In honor to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, our brilliant (and thoughtful) managing editor Joannah Sadler suggested that we share a gift with our readers. In Issue 8.2 of Conversations Journal, Ruth Haley Barton of the Transforming Center wrote a moving piece on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life of contemplation and action. Below is the text of that article in its entirety, as well as a link to the PDF, should you prefer to read it with the design elements in place.
May the incredible story of King’s life of faith speak to you today.
“When we enter into periods of silence, we start to see things with greater clarity. We come to know ourselves, and get in touch with the deepest part of ourselves. That is our soul.”
Abbot Christopher Jamison
This week the Lyfe group at Bible Society (England and Wales) have been exploring the discipline of silence. It was interesting that the eight of us all chose the same exercise—simply a common need for some simple R & R—or were we all in desperate need of an antidote to the head rush of caffeine-fuelled, busy, distracted, everyday living?
Last week I listened to a radio program that made me stop in my driveway and keep the radio on—and so long that my wife came out to see what might be wrong. The interview was with an employee of Hazelden, the most famous of Minnesota’s many drug and chemical treatment centers (a sidenote: Minnesota is known to many by its license plate slogan, “Land of 10,000 Lakes”, morphed to us locals as the “Land of 10,000 Treatment Centers”). The show was about a new edition of AA or Alcoholic Anonymous’s “bible” of recovery stories, known as the Big Book.
When our daughter was in middle school, her vocabulary list included the word oxymoron: a figure of speech that seems to be a self-contradiction. God’s invitation to be both contemplative and active seems like an oxymoron. How can I be quiet and contemplative and active and productive at the same time?
With the incredible popularity of the book (and now the movie) Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, many would-be prayer dropouts are seeking an experience of God. In their dialogue in the most recent issue of Conversations, Dr. David Benner and Dr. Gary Moon offer a conversation around Benner’s book “Opening to God” that would have saved Elizabeth Gilbert time, money and the flood of inoculations that are required for traveling to India and Indonesia.
Benner is transparent when he states, “My experience of that openness is far from constant… the moments when I have known this openness are rarer than I’d like, but they leave a taste I can never forget.”
Elizabeth Gilbert ate her way through Italy and ended up buying larger jeans to accommodate her ravenous appetite for all things Italian. In Benner’s dialogue on the impact of the feeling of alignment with God the wholeness and the sense of belonging he declares, “Like any taste of God, it leaves me hungering for more.” I read eagerly yet meditatively, being reminded of my own moments of sheer delight in God and God’s presence.
In the Fall/Winter issue of Conversations the theme that is addressed is ‘Action and Contemplation.’ Let me first quibble a bit over the choice of terms. ‘Action’ is immediately identifiable as a necessary and valuable dimension of human life. In fact, if I were to split hairs, contemplation itself requires a certain form of action. However, ‘contemplation’ can mean very different things to different people, is a somewhat mysterious term, and is viewed with suspicion by many. In other words, 9 times out of 10 ‘action’ would win the popularity contest over ‘contemplation.’ What if ‘prayer’ was substituted for contemplation? The playing field levels out under those verbal conditions. Familiarity, importance, and biblical foundation for prayer and action are relatively equal. To go one step further: my choice of terms would be ‘communion’ and ‘ mission’ based on the Fourth Gospel’s presentation of Jesus as the ‘sent one’ from the heart of the Father. Enough already with the lexical nitpicking!