Monday, September 15, 2008
Brief Thoughts on the Active and Contemplative Life
I still don't see any better description of the spiritual life then organized in the categories of "active" and "contemplative." These categories don't depict spheres which are separated but rather wedded, they depend on each other. They find a parallel in Jesus' two great commandments: to love the Lord and neighbor. It is from the spring of God-love that we correctly engage in neighbor-love. It is from our life of God-contemplation that we correctly engage in God-action. This harmonizes with what I've posted on earlier about the need to establish deepened Christian identity, that it is essential to Christian mission. I may be conflating a few things, or confusing a few closely related things... however, it seems to make sense.
This has become increasingly pertinent for me as I've recently begun a position as a High School Youth Pastor. With the average time spent as a Youth Pastor being 18 months it seems incredibly important to see the active life as literally hanging on the contemplative life. This, of course, is not diminish the active life; it is just that I naturally move towards the active life already.
Here are some of Christianity's best thinkers on this subject:
Peter was eager that they should continue in the vision he was privileged to see, but that was not to be. By leaving the vision and going to serve His brethren once more, Our Lord demonstrated to him that the active life must always continue with the contemplative, that the bios theoretikos and the bios praktikos are inseparable.
Gregory the Great-
[Christ] set forth Himself patterns of both [...] the active and the contemplative united together. For the contemplative differs very much from the active. But our Redeemer by becoming Incarnate, while He gave us a pattern of both, united both Himself. For when He wrought miracles in the city, yet he continued all night in prayer on the mountain, He gave His faithful ones an example not to neglect, through love of contemplation, the care of their neighbors; nor again to abandon contemplative pursuits through being too immoderately engaged in the care of their neighbors.
I'm reminded of my professor Bruce Hindmarsh's refrain, that throughout Church history it has been those that have dug deepest in the spiritual life that have been most active in the life of mission.