Archimedes had the right idea, or at least asked the right question: Can you find a spot where—with lever and fulcrum—you can stand, apply even minimal pressure, and hence move the world? He argued through mathematical formula that indeed one could move the world, that a small weight at one end would be able move the world at the other. Richard Rohr takes this metaphor as a way to explore the role of contemplation in the work of healing/transforming our world. Where we stand determines what we see (and do). And conversely, “what you decide to see also determines what you do not see.” We have choices. In this small book Rohr argues persuasively that our choice to be involved in healing the world necessarily flows from and is propelled by the practice of contemplation. Action and contemplation (for Rohr the most important word here is and). Together they provide “both your lever and your place to stand—and from there, you can move your bit of the world, because you are being moved yourself inside a much larger Flow.”
This book began as a teaching for the annual John Main Seminar in Thousand Oaks, California, in 2006. (The 3-day conference is available on CD from the World Community for Christian Meditation.) In ten chapters Richard Rohr explores this question of action and contemplation, offering a prophetic analysis of our contemporary world. Drawing on several interpretive frameworks—for example, Aldous Huxley and E.F. Schumacher—he argues that our eccesial and secular culture tends to blind us to the reality in which we live. Over the centuries church culture has tended to emphasize belonging and believing over against the transformative, healing message of the gospels. Standing on a platform of mass culture and cultural Christianity we are prevented from havinging any real leverage with which to change the world. Only a bringing together of action and contemplation can provide the “identities of importance” so needed in our society.
There is, in a sense, nothing really new here. What Richard Rohr has to say is as old as the gospel and as new as today’s fresh awareness of the present moment. But as always he manages to bring together valuable insights from his own reading, contemplation and experience to challenge the reader/hearer toward deeper reflection. For example, his brief sharing of the Yahweh Prayer brings together John Main’s “poverty of a single word” with “the simplicity of our every breath.” It brought to mind for this reviewer Thomas Merton’s “What I wear is pants/ What I do is live/ How I pray is breathe” in Day of a Stranger. Such simplicity makes attachment to any particular form of prayer difficult. As does being exposed to reality by standing with the poor—those who come to “help” the poor paradoxically find themselves helped, a fundamental solidarity with the real leads to the transformation of ourselves.
Finally we come to a clearer understanding of salvation as the “healing of the wounds of our world.” Church and society are constructed on a mulltipicity of hierarchies, levels of spiritual and cultural haves and have-nots. Rohr challenges his hearers/readers to move away from such false constructs toward a more “democratic” experience of church. “Could meditation/contemplation be the very thing that has the power to both democratize and mature Christianity?” Richard Rohr’s answer is an unequivocal yes. This “lever and a place to stand” provides a simple but challenging path to such a democratization and healing. The real challenge, outlined so well in this book, is to step onto that path and walk faithfully. And to incorporate a core principle of the Center for Action and Contemplation founded by Richard Rohr: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”