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contemplative community 2

This is the second post in a series that I started by saying that I know in my heart what I mean, but I may express it so poorly that I will be misunderstood. The first on contemplative community is found by clicking here.

I am trying to, in this current post, make a connection between the centrality of contemplation, of the committed journey into God, and connecting this to the contemporary need (requirement?) for – and here I’m struggling for a word – I might settle for, “flexibility”. Instead of flexibility I might have originally chosen the word “liberalness”. But “liberal” is now such an emotionally-laden word that using it is too easy to be misheard. And, as I say, I think I’m in danger of that already.

In part, this post springs from reflections by others that “liberal” (the word they use) Christian communities are not thriving and vibrant. For many, Butler Bass in books such as Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith and The Practicing Congregation: Imagining a New Old Church shows this to be untrue. She writes about the power of intentional Christian practice transforming communities and helping them not merely to be vibrant but to grow numerically. I also know of “liberal” communities that are thriving and growing. [And “conservative” “evangelical” communities that are not.]

The intuition I have is that, when people talk about liberal communities, what is being talked about are communities that are strongly connected to our contemporary culture. But when such communites are not thriving, there may be, IMO, a central dynamic missing. The communities may be at the cutting edge of contemporary scholarship and thinking. People there may be very nice to each other – and to others beyond their community. They may be consciously and explicitly inclusive, open and accepting to all comers. Yet, the particular community may not be thriving and vibrant.

And my intuition is: why would people come merely for these above qualities? Cutting edge scholarship is available in books, online, and in discussion over coffee at wonderful cafes. People are very nice in any number of contexts (the church has no exclusive patent on nicenes). But if such a community made a conscious commitment to, together and alone, embark on the contemplative journey into God, it is my conviction that this is infinitely attractive.

And before some, (maybe with the group of people who use the term “liberal” pejoratively) start firing emotive comments about the dangers of “New Age” spirituality (etc.), let me be clear that IMO within our inherited pre-modern Christian spiritual disciplines and practices lie the practices that are adequate (and attractive) for our post-modern context and needs.

Finally, IMO this is a two-way dynamic. As we grow into God and the contemplative life, we become more flexible (“liberal”?), accepting, and inclusive. We become more humble, more prepared to say, “maybe I am wrong”, more able to see both sides of a discussion and an issue. As God becomes the fulfilment of our need, we find less necessity to substitute this with arrogance and the constant requirement to have everyone agree with each other and us on every point.

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16 Responses to contemplative community 2

  1. I have to admit: I have to have the liturgy, or it feels like something vital is missing from my worship experience. I NEED both the liturgy of the word AND the table.

    On the other hand, it’s a boost to my spirit to visit a free-style praise and worship meeting, even at a liturgical church (I was quite active in my high school/undergrad years with the Charismatic Renewal prayer meetings), as long as it is not expected to take the place of the Liturgical worship.

  2. “<together and alone, embark on the contemplative journey into God”

    I think you’re on to something here. And I agree that it needs to happen not just individually but corporately.

    Here’s why – or at least what I have recently been pondering. If we embark upon this journey we are not doing it just for “ourselves” (as we westerners tend to think). But we are doing this for each other and indeed for all humanity, even all of creation.

    That’s what I’ve learned. Or come to understand. And it took me becoming Orthodox to really “get” this. In the RCC there’s a two tier system – one for monks and nuns (especially full-time contemplatives) and another for the people in the pews. But in the Orthodox tradition the Prayer of the Heart is for all. The Eucharist is viewed as bringing the community into being, into Christ. But in addition there is this sense of the inner Liturgy of the Heart going on like an ebb and a flow from this outer Eucharist.

    I am now convinced that as Christians we are ALL in this together – whether together or privately – not as single souls pursuing “salvation”. But that we have a cosmic task we are called to – in union with Christ – to bring all things to the Father. Hence the vital importance of viewing our goal as not simply personal “salvation” but growth in exercising the priesthood of our baptism, on behalf of the cosmos, for the transformation, literally the transfiguration, of all being, “down to the last speck of dust” (as the Ecumenical Patriarch put it).

  3. I, too, need the Liturgy in order to connect better with God. Being in a parish that is both inwardly and outwardly focused is extremely helpful in this connection. Being present for the liturgy of the Word, liturgy of the Table and the liturgy of the Coffee is vital. Working within the parish and with those who are homeless and/or poor cannot be ignored. Doing the
    work God has given us requires both,

  4. That’s a well thought out post Bosco, and well worth the read. I’ve been thinking about related issues recently, in terms of living as the church more fully. The current concept I am thinking of is whether it would be advantageous to have a single Sunday service (Christmas-squash style), but make Sunday morning worship into an all-day event. e.g. Meeting for Morning Prayer and the Lord’s Supper (9-11), coffee (11-11:15), talks/adult Sunday school (11:15-1), fellowship pot-luck lunch (1:00-2:00), smaller groups, catechesis and specialised ministries (2-6), Evening Prayer (6-7), pastries and coffee before departure.

  5. A few random, half-baked thoughts.I’ve been asking the question for some time, that if people are seeking ‘spirituality’ and a relationship with God, rather than ‘religion’, then why aren’t the more liberal/modern churches, groups and the like thriving? It is these types of groups that are, IMO, asking the relevant questions and forging new ideas etc. Perhaps part of the answer is that people like structure and the more conservative element of the church, which is apparently reflecting more growth, provides some of this. For me, the liturgy provides any structure that I need. Perhaps there is an external structure that some people need (dare I say a more conservative, rules and regs approach) and an internal structure, provided by discipline, meditation, contemplation etc and reflected in the liturgy. Perhaps also, for some of us, we are attracted to one type of church community/style, before moving onto another. Another thought, in line with your idea of a missing ‘core dynamic’, is that people in more ‘liberal’ churches/groups, may be so intent on being the ‘other’ that the true robustness of God’s Kingdom is less than prominent. As well, in seeking contemporary responses to the big questions, some sense of the mystical aspect of God is lost.

  6. I have, in different places, seen all sorts of creative configurations, Vincent. Two worship services with fellowship sandwiched between them (so one has the coffee after the service, the other before); worship, fellowship, followed by a time for teaching;…

  7. I’m a member of a (sort of) Pentecostal denomination. Our corporate worship style is “contemporary”. The teaching provides very good grounding in theology, and there is also very good teaching offered encouraging private spiritual disciplines.
    There is less focus on corporate contemplative worship within our Sunday Services. The celebration of Communion is often just tagged on near the end of the service.

    IMO, we are still a “thriving” community. Individuals are committed to seeking a deeper relationship with God. There is an emphasis of finding ways of being “outwardly focused” into meeting the needs of our wider community. Our leadership is passionate and yet “down to earth” and “real” about their own faith journeys.

    Maybe it’s not about us, what we do or don’t do. Maybe it’s more about our connection with God moving in our midst. We can connect with God through a traditional (liturgical) style of service, or in a more contemporary style. I think it comes down to our attitudes towards Worship, expecting and seeking that connection with God both individually and corporately.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Adulcia. I’m not sure why you say “there is less focus on corporate contemplative worship within our Sunday Services.” From the rest of your comment it sounds like a deepening relationship with God is very much a priority in your life and community.

  8. I’m still trying to find the right words too! I guess I meant that there’s not a specific time in the service where this is expressed, when compared with the Anglican Eucharist for example.

    I think the contemplative part is more “behind the scenes” both individually and in other meetings rather than on the Sunday morning.

    • I think you are right that it is the struggle to articulate insights into words. I wonder, Adulcia, if the word I have chosen, “contemplative”, isn’t being read alongside the synonyms and phrases I am using. By contemplative I am meaning a conscious intentional journey deeper into union with God. I would like the whole Eucharist to be such – not just a specific time in the service.

  9. There are some congregations who have been working on these ideas in different ways, for years. Two I have been learning from are: Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. and St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco (of Jesus Freak, Sara Miles fame.)They are very different from each other but both emphasize the contemplative aspects of Christian life. St. Gregory’s emphasizes liturgy and C of the S seems to emphasize service more. That’s an oversimplification, of course. Some Lutherans, like me, are beginning to explore different models since as the saying goes, there are no more boats coming over from Norway/Sweden/Germany. I am drawn toward the St. Gregory’s model while cherishing the rigorous honesty and putting faith-into practice of C of S. Thank you for taking on this ‘hard to put into words’ topic.

    • Thanks Val. On study leave in 2005 I went to San Francisco specifically for two reasons: to go to a service at St Gregory’s and to go on retreat with the Camaldolese hermits at Big Sur. IMO you are right to point to St Gregory’s as a place that embodies what I am attempting to write about here.

  10. Fascinating, Bosco

    With my own congregation we’ve made a tentative start on a shared prayer rhythm.

    My own personal reflection is that over the 30 odd years I’ve been paying attention, Church has been marked at once by a rapid decline in numbers and a similarly rapid decline in shared prayer, be it clergy and the office, or the ‘old style’ parish prayer meeting. Pretty much all the ‘prayer’ talk these days seems to be about individualised approaches. For all these may have value, I suggest that they fail to discern the body . . . And so the Church declines ?

    • There is much to ponder in your point, thanks, Eric. There is an individualism intrinsic in protestantism – my personal salvation – and this struggles with the point of church and community. These become mere means supporting (or not) the individual. I think the vote currently is that they mostly don’t support, and people have (following this paradigm) found other means to support himself/herself. Blessings.

  11. As a young person in the Anglican church, I constantly see the association amongst other young people (both Christians and those exploring) that churches which follow a more traditional liturgy are labelled as ‘conservative’ whereas the non-denominational, mega church places are seen as ‘modern’ – my experience, however, is that those churches that follow the more traditional liturgical style are indeed more welcoming, open and liberal (in your sense of the word ‘flexible’ Bosco). I agree that the time spent in a contemplative setting helps shape this aspect of Christian character.
    I’ve also ended up in a number of conversations with young people who are exploring the faith in their own way who have had no exposure to the contemplative liberal practices and are basing their views of Christianity on a perception of conservative, evangelical Protestantism. Dare I say that there is more room to accommodate the acceptance (love your neighbour/he who is without sin cast the first stone) message of Jesus in ‘flexible’ Christianity? I don’t think millennials have been exposed very much at all to this strand of Christian practice. I believe that in the silence and stillness that we are shaped in grace, love and mercy.

    • Thanks, Alice. I think we are understanding each other well. I think the boxes (“conservative”, “modern”, etc.) can also become unhelpful. I hope this website can increasingly be a place where people can be resourced contemplatively. Easter Season Blessings.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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