The other day at the Abbey Store I struck up a conversation with a Methodist minister who was making a short retreat at the Monastery. We chatted up books and authors and it became apparent that we had a similar interest in contemplative spirituality.
“So tell me,” I asked him, “What is it like to advocate for contemplative spirituality in your congregation?”
He smiled ruefully. “It’s not easy,” he said.
“Are people afraid of it?” I wondered, mindful of the small but vocal presence of bloggers and other folks on line who are actually hostile to Christian mysticism and contemplation, usually because they mistakenly believe that Christian mysticism isn’t really Christian.
“No, that’s not it. It’s more that people are just too busy.”
I nodded sympathetically. “Gotta get to the soccer game, no time for meditation, or lectio divina, or a disciplined daily prayer life.”
“And it’s not that people are opposed to putting energy and effort into their faith. They just find silence too difficult — too threatening, it feels too much like doing nothing, wasting time, being impractical.”
“Which, of course, it is. Contemplation is wasting time with God.”
“And it totally goes against the grain of our culture.”
“Indeed — the monastery is the original counterculture.”
And so it went. It was a nice conversation, we clucked and commiserated with one another but didn’t really solve anything. I’ve known a number of people over the years express their frustration because they find their local church to be uncongenial to contemplation and mysticism. But it’s interesting to see that same frustration from the other side of the altar.
What’s the takeaway here: perhaps this: if you are interested in silent prayer, and mysticism, and contemplation, and meditation, take the time to share that interest with your pastor, minister, or priest.
What’s the worst that can happen: okay, maybe he or she is downright hostile to the idea and you’ll get a lecture warning you that you are treading on dangerous ground. Yes, I know such people exist (several of them are the bloggers I mentioned above). If you do get such a chilly response, that could be a signal to find a different church (!), or if family responsibilities mean staying at that church, you’ll know you need to be discreet — but at least you will have tried.
But in reality, that kind of unfriendly response is, for most of us, not likely to happen. What is more likely is that either a) your pastor will admit that this kind of thing is not something he or she is very interested in, but will wish you well on your own spiritual journey, or b) your pastor will thank you for sharing, and will offer some insight into his or her own efforts to find contemplative silence in the mist of the external busy-ness that characterizes much of institutional Christianity as it exists today. It could be the beginning of a very nice spiritual friendship, and at the very least, the two of you could pray for one another.
And who knows? Maybe you and your pastor could work together to set up a small contemplative prayer meeting one night each week in your church. Nothing supports a spiritual practice like getting support from others.