Embracing a Contemplative Attitude in All of Life

by Mark Votava


I love contemplative spirituality!  It is sad to me that the church does not teach this way of life to others.  It is one of the foundational embodied practices that is neglected because it takes vulnerability, simplicity, openness, unknowing, curiosity, wonder and living in the present moment.  Without contemplative spirituality there is no future for the church in the twenty-first century.

It will become a destructive system that promotes judgment, division, exclusion, competition, colonialism, consumerism, individualism, wealth and mobility.  But there is a way to bring reformation to the church again if we reimagine a contemplative spirituality that is embodied in community.  Community and contemplative spirituality are the pieces that are missing in the church today and if you do not have these you do not have much of anything.

  •  A lot of patience, awareness and mindfulness

Contemplation is never instant.  It takes a lot of patience, awareness and mindfulness to understand how God works within us.  God always seems to work in us through our imaginations in ordinary ways.

Sometimes it is in a conversation with friends, sometimes on a walk in the neighborhood, sometimes when we are cooking a meal, sometimes in solitude, sometimes at work, sometimes in silence, sometimes in listening, sometimes in learning, sometimes in exercising, sometimes in watching a movie, sometimes in reflecting, sometimes in buying something locally, sometimes in gardening and sometimes in the making of art.

  •  Taking a contemplative attitude in all of life

There are numerous ways God communicates to us in the ordinary moments of our days within our imaginations.  God can communicate in many so called “secular” ways that we would not expect.  So we need to take a contemplative attitude in all of life to grow in wisdom as the body of Christ in our local community.

  •  Nothing flashy about contemplation

Michael Casey states, “There is certainly nothing flashy about contemplation: there is nothing in it that can be translated into marketable commodities and subsequently traded for some temporal advantage.  Contemplation is entirely gratuitous, pure grace.  On God’s part total gift, on ours total receptivity…”

  •  Too ordinary to be spiritual

Contemplation is so ordinary.  A lot of people think it is too ordinary to be spiritual.  Most of the time, our contemplation does not accompany deep feelings of closeness to God.   But it is a spiritual practice that is vital to our survival as the body of Christ in parish.

  •  Becoming listening contemplatives in everyday life

This practice is God’s gift to us and we need to have the receptivity to become listening contemplatives in everyday life.  Our practice of contemplation is to be pursued through grace.

  •  Cultivated, sustained, embodied and exists through grace

It is cultivated in grace.  It is sustained in grace.  It is embodied through grace. Contemplation exists through grace.

  •  Expectations are premeditated resentments

It exists through gift.  It is worked out through the place we inhabit.  There needs to be an openness and receptivity to this grace in our lives together without expectations or control.

We need to see the danger in holding any expectations toward God.  Expectations are always premeditated resentments, as one of my friends always says.  A lot of our expectations will never come about.

  •  Contemplative spirituality cannot live well through resentment and anger

When this happens we will become resentful and angry.  Our contemplative spirituality cannot live well through resentment and anger.  When we live in these, we tend to hurt a lot of people in our relational context.

  •  A readiness to discover new experiences and acquire brand-new tastes

Jesuit Anthony De Mello says, “Do not approach… contemplation with any preconceived notions at all.  Approach it with a readiness to discover new experiences (that initially may not even seem like ‘experience’ at all) and to acquire brand-new tastes.”

  •  Getting caught up less in our expectations

We need to do away with expectations and embrace an attitude of receptive discovery instead.  We also need to embrace new hungers, longings or tastes in our lives together rather than try to control everything.  This will put us in a much better posture toward God, others and our neighborhood.  When the posture of our lives becomes much more about “a readiness to discover new experiences” and “acquiring brand-new tastes,” we become more holistic in our practice getting caught up less in our expectations.

  •  All expectations and control are shattered

All expectations and control are shattered through this paradigm.  This paradigm will liberate our communion with God to a level without expectations and control, which we desperately need as the body of Christ in the parish.

  •  Living life on our own terms

Ruth Burrows writes, “Instinctively we want to live life on our own terms, in our world, not God’s.  Even when we think we want God, it is as often as not with our own conditions, our own expectations…”

How have we developed expectations toward God that are premeditated?