Long time no rant…

… but oh, I get so annoyed when people talk about contemplative spirituality without having a clue what it means.

Or rather, having some warped idea of what it means – my guess is that, as with many words and phrases, different people use it to mean different things, so this guy was talking about Contemplative Spirituality Meaning #3.5 but speaking as though this is the one and only meaning. Which is extremely annoying when Meaning #3.5 is bad and Meaning #2.4 is really good, because it undeservedly gives Meaning #2.4 a really bad reputation.

What this preacher described was what I would call self-contemplation – it sounded like an attempt to find the truth within yourself, which, seeing as we’re fallible human beings, seems like a rather hit-and-miss approach. (Sorry I’m being a bit vague – I didn’t make a note of the precise phrases he used, I’m just speaking from memory.) This is something that is completely unrelated to what I know as contemplative spirituality within a Christian context, which is contemplation of God, not of yourself. It’s so completely unrelated, that it took me a while to get what he was talking about, and why he seemed to be knocking something that to me and to many other Christians is so precious!

Contemplative prayer the way I know it is a wonderful way of connecting with God. To put it simply, it’s when we shut up and just sit there with God, as you can do with a really close friend – no need for constant babbling, no need to fill the air with words, when you know someone well (and if you’re both up to a bit of silence, which obviously not everyone is, and that’s ok), you can just sit comfortably side by side and enjoy being in the same place. And after a while maybe one of you will say something briefly, the other will nod or smile, and you’ll carry on sitting comfortably and enjoy simply being in the same place.

People who know me as a blogger might be surprised that I sometimes find verbal communication a bit of an effort, but I do. So my prayer life tends to include a lot of non-verbal time. I do use words sometimes, but not always. And even when I do use words, I find it very valuable at some point to stop, shut up and give God a chance to get a word in edgeways… But the silence isn’t just about letting God speak – he doesn’t always – but about sensing his presence, absorbing his love, which can lift me up and give me the strength to get up and face life. It’s the spiritual equivalent of basking in glorious sunshine. You see, I love God, and he loves me, and loving someone means you want to spend time with them, and you don’t have to keep chatting all the time. You can go for a walk together and enjoy the countryside, you can sit on a park bench and look at the flowers and the birds… or you can just sit there and look at each other, your eyes telling one another: I love you, you are precious to me.

This is why I get so upset when people talk badly about contemplative spirituality. They’re knocking my precious time with the God whom I love and who loves me. I really wish they’d get their terminology right.

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4 thoughts on “Long time no rant…

  1. Do you know the Phil Keaggy song “Once I prayed”? The first paragraph talks about what the guy you mentioned was apparently dissing:

    Once I prayed, I knew not what I said.
    Show me myself, oh Lord,
    Alas I did not dread
    The hideous sight which now
    I shudder to behold,
    Because I knew not self-aright.

    The last paragraph talks about what you’re talking about that’s positive and beautiful:

    Now I pray, I know that prayer is right,
    Show me Thyself, oh Lord,
    Be to myself the Bright and Morning Star
    To shine upon the grave of self
    And lead my heart from earth afar,
    From earth afar.

    If you want to hear him sing it, it’s on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phZvmEbQAiM

    My friend Kelly and I have talked about this before, too. Too much of that self-contemplation can be pretty depressing. But contemplating God can be deep and beautiful and invigorating and restoring and…. All the good things.

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  2. yeah… I know what you mean. But I think until I got a few things right in my head I couldn’t “do” contemplative prayer and couldn’t understand what it was/is at all… the only thing I could imagine it to be was an introspective self-examination. And about two years ago I woke up to how destructive the introspective path can be, and how different it is from what God calls us to. Sigh.

    How do you explain sight to blind people? There are a lot of blind people around. I can “see” now, but I think I still see “people like trees walking” – being new to the whole practice of listening for God – and I still don’t have words that describe “seeing” – words that describe God being truly present with me when I pray, God truly speaking to me.

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    • I guess I should be thankful for having been exposed to this pretty early on in my walk with God – one of my early experiences of church included a vicar who was very into this side of things. And then I read “Listening to God” by Joyce Huggett, which was really helpful.

      Yes, I can see that someone who hasn’t experienced it might not be able to understand what it’s like. A bit like when we wondered in our teens what this “love” thing was like… I just wish people wouldn’t be so quick to write things off – especially when someone says these things from the pulpit, with the authority that this gives his pronouncements, I think it’s dangerous.

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