The following reflection was written by Servants Elder Emeritus, Charles R. Ringma. Dr. Ringma is a social activist and contemplative. He has written many books on Christian spirituality including Dare to Journey—with Henri Nouwen, Seek the Silences with Thomas Merton, and Seize the Day (with Dietrich Bonhoeffer): A 365 Day Devotional. He has worked and taught in Asia, and served as professor of theology and mission at the Asian Theological Seminary, Manila, for many years. Recently retired as professor of mission studies at Regent College, Vancouver, Ringma continues writing and teaching all over the world.
I N T R O D U C T I O N
There is confusion around the meaning of the term contemplation in that it is often identified with meditation. Further confusion occurs when we speak of contemplative practices such as prayer, stillness, Lectio Divina, reflection and meditation, and assume that contemplation is simply what we do. Contemplation is always more than our practices. It is a grace gift. It is a revelation of God’s presence. It is being able to see through to the heart of things. And it is receiving the gifts of insight and wisdom.
Thus it is more accurate to speak of prayer and meditational practices that we engage in as we seek God’s face and God’s wisdom, and that the contemplative experience is when we experience God’s nearness, nurture, revelation and wisdom.
In the relationship between contemplation and action we note that the two interpenetrate. While in the place of quiet reflection and prayer it is possible for us to gain insight and inspiration as to what we should do in the service of others, it is also possible in the act of service that we experience God’s presence, revelation and wisdom.
The place of prayer is the movement of transcendence where we seek God’s face. In seeking God’s face God will nurture us, but will also speak to us about God’s passion and concerns for our world. Thus in the movement of transcendence God will call us to immanence, to action and service. And in our acts of witness, care and service, we will be drawn back to God seeking God’s wisdom and empowerment.
This dynamic relationship between contemplation and action is intrinsic to a missional spirituality. Spirituality includes meditational practices and missional service. And missional activity is not only birthed in prayer and sustained in prayer, but should also lead to prayer. We not only need God’s empowering, sustaining and revelatory presence in the places of prayer and reflection, but equally so right in the midst of seeking to minister to others. We not only need to see through to the heart of things in our vision of God, but we also need to see through to the heart of things in the way in which we respond to the needs of our world.
Given this framework, it is of value for us to listen to some of the traditions in Christian Spirituality that bring together the themes of contemplation and action that mark a missional spirituality.
A N A B A P T I S T
The Anabaptists were the Radical wing of the Reformation. They had a different vision of what it meant to be a Christian and how to engage the world:
- Different Spirituality: Seeking to live Sermon on the Mount. This included pacifism.
- Different Ecclesiology: Church as a Community of mutual sharing. A modified communalism.
- Different Discipleship: Following the Suffering and Servant Christ into the world. No triumphalism.
- Different Relationship to the World: Living as a Prophetic challenge to the world and the refusal to manage society.
For the Anabaptists belief in Jesus had to be marked by following Jesus in the imitatio Christi, inner piety was to be expressed in a discipleship spirituality, church was to be a community of spiritual and economic sharing, service to the world was to be characterized by radical identification with the poor and a living and prophetic challenge to the nationalism, racism, militarism, materialism, sexism, hedonism, totalitarianism and exploitation of the modern world.
Anabaptist spirituality was marked by baptism into Christ and the death to self; baptism into the Body of Christ (the faith community) and the death to individualism; baptism in the Spirit and the death to mere self-effort and self-assertion; and baptism into martyrdom and the death to one’s attempts to escape suffering and relinquishment. The pulse of this in Anabaptist spirituality was the notion of Gelassenheit, meaning yieldedness or abandonment to God and God’s way: “yielding one’s own will to do God’s will” C. Arnold Snyder Following in the Footsteps of Christ: The Anabaptist Tradition (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2004) p.41.
L I B E R A T I O N T H E O L O G Y
While there are a variety of perspectives regarding the missional spirituality of the Liberation theologians, we will look specifically at the work of Gustavo Gutierrez in his We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1984)
Gutierrez highlights that the liberation that Christ brings is personal and social, it has to do with spirituality and the work of justice, and it involves love of God and love of neighbour. He highlights that the work of evangelization involves three announcements and tasks:
- The announcement of the God’s love in Christ for all humanity. And this involves the task of filiation = becoming brothers and sisters in Christ and becoming caring friend to neighbour and stranger.
- The announcement of Christ’s liberation from personal sin and sin in its social and institutional expressions. This involves the task of the costly work of working for personal and social change and transformation. This involves prayer and action.
- The announcement that the Reign of God is both future and in-breaking. The task in the present in-breaking of the Kingdom involves the practices of prayer and downward mobility for the sake of the gospel and a commitment in serving the marginalized of the earth. This commitment will also involve us in the task of denunciation = challenging what is unjust in our world.
Rejecting all spiritualities that involve the fuga mundi (flight from the world), and that keep us locked into a privatized, internalized and individualistic spirituality, Gutierrez spells out what a missional spirituality looks like:
- It is a communal spirituality.
- It is a spirituality that combines solidarity with the poor and prayer, and combines hope with suffering, even martyrdom.
- It is a paschal spirituality where the mystery of death leading to life comes to expression.
- The sources for this spirituality are the gospel, prayer, meditation, the community of faith, the sacraments and being blessed by those whom we serve. This is the mystery of God’s use of the weak of the earth to transform the wise and the powerful.
B E N E D I C T I N E S P I R I T U A L I T Y
Forged by St. Benedict (480-547), this spirituality typified by the dictum ora et labore and expressed in monastic communities up to the present day, is a spirituality that is appropriate for all Christians and is spirituality that emphasizes that holiness can be found in the ordinary routines of life.
Important themes is this spirituality are the following:
- The Blessedness of the Ordinary. The call is to live the ordinary extraordinarily well. It is learning that the ordinary self (not simply the “professional self” or the “special self” or the “achieving self”) is deeply loved by God. This spirituality highlights that it is not only on the mountain top but in daily affairs that God is to be found.
- Becoming Mindful. We live very pre-occupied and busy lives. We need to become more reflective. This is living in a re-collected way. This is becoming much more attentive.
- Obedience. In becoming more attentive we need to become more attentive to the call of the gospel, the movement of the Spirit, and the call of God through the voices and action of the people around us. Humility is the willingness to hear the voice of God directly and through others, especially the latter.
- Stability. We are restless. And we think that what is better lies somewhere else. Thus we are never grounded. We are challenged to learn to see the goodness of God not in our escape but right where we are. Thus it is learning to be faithful in difficult times.
- Conversatio morum. This is being open to on-going inner transformation. This is a willingness to say yes to the on-going work of the Spirit.
- The Gift of Life’s Rhythms. For the monks the daily rhythm of life was one of prayer, study and work and rest. We also need to have a rhythm of life. Not work only, but also Sabbath and play and rest. Not relationships only, but also solitude. Not prayer only, but also service. Not spirituality only, but also study – the love of God with my mind. Not meditation only, but also loving God with all my strength. Thus hard and strenuous work is called for in the love of God. The monks developed agriculture, ran guest houses for pilgrims, cared for the sick, conducted schools, promoted learning and science and copies manuscripts. They shaped the culture of what was first a barbaric Europe.
[For further reflection see D. Okholm, Monk Habits for Everyday People: Benedictine Spirituality for Protestants (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007)].
I G N A T I A N S P I R I T U A L I T Y
Forged by St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), Ignatian spirituality offers a vision of God, a reflective way of living, a contemplative form of praying, a reverential attitude towards the world, and a vision of finding God in the daily realities of life. The core concept is to find God in all things.
Important themes in this spirituality are the following-
- A Spirituality of Following the Lowly Jesus. Jesus’ passion was to do the will and work of the Father. That is to be our passion too. But to have and maintain this passion we first need to be with Jesus and be close to Jesus. Intimacy with Christ first and foremost and always and then joining Jesus in his love for the world. Jesus was the servant of the Father (Phil. 2:6-8) and we need to be servants as well.
- Seeing God in Scripture and seeing God in the world. We need to read scripture by placing ourselves in the gospel story. We need to read our world by placing ourselves in the service of others. We need to contemplate both the face of God in the gospel and the mysterious workings of God in our world. The God who is already ahead of us calls us to join him in what he is doing in the lives of others and in our society. Thus we contemplate both the Word and the world.
- A Spirituality of the Heart. While Ignatius emphasized learning-head (he studied at the University of Paris) and action in the world-hand, he believed that the heart as the motivational centre of the human being (Mt.6:21) had to be constantly sculpted in the love of God in Christ. The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius are to get the heart right. And in Ignatian spiritual direction the question is: What are the movements of the Spirit in your heart?
- A Reflective Spirituality. Reflect on Scripture. Reflect on the movement of God in your own heart. Reflect on the mysterious action of God in our world. And Ignatian spirituality encourages a reflective ending to one’s day. Called the Examen it has the following elements: a] be grateful for God’s presence and blessings; b] ask for the guidance of the Spirit; c] review the day with the question: what was life-giving? and what was death-dealing?; d] express sorrow for sin or failure and seek God’s forgiveness, and ask what our sin does to Jesus and others; e] pray for grace to give oneself wholly to the love of God.
- A Spirituality of Prayer. Always talk with God, even in the midst of work or play. Talk with God about everything: joys and failures and hopes and dreams. Talk with God as with a friend.
- A Spirituality of Discernment. The Enemy of our souls offers us riches/power/pride. These seem desirable to us. Jesus offers us poverty, humility and powerlessness. These seem less desirable. What Satan offers does not seem to be bad. What Jesus offers does not seem to be good. Thus discernment is called for. Discernment makes use of the movement of consolation and desolation. Consolation is what increases hope/faith/love. Desolation diminishes these gifts.
- A Spirituality of Pilgrimage. The Christian life is a spiritual journey. The road ahead is often not clear. Thus it is a faith journey. We need to have good attitudes and skills for this journey. The core is trust that Jesus through the Spirit will lead us; that God will call us to a task; and that God is already ahead preparing the way and ready to welcome us.
[D. L. Fleming, What is Ignatian Spirituality? (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008) and W. A. Barry, Finding God in All Things: A Companion to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1991)
C O N C L U S I O N
This is by no means comprehensive. But it is a start. What these spiritualities highlight is that a life with God is forged in grace and love but calls us to engage with the God who loves us. This engagement invites into a whole gamut of spiritual practices. These practices are meant to help us to become more attentive to the grace of God and the call of God for our lives.
What these spiritualities highlight is that we don’t just pray and then work. We pray in our working. And they further highlight that we need the contemplative vision not only in our relationship with God but also for our role in the world. We need to see the world through God’s eyes.
Thus these spiritualities highlight that contemplation and action belong together. As such this forms the heartbeat of a missional spirituality.