans, all of need for me to enter in to those dangerous holy spaces and discover Who waits for me there, and who I will continue to become because of this sacred relationship. There is space. There is room.
As long as I emerge from contemplation and carry it with me to action. For others, they will act first and discover contemplative spaces along the way that they must enter before they can continue to act.
In choosing to do so, we connect with reconciliation, restoration, salvation and transformation.