by Pamela C. Hawkins
I am still sifting through the comments of a couple of my friends. I tend to trust that God has joined me in this kind of pondering when a seemingly sidebar conversation settles into my thoughts and makes a home there until I go back and check it out. On two different occasions when talking about our spiritual lives and practices, my friends each said that they were “not contemplatives” because they just had no desire to be alone and quiet with God. They each consider "contemplative" as a kind of static, inactive [but not passive] way of being with God. And, they each described their spirituality as active and mission oriented.
Because I know and love these friends, I was less inclined to become defensive on the spot as I might, had the comments been made by strangers. Because I do long for, seek, and experience God in solitude and silence, I am often characterized as a contemplative. But I also act. God presses and leads me to an active engagement in the world, and although that may not come as easily for me as for my friends for whom that is a primary response to God, it is still part of my longing and life.
But what I have really had on my mind is the question: what is contemplation? What are the marks of a contemplative life? Can contemplation not also be an extroverted, active response? I really believe so. I have seen people who light up and burn with the love of God, as if no one else is around, while they are engaged in mission and outreach. They seem at one with God in moments of extroverted, passionate care for God’s world and creation. Can that not be a form of contemplation?
How each of us finds our home in God, become one with God’s call for our life, become more formed in the image of God-With-Us, this will vary like snowflakes or river rocks. But ultimately, if we seek God personally, communally, and long to attend to God individually [even when in a crowd or in worship or in a cloister or in a classroom], is this not all space for contemplation?
Pamela C. Hawkins is a United Methodist pastor currently serving The Upper Room as managing editor of Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life. Prior to her work with Weavings, she served in local church, seminary, and editorial ministries giving particular attention to spiritual life practices and care of clergy and lay leaders.