Walking in Beauty – Contemplation in times of Struggle, Suffering and Exclusion

by the Very Revd Rogers Govender, Dean of Manchester

It is an accepted fact that we are currently living in extremely challenging times, especially made more so by Covid-19. We have always had the challenges of human sexuality, poverty, racism and injustice to deal with. What Cov-19 has done is to expose all these issues more starkly. Perhaps because we are more tuned into social media and world news we are experiencing more awareness? The murder of George Floyd hit the news very quickly – I remember following the street protests on a live Facebook feed as it was happening. I was able to post my disgust and anger in seconds.

During the recent Pride season, I decided to fly the Rainbow Flag on the tower of my Cathedral. It was well received apart from a letter of complaint from a group of clergy. My initial reaction was that it would have been good to receive such a letter when I was speaking prophetically at services and on the news media on the racism being exposed by Black Lives Matter! No such support against racism was offered to me by these clergy colleagues. However, when the issue of human sexuality emerges I suddenly receive a letter of complaint! Is this the Church that I am part of, a Church that wants to grow God’s Kingdom? I think our Lord must weep over his Church and the exclusion and injustice that we often collude with.

It is a great temptation to become bitter and angry at one another and the world because of the lack of compassion and injustice that we witness on a daily basis, often in the Church of God. And I have only touched on two major issues in our society! As Christians and especially as Christian priests we are called to a life of love and compassionate service. If we are to serve the people of God then it is our life of prayer and contemplation that we need to be immersed in. Without a regular routine of prayer and the practise of a contemplative heart we can easily lose the vision of something greater than our prejudices and our sadness that accompanies it. We can easily lose our vision of Jesus and God’s kingdom.

So, I want to turn our attention to the writings of Fr Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest in New Mexico and one of my spiritual mentors.

He once wrote an article ‘Walk in Beauty’ in which he encourages us to recognize the beauty of the world despite its many disfigurations.  In his article he cites a prayer of the Navajo people in New Mexico from decades ago, which I particularly love. I mention it here as I want to suggest that we too need to be anchored to God in the midst of the huge challenges we face by ‘contemplating beauty’.

In beauty I walk

With beauty before me I walk

With beauty behind me I walk

With beauty above me I walk

With beauty around me I walk

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

It has become beauty again

There is much beauty in our towns, cities, villages and rural areas. There is much beauty in one another. We simply need to be more aware of the beauty of our surroundings and recognize it in the sounds around us, in drumming, in the voices of people, etc. as we open our hearts and minds to our surroundings. This is how we recognize the divine in all things.

Michael Cassidy the great South African Evangelist in his book ‘The Politics of Love’ (p.253) cites Job who ‘in the depths of his problems and agonies began to question God and received back a shattering questionnaire from the God in whom all power resides’. The power we need to navigate the challenges of prophetic witness is found in God – cf Job 38:4, 8–11. It is only when we lose our life in and for Christ, that we will find it says Jesus in Matthew 16:25. So the ability to recognise the beauty around us in the midst of so many challenges and crises (not least in Covid-19) is found in the incredible life of Jesus who saw possibilities of healing and wholeness in broken human beings and in a broken and bruised world.  

Quoting Fr Richard Rohr again:

‘’I invite you to return to the Navajo prayer above when you have the space and time to literally move or walk with it. If you’re able to walk, you might take off your shoes and walk barefoot. Move slowly, noticing the sensations in your body—discomfort, surprise, challenge, pleasure, ease. Take in your surroundings with a soft, receptive gaze. What do you see? Listen to whatever there is to hear—your own breathing, birds, traffic. You may choose to pay attention to one sense at a time or try to hold two simultaneously. Be present to what is. Walk or move in this way for several minutes or even half an hour. When you have ended, bow in gratitude for your body, for the beauty surrounding you, and for the beauty that will continue to follow you everywhere you go’’ – Adapted from Richard Rohr, an unpublished talk, February 2018, St. John XXIII Catholic Community, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This he says is a form of contemplation! I want to suggest, in the great tradition of our numerous contemplative spiritual writers, scholars, brothers and sisters of old that contemplating the beauty around us will keep us hopeful as fellow pilgrims who strive for the way of God’s Kingdom. For this is the way of Jesus.

This entry was posted in Dean of Manchester, Human Sexuality, Living in Love & Faith, Racism, Social Justice. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Walking in Beauty – Contemplation in times of Struggle, Suffering and Exclusion

  1. Susannah Clark says:

    Thank you.


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