Do you take time to contemplate? I wonder if people even know what that means anymore. Some people think that sitting and appearing to do nothing is a waste of time. Some people fear the silence and stillness. It’s very unAmerican. We live in a society that is in constant motion and surrounded by constant noise. I feel fortunate enough that I get some time in the morning to contemplate, to write, to think. It’s quiet time that sets me right for the day. It’s what works for me.
I believe that contemplation is what prevents us from burning out. Contemplation is what can recharge our energy and refocus us for what needs to be done. One of the alternatives is workaholism – the addiction to consistently working many, many more hours than should be worked. I understand that there are times when you will have to work more hours than normal – every job has that. But that should not be the norm. That will burn a person out. I’ve seen studies that show that a person becomes less productive the longer the work. Makes sense really.
Brian Zahnd posted a section of his latest book a short time back regarding the need for contemplative pastors. Here’s a few paragraphs:
Framing Christianity within a dualistic “us versus them” paradigm can be a successful way of achieving numerical growth. The nefarious “them” serve as a foil to assert our own rightness. Sunday after Sunday we are made to feel good about belonging to those who are on the right side of all things religious and political. This is the problem we have when churches are led by religious entrepreneurs instead of contemplative pastors.
The other problem is that by the time a pastor is spiritually mature enough to actually be contemplative and capable of leading others into healthy spiritual formation, the institution is fully committed to a reactive kind of Christianity. If we are stuck in a reactive form of Christianity, any move toward a contemplative form of Christianity is viewed as a kind of betrayal. It’s often condemned as “falling away from the faith.” But that’s not what it is. It’s leaving behind childish things and growing up into the fullness of Christ.
The problem of the American evangelical church being led primarily by those who are committed to a reactive form of Christianity is widespread. It’s why so few of our best known pastors look anything like contemplative mystics. Yet contemplative mystics are precisely the kind of women and men that need to be leading our churches. More so now than ever.
We’re in a situation where it is often very difficult, if not impossible, for a pastor to make spiritual progress while being a pastor. I know, because I talk to these pastors all the time. Being familiar with my story, they seek me out. Many of them feel they have to make a choice between their own spiritual growth and their pastoral vocation. Something needs to change.
I his words to be full of great wisdom and not just for pastors either. Great words of advice for all people.
But you may be sitting there thinking, “But I have so much to do. There are so many things that require my attention. How do I start?” Here’s one way – start by making an appointment with yourself to contemplate. If you have trouble with this idea, think of it as scheduling an appointment with your most important client. Wouldn’t you give that client the time they wanted?
So you set the time aside, now what? Bring a notebook and pen, or a laptop (but close your e-mail and web browser. Open up a word document. And just sit. Let the thoughts come and if something is worth jotting down, jot it down. Contemplate the big problems you face. Contemplate life. Contemplate why the sky is blue. Contemplate something you’ve always wanted to explore and learn about. Contemplation allows you to go deeper into a subject, past the initial thoughts that spring to your mind so very quickly. It moves you past the reactive mode to something deeper. Anyone can react, few will take the effort to contemplate.