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I believe that the combination of human action from a contemplative center is the greatest art form. It underlies all those other, more visible art forms that we see in great sculpture, music, writing, painting, and most especially, in the art form of human character development. When the external life and the inner life are working together, we always have beauty, symmetry, and actual transformation of persons—lives and actions that inherently sparkle and heal, in part because they can integrate the negativity of failure, sin, and rejection and they can spot their own shadow games.
With most humans, the process begins on the action side; in fact, the entire first half of life for most of us, even introverts, is all about external action. We begin with crawling, walking, playing, speaking. We learn, we experiment, we try, we stumble, we fall. Gradually these enactments grow larger and more “mature,” but we remain largely unaware of our inner and actual motivations or purpose for any of it.
Yes, there are feelings and imaginings during this time, maybe even sustained study, prayer, or disciplined thought, but do not yet call that contemplation. These reflections are necessarily and almost always self-referential, both for good and ill. At this point, life is still largely about “me” and finding my own preferred and proper viewing platform. It has to be. But it is not yet the great art form of the calm union between our inner and outer lives. We must go further.
You cannot grow in the integrative dance of action and contemplation without a strong tolerance for ambiguity, an ability to allow, forgive, and contain a certain degree of anxiety, and a willingness to not know—and not even need to know. This ever widens and deepens your perspective. This is how you allow and encounter Mystery and move into the contemplative zone.
Adapted from Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World From a Place of Prayer, pp. 1,2, and 4.
We clearly see the fluctuating nature of our journey in stages of consciousness. There is great wisdom within each stage, and also an inherent trap. Only as we trust and practice the task of each stage are we prepared to move forward.
There are different ways to name the stages of consciousness. “Spiral Dynamics” or Wilber’s “Integral Theory” is one of the most helpful for me, and it states the historical and common stages up to now in this way: the archaic (infant), the magical (child), the powerful (heroic stage), absolute truth (and conformity to the group that has it), individual success (organized rational world), pluralism (modern liberalism).
If we can get through these stages and are still ready to face the big death to our individualism and our superiority, we are poised to advance to what some call second tier consciousness (really the mystical levels) where we finally see the importance and usefulness of EACH of these stages and yet also transcend all of them at the same time! This could be described as the necessary path toward any greater capacity for love, freedom, and enlightenment….
from The Dean’s Address, Living Social Symposium, August 2013.
We belong to a generation that wants to see the results of our work. We want to be productive and see with our own eyes what we have made. But that is not the way of God’s Kingdom. Often our witness for God does not lead to tangible results. Jesus himself died as a failure on a cross. There was no success there to be proud of. Still, the fruitfulness of Jesus’ life is beyond any human measure. As faithful witnesses of Jesus we have to trust that our lives too will be fruitful, even though we cannot see their fruit. The fruit of our lives may be visible only to those who live after us.
What is important is how well we love. God will make our love fruitful, whether we see that fruitfulness or not.