For a number of years now I have sought to deepen my relationship with God by opening myself to His ongoing presence in my everyday living. For me this has come about by sacred reading, retreats, and prayer practices both ancient and not so ancient. I have found myself inwardly led to read and study a variety of works that are written for the specific purpose of bringing creation into contact with the Creator. Such contact is far more than knowledge-it is awareness.
A word that is often used to describe that awareness is contemplative. A contemplative is a person who dedicates himself to live where heaven and earth intersect. William Thiele is the founder and director of The School for Contemplative Living here in New Orleans. In a recent article he cut right to the heart of an important, though fundamentally misunderstood, contemplative principle. “So where exactly is the first place contemplatives belong? The answer is: wherever there are people who’ve been excluded by others. A Christian contemplative seeks to follow the Jesus who always preferred to hang out with the very people excluded by others. Aren’t there enough stories in the gospels to make it crystal clear that those sinners, (non-religious people), and tax collectors were his best buddies? And didn’t Jesus manage to also get himself excluded and eventually killed by the religious people who were doing the excluding?” I want to ponder on that a little.
There is an undeniable relationship between being a person of contemplation and one that cares and reaches out to the hurt and injustice of the world. When we are called to prayer and silence, we think we are called to isolation and abandonment. The twentieth century mystic monk, Thomas Merton, spent months at a time living as a hermit, but he reminds us of something he learned in isolation, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.” The desert mystics went to the desert to escape the empire, but also to direct others on a path towards God. Many of those that they taught made a great difference in their world. Can we be people of contemplation and compassion without being people of action?
I think not. Jesus assigns us to be the “salt and light” of the earth. The real thought that I am playing with here is action. As contemplatives we must be people of action. We are stirred to action by our passions. A contemplative must feel enough, care enough to do something. When you have your time of prayer and solitude, emerge from it with full awareness of the world that surrounds you.
Do you have the spiritual fortitude to think as George Bernard Shaw did? “Some men see things as they are and say why, others dreams things that never were and say, why not?”
Contemplatives are compelled by the very presence of Him they seek to say, “Why not?”
- The Art of Contemplation: Chapter 1 (ministerraines.wordpress.com)