Substantial Action & Shadow Action

Our Spirituality & The Formation Of The Worship Leader class dove into a beautiful, and difficult idea the other day. With Spiritual Director Lorna Jones, we were asked the question,

“What is a contemplative attitude?”

Ideas from history, included conceptions about inactivity, over-thoughtfulness, endless prayer times/experiences, and a listening and considered life were brought to the table.

Then, a beautiful idea was unearthed by a Catholic Master’s of Ministry student in our Ignatian prayer circle. He spoke of the idea of considered action; action that is rooted in the thick, rich soil of thoughtfulness, consideration, listening and then ultimately, weighed action.

I shared how the word “contemplative” is akin to the word “contemporary,” i.e. “con” meaning “with” and “templ” meaning “space set apart” (in the class, I thought it meant “time”). In other words, a contemplative approach to life is a listening way, a life “with space set apart” to reflect, remember, reconsider and respond.

It is a way of living that is “in time,” “in space,” and further to this “takes time,” and “takes space.” It is a way of living that is present; present to oneself, present to others and present to God in the moment and in the space we are in – no matter where it may be.

In other words, a contemplative attitude in living is a life with space, the very antithesis to the life patterns nurtured by the fray of our age.

I shared that this is the quality that I see (and embrace my own broken journey toward) in spiritual and Christian leaders all over the world.

Our capacity to be present to ourselves, present to one another, present to our community and present to God is truncated by our lust for quick action and immediate effect.

Rather than being a way of living that is quiet and inactive, a contemplative way of living is the way of substantial action versus what I would call shadow action.

Substantial action is considered action based on listening to God, our own hearts and the hearts of others, and sometimes takes a long time to come to – but with lasting effect. Our own bodies are cared for in the process and there is a sense of rest and commitment to conclusions because of the wait involved.

Shadow action would characterize the fray of activity that is engendered by our need to be immediately and effectively productive in the moment. We forget what our own bodies and hearts are telling us, plow through people (or use them) to get our need for activity or results met, and barely hear God on each decision as we move “through time” to the next big event.

Sometimes shadow action is quite effective, and can gain a person results, more activity, financial gain and much more. However, it rings hollow in the heart over the course of years, and often is shown to be what it is – a flurry of exertion with no clear substantive purpose that has a glimmer of the jewel of eternity within it.

I want to live with a contemplative attitude, as a listener to my own heart, the heart of the community and the heart of God, acting (sometimes more slowly than I presently do) in considered and reflective ways, and then trusting that those actions will ultimately bear the fruit that I would seek in more quickly gratifying manners.

To live the contemplative way is not to recall an old paradigm for novelty’s sake, but to recognize that one of the gifts of history is that it hold some jewels that apply specifically to the brokenness and need of our own day and culture.

I believe the world needs to see followers of Jesus, in all spheres of gift and skill, living life in a contemplative way.

That is the way I sense that I am being trained to live here in the small town of St. Stephen in our faith community, and the way I want to help train artistic and creative leaders, especially worship leaders, to live before God and humankind.

Present to ourselves, present to others and present to God. This would be a beautiful life.