Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Joseph Wallace-Williams, n/OHC
Br. Joseph Wallace-Williams, n/OHC
Proper 12 Year C - Sunday - July 24, 2016
Lord teach us to pray!
This past week for the first time the novices and postulants had our first international formation Google Hang Out!! Our Br. Charles, in Canada said: I think I was a person who said prayers before I entered the community. Now, I can say that I am a praying person. I don't want to speak for my other brothers, but I think in my class at least, most of us would agree with this insight from our brother Charles. Each one of us has become more deeply, in our own way, praying men and not simply men who say prayers.
Over and over again in the spiritual life I think there is one question that emerges. What’s holier: to pray or to work, to be involved in the world with all it its pains and troubles, or to withdraw from it to meditate on the next one?
Last week I began to watch the new film “Straight Outta Compton” which tells the story of the group NWA. I say began because I found that I could only watch small portions of this film at a time because it’s a lot to take in at once. All of the rich social commentary which was poignant in the 80s when the group released its first album then is still relevant and powerful in our present context.
There is one scene in particular that has really captured my thinking these past few days. It is the scene in which the group is forced to have a press conference to defend their incendiary hit “F the police” . In that scene Dr. Dre says the following:
"What’s happened is Y’all just got a snapshot of how Americans really feel. We have given the people a voice."
To which one of the white reporters replies: “Yeah, but doesn't your songs glamorize the lifestyle of gang bangers, guns, and drugs?” In response to this question from the reporter Ice Cube replies: “Our art is a reflection of our reality. What do you see when you go outside of your door? I know what I see. And it ain’t glamorous.”
My jaw dropped and my heart ached when I heard this deeply insightful observation.
So, why do I tell you this story? I tell you the story because I think it helps us to understand prayer and contemplation. You see, the danger in the contemplative life is that it may become only one-half of the spiritual life. The danger is that prayer and contemplation, will be used to justify distance and unconcern for the world and all of its hurts.
Contemplation is not for its own sake. To live a contemplative life, to be spiritual, does not mean that we spend life in some kind of sacred spa designed to save us from having to deal with the down and dirty parts of life. The contemplative life is not spiritual escapism. Contemplation is immersion in the God who created the world for all of us. Our Christian faith tells us, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”
And that is the point: if all things are of God, then all things demand, deserve justice. God wills the care of the poor, the aged, defenseless, and needy! So, therefore, must the contemplative. God wills the end of oppressors who stand with a heel in the neck of the weak. So does the contemplative. God wills the liberation of human beings. So will the contemplative. God desires the dignity and full development of all human beings. Thus God takes the side of the defenseless. Thus, must the contemplative too.
Otherwise, the contemplation is not real, cannot be real, and will never be real, because to contemplate the God of Justice is to be committed to justice.
You see the contemplative; the spiritual person, must do justice, must speak justice, must insist on justice.
And they do:
- Thomas Merton spoke out against the Vietnam war and spoke out in support of the civil rights movement. He did his part intentionally. Wholeheartedly the way that he could. The way the times demanded from behind the walls of the cloister.
- Our founder James Huntington did his part to support the labor movement in his day.
- Hildegard of Bingen preached the word of justice to emperors and to popes.
- And our Holy Father Benedict of Nursia sheltered strangers and educated peasants.
Contemplation is a change in consciousness. It is a conscious decision not to sleepwalk. It brings us to see beyond boundaries, fears, and past hurts. Beyond institutional self-interest straight into the face of a Mothering God from whom comes all the life that comes. We must learn what the Spirit is trying to teach us. When we feel rejected, we learn to seek the love above all loves in life. And perhaps, the Spirit is trying to teach us that when we are threatened by differences, we must come to realize that otherness is what stretches us beyond the narrowness of sameness. Instead, the desire for conquest or to hold the world hostage comes when we try to shape the world to our own limited ideas of it.
Then differences begin to be a threat rather than a promise of inspiring new possibilities or daring new experiences in life. Then, we set out to mold the rest of the world to our own small selves. And we build our private little walls higher and higher and higher. To feel good about ourselves, we measure ourselves against the other and call them lesser, call them enemy. We entomb ourselves in ourselves. But when we become transformed from within, the contemplative becomes a new kind of presence in the world, signaling another way of being, seeing with new eyes and speaking with new words the very Word of God. The contemplative can never be a complacent participant in an oppressive system. From contemplation comes not only the consciousness of the universal connectedness of life but the courage to model it, as well.
Contemplation and prayer are very dangerous.
- They not only bring us face to face with God.
- They bring us, as well, face to face with the world, and with ourselves.