upper room daily devotions

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudete Sunday, Contemplative Life, and an Unjust World

This past Lent, The Well, a new ministry in Seattle gathered together a small group of people to begin the experiment of writing, embracing, and living a rule of life. One of the components of our life is a weekly "check-in" (or accountability) email that includes questions that get at "How is it with your soul" as well as a reminder about our shared values and practices, and an offering of an idea or thought for dialogue. Here is the dialogue component from today. I thought I would share it here.

Today is Gaudete Sunday. The Magnificat is the psalm for the day. With the many demonstrations about police brutality; with the passing of an unjust national budget that punishes the environment, gives license to Wall Street to steal from the average person with impunity, and that once again gives the wealthy more ways to influence our political process; and, with the 2nd anniversary of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, I am reminded how important the contemplative stance is for me in believing the hope and promise of Mary's Song. It can be difficult to trust that a world of justice and compassion is possible, but the Magnificat reminds us that it is not only possible, it is God's promise. 

Henri Nouwen wrote in his book Creative Ministry, “Christian life is not a life divided between times for action and times for contemplation. No. Real social action is a way of contemplation, and real contemplation is the core of social action. In the final analysis, action and contemplation are two sides of the same reality which makes a man [sic] an agent of change.” He explains this with an image. Imagine a wagon wheel. The center hub is our contemplative center. From there radiate the spokes of energy and action. "Without the center axis, the spokes would lose their anchor and be unable to support the forward motion of the wheel. Without the spokes, the center axis would be deemed extraneous. When we are least connected to our contemplative center, our life is most tense and chaotic. When we are anchored in contemplative spirituality, the active, exterior expression of our life is more peaceful, purposeful, and effective" (Nouwen, CM).

The contemplative center is what holds us together for the work of justice in the world. This center holds us close to God's promise as sung by Mary. Without it, we spin out into the world, unanchored, unmoored, unable to remain the pain and dwell in unjust places without becoming overwhelmed. With a contemplative center, we remain close to God's loving and transformative energy.

This Gaudete Sunday, I give thanks that Mary could find these words to sing. She could have sung about the pains of being an unmarried woman, or pregnant before her time, or poor with a new mouth to feed - all of which would have been understandable laments. Yet, she shows to sing a song about glory - glory rooted in a dream of justice, a glory rooted in justice that will come from the promise growing inside of her.

When I feel despair about the world - and I do very often - I am grateful that the Magnificat is the closing prayer so many days, if one uses traditional fixed hour prayer practices. In the reading of the Magnificat, I am reminded that God's promise grows in unlikely places (like me) and that God uses people before they are ready and secure and prepared (like me) and that God's promise is bigger and more wonderful than the vessel that may bear it into the world (like me) and that this promise can be born even where it really shouldn't be (like in our world). The Magnificat, to me, is the very soul of the contemplative life. I'm so very glad we pray it daily and that today, on Gaudete Sunday, we pay it special attention.

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