In our 24/7 culture, where we feel a debilitating anxiety if we don't have our smartphones with us, more and more people are realising the need to take time to be still and reflect on our lives and what we are here for.
Contemplation is crucial for our mental health; it helps us deal with anxiety and to be present in the moment. As a result, it can also have a beneficial impact on our relationships.
There is something in us that craves time for stillness in our busy lives. No matter what we are going through, we always benefit from taking time to stop and reflect. In fact, daily contemplation is guaranteed to make you happier and improve your relationships.
Contemplation and meditation have often been viewed with suspicion in Christian circles. Many Christians believe that if we empty our minds we leave them open for demonic activity to take place. Personally, I think such fears are overstated. There are clear emotional, physical, mental and spiritual benefits to mindfulness.
What we do need to be careful of though is that we don't practise mindfulness as a substitute for closeness to God. Life is ultimately found in attachment to God, surrender to the only One who can free us from our fears and selfishness. If we use mindfulness as a process of detachment instead of attachment, that is indeed detrimental to our wellbeing.
The practise of mindfulness, contemplation and meditation has its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Psalms chapter 46, we read the edifying words, “Be still and know that I am God.” What the Psalmist is talking about is not just the psychological benefits – though there are many – of taking time to be still within our busyness. He is actually talking about taking time to reflect on the character of God.
The Bible gives various descriptions for God, none more evident than that God is loving, compassionate, merciful, just and relational. The world we are working towards is one with these characteristics. Psalm 46 refers to these traits, describing God as our refuge and strength, and a solid rock amidst the storms of life. When we take the time to ponder this, it gives us strength to go back out and do more than is humanly possible.
Jesus himself needed time for this kind of reflection. He spent whole nights in communion with his Father. This would have also included listening, contemplating and being still, as the Psalmist says. All four gospels have references to this. Jesus thrived on his connection with God. It was his sustenance.
Contemplation can take different forms, and it is often the forms that originated in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions that many people find most useful. The Stations of the Cross is one example that is used - mainly in the lead-up to Easter - to reflect on Jesus’ Passion – his suffering during his final hours on earth. Then there is Taize which is a service of prayer and meditation that both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions use. It includes music and simple chants, often from the Psalms, as well as icons from the Eastern Orthodox tradition.
When we take on this type of contemplation in an attitude of submission to God, we find that we grow more into the likeness of Christ. One of the paradoxes of Christian faith is that we become more human, more the people we were born to be, when we surrender our lives to God’s will.
We are at our most Godly when we have this attitude of surrender and soak it in prayer and contemplation. Some of the best advice I have seen on this comes from Franciscan priest Richard Rohr:
“When either waiting or moving forward is done out of a spirit of union and surrender, we can trust that God will make good out of it— even if we are mistaken! It is not about being correct; it is about being connected.”
Connection is what the human heart ultimately longs for. As Richard Rohr goes on to say, it is our connection, or relationship, with God that leads to the radical life of following Jesus which we are called to.
It is through contemplative stillness on the love and grace of God that we are empowered to continue the good fight without becoming bitter and burned out. It is only when we surrender our wills to God, when we have an attitude of ‘God’s will be done, not our own,’ that we become transformed people who transform the world.
Nils von Kalm is from Melbourne, Australia and has a passion for showing how the Gospel is relevant to life in the 21st century. He can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nils.vonkalm and at http://soulthoughts.com/
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