In our societal dark night, contemplation roots authentic revolution
Undoubtedly, as we celebrate the cloud of witnesses in the solemnity of All Saints, as colorful autumnal foliage falls into the dank, dark earth, we may not perceive the transformative potential of contemplation in the face of the societal breakdowns that afflict us.
Whether or not we enter societal dark night with the openness to be educated in contemplative transformation, as Carmelite Sr. Constance FitzGerald suggests, may be more important than any great question of bioethics, cybersecurity, orthodoxy, or even justice and solidarity.
FitzGerald invites us to face a question that has been repeatedly raised by contemplative traditions yet is repressed and muted by the church and society: that it is time for public education for contemplative prayer.
By this, she means education for a contemplative process that is not hidden away in the cloisters, hermitages and ashrams of the world.
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We may miss that this seasonal and societal dark night, so fraught with brokenness in our minds, bodies and spirits, is God’s milieu of prayer, including societal breakdown and impasse, where God draws us into transforming faith, hope and love.
The problem is: That condition of the possibility of authentic revolutionary transformation is not primarily in our human will, intellect or power. Deep within the recesses of our being, of our time, and the prayer milieu of our world, Sophia Wisdom gently draws us into a wholly different way of proceeding.
We struggle to see God’s milieu of prayer, drawing us into deeper relationship, in these terrifying in-between times in which injustices, corruption, self-dealing and institutional breakdown seem to mount upon each other in a cascade of unending lies and violence.
It seems unbearable. We must do something about it. Rightly, people all over the world are in the street in Hong Kong and Iran, in Ukraine and Lebanon, in Baghdad and Santiago, to demand revolutionary change.
While the human yearning for freedom and justice is unyielding and offers hope in the midst of despair, the desire for change is not without its pitfalls. There are temptations all around, including but not limited to the desire to escape, to succumb to despair, or to take control of societal change for our own selfish ends.
In this moment full of the potential of new life and transformation, it seems that too many have chosen a path of proud and self-confident hate, which relishes abuse and violence against women, children, migrants, black people, people who live with disabilities, and the vulnerable among us.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, through short-lived and shortsighted political, economic or military schemes, we seem not to realize that our own burning hatred enkindles the fires of our own destruction and the whole world. It seems like a collective fanaticism consumes the world and overtakes us.
The transformation God invites, however, is full of pain, discomfort and disorientation, too. FitzGerald explains that precisely because we may not feel faith, hope and love in the midst of breakdown and deprivation, maintaining a contemplative posture is extremely difficult.
I know I, for one, feel possessed by anger, fear and rebellion against the path of darkness, unknowing and loss of everything I have possessed. I want transformation on my own comfortable terms.
Or, perhaps, I want to change others without really changing myself. In this time of the urgency of revolution, we may easily re-create the us-vs.-them approach that we claim we despise.