The first time a wise minister suggested to me that all ministry should flow from a place of rest, I had no idea what he was talking about.
I probably thought, ‘it’s alright for you mate, you’re retired’ (which he was).
Nonetheless I decided to think about what he said, ponder it, chew it over.
Then, through a series of strange menopause-related episodes, I had cause to consider the proposition from actual experience, rather than just mentally.
Taking time off after a very full-on year, and laid low with post viral fatigue, I had to put down ministry for a few weeks. It was a revealing experience.
The series of false propositions that immediately assailed me were:
- The church won’t manage without me.
- I am a failure.
- Why isn’t God healing me?
In fact, the following turned out, in due course, to be true:
- The church flourished.
- I was loved.
- I was healed.
Such was my ‘great’ display of faith in time of trial (sarcasm) but I’m not about to beat myself up, chiefly for the above three reasons.
So, rest. I had plenty of it, during my time off, and in it I sensed a new rhythm emerging. Start with rest, do activities; return to rest. By rest, I mean just sitting and in awareness/prayer (call it what you will) coming back to yourself.
Because in doing so, I remember I’m not alone and I’m not in a state of scarcity, whatever my life prospects are in the short or long term. I’m entering into the presence of something that is inexhaustible, that renews me. I’m coming back to the source.
At a missional meet-up we have with other churches through the year, as we begin with prayer, we are often told, “let’s take a few minutes to arrive where we are”. I find it so helpful. We’ve got there, physically (church venue great, parking terrible; you know the sort of thing) but we need to arrive in spirit.
I think of contemplative prayer as coming back to myself, and to rest. Crucially, rest is not simply absence of activity but an inner state based on awareness of an abiding presence. When you know you’re living, moving and breathing in a warm, all pervasive, non-judgmental presence (which I call God, but other names are available) the only thing to do is to sit within it.
Having spent years supposedly learning ‘how to pray’ (all those words you can use…) I’m trying now to unlearn, resting in wordless prayer, breathing in and out, in and out.
Sitting, breathing, being aware, being grateful. There’s a sense of something already there, of entering into something already provided. It’s like going to your hotel room and seeing the towels already hanging, washed and fluffy, the bed made, warm and inviting.
That’s probably how I’d define contemplation. God already there, me being beckoned in.
Coming back to my roots. Coming back to my rest.