Everything Belongs - Chapter 1

Aaron Austin | February 3, 2020

Center and Circumference

If you're like me, when you first start reading Richard Rohr's proclaiming via subtitle The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, you may ask "where's the part about praying?" It's an understandable question, but I think a clue can be found in Rohr's reference to The Practice of the Presence of God.

This 17th century text comprises the correspondence of a monk named Brother Lawrence. For Brother Lawrence, prayer was much more than the private act of talking to God or even the recitation of corporate prayers of the faith. For Lawrence, prayer inhabited all the nooks and crannies of life. From peeling potatoes in the kitchen to sweeping the floor, Brother Lawrence strove to complete each task in the awareness of God's presence and love.

Brother Lawrence's life seems like that of one long centering prayer or meditation. Just like in meditation where we would turn our attention over and again to our breath or a phrase, at each moment, Lawrence would bring his mind around to the acknowledgement of God's presence. When his mind wandered, which was not uncommon, he would gently, and without judgement, bring his mind back around to God's loving presence, remembering that his efforts, no matter the task, were for the love of God.

I think this may be what Rohr is getting at when he says:

For some reason, it is easier to attend church services than quite simply to reverence the real—the practice of the presence of God, as some have called it. Making this commitment doesn't demand a lot of dogmatic wrangling or material support, just vigilance, desire, and willingness to begin again and again. Living and accepting our own reality will not feel very spiritual. It will feel like we are on the edges rather than dealing with the essence.

Then Rohr continues down this labyrinthine path of getting to the center by walking around and around the edges. I think he says it most succinctly here: "We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking." It sounds profound, but I think this is actually a call to be more human, more connected with the mundane and the simple tasks of life.

For instance, last night we had a hang out at a food hall just down from church. We talked about work, books, family, movies, and television (Kirk Cameron came up several times). We laughed and ate ice cream.  We discussed things we stole as children. It was healing. I walked away with my soul more complete because I had shared a meal and conversation with kind and generous human beings. That's a practice that may not look spiritual, but it is. When we're invited to table with openhearted friends, we can enter into the true reality of our edges and maybe, just maybe, get a glimpse of the center.

There is so much more in this first chapter. Though it's brief, I've read and reread paragraphs several times because it feels so rich with meaning and life. I didn't talk at all about the challenge and opportunity of suffering that Rohr discusses or how our boundaries might be present and pliable at the same time.

So, what do you think? What lines made your heartstrings resonate? What parts confused you or frustrated you? What things will you meditate on this week? Reply in the comments below to share your thoughts.

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