Contemplating the Contemplative Path: Learning to Clap in Amazement

This weekend I attended a retreat on “Attentiveness” at Richmond Hill that was conducted by my friend Joy Heaton, who is working on her Doctorate in Ministry with a focus in spirituality.  During the retreat we looked at the poetry of Mary Oliver as a lens through which we could connect with the created world, and through the created world connect with the creator.  Mary Oliver claims her only call in life is to be amazed by the world, particularly nature.

My friend Joy put it this way, when we stop and notice the beauty of a flower or a butterfly or a tree, in a way we are stopping to clap for God.  This is a beautiful picture of worship.  As a part of the retreat we were given two hours to sit in the garden and clap.  Our assignment was simply to pray and ask God to get our attention and then to deeply focus on one thing and to notice whatever it was that God would have us notice.  In other words, we were to be open to being amazed.

Over the years, I have been exposed to various teachings on fostering a more spiritual or contemplative life.  Joy reminded us that if you want to hear from God, you have to first become silent and then to listen deeply.   The Christian journey is a mystery and we have to be open to encountering the mysterious spirit that can speak to us through an unexpected medium.

Over the past few posts, I have been seeking the answer to the question, “Why don’t more Christians Respond to the Needs of those in the Margins?” The general consensus which I shared in my post “Are you a Contemplative Activist” is  that we tend to focus on the needs of those we are in relationships with, and few Christians are willing to pay the price of entering into relationships with those in the margins.  However, all those who have paid the price, recognize the tremendous gain they have received.  My question is “Why, are so few willing to pay the price?”

I often hear, “That is great that you are doing that, but not everyone is called to befriend people in the margins.”  As I have been reflecting on this comment and my own journey, I realized I did not “set out” to befriend homeless individuals.  I simply opened myself up to hearing God through their stories.  It was only after encountering God this way, that I sensed a call to respond.   I entered into charitable acts like visiting in the prison and serving in a shelter, open to finding Christ in that experience.  I entered into these acts, much the way Mary Oliver enters into nature; open to being amazed.

I don’t think it’s a matter of some being called and others not being called.  I think it is more about some being open to hearing God through these relationships. I think it all goes back to our understanding of Matthew 25:31-46 and the paradox of Jesus words, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  I believe Jesus is saying here that when we love the “least of these”, we love God.  I don’t see serving those in the margins as a “special call” reserved for a select few but more as an invitation to encounter God and love God.  This is not a radical idea, it is an idea that has very deep roots in the Christian Tradition.  I recommend Christine Pohl’s book “Making Room: Rediscovering Hospitality as Christian Tradition” for those for whom this concept seems foreign.

My friend Joy said there are two books through which we can learn about God.  The little book that we can hold in our hands: the bible.  And, the big book which we will never fully comprehend: creation.  Humans are a part of God’s creation.  Matthew 25, is inviting us to experience and know God through the unique lens of those on the margins.  It is an invitation open to all who desire to know God more fully.  It is not about what you have to offer, or what you are called to do, it is about entering into a mystery open to hearing God’s voice where you would least expect to find God.

Jesus loved turning things upside down.  The world tells us to look for God in the “Holy places”, the sanctuaries with stained glass windows and an air of reverence.  But, Jesus said, look for me in the ally, the prison, the soup kitchen, and the hospital.

Some think that people like me have the gift of compassion or a special call.  The truth is I am very selfish.  I want to see Jesus.  I want to encounter this mystery. I don’t want to miss out on being amazed!


Filed under missional church, Theology

3 responses to “Contemplating the Contemplative Path: Learning to Clap in Amazement

  1. Steph Rice

    Wendy, I like what you said about sitting and listening deeply. I am the type of extroverted person that likes to be doing something and be around people all of the time. I’ve recently found that that can cause a lot of issues because I don’t give myself time to sit and listen to the spirit. So, I’ve been trying to work on that and the best place to hear God speak is outside, especially in the fall when the wind reminds me of the Holy Spirit and the rustling of the leaves brings a sense of calm and comfort. I believe that when we sit and listen to God, it becomes easier to overcome our fears and reach out to those we may not have before.

    There are a few people who panhandle near my house and I pass by them on a regular basis. I always tell myself that one day I’m going to stop and talk to them, hear their story. But why haven’t I done it yet? The answer is definitely fear and I hope that the more I intentionally listen to God, the more courage I will summon to be able to say, “Hi. What’s your name?”

  2. wmccaig

    How about you and Charles find an hour one day to do some street outreach. You know Charles would never allow anything to happen to you plus he is likely to know the folks on your corner or know people they know. I have been tempted to get do exactly this with Charles. Maybe we can do it together. Many folks who are on the streets suffer from mental illness or are still in active addiction. You need to be smart, listen to the spirit’s leading and if possible, take a friend like Charles.

    Next week, we need to start our story project with our friends in HS and FF and I think that is likely to be the better place to hear God. At least you already have trust built up and are likely to learn a lot from the experience.

    • Joy Heaton

      There are no margins. Only fear has edges. Love is boundless, marginless and free. Wherever you are, be there. Whoever you meet, greet them. The situation or person is there to teach you a little more about the one lesson we will never fully learn: how to love. Ask yourself these three questions everyday: Why am I here today? (I am learning to love.) Who am I to love? (God, the world and myself.) How am I to love? (The way God loves me.) It’s that simple. It’s that hard.

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