This week I was moved to invite two small contemplative groups to respond to the question: “How am I a contemplative?” The responses were fascinating, moving, and served to deepen the connections between our group members. We found our hearts warmed in the process, and we felt closer than ever to each other.
After we practiced centering prayer, I invited the group members to stand up, to take a stand, if you will. Then I asked them to look us in the eye and speak a simple truth, “I am a contemplative.” Then I asked them to sit down and explain what it meant to them to be a contemplative. They hesitated but complied. What came next was a sacred conversation–holy enough to have been whispered with reverence.
“I have a yearning…when I meet God I am comforted, held. So in the silence I just made a date to meet up with God again this afternoon.”
“We are defined by what we want. I want and enjoy this, though I don’t do it well. It makes me feel at home. In our contemplative group there is no right, we just all speak our own truth. When I’m not here in this contemplative community there’s a hole. This satisfies a specific need. This helps me be better at being open, quiet, receptive, not demanding. The hardest thing about doing this is how little I succeed in experiencing God. But now I see people as deserving love, no matter what they’ve done. This helps me feel more a part of creation. I see God’s web more.
Now I think of grace as a gentle rain. The contemplative life is an action equivalent to holding your head back and sticking your tongue out to taste God’s grace. Being open for it is different than having grace just fall on your head. I am seeking to open to that grace.”
“Here we just have to be. I am drawn to that. For many years I have needed alone, quiet time. Now my life makes much more sense from having my quiet time. Going to church is not the same to me as sitting in the presence of God with this group. We really want God’s presence, much like people in A.A. wanted alcohol, and now they want recovery of their sanity.”
“The whole awareness that comes from these [contemplative] practices is that I do experience God more. I believe we also see ourselves more clearly, including the times when we fall off the path. Openness to God is helping us understand what love is about.”
“The intimacy of being with the group is part of what we are seeking. The energy of God’s presence becomes more palpable, powerful in our group, and we are so blessed.”
“As contemplatives we acknowledge the mystery of life. We know we don’t have the right answer. Sometimes during my quiet time I know work is going on down deep in me, though I don’t know what that is. Later, I might become aware, or it might be years until I understand what was going on. When I do the work of facing what I’ve done, or what’s happened to me, and gradually surrender those things to God, they come to mind less often.”
“I’m just trying to be aware when God touches me, to feel it, to embrace it when I can because then everything changes. I know these moments will pass and I don’t want to miss them when they come.”
“What unites us is our shared yearning. We are all on a pilgrimage home. The One who nudges us with our desire is the One we seek.”
“I am seeking intimacy with God, and it’s no different when I am in a group or alone. You can’t make anything happen in prayer, you can only be available. I am more recollected in my morning prayer than in the evening practice. I look forward to that time. Whether I am feeling God or not makes absolutely no difference. This is about worship and not anything I can get out of it. I have to do my part, to make a commitment, and spend the time.”
“No matter what contemplative practice you use, this is about becoming more aware of yourself, the presence of God within you, and others around you. In becoming more aware of what others are experiencing, thinking, and feeling I become more compassionate. I am much more mindful of the people around me. This also brings an awareness of God during the day. The more you do it–the more you look forward to it. I’m learning that the wandering mind isn’t a sign of failing.”
“Centering prayer is one of the many ways I pray, including gratitude and metta (loving-kindness) practice. These prayers have changed the lens through which I see everything, and the way I interface with suffering. Instead of being rigid, this softens how I deal with things. I am learning to not have expectations of the practice. There’s an alignment of my humanity and my spirituality, and that’s where I see God. You have to be open. Those moments show how connected we are and how important the connection is.
This life is bringing more compassion, curiosity, and an unwillingness to accept the status quo. I realize how little I do know. This sheds whatever is false, like the ego. There’s no room to keep living in a manner that is false. When people challenge your beliefs and you begin to get defensive and angry, you stay in the fight less, give that up, and forgive more freely. I don’t take suffering personally. This levels the self-involvement and helps me be more accepting of the suffering.”
“Being contemplative fulfills a desire for deeper union with God. I feel called to that. I love words, and yet I’m called to a form of prayer that eschews words.”
The Holy found us in the simple act of sharing from our hearts. We spoke of what was drawing us. We told about our common yearning, and the way we commit to practice something that doesn’t guarantee results. We carved personal responses to describe a mystery which can’t really be explained.
We also tasted the beauty of union with God and each other, through speaking without certainty or rightness. We delighted in each other’s responses, and noted that no one felt the need to correct or direct other group members. We praised the gift of being equals who share a common pilgrimage home. With that we hugged and brought our yearnings out into a crisp fall day.