Contemplation is a way
of being in the world.
A way of being
Contemplation is not just about being in silence and solitude before God. It is also a way of being in the world, in public, among people. It is the way of hiddenness; unnoticed, unseen, and unobtrusive; a way of being quietly invisible. It takes the four God ward disciplines of solitude, silence, stillness and simplicity and applies them to how we are when we are not in solitude, silence, and stillness. And it governs our service to others.
A person exercising the private discipline of solitude is away from people, unseen. To exercise this discipline in public we choose not to be seen, to not be the focus of attention, to act in such a way as to not draw attention to our self. This does not mean we do nothing, but it does govern the way we do what we do.
A person who exercises the public discipline of solitude is not ostentatious. When they enter a room they do so quietly, discretely. They listen before entering into a conversation already in progress. If they are late to church they come in without being noticed and they move in such a way as to not distract others from the spirit of quiet worship and focus on God. When they fellowship they do so from a place of peace, and poise, not having to be the life of the party, and the leader of the pack.
Mindless intrusive behavior is the opposite of Contemplative Presence. May we be fully present to those around us, and may we bring peace.
A person exercising the private discipline of silence is not heard. To exercise this discipline in public we choose not to be heard, to not always be making our opinion known all the time on every matter. In fact, we try and bring an internal silence to every conversation in which, unless it is an important issue of Biblical principles, or part of our assignment from God, we quite often literally do not have an opinion.
Believe it or not, as Christians in the world and in the church we do not have to grapple with every idea, every issue and have an opinion on every matter of society or the church. We don't have to give our mental and emotional energy to everything all the time. This realization is very liberating. And there are some things about which we can do nothing so there is no point letting them trouble our mind. It is best to focus on our own assignment from God. And not every opinion we do have demands expression. Especially if those to whom we express it do not have enough internal silence to actually listen. Some things should only expressed in prayer. For Catholics there are things may require the Sacrament of Reconciliation. For others, they might be helped in conversation with a confidant.
Silence When Wounded
Being silent in society means we say little or nothing when we have been disappointed or wounded in spirit by the faults and failures of other Christians, especially leadership. For me, this has been a hard won virtue and one in which I am very imperfect, but improving.
We may share our broken heart and get comfort and counsel from a trusted friend, but for the most part we hold our peace and turn things over to God. When offended we do our best to not spread the offence to others. An offence is hard enough to bear and work through; it is not good to bring that misery upon others, putting them in a position where every time your offender comes to mind they have to struggle with what you have told them.
Be Quiet ~ Literally
And silence also means we try and make as little noise as possible; literally, physically. We learn to move quietly, not slamming doors, not playing loud music, not imposing our sounds on those around us. Social silence is so peaceful; a gift of grace.
Stream of consciousness conversation is the opposite of contemplative speech. May our words be few.
A person exercising the private discipline of stillness stays still. To exercise this discipline in public we choose not to be always on the move, at least not in any noticeable way that draws attention to ourselves. It means not getting involved in anything and everything that strikes our fancy, but to remain still before God and wait for His leading as to what to say, where to go, and what to do. Our service comes out of this place of stillness and that gives it a focus it could not have otherwise.
Don't Make Unnecessary Waves
In stillness we try not to make unnecessary waves. A boat moving fast through the waters sends waves for some distance; it cuts a wide swatch and its effect is felt everywhere it goes. A person exercising the grace of stillness makes every attempt to avoid this. He moves through the world with as little effect as possible. He has no need to impose his ego or his will on every situation all the time. He can be in a room, hear things with which he disagrees, and maintain his stillness, or maintain it until the Lord grants an opening in which he can gently share. Then when he does share in the area of his assignment, or though the leading of the Holy Spirit, his words have maximum impact.
Do Not Disturb the Flow
Those who walk with stillness do their best to not disturb the flow of what is happening around them. Just let it happen, and try to fit in like a person at a roundabout who is waiting for a break in the traffic to enter the circle. No aggression, not even any assertiveness.
I try to exercise this do-not-break-the-flow discipline when I come to a cross walk with a push button stoplight. Unless it is urgent or traffic is so busy I might be there for what feels like forever, I choose to not impose my will on the motorists. I stand to one side of the cross walk and wait for a natural break in the traffic. As often as I can I avoid pushing the button.
A person who abides in stillness in society can be at a dinner table with conversation flying fast and furious, and not have to jump in and be heard all the time about every topic at hand. Mine is not always the most important opinion in the room. It is good to be silent and still unless you have something to say that improves the conversation - which is not all that hard for me to do. I could not keep up if I wanted to.
Frantic activity is the opposite of Contemplative action. Let our deeds be Spirit-led, carefully chosen, and a blessing to those around us.
A person exercising the private discipline of Simplicity chooses to live a well organized and uncomplicated life. To exercise this discipline in public we choose not to live in a state of "hurry, worry, and scurry". We bring the grace and poise of simplicity to those who are around us, and do our best to maintain a tranquility of spirit no matter what the circumstance. Those who live complicated lives, who take on more than they can handle, who stretch themselves beyond their ability to complete or cope, bring chaos and not simplicity to the lives of others. If Contemplative Christians need to be missionaries of any Contemplative grace, this may be the one most needed. In example and influence, and occasionally, please God, in opportunities to instruct, our simplicity is transformative to those around us.
The Least Disruptive
If we are living as a married couple, in a family or in any other kind of community, our living simply means we are the least disruptive person in the clan. We instinctively put our stuff where it goes so even if we cannot impose order on the environment at least we are not contributing to the chaos and confusion. If we make a mess, we clean it up. If we take it out, we put it back, right away. If we open it, we close it. If we drop it, we pick it up. Simplicity is really very . . . well, simple.
Simplicity is expressed in cleanliness and lack of clutter. It is a good discipline to quietly simplify any environment in which we find ourselves. Pick up litter and put it in a waste container. Close drawers left open. Shut screen doors blowing in the wind. Gently, and discretely, impose order in the midst of disorder.
The four disciplines of which we have spoken thus far have mainly stressed what we avoid doing; being quiet, unobtrusive, non-disruptive. But servanthood requires we do something, and it governs the manner and motive with which we act.
On the marvellous TV drama Downton Abbey, the people are divided between the upstairs aristocrats and the downstairs servants who tend to their every need. In one famous line the Head Butler said it was their job to know what their masters needed next, even before they did. They were to anticipate. In order to anticipate one has to notice. A person with a servant heart notices those around them, and anticipates their needs, and does what they can to meet those needs. A person with a true servant's heart will do what needs to be done, and then try and exercise the grace to not mention what they have done. They do their service as unto the Lord, and He has already noticed. Receiving credit is of no consequence. I do not as yet have a true servant heart, but the Lord and I are working on it.
See a need; quietly meet the need you have seen. Something needs to be done, quietly do it. It is not that hard really.
This does not mean you indiscriminately do everything for everybody around you all the time. Some things are beyond the scope of your call. Some things are the responsibility of others and to do their task is not helping them; we are not to foster laziness, irresponsibility, and carelessness. But with a bit of wisdom and the leading of the Lord, we will find productive ways to serve God by serving others, silently and hopefully unseen. The servants in Downton Abbey were very skilled in fading into the background and moving throughout the manor house unnoticed.
Scripture and Sacrament
So there you have it: Silence, Solitude, Stillness, Simplicity, and Servanthood. Through the exercise of these disciplines we can become the Scriptures, the Word of God made alive and real. We become a Sacramental presence, bringing God into every situation and circumstance.
The Contemplative Life is a very beautiful life, and when lived among others, brings peace and beauty to everyone and everything.