Being Contemplative (2 of 8)

I’ve been asked a number of times “how is it that you find the time to write your blog?” I’m never quite sure how I’m supposed to reply, as the question strikes me in much the same way I imagine someone asking me “how is it that you find the time to be human?” Now, I’ve only been writing my blog for a relatively short while, but as an artist my mind is ever turning something on the lathe. So being contemplative is sewn into the fabric of my daily experience – I’m ever noodling the subtext of life.

Unavoidably, we live within the compression of time. We either see life as an object coming at us, demanding we be fully focused, or we’re in a self-induced vegetative mode, allowing distractions and amusements to transport us — but either way the clock is ticking. In our work-a-day world, we’re consumed with reading the stitches on a fastball, feeling the urgency to decide whether to swing or lay off – so in this context we experience time as impatient and intransigent. Then on the other end of the continuum, we’re chill, acquiescing to the undemanding seduction of light entertainment – in this context we experience time as fleeting and indifferent. Either way, time measures us, attempting to dictate how we experience being human.

But surely, measuring our lives by the stuff we do, is a reductionist view – and yet we allot time, as if the doing of life is all that matters . . . and that our internal life is merely incidental. But before you miss my point entirely – I have no desire to put one more thing on your plate, because I’m not asking you to do an internal life, as if time could measure it’s significance. What if I told you that being contemplative is actually not bound by time – that it can’t really be pursued that way? Would that be something you could wrap your head around?

downloadWhereas, there are activities that are more conducive to contemplation, being contemplative isn’t an activity, as such – it is more of a state of being. It is neither a form of didactic focused thinking, nor is it purely a freely associative state of relaxed focus – and even though it may borrow from both of these, it defies our usual cognitive processes . . . as it is part rumination, part meditation, and part prayer. It is what allows our internal life to go unscathed by the constraints of time. It isn’t measured like a task, having a beginning and an end – as it exists as the fluid subtext of our lives, so that our lives might become a place where we meet God . . . in an ongoing way.

What if the invitation of Isaiah 1:18 “come let us reason together . . .” and the admonition of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “pray without ceasing”, were to be understood as complimentary in nature – what do you think that would look like? Life itself, is a meditation. There are most certainly, activities that make up our everyday life, no doubt, important in their own way – but it is in the subtext of contemplation, where we more often than not, find communion with God. Funny how no one ever really asks me how I find time for that – but then again, if they think communion with God is nothing more than a switch we turn on and off . . . then they likely view it as being time constrained.


Being Thankful (1 of 8)

Heard a comedian tell a story about being on a plane where the stewardess announces that the airline will now be providing a new service — inflight Wi-Fi, only to return to the intercom ten minutes later to apologize that because of complications this service will not be available on this flight. At which point the young man sitting next to the comedian begins to fume and fuss about how this “sucks!” To which the comedian, correctly observes, “only ten minutes prior this guy didn’t even know it was a possibility – it’s just not enough that he’s sitting on a flying chair 30,000 feet above the ground eating Cheetos and flipping through a magazine” . . . then he asks “how did our expectations become so disproportionate?

I have no particular ambition for making money or having stuff, not that I think that there’s anything wrong with making money and having stuff, it’s simply that such things don’t animate my life. Nevertheless, I live well within the context of first world comforts, along with the resident temptations that come with walking through the minefield of comparative affluence. Much of the world struggles with the sociological realities of daily survival and subsistence, meanwhile I am ever being beguiled by a consumerist playground – where “what else do I want?” has become the new way survival is measured.

But within such a paradigm, I am suspicious that we are also redefining how we understand ourselves. Given our steady diet of amusement and distraction, we are becoming as much banal voyeurs of our lives, as we are participants. And there is a diminishing return at work, a crater forming in the middle of our expectations, where everything we consume disappears into the ambiguity of momentary gratification. Nothing can hollow us out quite like our longing after what can only offer us discontent . . .  is this not the “chasing after wind” that Ecclesiastes references?

downloadIn this way, gratitude is more than a virtue — it is a necessity. Only the truly grateful are able to ponder the real value and significance of what they have. Willing to allow the transient value of things to be interpreted by their transcendent source. Apart from this source, everything you have and everything you are has no meaning whatsoever, just the smoke and mirrors of your own baseless evaluations. For gratitude is the scale on which everything is given weight, held proportionately up to the giver of all gifts so that each thing may be known as blessing.

It’s my earnest desire to maintain a humble and a thankful heart, so that I might know everything as a gracious gift from my Father’s hand. My family and friends, my talents and intelligence, home and belongings, provisions and pleasures – they are all found in my Father’s care . . . each one reminding me of his love. In this regard, gratitude isn’t simply a response to something already given, but rather it is an act of faith, like an empty bowl held up to God, believing that he will continue to fill it, not with the impermanent things we assume we need . . . but with more of Himself.

This powerful Peter Himmelman song has haunted me for years . . .