The latest issue of Holy Ground is out. This little reflection on the contemplative life comes out quarterly. In this issue I write about our struggle to be prayerfully present to our work, our tendency in a crisis to rely on what we can know and do, rather than on what God may be offering us, and the revolutionary effect of digital media on how we function in our society and churches. Goodness, that is a lot to cover in one essay.
Here is an except:
After worship we got down to business. However, I felt I wasn’t finished worshipping. I wanted to say, “Wait a minute. God is still speaking.” I wanted to keep pondering the texts, and to listen and reflect together about what we were hearing. The day’s agenda initiated a shift in the attitude and attention of the group from an intentional awareness of God to the task at hand. This is precisely why I had been asked to pray for the group: to serve as a visible reminder of our communal connection and listening to God. One man, thanking me after the meeting said, “I forgot that you were here. Then I happened to look over and saw you praying. It meant a lot.”
I wonder how things would go, if someone were kneeling or bowed in prayer at all our tasks and business. Try it in your imagination. Look across the room. See someone, Christ, a friend, or stranger praying for you there. Is the person sitting in a chair, kneeling, or prostrate? What happens to you when you see this? Ah, a softening of the shoulders maybe? A sigh. Some of the strain releases. A hush of peace. The comfort of trust.
We struggle to be simultaneously present to God and to our work. So we bookend our days and activities with prayer, often a perfunctory invocation and a quickie closing prayer “to get us all on the road.” We are split in a way which sickens, wearies, and drains the life out of me. I struggle every day to bring an attentive awareness of the holy God into all I do. I fail over and over. I know when I have failed by the tension in my neck and shoulders, the eyelid twitch, the strain that comes over me when my ego has been bossing and shoving me around. I know I have failed when the space in my head has been crammed with words, ideas, opinions, fears and there is no room for Jesus. I know the deadening effect of too much talk, too much human need trying to meet human need, and no silence and space for God to meet any of it. …
The capacity to be simultaneously present to God and the task at hand is nurtured in many spiritual direction training programs. Such steadfast awareness of Christ is something the Holy Spirit accomplishes within us, not so much taught as encouraged by those who help us trust and let go into God. Such a deep integration of Christ and abiding at all times in his peace, wisdom and gentle love is God’s will for us all.
Still, mostly, I fail. I turn my back on Jesus in a way that feels brutal and violent to the Spirit within me. My rebellion consists of the bullying intrusion of myself into events, relationships, and conversations, as a mean little god, insisting on its own way and trusting only in itself.
Bringing a conscious awareness of Christ into whatever I do requires me to release power, die to myself and my way, and bend low. It means I move more slowly and mindfully. I stay in the present moment. I rest in trust and faith in God. And I have the capacity to be useless and to not know. All of which is to say, I am contemplative.
Writing nearly fifty years ago, Carlo Carretto, noted,
When there is a crisis in the church, it is always a crisis of contemplation. The church wants to feel able to explain about her spouse even when she has lost sight of him; even when, although she has not been divorced, she no longer knows his embrace, because curiosity has gotten the better of her and she has gone searching for other people and other things.
Where might curiosity be getting the best of you?
What if we expanded Carretto’s words to other situations? What if the oil crisis, the terrorism crisis, the health care crisis, and the environmental crisis were seen as crises in contemplation? How would that temper and affect how we respond to the issues we face?
What if we could see Jesus kneeling down in high level talks, on the barges of clean up crews in the gulf, and in mountain villages of Afghanistan?
Perhaps the crises we face are not a failure of human integrity or intelligence, but a failure of imagination, that eternally creating, mother of faith.
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