At one time in history, theologians and philosophers occupied the same mental space, namely the contemplation of existential topics, such as the nature of the universe, the nature of God, and the meaning of life. Back then, contemplation was a valid form of personal faith but over the years it has suffered. The emotional plea of ‘get out of your head and into your heart’ became the preferred approach in many spiritual and religious circles. For many, emotion has become the alpha and omega of spirituality, especially in America.
This focus on emotion has resulted in limited choices for intellectual adherents, many of whom have abandoned faith altogether.
Contemplation is a Valid Approach to Faith
Thankfully, contemplation still exists as a valid spiritual discipline. Granted, it is harder to contemplate the purpose of life, the nature of spirit, and one’s personal relationship with the divine than it is to pray fervently—it may even create a headache or two—but for people who feel the need for both spirituality and intellectual stimulation, contemplation may be the most appropriate spiritual activity.
Contemplation can take many forms. It can transpire in silence and isolation, take place among peers or in study groups, or occur as an internal reaction to reading scripture.
How should one approach religious stories on the contemplative path? One answer is, experientially. Read the stories, not with an extreme attitude, either to dismiss them all as nonsense or accept them all as absolute truth, but to compare them to your own life.
Joseph Campbell, a great scholar of myth, was adamant in his view that there is value in all of the stories that humans have told each other over the ages, especially myths and parables.
When you allow yourself to reflect and contemplate, to compare religious stories to your own life, especially to your thoughts, feelings, and actions, you can be sure to deepen your understanding of the human-divine connection and reveal unexpected insights.
Read and compare. Read and reflect.
In the contemplative paradigm, creating a group where spiritual thought is stimulated can be of great significance.
Most thinking is typically done in private, during periods of silence, writing, or reading. However, the ability to air thoughts and have them mirrored back, having the opportunity to listen to the inner workings of other minds who share your passion for contemplation, can add layers of meaning to your spiritual life that are difficult to attain in other ways. I have belonged to many such groups over the years and have always gained from the interactions.
Looking for Spiritual Insights
Contemplation is the act of looking for spiritual insights rather than factual knowledge. The practice can extract meaning from the mundane, elicit a deeper understanding of life and the universe, and cause profound personal breakthroughs.
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This column was curated from my book titled Experifaith
Picture: CC0 License