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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Contemplative Living

I participate in some forms of social media, although I have not yet become a Facebook follower.  That clearly means I am not all in!  But I do think there is a role for social media.  One of the roles I see for myself is social media provides one more outlet for me to share some spiritual nuggets that students, especially, would not get.  That may sound arrogant, but there are quite a few folks from my university that read the thing just because I am writing it.  The numbers are not huge, but Jesus only managed a few followers!  I am in good company.           

The other thing that participating in social media affords is a chance to keep thinking about life and how to make the most sense out of it.  I grant that so much of the stuff that appears via social media---Facebook, Twitter and the rest---is not profound in any sense.  Much of it is technological chitchat.  I am not sure it is much different than what I heard my grandparents doing as they were sitting on the porch swing talking about the neighbors or sharing some kind of gossip about their circle of friends.           

Yesterday I sent out a little message that I thought I would share again and take the opportunity to develop it a little more.  If you are on Twitter, for example, you can only have 140 characters---and that counts spaces between words.  So this is the message I sent yesterday.  “To live contemplatively is to live with sufficient awareness that you can appreciate everything that comes; the good and to learn from the bad.”  As I re-read that, I still believe it!  Allow me to elaborate.           

I am very interested in contemplation---contemplative living.  As a young Quaker, I never heard the word and would have had no clue what it meant.  Today in spiritual circles, it has become a fairly popular word.  Certainly within Christianity there is a contemplative tradition that goes all the way back to Christian origins.  But it is not solely a Christian thing.  It is fair to claim that every major religious tradition has a contemplative aspect to it---if not a whole group of people who would call themselves contemplative.           

One simple understanding I have of contemplation is to understand it as living in the Presence of God.  Of course, that is clear and, yet, it is so general that it does not offer much substance.  I can be asked how I understand “the Presence of God?”  That is a good, fair question, but it is really a theological question.  For me God is love.  God is compassion for me, for you and for the world.  To live in the Presence of that God is to live in love.  It is to act because of that love.  Simply put, it is to love and be loving.           

This requires a degree of awareness---awareness of myself and of the loving God.  It is amazing to me how much of life I can live unaware.  To use an old analogy, it is like driving down the interstate.  At some point, you realize you have gone for miles, but you have no awareness or memory of the trip.  Life can be like that!  So awareness is key to contemplative living.           

We need sufficient awareness to appreciate things.  I am not sure it is possible to appreciate anything unless we are aware of it.  This is where my little message on social media was, perhaps, surprising and nuanced.  The surprising thing in the message is the suggestion that we should appreciate everything---and that includes the good and not-so-good.  This is rather bold.  Most folks are happy to appreciate the good things in life.  We appreciate gifts and other goodies that enhance well-being and our happiness.           

But who in their right mind, I could be asked, would suggest appreciating even the bad?  On the surface that might be what it looks like I said.  But if you look closer at the social media message, I actually say to appreciate what we can learn from the bad.  I am not for anyone receiving anything bad.  I don’t appreciate the bad---certainly not evil.  But I also think that most of us live long enough that we will have some bad come our way.           

I remember when I was diagnosed with cancer.  That certainly was not good.  I did not think it was good and no one I knew thought it was good.  But at the same time, I did think I could learn from the experience.  And I am convinced I have learned.  Finally, I appreciate what I have learned from that experience.           

It enabled me to grow and deepen as a spiritual human being.  I suppose I could have done that in other ways, but I am not sure I could have experienced the depth of growth and deepening that came with a bad spot in my life.  I do appreciate the learning.  By the way I do not sit here hoping for more bad stuff in my life in order to learn more!          

It is worthwhile to have more space to elaborate the short message I sent out earlier.  It helps me clarify how I understand myself, my God, my life and the world in which I live.  I laugh.  That would be really difficult to do in 140 characters!  I can say in a few words what contemplative living is.  But I have to live it day by day.

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