Contemplation: Week 2
Connecting to the Eternal
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
Barbara Holmes, one of our CONSPIRE 2018 teachers, writes about the beautiful diversity of contemplative practices as paths toward the source of our being:
Although Africana and European Christians share a common contemplative history, there are specific differences in expectation and practice. . . .
[While] European mystics and contemplatives often lived in community, they tended to focus on the individual experience of encountering the divine presence. African American contemplatives turned the “inward journey” into a communal experience. . . . The word contemplation includes but does not require silence or solitude. Instead, contemplative practices can be identified in public prayers, meditative dance movements, and musical cues that move the entire congregation toward a communal listening and entry into communion with a living God. . . .
When the word contemplation comes to mind I think of Thomas Merton. . . . But I also want to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. and his combination of interiority and activism, Howard and Sue Bailey Thurman and their inward journeys. I want to present Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan, and the unknown black congregations that sustained whole communities without fanfare or notice. Like Christianity, contemplative practices come in many forms. . . .
This is how Howard Thurman describes the embodied locus of contemplation:
There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea is an island and on that island there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the “angel with the flaming sword.” Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority. Nothing passes . . . unless it be a part of the “fluid area of your consent.” This is your crucial link with the Eternal. 
. . . As I see it, the human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the Eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity, facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. These tasks require a knowledge of self and others that only comes from the centering down that Thurman advocates. It is not an escape from the din of daily life; rather, it requires full entry into the fray but on different terms. . . . Always, contemplation requires attentiveness to the Spirit of God. . . .
Contemplation is a spiritual practice that has the potential to heal, instruct, and connect us to the source of our being. Thomas Keating describes the shift in reality structures that may occur during contemplative prayer in this way: “our private, self-made worlds come to an end; a new world appears within and around us and the impossible becomes an everyday experience.” 
 Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (Friends United: 1976), 28.
 Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (Continuum: 1999), 13.
Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 4-6, 17-18.