Richard Rohr Meditation: Prayer Beyond Words

These all point toward what many today call contemplation—openness to and union with God’s presence; resting in God more than actively seeking to fully know or understand.

Given Jesus’ clear model and instruction, it seems strange that wordy prayer took over in the monastic Office, in the Eucharistic liturgy, and in formulaic prayer like the Catholic rosary and Protestant memorizations. It’s all the more important that these be balanced by prayer beyond words.

Much of Buddhism’s attraction for so many people today is that Buddhism is absolutely honest about the theology of darkness—about our inability to know. It is much more humble than the monotheistic religions are about the possibilities of words and formulas. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam took a great risk in relying on words.

In the Christian tradition this “Word became flesh” (John 1:14), but we didn’t want flesh. We didn’t want an embodied relationship with God. Instead we wanted words with which we could proclaim certainties and answers. The price the three “religions of the book” have paid for a certain idolatry of words is that they became the least tolerant of the world’s religions. Both Buddhism and Hinduism tend to be much more accepting of others than we are.

At their lower levels, the three monotheistic religions insist on absolute truth claims in forms of words, whereas Jesus’ truth claim was his person (John 14:6), his presence (John 6:35), his ability to participate in God’s perfect love (John 17:21-22). Emphasizing perfect agreement on words and forms (which is never going to happen anyway!), instead of inviting people into an experience of the Formless Presence, has caused much of the violence of human history. Jesus gives us his risen presence as “the way, the truth, and the life.” At that level, there is not much to fight about, and in fact fighting becomes uninteresting and counter-productive to the message. Presence is known by presence from the other side. It is always subject to subject knowing, never subject to object.

Crafting the Koran

One effect of this orthodoxy has been to obscure a remarkable fact: the first full Korans we possess are from the ninth century, some two hundred years after the death of Muhammad.

.. As the Encyclopedia of Islam points out, “the closest analogue in Christian belief to the role of the Kur’an in Muslim belief is not the Bible, but Christ.” The Koran is an embodiment of God’s word. It is held so sacred that a host of fastidious traditions adhere to it: it must be placed at the top of any pile of books; it must be held above the waist. Muslims have been excommunicated for the seemingly modest claim that their holy book, though uttered by God, is composed of human language that is historically specific. For most orthodox Muslim scholars, the Koran is outside of human history and far above it.

.. The Yemeni fragments seemed to suggest an evolving document, and for that reason, they have been controversial, and few scholars have been granted permission to see them.

When Donald Meets Hillary

The record of presidential debates since 1960 generally conforms to White’s maxim. In only a minority of cases have politicians gained or lost ground based on what they said, rather than how they looked while saying it.

.. The rule is that the way candidates react, immediately and usually involuntarily, while caught by the camera, dominates impressions of who has “won” or “lost” an encounter. This is why the most accurate way to predict reaction to a debate is to watch it with the sound turned off.

.. When Lloyd Bentsen, as Michael Dukakis’s running mate in 1988, dressed down the undergrad-looking Dan Quayle with “You’re no Jack Kennedy!” in their vice-presidential debate, Quayle stood like a scolded child

.. when challenger Ronald Reagan brushed off incumbent President Jimmy Carter with “There you go again!,” the specific words didn’t matter as much as the picture of the easy, confident Reagan versus the purse-lipped, peeved-seeming Carter.

.. Instead it was Perry’s own reaction; he looked and sounded like a man who was all too aware that he had just made an enormous mistake.

.. Never has the dominance of the image over the word seemed more significant than this year

.. The Commission on Presidential Debates, an independent organization that has run the general-election debates since 1988, ultimately relies on reputational rather than legal leverage to get candidates to appear. If one candidate were to back out on short notice—just hypothetically, let’s say Donald Trump—it could not force a normal debate to take place.

.. In late July, Trump appeared to be setting the stage for not debating, or changing the terms of engagement.

.. In late July, Trump appeared to be setting the stage for not debating, or changing the terms of engagement.

.. The universities that host the debates and the networks that broadcast them have already made huge investments to prepare. (Indeed, the planned first-debate host, Wright State University, near Dayton, Ohio, backed out in July because it felt unable to bear the escalating security costs.

.. These debates would be must-watch TV because they would be the most extreme contrast of personal, intellectual, and political styles in America’s democratic history. Right brain versus left brain; gut versus any portion of the brain at all; impulse versus calculation; id versus superego; and of course man versus woman.

.. Perhaps Donald Trump will fail in the one way that really matters in debates: by confirming, before people’s eyes, doubts they already had. In his case that might involve revealing an embarrassing gap in factual knowledge.

.. His comment to George Stephanopoulos in late July that Russia was “not going to go into Ukraine, all right?” (two years after it already had) could have been devastating during a debate

.. But if Trump can seem easily rather than angrily in command, or if he can lure Clinton into joining him in an insult-for-insult exchange, or if she is beset by some new controversy for which she gives a hyper-legalistic rationalization, then the debates could be a turning point for Trump.

.. “In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance rituals,” Jane Goodall, the anthropologist, told me

.. The Democrats’ debates started two months after the Republicans’, and two of the first three were on Saturday nights, as if intended to hold down viewership among people with other things to do. Clinton’s challengers complained that this was a scheme by the Democratic National Committee, then run by the embattled Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to limit the exposure the debates would give them and thus help Clinton run out the clock.

.. TV-news executives understood that more people would watch if they had Trump on air than if they showed anything else, and essentially entered into an implicit bargain to promote him outside of the debates.

.. After the fact, representatives of all the fallen candidates told me that none of it was inevitable, and that Trump could have been stopped if any of the others had imagined that he would go as far as he did.

.. “We all thought that the summer of Trump would not last. So our early strategy was not just to ignore him but actually to try hard not to offend his supporters, so we could be the alternative to him when he inevitably went down. He largely got a free pass until it was too late.”

.. “The rest of them were convinced that Donald Trump didn’t need to be defeated,”

.. Simplicity

.. Cruz had answered a question about Trump’s temperamental fitness with a statement that was probably way up near 11th grade on the readability scale.

.. Cruz had been a champion debater, but that was on the elite-college circuit in the early 1990s, not on modern reality TV.

.. Bob Schapiro, a filmmaker and communications scholar who has studied the connection between neuroscience and propaganda, points out that federal regulators apply a principle called “exception for hyperbole” in judging whether advertisements are deceptive. “If you say, ‘Wear these basketball shoes and you can jump over the moon,’ that’s okay, since no reasonable person would believe it,” Schapiro told me. “But if you say they’ll help you to jump an eighth of an inch higher, you’d better have reams of evidence.”

.. All said that of course he was mainly interested in himself, but they also mentioned the talent that has become evident during the campaign. That is his ability to read a room, to sense when he is losing an audience, and to try the tone or theme that will win them back.

.. Trump’s body language was unusual because it covered a lessexpansive range of expressions than most people’s, rather than more.

.. “People have noted that Trump’s spoken vocabulary is limited,” Brown told me. “His nonverbal vocabulary is quite limited too.

.. One consequence, he says, is that “you almost never see from Trump expressions conveying empathy”—the ability to imagine others’ feelings or pain.

 .. Instead the puzzle with Trump is the gusto with which he presents very specific, and thus specifically disprovable, factual claims.
.. “When you have a more limited vocabulary of words or expressions, it’s easier to lie,”
..  3 | Dominance
.. Josh Marshall argued that Trump’s debate and campaign approach was best understood as embodying what he called the “bitch-slap theory of politics.”
.. But its very crudity underscores its meaning, which is that the essential purpose of any encounter is not to “solve problems” or “advance an agenda” or anything else C‑span-worthy. Instead the constant goal is to humiliate a foe.
.. It’s not enough that I am a winner. Everyone else must be a loser.
.. For him to look taken aback, he must have registered internally that someone had gotten the better of him.
.. Thus almost never in the debates did Trump’s face go through the changes it did while he was onstage with Matthews, as he recognized that he was talking himself into a trap.
.. Donald Trump was made to look bad by one interviewer with the time, preparation, and guts to pursue a line of questioning, and by two women who discussed right in front of him the ugly things he has said.
.. The potential first woman president of the United States, who is often lectured about being too “strident” or “shrill,” is up against a caricature of the alpha male, for whom stridency is one more mark of strength.
.. popular culture for some reason recognizes a category of “Texas women” who are allowed to be tough, sassy, and funny
.. “for many people, in particular straight white males and many black males, the most frightening sound is their mother’s voice in a certain tone.” This tone—Hen-REE! Get back here this instant!
.. Frank Luntz told David Maraniss of The Washington Post that Clinton “reminds most men of their first wife—or mother-in-law.” It was shockingly sexist then, and is still part of what she faces today.
.. One means toward that end, if the very aggressive Roger Ailes is coaching him, might be to launch a series of unconcealed personal attacks. What about Monica Lewinsky? What about those emails? What about your lies?
.. The other, opposite approach might be to do what Republicans were expecting when Trump clinched the nomination, which is to “pivot” to presenting himself as an affable, amiable, big-tent candidate. Neither approach would require frantic boning-up on policy details.
.. “He is a ridiculous person who doesn’t know anything, which she can expose,”
.. Most people I spoke with recommended a picador-like mocking approach, designed not to confront Trump directly but to cumulatively provoke him into an outburst.
.. Instead she could mock him on his other point of greatest sensitivity: that he may be a fake billionaire and phony business success.
.. When Comedy Central hosted a roast of Trump five years ago, he didn’t seem to object to jokes about his hair, about his weight, even about his lecherous remarks regarding his daughter Ivanka. The one subject he nixed, according to Aaron Lee, a writer for the roast, was “any joke that suggests Trump is not actually as wealthy as he claims to be.” So this is a scab Hillary Clinton should deftly pick.
.. “She has to be direct and tough right back to him, but then quickly pivot to what matters for the country,”