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The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston

The Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston is senior pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York, NY.

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Presbyterian Church (USA)

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Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, NY

Scott Black Johnston: The Contemplative Christ

February 25, 2014


I am drawn to contemplative people. They are human fish tanks. In the presence of reflective friends, I move slower, feel calmer and become more mindful of what is going on around me.

Just as the human heart needs aerobic exercise, a soul needs contemplation to stay healthy. It needs more than I am able to provide. So, over the years, I have sought out "trainers" - wise souls who guide me in engaging the world.


One of my favorite contemplatives is Annie Dillard. After four seasons watching the flora and fauna bloom, flutter and expire on a small tributary of the Roanoke River known as Tinker Creek, Dillard wrote:

Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.

Dillard is part of a profound American tradition that began with Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau's contemplative focus was, of course, Walden Pond:


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

That, in a nutshell, is the treasure that all contemplatives seek: a way to live that is authentic, courageous and true.

So, yes, Jesus is a contemplative, too. Sometimes his subject for reflection is nature ("Consider the lilies..."). More often it is other people. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus hikes up a mountain, sits his disciples down on a ridge overlooking the villages below, and starts talking about the people who dwell there:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

We might ask what benefit can come from contemplating the "poor in spirit." Jesus, couldn't you come up with a more uplifting subject? Of course, the same could be said for studying a water bug at Tinker Creek or a woodchuck at Walden Pond.

"Sit still for a moment," counsel the contemplatives. "If you look a little longer, a little deeper, you just might find yourself blessed."

From Scott's blog, "Sharp About Your Prayers"

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