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What is Contemplative Christianity?

Increasingly I see mature Christians exploring and engaging in the contemplative way as a means of going deeper in faith and love. What then is contemplative Christianity? ContemplativeChristians.com provides excellent explanations, definitions, and resources for those desiring to learn more about the contemplative way. Here are some excerpts from their website.

The History, Practices And Goals Of Contemplative Christianity  

The word “contemplative” emerged in our contemporary lexicon by means of the word “contemplation.” The word contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplatio, often used to translate the Greek word θεωρία, which conveys the idea of purifying one’s heart to perceive God in ever deepening ways (Matthew 5.8). Thus, the contemplative way of being Christian leads us into deeper love, fellowship and union with God through Christ by the Holy Spirit, healing our human nature along the way, transforming us into love, turning us into, as C.S  Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “little Christs.”

Contemplative Christianity is grounded in specific spiritual practices such as the prayerful and slow reading of scripture, meditative prayer (lectio divina), taking time for silence and solitude, receiving the Eucharist, and an overall inward attentiveness to God’s presence. The motivation and destination of this contemplative way of being Christian is love – for God, ourselves, one another and for all of creation, expressed in various ways, such as charity, community, hospitality and stewardship of the earth.

The contemplative way is often associated with interior prayer, especially inspired by Jesus teaching: “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6.6). Major influences on this lifestyle and environment of interior prayer are figures like John of the CrossMeister Eckhart, and the anonymous author of the 14th century book The Cloud of UnknowingMethods of inner prayer such as Centering Prayer or the Jesus Prayer are designed to lead us into contemplation.

The roots of the contemplative way run deep not only through Church history East and West, but also through the church fathers, apostles, and of course Jesus himself, who experienced divine union and wished to make available to us when he said, “the Father and I are one” (John 10.30) and “remain in me as also I remain in you” (John 15.4). In both Eastern and Western Christianity, contemplation is often expressed as a process of development through various stages as described by St John Climacus’ book Ladder of Divine Ascent or Teresa of Ávila’s The Interior Castle. In the 20th Century, Contemplative Christianity’s most notable voices are found in the work of Thomas Merton and the teachings of Henri Nouwen and Thomas Keating. Newer voices articulating the contemplative way include Richard RohrCynthia Bourgeault and James Finley.

The Biblical And Theological Basis For Contemplative Christianity

Some of the biblical and theological inspiration for this contemplative way of being Christian are passages such as:

Be still and know that I am God.”  – Psalm 46.10

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.”  – John 15.9

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  – John 17. 20 – 23

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  – Galatians 2.20

“Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  – Ephesians 4.13

“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature.”  – 2 Peter 1.4

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  – 1 John 4.8

What It Means To Live Contemplatively

Admittedly, my experience with the contemplative way of life is limited to spontaneous contemplative moments that provide brief tastes of the potential of living contemplatively. They most frequently occur in nature…..a colorful sunset, a flock of geese taking off, the scent of a flower, the sound of bird wings flapping, the touch of a stone can awaken in me the realization of the inherent preciousness and holiness of this moment and of life itself. Often I discover these contemplative, often mystical, moments offer a deeper awareness and understanding of what I already know, such as, that humanity is made in God’s image and that God infinitely loves me and all of His creation. I find myself wanting to linger in these sacred moments of deepening awareness of the endless and inherent holiness of life that has awakened in me.

Learning to be open to these spontaneous contemplative experiences in nature has revealed contemplative moments in other everyday realms of life. Times of solitude, gazing upon art, intimacy with my spouse, suffering, and prayer all have the potential to create a deepening and often wordless awareness of what is most precious, sacred, and real in my own life. The desire to know all the answers vanishes and a willingness arises to joyfully live into the questions, paradoxes and mysteries of life. And, the need to earn God’s love is replaced with a desire to simply return God’s love.

I have learned that I cannot create these spontaneous contemplative moments, only create the conditions under which they are most likely to occur. And, often I find these moments are subtle and easy to miss, but when they do occur the longer I linger with them the more likely they are to reveal a knowing beyond anything I had known before. I have discovered that reflecting on these moments of interior awakening allows me to live more contemplatively, and that contemplative moments of awakening, revelation, and enlightenment increasingly arise in the midst of the circumstances I find myself.

Posted on July 21, 2020

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5