Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. The Message
Stress and renewal—it is the rhythm of our lives, except that the stressors seem to outpace the renewal these days. Any serious athlete understands the importance of balancing rigorous training with adequate time for recovery. Balancing care of self with care of others is essential; the one supports the other. The challenge is that most of us live in a chronic state of burn-out that leaves us perpetually drained and depleted.
Learning the unforced rhythms of grace involves intentionality, both in rhythm and practice. Core practices, like mindfulness, compassion, hope, and play provide the means for living the active life contemplatively. Such practices daily renew us in the midst of the stress, allowing us to serve in the supply of the Spirit. While paradoxical, life is about managing polarities and honoring opposites: time together with time apart; work with play. Ultimately, it is honoring the iterative movement of being and doing. Remember over-functioning and under-functioning are always anxious responses that diminish our capacity to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.
The two most powerful impulses of my life have been the urge to create and the urge to be: a set of opposites which I am still learning how to honor and balance. The means of learning how to manage the polarities of my life has come through living the active life contemplatively.
Ultimately, the gift of living the active life contemplatively calls each one of us to manage the polarity of being-and-doing that we might nurture what Quaker Parker Palmer calls “a hidden wholeness.” In his words: “Until we know the hidden wholeness we will live in a world of dualisms, of forced but false choices between being and doing, that result in action that is mere frenzy or in contemplation that is mere escape.” To move beyond the duality of seeing action and contemplation as opposites—an “either/or” choice—ultimately we need to integrate the two.
Not that true contemplation draws us simply inward; contemplation ultimately moves us outward to care of our neighbor and planet. As Joan Chittister, one of the great contemplative activists the 20th and 21st centuries, writes:
Contemplation is a very dangerous activity. It not only brings us face to face with God. It brings us, as well, face to face with the world, face to face with the self. And then, of course, something must be done. Nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. We carry the world in our hearts: the oppression of all peoples, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the Earth, the hunger of the starving, the joy of every laughing child.
The gift of learning to live the active life contemplatively is then that we are come to nurture compassion for others and ourselves. When we step back from the frenzy of activity that drives so much of our lives, we are afforded the opportunity to choose a way of being that is not only sustainable, but leads to the flourishing we so deeply desire. We need both the contemplative and the active. But, what does living the active life contemplatively look like? Ancient spirituality invites to reclaim a fourfold rhythm by which we might honor our need to both be and do. This simple rhythm calls us to embrace a life that welcomes, restores, dwells and sends.