Perplexed into Contemplation

Art: Week 1

Perplexed into Contemplation
Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The imagination offers revelation. It never blasts us with information or numbs us with description. . . . We find ourselves engaged in its questions and possibilities, and new revelation dawns. . . . The imaginative form of knowing is graced with gradualness. . . . The imagination reveals truth in such a way that we can receive and integrate it. —John O’Donohue [1]

I must confess that I tend to prefer the older forms of art and music to much of what I see and hear in pop culture. Often when I listen to music on the radio today, I often scratch my head and say, “I really don’t get it!” But maybe the point is for us to not get it when we encounter something new or unfamiliar.

One of our CONSPIRE 2018 teachers, Dr. Barbara Holmes, suggests that both art and contemplation have a related goal: shifting paradigms. Art and contemplation lead us to wonder, but first they perplex us. Mature spiritual leaders make room for and welcome the prophetic—the challenging, new, and unexpected—even while holding onto the essentials of our wisdom traditions.

Holmes writes in Joy Unspeakable about how the Gospel is being re-envisioned by young people:

To reconsider your circumstances using the perspectives of a new generation is a difficult and contemplative act. It is contemplative because it requires the recognition that the world as we know it is not of our own making. Another generation has its hands to the plow: they will not engage the world as we did; they are singing a new song. [2]

If Christianity is to survive and stay relevant, we must welcome new songs, new expressions of the sacred through beauty, celebration, lament, defiance, and calls to repentance and action. To do so requires bringing contemplative practice beyond pews and prayer mats to the ways we engage on social media, the streets, and the evening news. Contemplation is not only for so-called sacred spaces; it can touch and change all of life.

Ronald Rolheiser writes:

God cannot be thought, but God can be met. Through awe and wonder we experience God and there, as mystics have always stated, we understand more by not understanding than by understanding. In that posture we let God be God. In such a posture, too, we live in contemplation. [3]

Reverend Holmes continues:

[Art is] contemplative because [it] ignites memories of the awe and wonder that we tend to discard after childhood. . . . When we decide to live in our heads only, we become isolated from the God who is closer than our next breath. To subject everything to rational analysis reduces the awe to ashes. The restoration of wonder is the beginning of the inward journey toward a God who people of faith aver is always waiting in the seeker’s heart. For some, the call to worship comes as joy spurts from jazz riffs, wonder thunders from tappers’ feet, as we ponder Lamar’s prophetic insolence and Beyoncé’s black girl magic. Each artistic moment is just slightly beyond our horizon of understanding. Perhaps we are confounded so that we might always have much to contemplate. [4]

References:
[1] John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (HarperCollins: 2004), 147.

[2] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, second edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 197.

[3] Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God (New York: Crossroad, 2001), 117.

[4] Holmes, Joy Unspeakable, 198

Image credit: Composition VIII (detail), Wassily Kandinsky, 1923, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The power of imagination and art is at the level of soul, where we do not consciously know what is happening. Therefore, we cannot engineer it, do not need to understand it, nor can we fully stop its effects! —Richard Rohr

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