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August 30, 2007


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Gus Gordon

Wonderful article. When you ask the question, "When the self is swept clean, what emerges?" I immediately think of Emmanuel Levinas, who maintained that the Other is there. The Other is the highest part of the self. This is why Levinas was so hard on Heidegger (Bernard, etc.) The Other is not there from the beginning. There can be no "contemplation" abstracted from, other than, the presence of the suffering other. I think this is important because of this Mary/Martha dichotomy rather than unity. Incidently, Meister Eckhart maintained the superiority of Martha, not in the sense that activity is more important than contemplation, but that contemplation put into action and maintained in action is higher than simple contemplation, alone with the alone.

Eric H Janzen

Great article Ron. The dilemma you highlight between contemplation and action is a very important issue.

The dilemma for me, as a young contemplative whose toes are in the pool, is dealing with at least one looming question. I have been asking myself for some time now if real change can be effected within the political system as it currently stands? Beneath this question lurks, of course, the shadow of disillusionment with the system. The deeper we go into the political system (or perhaps we should say higher up), the more it seems that the system itself is unassailable through political means. Can true positive social change be achieved within the system? And here I am talking about real change, not crumbs brushed off the table as an after thought to appease the masses. There are serious problems here in the West where citizens live in abject poverty while our governments feed billions upon billions of dollars into the military machine which is used to propagate not only death and suffering, but poverty throughout the world. This is only one of the obvious issues, but it serves to illustrate that we are living in an upside down era. Can the contemplative who feels the grief that this causes God move from that spiritual reality to take real action in the world of the political system? If so, I guess the basic thirsty cry of my own heart is How?

I am more inclined to drift towards the fringes where I see concrete action occurring. Our mutual friend Mr. Draper is a ready example. He abandoned the system that he was in because it was not living up to what he felt it should have been accomplishing, and he simply took action. I have been fortunate to walk along with him on the journey and watched as God has provided so much for him in order to help those who are in such desperate need. This to me is the gospel in action; it is the presence of the kingdom arising where it is most needed. The contemplative life with Jesus leads one deeper into his heart and when we emerge from that heart we know how much he loves the poor and the broken. The contemplative dilemma is how then do we be the agents of his hands touching, with real action and activity, the broken world around us. The political system seems to oppose the kingdom of heaven far more than it would ally itself with it.

I guess the question this leads me to, which you probably won't like and one which I don't particularly like either, is: Are we not better off then washing our hands of the system and simply leaving it behind while we take real, on the ground action?

I can't leave this without also considering that it may very well be that some are called to be in the ditches and some are called to infiltrate the system. Perhaps the dilemma isn't that there is a dearth of contemplatives taking political action within the party system, but rather the problem may be that those contemplatives who are called to that challenging role simply have not answered the call. Such action would be a majour commitment with a very real danger of achieving little.

Anyways, these are my unedited thoughts on a Saturday night.

Eric H Janzen

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