Last week (or perhaps longer than that–I’ve lost track of time), I told you about the lessons I learned six years. ago.
Namely, I learned that busyness does not equal value.
And I learned how to be still.
As I focused more on my writing, this stillness and contemplation became a necessary posture to my artistic and my Christian life (which are one and the same–I only have one life to live [cue soap opera music]).
Side note: It’s funny how we talk about our spiritual life and our work life and our family life as if we have either (1) numerous lives or (2) split personalities.
Back to our regularly scheduled program: Learning stillness and contemplation did not mean that I never practiced contemplation before. It means I learned how to practice it in a different way.
In seminary, I often heard the complaint that the academic nature of the work detracted from the spiritual walk. In other words, how does charting the book of Joshua or memorizing Hebrew declensions or researching for an exegetical on a passage in Romans contribute to my "spiritual walk"?
Let me first say that I believe these questions arise from a problem Schleiermacher contributed to with his heart/hands/head categories, though he was trying to address what we might call the ivory tower problem (to put things too simplistically).
The seminary, in attempts to bridge this perceived gap between academic knowledge and "spiritual walk" (which, in essence, is how we experience our relationship with God), created a program called Spiritual Formation, which emphasized community, identity, and ministry direction. Before I say anything more, you need to know that I heart this program. The relationships I made in this program mean the world to me and helped me grow in ways I never expected.
(Really, I’m digressing from my point about contemplation. Not that you should be surprised by my rabbit trailing.)
The problem has a deeper root: why would we consider "academic knowledge" separate from (and even contrary to!) our "spiritual walks"? And this brings me back to my original subject: my contemplative life.
Personally, I found seminary, with all of its academic rigor, to draw me closer to God and to his body. I met believers from all across the world and all across time both in person and through books and lectures. I learned from them. My studies, whether charting, parsing, memorizing, or calculating how many hours I could go without sleep, contributed to my relationship with God not because now I suddently had more information but because I contemplated each aspect, wondered about God’s creativity and creation, his actions throughout history, the hope of our future, and his continual work. These kings of Israel and Judah are intimately personal to me because they are part of my myth, my history.
Rewind another several years. In college, as a music major, I spent my days rehearsing with chamber groups or orchestras, practicing while couped-up in a tiny room, listening to symphonies for hours to understand the intricacies of the music. In short, I had no "life" outside of music.
Again, this did not preclude contemplation. Instead, this "musical life" drew me to the beauty of God and the beauty of the Imago Dei present in all humans.
I tell you this because, as Gina reminded me in the comments, different stages of our lives require different things of us. In college and seminary, I could not have the same time and stillness as I do now. But I did have contemplation. Contemplation is a posture and a mind-set that combats empty intelligence, value in busyness, and escapism. It is done both in community and individually.
I expect that my life won’t always have the stillness I have now. But I make it my goal to maintain a sense of contemplation.