We have no time or space to deal with contemplatives in our world.
Voluntarily squandering time in nonproductive activities is an affront to those of us who daily bow to the God of efficiency and hurry. Few evangelical denominations know what to do with contemplatives. Spirituality with no concretely defined goals and objectives is threatening for most of us. We almost always value purpose over mystery.
Just the other day I heard the use of silence in a worship service referred to as “dead space.” The only thing that dies when we give time for God to corporately interact with his people is our ability to manipulate and control. Holy silence is life-giving space that has the potential to birth many things, including action.
From Moses we learn that action without contemplation is not only foolish, but dangerous. In recent decades evangelical America has become very good at purpose, action and direction, but lack few serious expressions of contemplation. It would be good for us to remember that true contemplation always leads to action, even if we follow Moses’ lead and let our passion simmer for forty years. I have a suspicion his years of formation were not wasted time.
Contemplatives teach us to shut up and be still. We learn to rest, and acknowledge that God is in control. When we quietly interact with the eternal, we find acceptance and solidarity with the needs of the world. However, if our contemplation cannot find home in the mix of the stress and responsibilities of life, we have missed its natural fruit.
We would do good to remember the purpose of spiritual contemplation is not to indulge in a monastic drug that reinforces our narcissism, but rather a place where wisdom is formed and courage is mustered for us to bravely respond to the movements of, to quote the title of a book my friend Mary Darling coauthored, The God of Intimacy and Action.
Have you seen what Nathan identifies as the evangelical ‘inability to deal with contemplatives’?
Have you yourself ever felt like silence is “dead space” instead of “holy mystery”?
What helps you “shut up and be still”?
Nathan Foster is assistant professor of social work at Spring Arbor University (Spring Arbor, Michigan). He has been a counselor and founded/directed Door of Hope Counseling (Arvada, Colorado). He is married and has two children. He is an avid cyclist and still dreams of mountain adventures. His most recent book is Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet.