Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Contemplatives

It's strange to the think that two years ago, when my book was published, people were using the term "emerging church" pretty regularly. My friend Jim Belcher's book, Deep Church, had just been released, seemingly initiating a new conversation between the emerging faction and the neo-Reformed community. That conversation didn't last as long as I had hoped. The term emerging, at one time, connoted a broad swath of the church, but nowadays, the word has largely disappeared, and the community that still employs it seems to fit into one particular wing of the church.

It seems that the emerging church has fully emerged, or more accurately, diverged. The river has branched into a number of streams that flow in different directions. Some have taken the conversation further and continue to push the thresholds of the modernist understanding of truth. Some grew disenchanted and returned to classical evangelicalism or went deeper into the Reformed tradition. Others have focused on the missional aspect of the church's calling.

I haven't heard anyone else articulate this (though I would guess that others have), but I think there is another community birthed by the emerging church, one that I fall into: the contemplatives. The main reason I am so grateful for the emerging church is because it re-introduced the ancient spiritual disciplines into the evangelical church. The candles and the darkness and the tapestries and the trappings of spirituality may have become a little cliched, but the emerging church introduced a generation of evangelicals to contemplation. We learned something that monastics and Catholics and Orthodox believers have known for centuries: preaching and talking and words are not the only ways to connect to God. We learned that we can meet God in silence and wordless communication, that the "sound of sheer silence" that woke up Elijah to God's presence in his midst, is not empty but intimately full.

A common accusation leveled against contemplatives is that we are passive and alienated from the real world. Ronald Rolheiser in The Shattered Lantern said that contemplation, however, is about "waking up" to what is truly happening, to all the spiritual realities that fill our lives. It's about respecting each moment for all that it has to offer, not only focusing on the visible but on the invisible, listening for the unspoken realities of God.

Would you consider yourself a "contemplative"? What is attractive to you about the contemplative life? Where do you get tripped up?