“Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will be saved,” according to St. Seraphim. This message about inner transformation becoming outward service keeps returning to me over the past few weeks. It is a fundamental part of a contemplative life: we serve the world best by allowing our own inner work to take precedence. St. Seraphim captured this truth in that single, dramatic line. And I really want to follow his guidance today.
In the next 24 hours I will be part of four classes on contemplative living, including a book study, a recorded interview, a sacred yoga class, and a Trust Circle, where we will reflect on a poem to help us listen to our own soul’s voice. So how can I move past just talking about a contemplative life and actually live a contemplative life in the company of others? Does the world really need more words about a spiritual life, or are people hungry to experience the real thing? I believe the world’s response to Pope Francis’ transformative journey answers the question. His life is preaching, even more than his words.
The founder of the Religious Society of Friends, known as Quakers, was George Fox. In 1656 he wrote this calling: “Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.” (From Advices & Queries of the Quakers in Britain). More than 350 years ago he seemed to understand how it is our life that preaches.
The founder of Contemplative Outreach, and a prolific author and retreat leader, Fr. Thomas Keating, gets at the heart of this contemplative principle in his foundational book, Open Mind, Open Heart. There he says, “It is not so much what we do but what we are that allows Christ to live in the world. When the presence of God emerges from our inmost being into our faculties, whether we walk down the street or drink a cup of soup, divine life is pouring into the world. The effectiveness of every action depends on the source from which it springs.”
As messy as this human life can be; often broken, distressed, confused, lost, misdirected, and full of suffering, there is a Way, a truth, a principle that interpenetrates and transcends all our humanity: when we practice union with the divine, the effects radiate to all those around us. Are you like me in wanting to help change the world? Let us start at the beginning and practice the presence of God as best we can this day, this hour, this breath. Everything else will follow if we can let our lives preach.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.