From the Pastor

Dear Church,

This August I have the privilege of attending something called the “New Contemplatives Exchange.” It is hosted at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. The heart of this gathering is to gather elders in the contemplative movement alongside younger, newer contemplatives, and to listen together to what the Spirit is doing in our time. Four founders of visionary and impactful Christian contemplative organizations have invited five or so young people each to this gathering. I’m honored to be attending with Fr. Richard Rohr and four other friends of the Center for Action and Contemplation, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (As you’ll recall, this is an organization with which I have studied for numerous years).

The nexus of the contemplative life of prayer and the active life of social change are deeply important to me. It seems to me that how we navigate this intersection, especially today, serves as a crucial harbinger of our spiritual health. The gospel is always political; it’s inherently subversive to dwell in a kingdom of God instead of, say, a floundering American empire. But if we err too much on the activist side, we risk losing our bearings. Life is more than a fight of resistance against injustice; the glory of God, as early church father Ireneaus said, “is the human being fully alive.”

Not only does our gospel faith compel us to resist evil (such as an immoral health care bill or egregious discrimination against transgendered persons); it is a radically hopeful vision of God’s realm in which we are asked to pursue full and abundant life for all. This may lead us to similar actions, but the emphasis subtly shifts. No longer is our posture in the world against this or that latest crisis; rather, our posture is for life, which naturally leads us to oppose all that which does not serve full life (such as an immoral health care bill or egregious discrimination against transgendered persons). This is a way of living out one of Fr. Rohr core teachings: “the practice of the good is better than critique of the bad.”

The way that I’ve been able to find sustaining nourishment in Spirit’s full life is through discovering the teachings of the mystics. My thirst for God’s love through the mystical lineage is nearly overpowering. I’m slowly making my way through the works of 16th century Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, but if only I had more time to listen to them all! Voices of desert fathers and mothers, Greek Neo-Platonist mystics like Pseudo-Dionysius, and 20th century mystics like Thomas Merton, are all calling me.

I’m not sure exactly how my trip to Snowmass, Colorado will impact our church life, but I’m sure that it will. I’m hopeful enough to believe that my interest in Christian mysticism, and holding the activist and contemplative lives together, might serve as an opportunity for our local church setting. What if would it mean for First Congregational Church to deepen our commitment to prayer? What if we began devoting ourselves more to practices of silence? What if we, for example, extended the 2-minute silence on Sundays to be 5 minutes? What if we had regular “Christian Meditation 101” classes? What if we really ramped up our spiritual practices: what if, say, 40 people in church dedicated themselves to two 20-minute meditation sits per day during Advent or Lent? The possibilities for transformation are endless.

For those who wish to learn more about the Snowmass New Contemplatives Exchange, here’s a link to a letter from the Shalem Institute, a longtime organizational supporter of spiritual direction work and the contemplative life, explaining the intention behind this retreat.

With gratitude and resolute hope,

Rev. Mark