Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Contemplative in Actions

I have been reading James Martin SJ 's wonderful book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life for my online Book Discussion Group. James Martin is an excellent writer with the ability to poke fun at himself and his order, The Society of Jesus or the Jesuits. The SJ which comes after his name stands for Society of Jesus (SJ) but also as he relates it was applied to him as Stupid Jerk!

Basically the book is an overview of Ignatian spirituality. He defines Ignatian spirituality as
1. Finding God in all things
2. Becoming a contemplative in action
3. Looking at the world in an incarnational way
4. Seeking freedom and detachment
which is an excellent summary of the main teachings of the Jesuits.

With no offense to the Jesuits, I always think that it should be "contemplative in actions" rather than "becoming a contemplative in action." I guess it is a matter of which is the object and which is the subject or which is the one where the emphasis is. I can understand why the Jesuits chose "contemplative in action" because of the misconceptions that contemplatives are navel gazers who does not contribute to the real world by being involved in real "action". Contemplatives are those who are closeted in the monasteries, protected by thick walls from the corrupting influences of the unwashed masses and spend their time in beautific communion with God.

That is a misconception of contemplatives. First a definition. A contemplative is a person whose inner life is lived focused on God with imputed grace resulting in love overflowing into every aspect of their being. Note the definition does not specify where the contemplative lives. That person may live in a monastery or with 7 million other persons on the tiny island of Singapore. Not all contemplatives are insulated from the mainstream of human life. I am always inspired by the examples of contemplatives like Bernard of Clairvaux who started hundreds of monasteries, became a Doctor of the Chruch, advised Popes and even started the Second Crusade, and Thomas Merton who became an anti-war activist, ecumenist and spiritual writer. So the focus on the contemplative seem to imply that the Jesuits are encouraging contemplatives to be involved in "action."

However, not all of us are contemplatives. Many of us, by temperament are activists. We are trees cutters rather than navel gazers. Hence "contemplative in actions" where the emphasis is on the "actions." We can act contemplatively rather than be contemplatives who acts. Another definition: a contemplative action is one that is done to please God and to fulfill his perfect will. This action may be something "spiritual" or "religious" or as simple as making a cup of coffee. God created coffee and who is to say that He does not have pleasure in seeing his creature enjoying the aroma of a full-bodied dark coffee?

Now where is my coffee?


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