We are gathering together a community called “Poole Neo Monastics” and exploring ideas around rules/rhythms of life, hospitality and communitas (if you want to know what Communitas see a previous blog!), social action (helping being who are having a tough time) and social justice (protesting at injustice), reciprocity (sometimes the right thing is to receive someone else’s generosity/hospitality), activism (not just talking about stuff but actually doing it) and contemplation.
Contemplation really matters. Church in its own way can end up making us feel like a hamster on a wheel, which gets us running fasting and faster (but often less and less productive but more and more exhausted, giving our time to an insatiable that is never satisfied and only ever cries, “more” and “faster”). Indeed, often these Hamster wheels are distractions from the real work of mission and ministry, a friend says: “Jesus wants us to have maximum fruitfulness for minimum weariness, the devil wants us to have minimum fruitfulness for maximum weariness!”
Athletes have time following their events called ‘intentional recovery time’ it makes sense we need a Godly rhythm to maintain fruitfulness and to stay the course for the long-term.
I heard a story of two lumber-jacks who were in a competition to see who could fell the most trees, one did not stop and chopped from morning to night, exhausted he sat down thinking he must have won, and yet he discovered he had chopped much less than the other lumberjack, who looked much less red-faced than he did. “How did you manage that?” he asked, “after every-tree I felled I re-sharpened my axe” he replied.
Often, we are hacking away with a blunt axe and exhausted arms. Jesus says: “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and you will find rest for you souls”, we where made for life not exhaustion, fulfilment not burn-out.
I have often reflected on the story of Mary and Martha (and if I’m honest often sympathised with Martha) and yet I forgot the wider biblical narrative, from Mary’s place of intimacy sat at Jesus’ feet we see her (from John’s Gospel) anointing Jesus, being their as he is crucified and being the first witness of the resurrection where Martha disappears in the narrative. From her investment of her life in Jesus enabled her to be there when it really mattered. A former Vicar I worked with talked about “investing in your secret history with God” a similar idea to Soul Survivor when he talks of “living for the audience of one!”
Yet, for me the narrative of contemplation is corrupted by Christians, too often (as with the rest of life) we get the ‘shirkers’ and the ‘workers’, my theory is that sadly too often the ‘shirkers’ have used the language of reflection and contemplation as religious rhetoric to cover their sinfulness and laziness: “I’m just waiting on God” -which means to actively seek- sometimes is misused to indulge in disobedience. Sometimes I think we con ourselves and appease our consciences with this talk.
An athlete needs recovery to maintain their performance, but a sluggard that does not engage in faithful obedience will just become less and less match-fit.
What we need, I believe, is the discernment to know and understand the difference between laziness and contemplation/rest/reflection and restoration.
For me the command to “be still and know that I am God” is not an indulgent thing, but a costly discipline which is difficult. “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength” is not only a faithful promise of God but also requires a step of faith and obedience from us.
Contemplation, prayerful reflection and Biblical meditation is not often easy (sometimes when we are parched and dry coming into God’s presence can be like jumping into a cool stream on a hot day) However, often seeking God and being renewed can feel like the lumberjack sharpening the axe whilst his colleague stormed ahead.
Being on our own with God is often a challenge place to be, being still is not easy, being with ourselves before God often means we face the stuff we don’t want to face -too often busyness is a form of avoidance from dealing with the things that need dealing with!
So, to be contemplatives, to be people who walk deeply with God, to be renewed, healed, restored and transformed is something beautiful, but requires us to surrender to God, to allow him to speak to us, and to listen to his voice. To hear the voice of God is wonderful, but also uncomfortable, it is the voice of loving affirmation and the voice of challenge, God often puts his finger on the bits of our lives we would rather ignore. Yet, in hearing and heeding the voice of God we are submitting ourselves to the refiners’ fire who purifies the gold within us.
We need to be people of contemplation, with a relationship with God that has those deep reservoirs of divine faithfulness, that can enable us to be like Mary who was faithful when it mattered.
The final image I want to leave us with is that of a bow and arrow, this retreats back, but to advance forward, to retreat back in and of itself is not the point (and actually is tiring on the arms!) but it is the withdrawal that propels us forward.
So, let us in our walk with God, take that moment to go deeper, to reflect and be restored, the discipline is not easy and is counter-intuitive, but it is worth it in being fruitful obedient servants that finish the race well.