Updated: Jul 25
If you’ve been following along with me so far, then you know a little about what a contemplative is. A contemplative is someone who seeks to experience God for themselves. I’ve briefly explained how I became a contemplative, and given a definition of historical contemplation, but as you may have noticed, this is not called “The Contemplative,” but “The Modern Contemplative.” So, what is a modern contemplative?
Being a contemplative is synonymous with monasticism. Though I'm a contemplative, and a monk in one sense, I don't live in a monastery. I’m a regular guy, in the regular world, with a wife, three kids, and a regular job. I’m about as far from the traditional sense of being a contemplative as one can get. And yet, I am a contemplative.
Even within the monastic culture, one could not become a monk solely through personal desire. One couldn’t even be a monk by being accepted into the monastery. One could only be a monk by the call of God. It was up to the proper authorities to accept individuals into the monastery only if they had received the call of God. If God had not called them, they couldn't become a monk. Becoming contemplative can't be achieved by human effort or human will. God has to call and sustain an individual on the path to becoming a contemplative. The same has been true for me.
God has called me, and continues to sustain me on this path. But I did not come to contemplation the traditional way. I did not first enter the monastery and learn contemplation from other monks. Up till now a monk was a contemplative in a monastery. So, what is a modern contemplative? A modern contemplative, as distinguished from a traditional contemplative, is someone who has become a contemplative apart from the monastery.
What makes a contemplative isn’t the monastery, but the path it offers. Though not as likely, that path can exist outside the monastery. The monastery created a good environment for contemplative practice. But it's the practice, not the environment that matter most. What matters most is the reality of what being a contemplative means.
Being a contemplative is about experiencing God. There are certain practices and teachings that can help lead us to that. Those practices and teachings are not the work of getting to God, but the practice of tuning our souls to a God who is already with us. Contemplation merely helps open our eyes a God who is ready and willing to be known. It’s a knowable God that makes all this possible. I know that may sound fantastical, even foolish. It can also be very contrary to our experience. If it were easy, more people would know God. Though it may not be easy, contemplation reveals that knowing God is open to all.
Thomas Merton, who wrote "New Seeds of Contemplation," developed this idea he called “hidden contemplatives.” He was a trappiest monk who lived most of his life at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky. He became a contemplative the traditional way. Merton recognized that one didn’t need the monastery to be a contemplative. One could be a “hidden contemplative” outside the monastery. I am one of those hidden contemplatives. I am following in his footsteps, and yet not within the environment that made it possible for him.
It is my mission to help others become a contemplative as I have.
I remember reading Merton’s “New Seeds of Contemplation” and thinking, “this is good stuff, but someone needs to translate it into normal, everyday life.” That's my goal.
No man is an island. We can't walk the path alone. Contemplation is a path that others have been walking for a long time. A "Modern Contemplative" is the continuation of a very old tradition. It bears forth the idea that Jesus came to show us how to know GOd, and that knowing God is open to all. I believe many are awaking to the need and desire to know God more. The mission of The Modern Contemplative is to help more people know God more deeply. The goal is a contemplative in every church.
I hope you’ll continue learning and growing with me, as we discover together what it means to be a modern contemplative.