Contemplative Practices for a Busy World
I'm not great at contemplative practices. Quieting myself, consistent prayer, meditation... None of them would be what I call my strongest suits. But at Summit this past week, I was intrigued by a three-part series called "The Color of Silence: Race, Religion, and the Contemplative Orientation." (Hint: I'm probably going to be interested anytime a conference has a talk about race/ethnicity.) Eric Wilson spoke three times about how contemplative practices could be used as a way to break down barriers between churches with different racial makeups or to build community within a congregation with a diverse group of members. Eric's words of kindness, humor, and affirmation were tempered with a prophetic call to unity. With a powerful time of guided liturgy, he charged us to seek common ground, to rebuild relationships, and to love God and one another more deeply.
For me, the moment that stood out to me most was his explanation of simply being with God. He spoke of being easily distracted early on in his attempts to pursue the contemplative practices, and I was not the only one to say "Amen!" when he noted how difficult it can be to stay focused on God.
Our minds are not quiet, nor are they still. We have trained them to be such, with commercials, smart phones, multi-tasking and microwaves. Not that these are necessarily bad, but they do make simply being a tough task. And yet, it is in this space of distractability that the magic happens.
Eric explains that for someone who can't keep their mind focused on God very well during contemplative practices (i.e. people like me) can still get a lot out of that time. Instead of feeling down about an inability to focus consistently, he suggested that each time your mind wanders is an opportunity to bring your mind back to God.
Maybe that's nothing new to anyone else, but to me, it was revolutionary. I suddenly have so many chances to come back to God, because each prayer, each quiet time, each time my mind flits to someone or something else, can become an opportunity to return to God.
So really quickly, I want to challenge you. Take five minutes, and try some contemplative practice. Pray, meditate, or just be. (I personally have had good luck with the Jesus Prayer, which is just praying "Jesus Christ, Son of God" while breathing in, and "Have mercy on me, a sinner," while breathing out.) Maybe you're already great at this, and it'll be easy for you. But maybe you're like me, and five minutes will give you lots of chances to come back.