The Contemplative Temptation
There are numerous organizations, blogs, churches, and so on that are vehemently opposed to spiritual formation, mysticism, contemplation, and anything that might potentially hint at such things. I, of course, disagree with these people, and I find that many of them are reacting out of hurt places in their past that they may or may not recognize. However, they may have a point now and then.
It is quite possible that you could interact with spiritual formation or mysticism or contemplation in ways that simply aren’t healthy or godly. My wife and I have come into contact with various people who seem to act as if a contemplative lifestyle is the only way to be Christian, the only way to meet God, the proper attitude to have at all times, or even the means to salvation. Not unusually, such a perspective comes with a sort of pride; they seem to almost have disdain for anyone who disagrees with them or doesn’t have what they have.
We’re all looking for some kind of salvation. For some it’s money, for some it’s religion, for some it’s family, and for some it’s a peaceful and contemplative lifestyle (and for some it’s a battle against the contemplative lifestyle). We’re broken. We need help. But our salvation is Jesus, His work on the cross, His resurrection, His invitation to relationship with God, and His bridging of the distance between God and man. Contemplation is not our hope. That is only Christ.
Of course, a contemplative lifestyle may provide a way to push aside distractions and give us a structure where we can meet with God. It can help calm us down or keep our internal chaos at bay and thereby more easily hear God’s voice and call in our hearts. There are various potential benefits to a contemplative style of living, but contemplation, meditation, quietness – these are tools, and tools can be used well or poorly. They can injure us just as they can help us. And some tools are better suited for one person than they are for another. We have to figure out through prayer, self-examination, and wise counsel in community if such tools -contemplation, fasting, “contemporary”/”traditional” worship, structured/loose times of study and prayer – are being used well or fit how we’re made. Maybe they are. And maybe they’re not.
Bill Cosby once said that some people say alcohol enhances your personality. Okay, he said, “but what if you’re an a*****e?” Ultimately, if a contemplative way of living just channels the sin in our hearts in a different way, if it just enhances how much we’re a*****es, then we’re abusing it. The great commandment is to love God and to love others as we love ourselves. If we aren’t loving better, maybe a contemplative lifestyle is just helping us feel better without helping us to become better.
I’m not against a contemplative lifestyle – just living one poorly.
We are saved by Jesus and the love of God. And we always will be. Nothing else.
Have you ever dealt with people who just felt like they were using a contemplative lifestyle as their salvation? Have you ever done so? Or if not contemplation, something else that wasn’t Christ?