I took my puppy, Elijah, for a walk to chew over something I had read by Nicolas Berdyaev. “There is something morally repulsive about modern activistic theories which deny contemplation and recognize nothing but struggle. For them, not a single moment has value in itself, but is only a means for what follows.”
Berdyaev was a Russian Christian philosopher who spent a lot of time in exile, first for criticizing the institutional church (Russian Orthodox), and then for not accepting the Bolshevik government.
Contemplation as a “legitimate,” widely recognized means for understanding and finding resolution for the issues we face is largely denied or relegated to something one might do for a few minutes in the shower, or before drifting off to sleep. The prevailing images for our corporate approach to problems include struggle, battle, war, and exertion of power, control, or persuasion. Such approaches assume winners and losers, victories, and defeat. The struggle approach both creates and thrives on resistance.
Elijah, I am discovering, is a dog with a contemplative bent. He stops still in the middle of the quiet street, sits down, and looks at the house on our right. He looks at the roof, the yellow flag waving in the breeze, the rows of orange, magenta, white, and yellow mums. He looks at the front door with the flowered wreath. He watches a flock of starlings rise out of the oak tree and scatter across the blue sky.
I tug on the leash. “Elijah, come. Let’s go.” He, intent on his reflection, will not budge. He gazes at the windows. He tilts his head and looks at the shrubs. He sniffs the air. “Elijah, come!” I have to write a blog, do bookkeeping, and clean off my desk. I want to cross off “take dog for walk” on my list and get on with things. He looks at me calmly, sighs, rises, and trots along.
Contemplation begins and ends with surrender, with saying I do not know the answer and with recognizing the truth that we all see truth from different perspectives – “through a glass darkly.” It is sitting down in the middle of things and looking long and hard and sniffing the air. It is refusing to be dragged along by someone else’s agenda. Contemplation is the willingness to walk around an issue, nose, nudge it, and tilt one’s head in order to view reality deeply and truly.
Contemplation requires one to divest oneself from a particular outcome, to detach, let go and trust the Spirit working in the spaces we create by our self-emptying. Contemplation is not about being efficient and productive, nor does it promise quick resolution. Contemplation cannot be made to be a means to anybody’s end. Instead contemplation asks us to see ourselves and whatever dilemmas we face as subjects of the ends and purposes of One who is greater than we.
Berdyaev makes another point about the denial of contemplation: “Not a single moment has value in itself, but only as a means for what follows.” When we seek to respond to the difficulties and problems we face from a contemplative stance we have a different perspective on time. A moment is not just the means to some greater end. A moment and all it contains has value in itself, for itself: A dog sitting in the street watching the man mow his lawn. The gray cat sunning herself on the flowered bedspread. The hot pink zinnia licking up the light. Such are some of the moments in this day free for the seeing and appreciating, each whole and holy in itself. Time is not given so we may accomplish our agendas, so that we can plow through the moments of our day gouging out what we figure we will need for the next moment. We are not given time in order to be ruthless strip miners of the ground of our being, carting off what we can sell or store up in barns or banks.
Elijah stops again. He gazes at the swings in the park, the slide and merry go round. He looks up at the tall pine trees with their thick drooping branches. I follow his gaze and see the branches riddled with slender yellow pods of young pine cones.
A shift occurs in us as we begin to comprehend and appreciate the infinite worth and endless wonder inherent in each moment of our existence. The pragmatic, narcissistic, restlessness which ruthlessly turns everything and everyone into a cog in its agenda of efficiency and accomplishment sits down on its haunches in the middle of everything and looks at what is so. At last it is quieted and stilled by the fullness of a larger Reality than itself.
What riches we miss, when our heads are full of our own answers and solutions. What truth remains hidden in those unseen, unsavored moments, when the dog pauses, when the cat yawns, and when the yearning of your heart stops you in your tracks to feast on the beauty of your own precious life.
Elijah sends his love and is available for walks at the drop of a hat.
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