Do you wish
to improve the world?

Good.

But first
seek silence of soul.

God wants to give our inward life an indestructible harmony that will work outward in mighty melodies of love. The power that comes from gathering our inner energy is a power for taking action. When our individual hearts are gathered in this way, we will join together as a gathered people – a people whose active work makes God’s reign manifest as justice, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17).

This is the life task to which Christ calls us. Yet today we must first rediscover the importance of deepening our inner life in stillness, otherwise our work will become empty and mechanical, leaving our strength for action sapped at the core. Our spiritual life is watered and made fertile by the holy wellsprings of the inward world, but these will dry up if the stillness within us is lost. Like people dying of thirst, today’s overburdened souls long for a quickening of their inner life, sensing that without it they will come to ruin (Ps. 42: 2–3). The inward power that wells up in the silent stillness in which God himself can speak and act brings us from downfall and death to resurrection and life – a life that pushes outward in streams of creative spirit yet never loses itself in the external world. This strength, which we may call “active stillness,” leads believers to a task in the world. It’s a task that does not allow them to be conformed to the world, but that also never lets them fall inactive.

The distress of our times makes it unthinkable to retreat from society, willfully blind to the urgent work that calls out for our help. Seeking spiritual detachment must not steer us toward inner and outer isolation from our fellow human beings. (In this respect the sayings of the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart, who wrote extensively on the great value of detachment and who in many ways understood the inner life better than anyone, can easily be misleading.) Thankfully, the rapid mechanization of today’s global economy no longer permits such pious selfishness. More than in earlier times, we are protected from deceiving ourselves.

All the same, in our outer activity we will feel a loss in vitality and effectiveness whenever the detachment we strive for has not penetrated to the inmost source of our creative energy. When this power, which springs from inner detachment, is at work in human beings, it will gather together a believing people as a living community. The common life of this people will be characterized both by complete surrender and (as a result) by the most dedicated activity. Their love to all humankind will then press outward from solitude to the very ends of the earth – without ever losing its focal point in the gathered fellowship that remains its source of strength.

Our watchword is not “Retreat!” but rather “Gather for the attack!”

To a responsible conscience, the only justification for fleeing the confused and hectic whirl of contemporary culture so as to withdraw into the inward self is if doing so will increase our fruitfulness. The goal must be to unite with eternal powers in order to gain a strength of character that is ready to be tested in the stream of the world and is equipped to meet the demands of our day. Our watchword is not “Retreat!” but rather “Gather for the attack!” 

That is why we may never withdraw from the torrent of present-day life into a spiritual selfishness that chills our love in the face of suffering and guilt. Otherwise our inner detachment will have become far more cold-hearted and unjust than the injustice of the world. Unless we help bear the world’s distress and guilt, we will fall prey to a lifeless lie: to eternal and temporal death. Whoever tries to chop life in half, caring only for the inner needs of others but not for their outer distress, will soon find that he has lost his life’s inner half as well – the very part he thought he was securing. Such a one has forgotten Jesus Christ, who bore people’s outer and inner needs in equal measure, since in his eyes the two are an inseparable whole (Matt. 9: 4–7).

We must participate in the life of today’s world with an attitude of militant love. But we can do so only if we are ready to respond with every fiber of our being to the demands that will be made on our labor. With every drop of our hearts’ blood we are to share in suffering the world’s pain, and so join in struggling with all our vigor to overcome this pain (Gal. 6:2). We will discover how to do this in stillness and in silence.