January 26, 2015 Gene Schlesinger

Contemplation in Action

Reflection by Gene Schlesinger, based on of his sermon from Epiphany 3 (Jan 25, 2014)

This Sunday I preached about hearing Jesus’s call to discipleship and mission and responding to it. I played upon a contrast in the lectionary readings between Jonah’s response to God’s call and the first disciples’ response. Jonah was resistant, fleeing from his calling, and later only reluctantly joining in the mission of God. The disciples, however, left everything to immediately and without reserve follow Jesus. The Gospels record the disciples getting it wrong plenty of times, but in this case, they got it right.

    I then posed several questions for us. All of which deal with the larger question of whether or not we hear Christ’s voice:

  • Are we so busy, with such cluttered lives and so much background noise, that it gets drowned out?

  • Are we hearing it, but resistant, hoping that if we wait long enough he might leave us alone, but not realizing that him deciding to leave us alone should be the most terrifying of possibilities?

  • Do we fail to hear it because we won’t slow down and listen?

  • Do we fail to hear it because we’re so engrossed with contemplative navel gazing that we don’t think to join him where he’s at work in the world?

  • Do we not hear it because we don’t bother cracking open our Bibles?

  • Do we not hear it because we’re so busy studying the Bible that it never occurs to us to join Jesus in what he’s doing in the world he loves?

The Ignatian spiritual tradition has this notion of contemplation in action, where we are regularly engaged in activity, but also pause periodically to reflect, refocus, and regroup, so that when we return to our activity, we have gained the insights we need to be able to properly undertake our work, but then our work also drives our reflection, which in turn sends us back to action. I think that’s something of what we should be going for.

If we’re all contemplation and no action, we run the risk of the sort of dead, empty faith that James warns about, and a faith like that will do us no good. For as Jesus says, if we really love him, we will keep his commandments. We will follow where he leads.

If we’re all action and no contemplation, we run the risk of haphazard, scattershot approaches to activity. We may find that the activity in which we’re engaged isn’t what Jesus was up to after all. We need action to be the verification of our contemplation, and we need contemplation to keep our action consonant with what Jesus calls us to.

What rhythms of contemplation and action will you seek to cultivate so that you may more readily hear and respond to Jesus’s call? This would be worth discussing with your missional community this week.