The spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness
there he met the wild beast.
Angels ministered to him.  ~ St. Mark

wilderness, spiritual, contemplation

Stillness Speaks is pleased to offer this overview of Fr. Richard Rohr’s talk, Becoming Stillness. Enjoy his perspective on Christian contemplation. Quoted material appears in italics. For detailed information about Richard Rohr and his work, explore Fr. Rohr’s teacher page on Stillness Speaks.

In this inspiring talk given at Norwich Cathedral (the home of Julian of Norwich), Fr. Rohr outlines his vision of a non-dual, contemplative Christianity, which disappeared from the west 400 years ago. In his travels and work he sees a great yearning inside and outside of the church for a different and deeper way of knowing God.

“All the great religions, at least at the mature level, recognize that we need a different set of eyes to read, to understand spiritual realities…If we approach spiritual realities with the same Mexican jumping bean mind that we approach our everyday life, we are not going very far or seeing very much.”

According to Fr. Rohr, the way we approach our day-to-day life and our religious beliefs do not allow us to understand, embrace or even recognize the great mystery of God, love, and compassion because we are locked in the grids of our own conditioned minds.

“Religion, at the mature level, used meditation, contemplation, and silence, recognizing we have to clear away the normal dualistic mind (either/or, black/white) which is not adequate to the mystery.”

contemplative christianity

Fr. Rohr talks about the need for the first stage of contemplation which involves observing one’s stream of consciousness, watching the mind’s thoughts come and go, ebb and flow. “In about 30 seconds you will see repetitive, useless, trivial, paranoid thoughts” the awareness of which, Rohr emphasizes, is painfully “humbling.”

Fr. Rohr quotes from St. Mark’s gospel,

The spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness
there he met the wild beast.
Angels ministered to him.

“This verse portrays the entire journey of prayer,” says Fr. Rohr. Jesus had to be driven into the wilderness, as do we all.”  Few of us willingly want to sit in silence and face our compulsive, trivial and negative mind. “If you really sit in the silence and refuse to feed your compulsive…. style of thinking, what comes up are… unhealed hurts, past unresolved relationships…all the things you don’t want to see about yourself.”

The medieval Franciscans taught, “the human mind can only do two things, endlessly reprocess the past and endlessly worry about the future… the mind can’t be present in the now because you can’t think in the now…”

Rohr, a Franciscan himself,  says you need a completely different set of tools to work with the present moment…“the Now usually feels boring, lonely, inadequate…it’s not enough.” Rohr equates these feelings with the Franciscan ideal of being “poor in spirit.”

wilderness, spirit, prayer

Fr. Rohr talks about moving beyond religion as a set of external belief systems. He claims you can believe all the correct doctrines of the creed and still be an awful person. What we need instead, are contemplative practices to bring us back to our authentic non-dual nature.

Fr. Rohr provides historical context about how the western church lost its contemplative way. He speaks of the Reformation which divided the church into many groups and “put all of Europe into various forms of oppositional, antagonistic, either-or thinking. We sadly spent too much time proving other groups wrong so we could be right.”  He also points to the the Age of Enlightenment, with its focus on reason and reductionism (Descartes, I think therefore I am) which drove us even further from the contemplative vision.

Toward the conclusion, Fr. Rohr describes how we both begin and end our lives “saying the name of God” — simply by our breathing. This divine breathing, that we do naturally, has nothing to do with thinking. There is no Catholic or Protestant, Buddhist or Hindu breath. Through breathing, God is revealed….

“God…has made himself completely democratic, available to all of us…The gift is given. The problem is that this gift is not being received.”


“We have made religion into a series of moral achievement contests… a bunch of hoops you have to jump…and forms you have to bow down before; instead of {religion} leading people to know something to be true for themselves.”wilderness, prayer, awakening

Rohr points to Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist who leveled mountains to create a highway to God for all. Rohr decries how we have obstructed this path…

“We have created endless obstacles on this highway — this highway of…the availability, the humility and the compassion of God.”

Fr. Rohr believes that the church has responsibility in the divided, dualistic way in which our western word operates, “we trained folks in all-or-nothing thinking and there is no ability to live with paradox, contradictions, mystery.”

Living with unresolved paradox is what contemplation teaches. “All of us face at least a half dozen serious contradictions in our lives, in our work, family, marriage.” We sorely need to be able to hold these oppositions within ourselves. The church has not provided tools for this for 400 years. Contemplative practice is a powerful transformative answer.

Fr. Rohr quotes Saint John of the Cross:God refuses to be known by the intellect. God only allows himself to be loved by the heart.”

For much more wisdom, watch this entire video, it could change your life.


Explore Richard’s Stillness Speak teacher’s page  For additional information about Richard, his daily meditations and training program, please visit his website. 

Images: (edited and logo added) 1) The Silence by Wolfgang Staudt , 2 and Featured) Monastery, from Pixabay.com, CCO Public Domain 3) Parson’s Trail, Public Domain,  4) Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. Images 1 and 4 are CC by 2.0, from Flickr.com.
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