soul care, pt. 4 - contemplative practices

We closed out the blog by saying, that we are going to now get back to the original question that launched this blog series, “what sort of practices and rhythms can we use for soul-care so that we end up being shaped into a people who are both oriented both human and Godward, rather than burnt out shadows of the real thing?”  I answered that question by saying, “I think they are practices and rhythms that can be narrowed down to the following four categories:

  • Contemplative Practices
  • Communal Practice
  • Environmental Practices
  • Servant Practices

In the next three to four blogs I plan on doing two things:

  1. define why we need them these above practices
  2. get very practical as to what these practices might look like.  

So, to get to the point - what are contemplative practices, and why are they needed? 

Why do we need contemplative practices?  The first thing we need to remember, is that if our soul-care is for the purpose of forming us into a person modeled after Jesus, then we have to first know that Jesus, even though he was God, did not think himself above intentional contemplative practices.  So, if Jesus modeled it, why do we seem to give it so little importance.  The truth is, we live in a world where accomplishment is king, it rules all, and determines the validity of our humanity.  Therefore what we think and focus on is determined by that which we need to be accomplished, valued people.  Our minds are slaves to our cultural environments and the demands of voices clamoring for our attention.  This often means, that our minds and souls never receive the health they need because that which is intangible seems to be unimportant in a world that has turned humanity into accomplishment-robots.  This has created unhealthy souls incapable of informing people into human and Godward men and women.   So rather than allowing our souls to be informed and regulated by the demands of a culture and life that is accomplishment and achievement oriented, we need to take time daily to feed our souls so that our souls are informing the functionality of our lives.

So, what might these kind of practices look like?  Contemplative practices have to do a lot with reading and intentional and planned thinking.  In our culture, our thinking is reserved for times of “moving the needle forward” or making something new happen.  Just as reading is reserved for the very purpose of learning and filling our head with knowledge and information in order to ACCOMPLISH!  But in contemplative practices thinking and reading is the idea of stilling the mind and heart so that one can hear the voice of God through reading and thinking.  Contemplative practices for the sake of soul care would include:

  • Divine Reading: This is not a reading for breadth, this is not a bible-reading plan to “read the bible in a year” or to learn some sort of systematic theology.  This is a reading for “depth”.  It is taking very small amounts of scripture with the idea and belief that less is more.  Read them over and over, read it as if you have never read it before; look for the surprises.  Don't be in a rush to move on, in fact, you may focus on this verse or the verses for 1, 30, or even 365 days.
  • Meditation - Meditation is taking a thought or a passage and rolling it over and over in your mind and soul as you sit still over a cup of coffee.  It is bringing it up during the day to think on.  It is getting in the car and turning off the radio and intentionally grappling with the specific verse or thought.  It is speaking it out loud.  It is making it personal.  And it is through this that we being to uncover things we have never seen or thought 
  • Prayer - reading back to God, reading prayers to God, as if they were our own; crying out to God about that which you are meditating; crying out to God about the things he wants you to learn and know about the passage.  I used to be all weirded out by this, I thought prayers were something that was to come from the heart only, made up - but if your mind is running 100 miles an hour, there is nothing that best calms you mind like slowly and deeply reading a Psalm or a prayer from like The Valley of Vision, until your mind is clear
  • Listening - This is about stillness, this is about finding 3-4 times a week and walking through your neighborhood, walking downtown, sitting on a park bench and watching the people around you, picking up an old novel (do not use “how-to” or any sort of educational book), and allow the voices and creativity of nature, people, and old souls pour into your imagination.
  • Contemplation - Contemplation is the awareness that results from reading the Bible, meditation, prayer and listening.  This is a quiet deep place, that is often filled with light and sometimes darkness.  It is too deep for words, and really too deep for description.  It is the secret and peaceful inflow of God that fills, heals, and inflames the soul with the love of God. A practical way of looking at this: the divine reading, mediation, prayer, and listening are what makes contemplation possible, and it is from the place of contemplation that we can more purely and joyfully live a more human and Godward life.

I realize, this seems like a lot - but the truth is, it’s not, they weave together, and it may take 20-60 minutes in the morning.  SIDE NOTE: I do recommend first thing in the morning before everything else can enslave your mind.  Then I would recommend another 10-15 minutes around noon for the purpose of re-centering.  Remember, the goal is to harness the heart and mind by intentionally practicing silence, solitude, perseverance, moderation, and time stewardship as opposed to having the soul and mind harnessed by everything else thrown at it during the day.  The result is a quieted heart that God can clearly speak into and mold.

In Dr. Bloom’s book, Beginning to Pray, he reminds us,

The gospel tells us that the Kingdom of God is within us first of all. If we cannot find the kingdom of God within us, if we cannot meet God within, in the very depth of ourselves, our chances of meeting Him outside ourselves are very remote