In my post last Friday on Why Contemplation Matters, a reader named Brian referred me to a PDF called Listening for the Still Speaking God: Contemplative Evangelism featuring an excerpt of an article called “Evangelism and Spiritual Formation” by Richard Peace, who teaches at Fuller Seminary. I can’t find the original article online, but there’s plenty to chew on in the PDF. Here’s a taste for you:
What if prayer were the central component of evangelism? By this I mean, what if the very desire to reach out to others was born in the fire of contemplative prayer where the presence of God was so palpable that one could not help but want to share that reality with others? What if prayer then became the very vehicle of evangelism, as we invite others to pray? We would offer the space and place to pray, instruction in prayer, the structure within which to pray, companionship while praying, and a community in which to grow and continue in prayer.
— Richard Peace, as quoted in Listening for the Still Speaking God: Contemplative Evangelism
I don’t know where to start, other than to say that this guy has basically described my understanding of the work I feel called to do. I’ve never really thought of it as “evangelism” no doubt because like many folks who grew up in the American south, I saw the concept of evangelism abused so much that I’ve grown rather allergic to the word, let alone the concept. But if we can shake off the baggage and simply see evangelism (or, as Catholics prefer to say, evangelization) as a vulnerable sharing of joy and yearning for God, rather than a manipulative attempt to control another’s religious behavior — then, I think, this idea of contemplative evangelism makes all sorts of sense. And Dr. Peace is hitting the nail on the head again and again. First, pray: taste the fire of contemplation before trying to talk about it. Then, invite others to pray with you — and I mean contemplative prayer, which means everyone is silent. And then, create or find the space and the place to pray, in our homes, in our churches, in nature, in monasteries and retreat centers, and even in the crazy corners of life. Then — and only then — should we start wondering about how to teach (and learn) to pray, how to establish meaningful structures around our prayer, and how to foster friendships and communities devoted to prayer.
I love it. This is so much what the mystics are all about. And what I believe the church desperately, desperately needs today. Christians who have traditionally been allergic to the word “evangelism” need to reclaim it from those who have abused it and used it aggressively against others. I think we can reclaim this idea that the Christ story really is about good news. I think it’s essential that we do so. And I think learning to sit down and shut up will be a big part of it.