What do we mean by a “Contemplative Reformation?”
For a while now, I have been listening for the Spirit, wondering how traditional congregations are being invited into a space of transformation and deepening practice. How are we being called out of the usual “program maintenance model” of congregational life? How is the Spirit of Christ inviting us to ground ourselves in silence, prayer, and compassionate embodiment?
Given the distinct pressures we face within our congregations, with declining attendance and membership, with pressures from budget constraints, how are we being given an opportunity to delve more deeply into what the contemplative tradition has to offer us?
The original “idea” for this focus came from conversations with the Rev. Dr. Tilden Edwards, founder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, during one of the week-long intensive retreats in Shalem’s Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership sessions. A deep bow to Tilden, as he told me, “It is no small thing to trust in the movement of the Living Spirit.” In these initial conversations, I caught a glimpse of what is possible when we assume a posture of deep listening rather than ego grasping.
Much of my initial theological reflection around the elements of a contemplative reformation is found within my thesis for the Doctor of Ministry program, titled “The Practice of Christian Mindfulness as an Imaginative Challenge in Parish Ministry.” Working under the guidance of the Rev. Dr. Julia Gatta and the Rev. Martin Smith, I explored how a 1,000 member parish community could reorient its life along the lines of discernment and what the patristics called nepsis, or “watchfulness” rather than the all-too-typical program-maintenance model. This work has fostered a depth and intentionality that, I hope, will help nurture deep roots in prayer and compassion for the future. A core focus of my thesis was a deeper understanding of what Tilden, so many mystics and sages, and The Philokalia describe as the grounding of a contemplative reformation: the mind-in-spiritual-heart.
Here are essays I have written over the past few years that explore different “angles” of this contemplative reformation:
Some of the thoughts we have shared as a community are as follows:
- What if a community of people, a gathering of seekers and learners–of Christian disciples–sought to cultivate a practice of such mindfulness or watchfulness within their experiences of spiritual formation and compassion?
- What if we sought to step away from a ‘program-maintenance model’ of ministry–one that focuses on ‘coming up with ideas for programs and opportunities and ways for people to just ‘get involved’–in order to create a discernment-grounded community that listens to the Spirit’s promptings, our deepest yearnings, and our neighbor’s longings?
- What if we embodied contemplative practices within all aspects of the community’s life–recognizing that ‘contemplation’ means that practice of intentionally seeking to be aware of the Spirit’s promptings and guidance as we seek to share in Christ’s life in our world today. As has been said, silence is not just the absence of noise, but rather a posture, a practice, a space of attentiveness…of mindfulness…that nurtures an awareness of what the Spirit of Christ is saying to the community.
- When we pray to have the mind of Christ, we are praying to live into the wisdom of Christ…to partake in Christ’s nature. As our Baptismal Covenant describes, we are called to support one another as we ‘grow into the fullness of Christ,’ (c.f. The Book of Common Prayer, 300 ff). We are praying to open ourselves–to be opened–to the presence of the Spirit. We are praying to be mindful…
Click HERE to learn more about the Center for the Practice of Prayer and the leadership framework at Grace Episcopal Church. This Center lies at the heart of our conversations at Grace and our continued desire to ground our common life in the Christian contemplative tradition.
Here is a link to the Annual Report for 2020, which shows how we have sought to organize ourselves into Ministry Clusters for greater collaboration and listening–and an intentional posture of prayer. This report shows the fruit of what we have experienced (at this point) in the last six years. Annual Report 2020.
If you are seeking and wondering as well, let us know…
Click HERE to be taken to the parish’s website.