UCC pastor: Love God through prayerful contemplation and action
This week, I led an evening gathering at a local church on contemplative practices. During a guided visualization, I invited each person in the group to imagine Jesus or another saint gazing into their eyes.
Afterwards, we had time to reflect on the experience. One participant was emotional as she shared how, through all her years in church, she had never imagined Jesus looking lovingly into her eyes.
Our beloved United Church of Christ has historically been strong in social action for peace and justice; in living into the questions through intellectual curiosity. Jesus, in his life, teachings and ministry, invited us into a both/and approach to spirituality. The great commandment is holistic — love God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
When we approach God only with our minds, we do not bring the whole of ourselves. Too often we close off our hearts, afraid that our open-heartedness will look too much like cultish religious expressions that have caused untold harm.
Nevertheless, Jesus’ words have stood the test of time — the spiritual journey invites us to love God with mind, heart, soul and strength. I often think of the contemplative journey as how we seek to love God through a myriad of contemplative practices.
The second part of Jesus’ commandment — loving our neighbor as we love ourselves — speaks to another both/and of the spiritual journey: contemplation and action. One without the other is incomplete. An either/or approach to spiritual wholeness always leaves us longing for more. The “Becoming a Church of Contemplatives in Action” resolution that passed at General Synod 2021 says, “Contemplation without action fuels narcissism, and action without contemplation is a recipe for bitterness and spiritual depletion.”
Learn about contemplative practices
The Synod 2021 resolution explicitly hopes to “empower the UCC to more fully root its collective life of activism for justice in the prayerful life of contemplation.” The team working on implementing this resolution invites your participation. Might you write an article on contemplative practices for the curriculum we’re developing, or be a resource for pastors and churches hungry for spiritual food through sharing contemplative practices? Please email us if any of these opportunities appeal to you, or if you’d simply like to join the monthly virtual contemplative practices our task team shares in together.
I am excited about the growing opportunities in the wider church to live into a both/and spirituality that integrates contemplation and action. A free webinar on Thursday, November 17, at 12 p.m. ET, will explore an “Introduction to Christian Contemplative Practices.” Learn more and register here.
A deeper dive program beginning in January, “Engaging Christian Contemplative Practices,” is also open to all. Learn more and register here.
In whatever way you feel called to integrate contemplation and action on your spiritual path, don’t do it alone. Church is about walking the spiritual path together, opening our mind and heart, living out contemplation and action, so that we might truly love God with all of who we are, and from that place to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
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