Monday, November 05, 2007

the contemplative life

This weekend I went to a retreat for youthworkers in our yearly meeting. I haven't done a lot of youth work this year, but my husband was helping out with music so I got to go, my father-in-law was in charge of the retreat and wanted me to hear what his friend, Daniel Wolpert, had to say. (You can find information about an organization he works with called Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing, and about his books, Creating a Life with God and Leading a Life with God.)

Daniel is a Presbyterian minister who wishes he was Quaker...OK, maybe not exactly, but he's spent time in Quaker meetings and says we're lucky to be Quaker because we already understand a lot of the contemplative stuff that other denominations just don't get right away.

He talked with us about the need to spend time in prayer/meditation often.

He talked about the need to take Sabbath, one day in seven and/or one hour in seven and/or one year in seven...not to be legalistic, but because we need to give ourselves space to rest, reflect, and be in the presence of God.

He talked about our culture's addiction to busyness, how it's like an addiction to a drug, that makes us think "everyone's doing it." He said when people say, "You're very busy," and he says, "No, actually--I'm not that busy," people get mad at him because a) they think he's lying, or b) they think he's lazy.

He also talked about our culture's addiction to money/materialism/buying stuff (especially on credit), and how this enslaves us to having to make a certain amount of money, but if we talk about not doing this people think we're destroying civilization because our society is completely built on people being enslaved to their debt, working to pay it off, and buying more than they can afford.

He talked about seeing our lives as a pilgrimage, where the intention is to follow God with no expectations. The destination isn't the important part--we don't have an agenda except to attend to God and do what God asks of us along the way. Spiritual practices are a huge part of this, because they are the vehicles by which we put ourselves in a space to intentionally focus on God and become better at hearing God's voice. He used the metaphor of practicing for sports--"Why is it that with something as unimportant as a sports game we expect players to practice often, but with something as important as our spiritual lives we think we don't need to practice? What if you showed up to play on a basketball team, but you told the coach you weren't going to practice?"

He talked about the fact that we get so caught up with "getting stuff done" that we don't allow ourselves to just be with God, and yet, over the course of history, it's the contemplatives who have "gotten the most done" for the Kingdom of God, even though they seemed a little bit (or a lot) nuts. He talked about Francis of Assisi, who took off all his clothes in the city square, said, "I'm going to follow Jesus, who's with me?" and ran off into the woods. Weird! "But how many other 14th century people have you heard of?" So if we choose to lead a contemplative life, it may feel like we'll never get anything done because we'll just sit around doing nothing. But if we're doing it "right," we'll be transformed by God and be invigorated to do all sorts of things that God wants us to do. People are attracted (in a strange way) to those who are putting themselves in this space to be transformed. The world doesn't like them because they challenge the world's basic assumptions, but the world recognizes something different about contemplatives, and respects them--like the early Friends, who acted after prayer and contemplation, who were thrown in jail, but who were respected and seen as people of integrity and goodness wherever they went.

In order to lead a contemplative life, we have to first be confronted with ourselves, and the not so good parts of ourselves. Daniel said this is one of the main reasons most people don't get past the beginning stages of contemplation. People think either 1) this is self-centered, 2) I don't want to get to know myself, I wanted to get to know God! Why isn't God showing up?, or 3) I don't want to face into that truth about myself so I'm going to run away as quickly as possible and find something else to keep me busy so I'll never have to learn that about myself.

It's #3 that I've been wrestling with lately, I think. I've been feeling for a few months now that God is nudging me to a deeper space spiritually, and I haven't been willing to jump off the ledge. I know the reason why--I'm scared to learn more about myself that I don't want to know. I want to skip that stage and get to the part about me going out and doing something radical for God. As some of you reminded me when I posted a week or two ago about Christian Peacemaker Teams, I can't just go do what sounds idealistically right, I have to instead do what I'm called to--and I can't find out what I'm called to unless I listen.

So...that's the hard part. I have some goals. I've been feeling like what I really need is accountability (my spiritual accountability partner recently moved to Texas...), so maybe posting this on here will be enough accountability to get me going. Goals:

1. start doing contemplative prayer (centering prayer, lectio divina, meditation, etc.) daily
2. take a Sabbath day each week
3. when I get back to school in late January, continue doing these things
4. pray with/for my husband often
5. when I get jobs in the future, have part of my contract include taking time for contemplative prayer

These seem like really basic things I should be doing already, but I don't. So I want to start now, and not just do them as dead rules I force myself to live by, but to use these forms (and whatever other ones come to me later) to put me in a space where I'm intentionally learning to hear the voice of God. I want to be as much a student of God as I am a student of my other professors!

A quote someone brought up this weekend, attributed to Martin Luther, struck a chord with me:

" I pray for 2 hours each day, and on days when I really have a lot to get done I pray for 4 hours."

That perspective is so opposite of our culture's idea of how to get things done--when we have a lot to get done we generally skip our prayer time so we can do all the other "important" things. But what is more important? Being in the presence of God, or getting our to-do list done?


Rebecca said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I read them yesterday and again this morning. I added another ten minutes to my meditation this morning with your comments in mind! As someone who has been far too addicted to busyness, it was good to hear Daniel's perspective. I have just found your blog and I intend to look in regularly. Best wishes, Rebecca

Joy said...

AHH, Daniel's talks... I've been thinking of them, too. You are so good at writing your thoughts on here - thanks for sharing. I'm glad I found your blog. I'm glad you were able to attend the training, too. I was able to meet you!