Why Would Anyone Explore Contemplative Spirituality?
It is easy for us to assume being contemplative is a lot like being an introvert.
We are not able to choose whether we will be introverted or extroverted. Some of us would like to change or develop our personalities in a particular direction. We may wish we were more outgoing or calmer and set goals or practice being different. While our personalities may grow over time, we do not get to choose them for ourselves.
What exactly do we mean when we talk about contemplative spirituality?
Most of the definitions I read of “contemplative” emphasize prolonged thought. We tend to think of people sitting and thinking deep thoughts.
Many of us believe people consider what to have for dinner but we contemplate the meaning of life.
I was not born into a particularly contemplative spirituality. We were more focused on the plain meaning of spiritual life and how to put it into practice.
Sitting and thinking deep thoughts was not particularly attractive to my childhood self.
Most of my thinking time was about how to do things, not about why we did them. The idea of contemplative spirituality sounded too complicated and more than a little boring to me.
Contemplation tended to put me to sleep. It brought to my mind all the other things I could be doing if I were not just sitting there thinking.
Part of the reason I did not find contemplation engaging was I thought I already knew the answers. After school, I practiced law as a criminal prosecutor. It was a great job for knowing the right answers and sharing them with other people.
I enjoyed presenting and arguing cases in court. With so much to do there was not much time for prolonged deep thinking.
Exploring Contemplative Spirituality
My interest in exploring contemplative spirituality began when I started to question my answers.
I began to see there were empty spaces and blanks in the answers I had read or been taught. It became clear there were holes in my answers and I could see through those holes to new questions.
There were times when doing things became exhausting. No matter how much I did there always seemed to be more to do. I was never going to work myself out of a job, but there did not seem to be much getting accomplished.
Every so often someone would mention something to me about exploring contemplative spirituality. A friend of mine would recommend reading a particular book. I would watch a movie which opened a window for me. A conversation, a speaker, a website sparked my interest.
My exploration of contemplative spirituality began to catch fire when I started to question some of my most powerful assumptions. People helped me consider my basic beliefs about spirituality. It was a time for me to sit and think deep thoughts.
As I began to practice sitting still I started to realize it was more than not doing anything. People helped me appreciate the significance of listening to sacred stillness.
Contemplative spirituality is about releasing all the noise and distractions of our everyday lives. We sit still, breathe deeply, and listen to what the stillness has to teach us.
I value the words of my childhood spiritual practices. Contemplative spirituality helps me recognize and appreciate the meaning and the value of the stillness between the words. Together they form a complete whole.Each day we follow contemplative practices which open us to deep truths. The words and the space between them create the tapestry of spiritual life.
Practicing Our Way Toward Contemplative Spirituality
Many of us talk about contemplative practices which help us become open to spiritual life in new ways.
Some of us follow prayer practices like centering prayer and others. These practices can introduce us to how spiritual life communicates with us beyond thoughts, words, and feelings.
We may find a reading practice like lectio divina or others. These practices are designed to help us read slowly and calmly as we listen the what spiritual life has to tell us.
Many of us explore our own personal contemplative practices which may build on more traditional ones. In my own life, practices such as spiritual direction, monastic life, and theological reflection help me practice my way toward contemplative spirituality.
One of the lessons of contemplative spirituality I most value is how our practices are never completed. We do not arrive at contemplative spirituality, we do not become contemplatives. We are becoming.
Practicing our way toward contemplative spirituality is how we continue to explore. As we practice being open to spiritual life, listening to sacred stillness, contemplative spirituality teaches us new lessons.
Contemplative spirituality is not our destination. We are on a path of exploration.
Contemplative Spirituality in Everyday Life
Our eyes are opened to spiritual life in new ways each day. We do not need to go to a particular place or visit a special day on our calendar to find it.
Listening to sacred stillness allows us to experience spiritual life in ways we have not heard before.
Like flowers which open to the sun each day, contemplative spirituality helps us become open to spiritual life.
When we feel alone, lost, and abandoned, spiritual life is with us. We take time to sit and listen, to breathe, to recognize the loving presence of spiritual life.
Spiritual life, though, is not merely a comfortable quilt in which we wrap ourselves. it also moves us to action.
Everyday life is not simply a dualistic choice between contemplation or action. Our reflection prompts us to act and our actions fuel our reflection. Choosing to explore contemplative spirituality is not either/or. It is both/and.
We choose to listen and spiritual life opens us to more than we could imagine.
Contemplative spirituality is infinitely more than sitting still to think deep thoughts.
How will we explore contemplative spirituality today?
Where will our exploration of contemplative spirituality take us this week?
[Image by jmegjmeg]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.