Richard Rohr: Returning to Enduring Wisdom

Soon after the dualistic fights of the Reformation, and after the over-rationalization of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Christians took on a more rational form of thinking and covered it with churchy or pious words. Our own doctrines were henceforth presented in an all-or- nothing, argumentative, and apologetic way rather than through a contemplative, mystical knowing. Almost all Catholic priests and Protestant ministers were educated in their own version of this headiness until it began to fall apart in the mid-1960s.

In the 1950s and 60s, Thomas Merton almost single-handedly pulled back the veil and revealed the contemplative mind that had largely been lost for five centuries.

.. They told me then that Merton was not very popular with many of the older monks in those early days, and was considered a rebel because “he told us that we were not contemplatives. We were just introverts saying prayers all day”—but still with the dualistic and judgmental mind fully in charge.

.. Without a contemplative life, poverty, chastity, obedience, and community itself do not work or even make sense. And ministry becomes another way of running away or trying to find yourself instead of real service for others.

Contemplation is a positive choosing of the deep, shining, and enduring divine mysteries that are hidden beneath the too-easy formulas. It is not fast-food religion, but slow and healthy nutrition.

Contemplative Christianity Is the Great Tradition

Contemplative prayer was largely lost after the dualistic, tribal fights of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. The utter vulnerability of silence did not allow us to “prove” anything and so was no longer attractive.

.. So most traditionalists today are not traditional at all! They know so little about the Big Tradition beyond their ethnic version since the last national revolution in their country.

That is what happens when you move into a defensive posture against others. You circle the wagons around externals and non-essentials, and the first thing to go is anything interior or as subversive to your own ego as is contemplation.

.. Women and lay people had more easy access to contemplation precisely because they were not seminary and liturgically trained.

Centered People are Conservative

The gift that true contemplatives offer to themselves and society is that they know themselves as a part of a much larger Story, a much larger Self. In that sense, centered people are profoundly conservative, knowing that they stand on the shoulders of their ancestors and the Perennial Tradition.

.. Yet true contemplatives are paradoxically risk-takers and reformists, precisely because they have no private agendas to protect. Their security and identity are founded in God. These people can move beyond self-interest and fear in order to do the Big Work and to cooperate with others who are doing the Big Work. Because they have learned to live from their center in God, they know which boundaries are worth maintaining and which can be surrendered, although it is this very struggle that often constitutes their deepest “dark nights.”