Today I spoke with several people who mentioned how much they hunger for a deeper experience of Christian spirituality. This is something I run into on a regular basis: practicing Christians who want to take their faith to a new level; non-Christians (or Christians alienated from the contemporary church) who are genuinely interested in Christ and the mystics but don’t know how to cope with the crazy/limiting/judgmental qualities they see so abundantly in ordinary Christian communities.
I am convinced that there are plenty of people, both Christian and non-Christian, who would love to learn about the mystics and who would find in the mystics guidance to improve their own spirituality. But if this is so, then why is it so hard to get people to attend a class, or buy a book, on Christian mysticism?
Books on mysticism go in and out of print like the flash of a strobelight. Classes on mystical spirituality often are sparsely attended. Even an organization as long-lived and well organized as Contemplative Outreach seems to have only minimal impact within the larger Christian community.
Why is this? I believe the hunger is out there. So why aren’t people finding out about the riches of the contemplative tradition?
Here’s my theory: natural contemplatives probably only comprise about 1% of the population (thinking about the frequency of the INFP type in Keirsey’s and Bate’s study of Jungian personality types). Only 1% of the population — which would suggest that a normal Christian parish with 1000 members probably only has about 10 “natural” contemplatives (and of course, many churches are smaller than that, so do the math). Maybe another 10 to 20 folks who might be interested in the topic, but they probably would only attend one workshop or class, just long enough to figure out that it isn’t for them.
And of course, out of the ten natural contemplatives, some of them aren’t going to want to take a class or study a book, for whatever reason. Moral of the story: nearly all churches just don’t have enough contemplatives within their ranks to justify investing resources into teaching and training them. It’s a “critical mass” issue: you’ve got five folks who really want to go deeper, but nobody else really cares, simply because most people have a different personality type that means their interests lie elsewhere. It’s hard to put together a course or a book or whatever when only such a small percentage of folks are interested — so it just never gets any traction.
So what we need is a way for contemplatives to find one another, reaching out beyond denominational lines. Contemplative Outreach does a wonderful job with this very situation: as an interfaith group, they appeal equally to Catholics and Protestants.
But more work needs to be done.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, and now it’s my bedtime and I’m sleepy. But I hope whoever is reading this blog will take into consideration the need for Christian communities today to find ways to help the natural contemplatives in their midst find a deeper spirituality. Even if it means (gasp) reaching out to other nearby faith communities, of a different denomination and all.