July 21, 2017
Seeking Wholeness through Action: Contemplative Practice and Social Change
This blog post was originally published on the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI) website. The authors are Lydia Strand, Director of Praxis and Contemplative Programs at LDI and Jesse Ortiz, LDI's Communications Fellow. To view the post in its original form, please click here.
This blog is adapted from LDI’s curriculum module on contemplative practice. We hope that this short introduction will hint at how we can be a Church that allows prayer and contemplative practice to guide us in God’s movement of reconciliation, love, and justice. If you are compelled by these words, follow this resource on how to sit with God in the silence of centering prayer.
Prayer — the heart of Christian practice — can embody the continuation of the movement of reconciliation, and can be an integral element of social and systemic change. In Ineffable Grace, Piero Ferrucci recalls the power of what prayer might do:
Prayer is not a request for God’s favors. True, it has been used to obtain the satisfaction of personal desires. It has even been adopted to reinforce prejudices, justify violence, and create barriers between people and between countries. But genuine prayer is based on recognizing the Origin of all that exists, and opening ourselves to it. . . . One can then communicate with this Source, worship it, and ultimately place one’s very center in it.
If we are to be about the work of reconciliation and healing, how might we “place [our] very center” in the One whose essence is wholeness and restoration? For this, we turn to the tradition of the contemplatives, a tradition rooted in seeking union and center in God.
Contemplative practice teacher and Episcopal priest Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “Contemplative prayer is simply a wordless, trusting opening of self to the divine presence.” It supports an opening in contrast to living from a place of closedness -- of “brac[ing], harden[ing], and resist[ing].” This work of opening our hearts, bodies, and minds directly supports the church’s work of reconciliation by connecting us more directly to the voice of God.
Contemplative living, cultivated through practice, is one that is about living intentionally, through presence, compassionate allowing, and awareness. It is more than a method of prayer and it does not end when we move throughout our day.
Paying attention to the voice of God moves us more and more into wholeness; it moves our centers more and more into the divine — or into knowing the holiness in which we are already dwelling.
While contemplative practice may lead us into wholeness, it will not immediately bring ease. The practice of reconciliation and reconnecting with love for the whole other will be an agitational practice. Bourgeault writes how “interior surrender,” or the practice of encountering the wholeness within and in others, may move us into powerful action:
[Contemplative prayer] does not necessarily carry over into an outer state of surrender, or ‘rolling over and playing dead.’ On the contrary, interior surrender is often precisely what makes it possible to see a decisive action that must be taken and to do it with courage and strength. . . . Whether it’s [. . .] putting your life on the line for an ideal you believe in, action flows better when it flows from nonviolence, that is, from a place of relaxed, inner opening.
Our boldest actions towards seeking reconciliation and wholeness on systemic and societal levels are most powerful flowing directly from this source of love and wholeness.
Contemplative prayer connects us with God — or rather, lets us encounter how we have always been connected with God and love. With this uncontrollable encounter with love, we are called from our centers to embody the reconciling and bold movement of God in this world. What might the church look like if this were so?
This week, allow the following questions to stir within you:
- How much you pay more attention to the ways you're experiencing God in your day?
- How are you allowing the voice of God to agitate you and lead you into action?
- What systems in our society interfere with God’s love? How do you feel yourself as part of these systems?