The relationship between the inner life and outer action has been a hotly debated question in spiritual circles for centuries.
Activists accuse contemplatives of being escapist and myopic, failing to take seriously the brokenness of the world and the essential call to engaged social involvement.
Contemplatives worry that those who are engaged in social action are simply driven by the social agendas of well-meaning activists and that ungrounded activism leads to resentment and burnout.
No one is better qualified to address this tension than Richard Rohr. And, what better place to tackle the topic than at the esteemed, socially conscious publication “Sojourners” (https://sojo.net/articles/activists-guide-contemplation)
Rohr argues that when we believe we have the answers to a problem rather than allowing ourselves to be motivated by the determination to be the answer there is a danger that we will,
self-destruct from within. For that very reason, I believe, Jesus and great spiritual teachers first emphasize transformation of consciousness and soul. Unless that happens, there is no lasting or grounded reform or revolution.
I cannot share in bringing real transformation as long as I am
easily allured by the next new thing, the new politically correct agenda.
Unless I “love the truth,” and am willing to let go of my “need to be in power, to have control, and to say someone else is wrong”, I will never support the full becoming of another person.
If I am going to “create foundations that last,” I must be willing “to sacrifice the self” and “let go of” of my “own need for change and control.”
Transformative change requires the ability to “stand still in a patient, humble way” because,
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.
This is all inner work. Therefore,
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.
This kind of inner work consciously undertaken will always produce fruit in the outer world. Deepening consciousness will manifest in the material realm with loving compassionate action. Love is always a dynamic force for action. There is no contradiction between action and contemplation.
Contemplation aims to deepen our practice of surrender. And, in Christian tradition, we are not surrendering to nothing. We are surrendering to the power of Love. The power of Love is that dynamic force that brought all creation into existence and that works ceaselessly to continue the life-giving work of creation.