Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
I was not born contemplative.
I was taught from an early age to believe that it is more valuable to know things than it is to learn things. Learning, after all, is a step on the path toward knowing; knowing is the result of learning. Whether at home, in school, or at church, it is far better to know the right answer than to be in the process of learning. Learning means that you have not yet arrived at knowing.
Knowing is also much more fun than learning. Learning requires patience, practice, and being open to new insights. Learning means that you try new things and make mistakes, which just reinforces that you do not know the right answer.
You do not do well in school by learning, you do well by knowing the right answers.
The great thing about knowing the answer is that you have successfully completed learning. You do not need to be open to new insights if you already know the answers.
For a long time, my understanding of my faith was based in the same approach. I had the right answers, and my mental energies went into sharing and defending those answers rather than being open to gaining new understanding. I was committed to the accuracy of my perspective and, at the same time, beginning to feel stuck because the need to be right is so demanding.
The spiritual practices I followed were essentially my homework for church. They were the things I needed to do so I could give the right answers and get a good grade.
The first time someone suggested that I read Benedict’s Rule, I was not very interested. I was both intrigued by and anxious about contemplative spirituality, and quite confident that I already had more than enough rules in my life.
Slowly and surely, the monastic tradition drew me.
I realized that my answers were not always right.
I found a church that values solitude and silence. I gained an appreciation for the ways that liturgy provides a supportive framework for inner work and reflection. I began learning practices and disciplines that helped me recognize that God was always with me, loving me and drawing me closer. I began talking with a spiritual director.
I came to appreciate asking good questions more than having the right answers.
A friend suggested that I might be interested in Benedictine spirituality. After much reading and several retreats at different monasteries, I was received as a lay oblate at a Benedictine monastery and hermitage in Big Sur, California.
An oblate is a person who commits to following a rule of life and is in relationship to a particular monastery and monastic order. The rule I follow includes a variety of spiritual practices such as regular prayer, Bible study, and silence and solitude. At least once each year I spend some time at the monastery.
My faith continues to deepen and mature. I continue to be drawn more deeply into contemplative life, and reflect on ways to be a contemplative in today’s world. Contemplation gives me opportunities to find peace and to recognize the presence of the divine each day. Life is not about sitting and reflecting, but about connecting to the peace and gratefulness that can spread through the people around me.
There are many possible distractions. I wondered, for example, whether social media would keep me from being contemplative. I continue to learn about the history of monasticism, and to overcome my own preconceived notions of what monastic people are like. I am exploring the balance that encompasses both contemplation and activism.
Contemplation has turned my understanding of my own faith upside down. My connection to the holy is no longer about getting a good grade, no longer about being right. My spirituality has nothing to do with getting the teacher to like me or earning divine good favor.
Each day is different, yet each is framed in practices which, step by step, redeem my perspective.