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Forming Your Contemplative Life

I like to read rather widely.  I read a variety of newspapers on line, some religious periodicals and political stuff.  I follow a wide range of folks on Twitter.  I am intrigued where our times are going to take us.  Although I am getting older and won’t see big periods of this century, I do have grandkids.  As I do the math, they have a good chance of living to the year 2100!             

I am not sure I can even imagine the year 2100.  I think about all the changes in my lifetime and am floored.  There is no way I could have envisioned computers, cell phones and now prototype Google cars that self-drive.  I find it all exciting.  Progress is amazing.  But it is not all positive.  I have lived through too many wars and too much current strife with terrorists, economic disparity, climate change, etc. to be sanguine about the future.           

It was with this background that I bumped into an article that fascinated me.  It is about three nuns who have started their own little monastery.  I know I have an interest in monastic spirituality and the lives of those who choose to live out their spiritual vocation in this fashion.  In a way I have dabbled in it from the perimeter.  I appreciate it and enjoy the casual participation in that form of life.  But I am not sure I could pull it off full time.  But with a family and at my age, no place would have me anyway!           

Without expecting anything particular, I began reading the article entitled, “Three Dominican Nuns Formed a New Community in 2007, Pray Seven Hours a Day.”  I know something about the Dominican Order, but not as much as some of the other groups, such as the Benedictines.  I wanted to see what these three Dominican Sisters were up to.  Sisters Mary Grace, Mary Columba and Emmanuela are seasoned veterans of other monasteries.  They are now in their 70s and 80s which means they are even deeper into life than I am.  What prompted them to run off to New Castle, DE to begin again?           

A nice perspective was offered by another monk, Brother Ignatius Perkins, a consultant to various monasteries.  He says, “They are a new type of contemplative.”  He continued, “They have a strong and prophetic vision of what is needed through the church…”  I am sure it was that word, “contemplative,” that grabbed my attention.  This is something I also am trying to do: live a contemplative life.           

I even go so far as to teach a class called “Contemplative Spirituality.”  I am hoping even students will gain a vision for this kind of life---and lifestyle---and live contemplatively, regardless of their careers, etc.  While there are many definitions of contemplative, I start with some fairly simple ideas.           

In the first place someone who is living contemplatively is living with a heightened awareness.  He or she is not sleepwalking through life.  With awareness comes the possibility of paying attention.  I realize I miss so much of life because I am not paying attention.  It’s not hard to do…but you do have to do it!  When I begin to pay more attention to my life, I begin to get a sense for how the Spirit moves within me.  I am more likely to live a life that can appreciate things.           

I understand that something as simple as appreciation is a fruit of the contemplative life.  My experience suggests too many people don’t appreciate much of anything.  Too many of us have what I call a “rights mentality.”  Everything is my right to this and my right to that.  I find people generally less prone to think about what I call a “responsibility mentality.”  Responsible people tend to be thinking of others---sometimes at the expense of themselves.  While I don’t know the three nuns, I am sure they have a responsibility mentality.           

If nothing else, I am confident they feel responsible to the God who has called them to this life.  And I am just as confident they feel responsible to each other and the little community they are building.  I feel fairly certain they feel responsible to extend hospitality to those whom they meet.  They probably would never claim to be saints.  But they are practicing to become one!           

There are many more details in the article, which are not pertinent.  I do like how it ends, though, because it offered me the title for this little inspiration.  The monastery is right next to a college campus.  One of the nuns talked about their mission.  “We want to be visible, to know that this form of life exists…and that all people are called to their own form of contemplative life.”           

I do feel called to form a contemplative life.  I do it because I am convinced it is a deeply meaningful life.  Who does not want this kind of life?  I won’t do it praying seven hours a day like the Dominican nuns.  But I will find my own way of practicing the presence of the Spirit.

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