So a few days ago I came to the defence of my contemplative friend. And, to be honest, I was as much defending my own natural pull to the desert–to the disciplines of solitude and silence–that I’ve always found so life giving.
That said, surely this contemplative way as it’s traditionally drawn–this introverted path to spirituality–was never meant to be the norm. Life in the monastery has always been the vocation of the few not of the many. What’s more, God save us all if spirituality is left to the introverts! If God is in all of life and if every one of us bears the image of God, then surely the way to discern and respond to God is as broad and open as life itself.
One of the great 20th century writers in spirituality was Thomas Merton. Merton was a model of the traditional contemplative life having lived 27 years as a Trappist monk in the Abbey of Gethsemani. Regardless, Merton was a great supporter of what he called the ‘hidden contemplatives’—those who seek and find God in the activity of daily life. Merton was keen to redraw the boundaries of contemplation. The call to contemplation, he said, is not often a call to the monastery, nor is it the possession of the introverts, but a call to know and love God wherever and whoever we are.
‘There are many Christians who serve God,’ Merton writes, ‘with great purity of soul and perfect self-sacrifice in the active life. Their vocation does not allow them to the find the solitude and silence and leisure in which to empty their minds entirely of created things and to lose themselves in God alone. They are too busy serving Him in His children on earth. At the same time, their minds and temperaments do not fit them for a purely contemplative life: they would know no peace without exterior activity. They would not know what to do with themselves. They would vegetate and their interior life would grow cold. Nevertheless, they know how to find God by devoting themselves to Him in self-sacrificing labours in which they are able to remain in His presence all day long. They live and work in His company. They realize that He is within them and they taste deep, peaceful joy in being with Him … Although they are active labourers they are also hidden contemplatives because of the great purity of heart maintained in them by obedience, fraternal charity, self-sacrifice and perfect abandonment to God’s will in all that they do and suffer. They are much closer to God than they realize. They enjoy a kind of masked contemplation.’
I like that!