The Urban Contemplative

One need not retreat from the city to take on a contemplative lifestyle

BY: Edward J. Farrell

 
Reprinted with permission of Sojourners Online


The 20th century has been a time of epic violence--more than 125 million people died violently in the past 100 years. Perhaps it is out of this terrible carnage and suffering that a new level of deep prayer has welled up in ordinary people.

Traditionally, spirituality and contemplation have been for monasteries and convents, for monks and nuns. Yet Jesus was not a monk. He never lived in a monastery. He chose to live in the midst of people. He wept over his city. He wept with those who grieved. Jesus was a contemplative in the midst of the poor. He dared invite us, "Follow me."

Does a Statue Carve Itself?

We do not make contemplatives of ourselves any more than a statue carves itself out of stone. We are drawn into contemplation little by little as we learn to listen more deeply, become more attentive, and grow more sensitive to the Spirit's prayer abiding and moving within us. Contemplation is not just a way of praying but a way of

being

. It is a way of seeing, touching, hoping, believing, responding, living.

A contemplative believes that eternal life is to know the one true God. A contemplative knows the Beatitudes are the path of contemplation and is ready to be counted among the poor, the crippled, the lame, and all the discards of society. The contemplative asks, "Do I welcome each person as God would welcome this one?"

Contemplation is not just a way of praying but a way of being.

The presence of Jesus in us is a compelling force and power. This is the ultimate God-shock-that we are

in Christ

, that he is in us. Paul, in his letters, uses this expression more than 100 times. He is not speaking figuratively but declaring a mystical contact and identification with Christ. There abounds an awareness, an experience in faith of Jesus' words-even in our own time.

The contemplative is always waiting, expecting, anticipating, looking for God to "break through" the bent, broken, and bruised aspects of our life, our cities, our society, our world-and the truly contemplative among us are never disappointed. They know that the Mystery continues to unceasingly break over us, into us, in never-ending waves of life and love. It was amazing to me as pastor of an inner city parish that it was often those who had so little, who had suffered the most, who had so little reason to believe--they were the very ones who had the greatest faith. They had entered the heart of the psalmist and prayed his words with a depth and intensity I could only envy.

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