What kind of Church are we called to be?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

According to the gospels, Jesus often withdrew to spend time apart with God (Mark 1.35; Luke 5.16). Jesus calls the twelve disciples to be with him before they are sent out (Mark 3.14). In the great image of the vine, Jesus calls his disciples to abide in him so that God’s life may bear fruit in our lives.

To be a contemplative Church means:

  • To be deeply rooted in Christ as a branch in the vine, through prayer and worship, word and sacrament
  • To be sustained in joy and hope in the midst of a suffering world
  • To seek the continual grace and renewal of the Holy Spirit in our lives
  • To value deep wisdom and offer meaning
  • To take our theology seriously as dialogue with God as well as talk about God
  • To live in healthy rhythms of prayer and rest and work and be fully human
  • To be good news in an over active and busy world
  • To offer the gift of silence, still places and moments of encounter with the living God
  • To listen deeply to ourselves, to the world in which we live and to one another
  • To discern God’s call to us as individuals and communities
  • To wrestle with God
  • To surrender our doing in order to make space for stillness and dwelling, that God might be free to do and act within us.

“Contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.”

Rowan Williams

Bible Study

Bishop Steven explores the theme of A Contemplative Church through the story of the raising of Lazarus.

Read the Bible Study or listen below

Reflection: What does it mean to be contemplative?

The Ven. Olivia Graham reflects on what it means to be contemplative.

It was the strangest of journeys. We were beyond hope, beyond thinking, beyond even imagining what tomorrow would bring. We just put one foot in front of the other, leaving the city and its gruesome scandal and idle tales behind us and heading for home.

The man joined us on the road – from where, quite, we couldn’t tell. And although we didn’t feel like chatting, he soon got out of us why we were so wrung out. So we continued the journey, not noticing the miles as he broke open for us an immense story we had not grasped. And arriving, sat down and watched him break open the loaf of bread which lay before us, then gone. In that moment we saw him and understood that he was author, narrator, and chief actor in a vast mystery, a cosmic passion play.

Sieger Koder captures the moment when Jesus vanishes, and the two disciples are left at the table in Emmaus. One gazes, hand uplifted, at the bright intensity of the silhouette at the end of the table. The other holds the broken bread with reverence, wondering at its meaning. The wine is ruby in the glasses. The scrolls of Torah are spread out. There is a great, timeless pause. We are invited into this scene of contemplation, of wondering immersion in mystery, as we strive with these, our brothers, to enter into the meaning of what has happened.

What does it mean for us to be contemplative? It is a deep enquiry of mind, spirit, imagination. It’s a letting go; immersing ourselves in the Other. It’s a slow journeying, ever deeper, into the mind and heart of God. Contemplation is not about what we do, it’s about who we are, and what we do springs from it. As contemplative people we are constantly formed and re-formed in loving relationship with Christ and one another. A contemplative heart is one that listens, longs, learns, one that wonders, cherishes, reflects and yearns.

A heart nourished by the bread and the wine which is Christ himself, constantly broken and poured out for us in incomprehensible love. A heart filled with wonder at the beauty and complexity of the whole of creation, its beat almost stopping at the sight of the new dawn breaking or the dragonfly’s wing. A heart enlarged by the Word of God as it is taken in, savoured, allowed to settle, connect and speak both truth and comfort into our joy, sadness and turbulence.

A heart which stills itself as a small child in its parent’s arms, ceases to struggle, relaxes and breathes softly. A heart which opens itself like a flower to the reality and presence of Love to bathe and permeate it.
A contemplative Church is one which deeply knows and deeply understands its identity – what it really means to be in Christ; what it really means to be one; to be connected, in communion, in relationship with friend and stranger and with this lovely and troubled world. Contemplation is the place from which the Church must engage with the world, for if it does not start from here, it has nothing to say, nothing to offer. It has but a tale ‘Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing’.

Stay with us, Lord
For the day is far spent
And we have not yet recognised your face
In each of our brothers and sisters.

Stay with us, Lord,
For the day is far spent
And we have not yet shared your bread
In grace with our brothers and sisters.

Stay with us, Lord,
For the day is far spent
And we have not yet listened to your Word
In the words of our brothers and sisters.

Stay with us, Lord,
Because our very night becomes day
When you are there.
Who do you say that I am?

Worship book of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (Seoul 1989)

The Ven. Olivia Graham is the Archdeacon of Berkshire. This reflection is based on the Sieger Köder’s painting Emmaus which cannot be reproduced here for copyright reasons. It can be seen in the October 2017 edition of the Door.