Prayer and Contemplation

Contemplation, meditation, prayer as transformation, not some kind of cosmic bargaining.

From Fr. Richard Rohr:


Alternative Consciousness

I often use this line, a paraphrase of Albert Einstein: "No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that caused it." Unfortunately, we have been trying to solve almost all our problems with the very same mind that caused them, which is the calculating or dualistic mind. This egocentric mind usually reads everything in terms of short-term effect, in terms of what's in it for me and how I can look good. As long as you read reality from that small self, you're not going to see things in any new way. All the great religions taught a different way of seeing, a different perspective. This alternative vantage point is the contemplative or non-dual mind. It is what we usually mean by wisdom.

The word contemplation has ancient roots, but for a long time it was not taught much in the Western church. Contemplation was finally rediscovered again through Thomas Merton's writings in the 1950s and 60s. What is contemplation? Simply put, contemplation is entering a deeper silence and letting go of our habitual thoughts, sensations, and feelings. You may know contemplation by another name. Many religions use the word meditation. Christians often use the word prayer. But for many in the West, prayer has come to mean something functional, something you do to achieve a desired effect, which puts you back in charge. Prayers of petition aren't all bad, but they don't really lead to a new state of being or consciousness. The same old consciousness is self-centered: How can I get God to do what I want God to do? This kind of prayer allows you to remain an untransformed, egocentric person who is just trying to manipulate God.

That's one reason why religion is in such desperate straits today: it isn't really transforming people. It's merely giving people some pious and religious ways to again be in charge and in control. It's still the same small self or what Merton called the false self. Mature, authentic spirituality calls us into experiences and teachings that open us to an actual transformation of consciousness (Romans 12:2). I think some form of contemplative practice is necessary to be able to detach from your own agenda, your own anger, your own ego, and your own fear. We need some practice that touches our unconscious conditioning where all our wounds and defense mechanisms lie. That's the only way we can be changed at any significant or lasting level.

For a full lifestyle change, I believe we need both action and contemplation. The state of the communal soul is the state of the social order. As Jack Jezreel, founder of JustFaith puts it, "The world cannot be changed by love to become just unless we are changed by love to become whole, but we cannot be made whole without engaging in the work of making the world whole. Personal transformation and social transformation are one piece."