Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Contemplation and Action

To Be or To Do?
By Joan Chittister, OSB.

If there is a temptation in the Christian life, it is probably contemplation. Physicians talk to us about “stress”; psychologists talk to us about “burnout”; sociologists talk to us about achieving “space”; educators talk to us about reflection and “process.” And we all come lusting for a cave to crawl into to do it, or at least a little cottage on a hill overlooking the water, or even a small log cabin in the woods. Any place as long as it’s someplace appropriate; some place not here; some place simple but comfortable, of course. A place for my books, my typewriter, my tape recorder. Just me and my God. Or is it me and the gods I’ve made?

If there is a sin in the Christian life it is probably action. We talk about “strategizing” and “mobilizing” and “lobbying” and “renewing” and “aligning” and “reforming” as if it were all up to structures; as if action were enough. We do and do and do. And there’s the problem. We set out to do something that the world needs, instead of to be something that the world needs. We set out to change instead of to illuminate. And we wonder why, with all the changes, nothing ever changes. After all the changes come, there is still the fighting, still the poverty, still the greed, still the exploitation.

Why? Because deep down inside where it counts, there is still the anger, still the arrogance, still the attitudes of control. Except that now I’m the one in control. The Chinese wrote: “Now people exploit people but after the revolution it will be just the opposite.”

The contemplative questions for people of action in our day are: Who will be and also do? How can we do and also be? The problem of this culture is that we make natural enemies out of prayer and transforming action when the two are really Siamese twins: either without the other is incomplete.

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