"A Contemplative in Every Church"
What is a Contemplative?
In the third century, a group of disenfranchised Christians sought the refuge of the Egyptian desert in order to seek a deeper connection to God. These wild and zealous individuals became known as the Desert Fathers. In that desert, they forged out a new way of knowing God, which was the oldest way. That new/old way became known as Contemplation. Contemplation is a form of prayer, that seeks more than just asking God to do things for us. Contemplation seeks God Himself. Contemplation takes the Apostle Paul's admonition to "pray without ceasing" literally, and seriously (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Contemplation sees prayer as a continual communion with God. As Christians, we are to walk through the world with God and Jesus, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
In the third century, the Desert Fathers saw Christianity changing. They saw Christianity starting down the path of Empire. At the time, it was the Roman Empire co-opting Christianity by making it the official religion of Rome. The Desert Fathers saw this union with government as a union of the Church and the World. They wanted to pursue and preserve the kind of Christianity Jesus came to teach. A Christianity centered on relationship with God.
Eventually, Contemplation became re-ingested into the Roman Catholic Church as Monasticism, where monks and nuns were allowed to pursue this unique connection with God in the larger Christian Religion, a religion mostly focused on mediating salvation through priests and sacraments. While the Chrisitan Religion was focused on going to the right place, and doing the right rituals in order to be right with God, Monasticism and Contemplation were about a personal knowing of a personal God.
Contemplation was thus preserved within the Catholic Church, but only as a small, fringe subset that the average Christian knew little about, and could not practice for themselves. This was the dominate form of Christianity for over a thousand years, until the Protestant Reformation. Christianity became a religion of rules and rituals, where only a small group of people called Monks practiced knowing God. But the pursuit of relationship with God was central to Christ's mission on the earth.
What is a Contemplative? Individuals who know God.
Why a Contemplative in Every Church?
If Contemplation is a personal knowing of God, and Christ came to teach us how to know God, then every Church needs Contemplatives. Do most Churches have Contemplatives? While Contemplation still remains as a small subset of the Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformation completely rejected most things Catholic, including Contemplation. Both the Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity, at the local church level, are mostly devoid of anything Contemplative.
When I stumbled upon Contemplation in my forties, I found what I'd been journeying towards my whole life, at least it felt like that.
When I was baptized at nine, I felt the Holy Spirit in a unique way. I felt that God presence for two weeks. Then it was gone. At the time, my church didn't know how to teach me to know God. My church wasn't Contemplative. But that two-week experience stuck with me. It left within me a hidden hunger to know God. In my twenties, after years of reading the Bible, I realized that relationship with God was central to Christianity. But I also realized that it wasn't central to my Christianity, or my church. At that point, I decided to set out on a journey, to figure out how to know God for myself. That journey eventually led me to Contemplation.
Every church needs a Contemplative, because every church needs to make a true knowing of God central to its function and community. The local church body has multiple functions. It is a place for friendship, teaching, worship, outreach, and benevolence. The local church body needs many different kinds of leaders. It needs pastors, administrators, teachers, youth leaders, worship teams, and many other kinds of volunteers. But it also needs Contemplatives.
Contemplatives are a special breed. They aren't likely to gravitate towards the more up-front kinds of roles in a church. They are usually introverts, and prefer silence and aloneness over large crowds and noise. They aren't likely to be a pastor, administrator, youth leader, or active volunteer. Sometimes, they might be on a worship team. A church needs Contemplatives, but also needs to make space for such a person.
The mission of MC is to help cultivate Contemplatives, and to educate church leaders on the importance of partnering with Contemplatives. Church leaders aren't likely to be Contemplatives. But church leaders need Contemplatives to help them keep the focus of Church, and Christianity on a true knowing of God. Amen!