“I don’t see myself as a contemplative person,” I said confidently to my spiritual director.
“What?! he replied. “Of course you are a contemplative person! You are always thinking; you contemplate. Remember your Latin,” he went on. “The word contemplation comes from con (with) and templum (temple). You are the temple of God. You are always in conversation with the God in you. You are definitely a contemplative!”
This exchange launched a fascinating investigation into the meaning of contemplation, – in that room and in my mind – for the next few weeks. I realized that I have equated contemplation with silence and solitude or prayer or sitting by a river just “meditating.” These are spiritual practices that have been very helpful for me. In fact, silence is now a strong preference. But that description of contemplation does not really fit my personality.
And then I remembered a verse from scripture: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (I Cor. 6:19-20 NIV). A temple is any place in which God dwells. I am no longer just Karen; I am Karen, the dwelling place of God.
God intends for us all to commune with the God in us. The Bible constantly encourages us to develop that “with-God” life. Contemplation is the process of being with God – thinking, reflecting, asking, beholding, pondering, observing,regarding, talking, questioning and maybe even arguing with God. If we take with-God life seriously, then we are all contemplatives, no matter what our personality traits or spiritual practices.
Spiritual practices incorporated into our daily life act as a reminder and aide to dwell with the God in us. Since we are all different, different practices may fit us better than the practices others recommend. I have learned that stripping down my life through silence, solitude, prayer, meditation, or the practice of simplicity brings me closer to the God in me. On the other hand, I am also a thinker; reading a book or listening to a broadcast will always stimulate my imagination and encourage me to meet with my God.
I have friends who find that volunteering or supporting social justice issues help them stay in touch with the God of compassion. Creative people may find inspiration in music or journaling or drawing or painting. Active people may find that labyrinth walking, nature walks, or sacred dance are connecting points to God. Those of us who find that ritual and traditions bring them closer to God will find retreats, ceremonies, and special programs for Christmas, Lent, and Easter very meaningful.
You can see that many of these practices do not seem at all “contemplative” in the common use of the word; some are very active. However, each of them can lead us into a life of active conversation and thinking with and loving God – which is true contemplation.