ContemplativeChristians.com aims to be an online spiritual resource for the contemplative journey deeper into God’s love. The purpose of this site is to continue the articulation of contemplative Christianity in the third millennium of Christian faith. Our prayer is that through these writings, resources and reflections, you, Dear Unknown Friend, will be drawn further into the heart of God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit’s transforming presence and action.
In an era of increasing confusion and opportunities, the Church is invited to an ancient alternative. We are invited to return, receive and re-discover the contemplative, inner dimension of Christianity.
Every blessing in the love of God through Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Peter Traben Haas
What is Contemplative Christianity?
Contemplative Christianity presupposes that we are all on a spiritual journey deeper into God’s love. Through our participation in God’s love and grace, we experience an ongoing process of transformation further into Christ by the power of the Spirit.
Contemplative Christianity is a particular way of being Christian grounded in specific spiritual practices such as the prayerful and slow reading of scripture (lectio divina), meditative prayer (e.g. Centering Prayer, Jesus Prayer), taking time for silence and solitude, receiving the Eucharist, and an overall inward attentiveness to God’s presence and action in the spiritual/intuitive dimension of our being, and in others, usually through some form of a “rule of life,” such as St. Benedict’s. The motivation and destination of this contemplative way of being Christian is love – for God, ourselves, one another and indeed for all of creation, expressed in various ways, such as stability, community, hospitality and wise stewardship of the earth.
The roots of the contemplative way run deep not only through Church history East and West, but also through the church fathers, apostles, and of course Jesus himself, who experienced divine union conveyed within the unitive state he wished to make available to us when he said, “the Father and I are one” (John 10.30) and “remain in me as also I remain in you” (John 15.4).
The contemplative way is uniquely associated with interior prayer, especially inspired by Jesus teaching: “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6.6). Major influences on this lifestyle and environment of interior prayer are figures like St. Anthony, Gregory Palamas, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, and the anonymous author of the 14th century book The Cloud of Unknowing. Methods of inner prayer such as Centering Prayer or the Jesus Prayer are designed to lead us into contemplation, which is grace of divine union, often described as an inner oneness of “seeing” and being.
The contemplative way has also often been associated with monasticism, typified by such communities as Mount Athos or Cîteaux. While the monastic setting may be very helpful in nurturing a contemplative lifestyle, there are many examples of contemplatives who were not monastics – such as Jesus and Jakob Böhme, to name just two from within the global tradition.
Contemplative practices may also share similarities to some mystical experiences, but not necessarily. Many contemplatives do not have any “mystical” experiences. Thus one may be a contemplative without being a mystic; yet it is probably impossible to be a mystic without also being a contemplative.
The word “contemplative” emerged in our contemporary lexicon by means of the word “contemplation.” The word contemplation comes from the Latin word contemplatio, often used to translate the Greek word θεωρία (theoria),which conveys the idea of purifying one’s heart to perceive God in ever deepening ways (Matthew 5.8). Thus contemplation literally means to see God or to have the Vision of God. And that leads us to the process of theosis (becoming a participant in the divine nature). Thus we cannot separate the means from the ends: the contemplative way of being Christian leads us into deeper fellowship and union with God through Christ by the Spirit, healing our human nature along the way, transforming us into love, turning us into, as C.S Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “little Christs.”
In Eastern Christianity, the contemplative way is nurtured through the practice Hesychasm, the grace inspired effort of bringing the mind into the heart, especially through the practice of the Jesus Prayer. In both the East and the West, contemplation is often expressed as a process of development through various stages as described by St John Climacus’ book Ladder of Divine Ascent or Teresa of Ávila’s The Interior Castle. In the Protestant community, this process has been described as sanctification. For example, John Calvin wrote beautiful passages about our union with Christ and the means of grace that help us grow in faith, understanding and Christlikeness. This too is another way of describing the goal of the contemplative way.
In the 20th Century, Contemplative Christianity’s most articulate voice was the work of Thomas Merton, as well as the witness of Bernadette Roberts, and the teachings of Thomas Keating, Basil Pennington and William Meninger. Connected with the monastic ethos, a leading journal of contemplative Christianity is the Cistercian Studies Quarterly. As we entered the 21st Century, new voices emerged articulating the Contemplative dimension such as Tim Cook, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and the New Monasticism movement.
The contemplative dimension of Christianity is helping foster an increasing awareness, empathy and wisdom for all people and all spiritual traditions, making deep connections with consciousness studies and the role of meditation in human development, especially in the work of Ken Wilber and Paul Smith. Academic interest in the contemplative practices of meditation has become internationally recognized by professor and author Jon Kabat-Zinn. Inter-religious dialog has also been a touchstone of the Contemplative disposition through the work of Brother Wayne Teasdale. Contemplative perspectives and experiences are also being scientifically verified and articulated by the brain-mind revolution, especially articulated by such thought leaders as Antonio Damasio, Jospeh Dispenza, Susan Greenfield and Jon Kabat-Zin.
Living examples of contemplative Christianity can be found in many monasteries of the world, such as St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass Colorado, or New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. One of God’s special graces of our era is the emergence of a living Contemplative Christian church in Austin, Texas called the Church of Conscious Harmony.
Some of the biblical/theological inspiration for this contemplative way of being Christian are passages such as:
“Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46.10
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” – John 15.9
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John 17. 20 – 23
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” – Galatians 2.20
“My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” – Galatians 4.19
“Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4.13
“For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature.” – 2 Peter 1.4
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4.8
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