This post is part 2 in a series based on the Renovare organizations covenant and “best practices. See part 1 at https://livingasapprentices.com/2018/08/29/continual-renewal-the-renovare-way-to-discipleship-part-1/
The Renovare way to discipleship involves a life-time of training in spiritual disciplines which arise from the six streams or traditions of the Christian church. Here is a discipline from the Contemplative Tradition:
Common Discipline #1: By God’s grace, I will set aside time regularly for prayer, meditation, and spiritual reading and will seek to practice the presence of God.
I am not someone who has “quiet time” in the early morning. In fact, mornings are my most active and productive time; I get a lot done – and not much of it is quiet. So whenever someone mentions their early morning quiet time, I often flinch and wallow briefly in guilt. When my spiritual director first men- tioned the word “contemplative,” I visualized early morning prayer, Bible reading, or sitting by a lake in silence , and I quickly said, “That’s not me. I am not a contemplative!”
Joseph looked at me in amazement and said, “You are one of the most contemplative people I have ever met! You are always contemplating.” I was stunned – and without words, for once. After our conversation, I suddenly understood how my personality fits into the instruction to “set aside time” regularly for prayer, meditation and spiritual reading. It is true! I am always contemplating: while reading, while watering plants, while doing dishes, while cooking, while changing sheets, while taking a shower – some of my most productive meditating is done in the shower!
As my body does these everyday tasks, my mind is also active. I may ponder the latest Eugene Peterson quote to grab my attention. I compare my life and relationships with those in the latest novel I am reading. I wrestle with words and phrases and concepts and Scripture passages while plotting and then writing a blog post. I watch political reporting and documentaries and ponder on how my Christian principles fit into values and viewpoints expressed there. This whole pattern of life also fits another concept in this discipline: practicing the presence of God.
I think many of us have the same mis-conception I had about contemplation. We think we should be sitting quietly with a Bible or devotional book in hand. Of course that valuable style of meditation is a good habit to develop. But some of us contemplate just as easily on our feet. A member of my spiritual formation group recently said that she is rarely successful at the stereotypical quiet time – she tends to fall asleep. “But,” she said, “I do a lot of reflecting while I am cooking or taking a walk or even working with a client.” She said that she hoped that in our group she would learn to be contemplative. I couldn’t resist! I said, “You are contemplative. You are just doing it in a way that fits your personality and spiritual gifts. Her statement reveals her process of “practicing the presence of God.” Involving God in everything we think and do is practicing the presence of God.
But what about a dedicated prayer time, you may ask? I believe that prayer is simply communicating with God: speaking, thinking, listening, arguing, thanking, requesting, being silent. When we are in tune with all of these activities as we go about our day, we are praying. This kind of prayer is vital to our living out our Christian life in our families, our neighborhoods, and in the world around us. Of course, it may sometimes be necessary to actually “set aside time” for prayer, meditation, and spiritual reading. And some Christ-followers who have different personalities and gifts than I find great value in this formal practice.
However, my more informal approach to this is discipline includes spending a few hours almost every afternoon reading the newspaper or a magazine or a novel or a Eugene Peterson sermon and thinking about how all of what I am learning fits into my apprenticeship to Jesus. Or I may spend hours working on a blog post in my mind or on the computer that requires Biblical study, reflection, and begging God for answers or for words to express what I am thinking. All of this can legitimately be called practicing the contemplative tradition.
And for now I no longer obsess about my failure to have a morning quiet time.
Yes contemplation most often occurs when not thinking about it.