Rohr: Contemplation and Action
“The dance of action and contemplation is an art form that will take your entire life to master. Like Moses at the burning bush, many of us begin with a mystical moment and end with social action or what looks like politics..” Richard Rohr Daily Meditations, July 5, 2017. Adapted from Richard Rohr, Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer (Paulist Press: 2014), 6, 11.
Life indeed is a dance where we sit out the dance as we contemplate the love of God as a mystic or bravely go on the dance floor as an activist for those who have been harmed by fear. An ideal is to do both, but balance often is never our strong suit. When I returned to the life of a “religious” after a five-year interlude from God, I had an insatiable hunger to read and study about God. I think this came from my medical training. If we want to know about a subject, we research and study in depth what has already been written about it. Then for some unknown reason I began to write about what I was experiencing. Again, writing may have come from my immersion in academic medicine spilling into my spiritual life with the call to “publish or perish.”
One December night I remember reading an Advent piece at an early Christmas gathering of the women of St. Mark’s. Mrs. Metcalf, a renowned speech teacher who also sat on our pew at the church, said to me in passing as we were going to pick up our plates for dinner, “It is good to see another mystic.” Mystic, I never thought of myself as a mystic, but suddenly knew I had just been anointed one by a master. Again, I think medical training was a proving ground to develop some insight into seeing God’s presence at work in the world. My job as a radiologist is to look for the unknown and in the shadows and often in the dark by an imaging technique, X-rays or ultrasound, which examines an inside hidden world, just beneath the surface.
God uses every part of our experience. No experience is wasted. Eventually over many, many years of just writing about this experience, I have been moved to action, making phone calls, writing letters, marching, visiting the sick and dying, working with those who have difficulty getting groceries, advocating for prisoners and immigrants, supporting homeless veterans, working with people in recovery. As long as we can see the love of God in our contemplation and in our action, my experience is that we will know one of the fruit of the spirit, peace. When one peace or “piece” is missing, I know I am off track.
I share this dance during the last day of the Christmas season and look forward to learning from the mystic part of each of us that also is seeking to recognize how God will appear next on our dance card in this new year.