Over coffee one morning a friend suggested that practicing contemplation may be a sign of privilege. His comment reflects a common misunderstanding. Is it the privilege of a few to lean into the contemplative side of the spiritual life? Is contemplation a luxury, like taking a spiritual spa day?
In the culture and time in which we live, including Christian culture, activism is emphasized and celebrated. Of course, Christ invites us to actively live out our love and faith in him, but the spiritual life entails both contemplation and action. Both are integral to a vibrant Christian life, complementary movements of the heart. The contemplative posture is one of humility, attentiveness and openness. Open hands. Open hearts. A heart ready to listen and learn, receive and respond.
Contemplative practices such as prayer and reflection, or silence and solitude, help foster a deeper awareness and response to the Spirit of God in our life. To contemplate is to be open to what the Spirit of God is doing, to allow his Spirit to draw us into the real and ongoing presence of our Trinitarian God–perfect mutuality and oneness, love and self-giving in action in the world.
The contemplative posture is a restful, receptive posture. A leaning into the presence of God in and around us. The humility and thoughtfulness of a contemplative posture helps us respond readily to what God is doing in the world and in us, rather than charging forward with our own hollow agendas. Our activism is meant to be an overflow or response to the nearness and goodness of God’s ever loving presence.
The pattern of our weekly Eucharist reflects the interrelationship of contemplation and action. Anglican worship is characterized by a fourfold movement of gathering and listening, feeding and going. Each week we gather together with other Christ followers. We listen to Scripture and a homily that expounds on what we’ve heard. We confess, pray and sing, and we listen for what the Spirit of the living God is saying to us in all our collective hopes and dreams, questions and imaginations.
In the sacrament of holy communion we remember Christ’s death and passion. At the table of our Lord we hold out our hands and receive the consecrated bread and wine, the body and blood of our Lord. And we give thanks. As the Eucharistic invitation suggests, we “feed on Christ in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.” We receive the spiritual nourishment made possible by our Lord’s self-sacrifice.
The dynamic of receiving and giving is reflected in our post communion prayer of thanksgiving: “We thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ… And now, Father, send us out into the world to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” Father, you have nourished us with spiritual food. Precious food. By your grace, enable and sustain us in the power of what we have received, to go into the world in love and faithfulness.
Christ invites us to a depth of relationship that we can never plumb in this life, but we will have eternity to do so. We can begin here and now to know Christ in all his beauty. That is the pursuit of the spiritual life, in both contemplation and action. To know our Lord. Christ invites us to look to him again and again, for everything that we need to live a holy life. Gazing upon the beauty of the One who loves us transforms, enables and propels us into a life of loving service with a power beyond ourselves.
(c) The Rev. Dr. Markene Meyer