The Chasm between the Activist and the Contemplative

 

I can’t remember the name of the blog, but last year I read about a Meeting that decided to have a structured sharing between those who spoke often at Meeting for Worship and those who remained silent.  As I recall the two groups were paired and given time to express their views of Meeting for Worship.  As one might expect, those inclined to be speakers at Meeting for Worship had a lot to say, while those who inclined to silence listened politely and had a minimal response.

 

I believe this points to an inherent imbalance between the Activist and the Contemplative.  It is an imbalance that is difficult to see.  But it works like this:  the Activists, inspired by their causes and commitments, feel a push, even a duty, to step into a space that might be receptive to their message, and then to present that message.  Meeting for Worship, Silent Worship, is, from this perspective, an ideal setting for such messaging.

 

For the Contemplative, who attends Meeting for Worship in order to enter into silent prayer, it would be inappropriate to give voice to this point of view because such giving voice would obscure the silence which is the purpose of the contemplative’s presence.  And in any case, the contemplative is not really disturbed by the speaking of the Activists; so there is no reason to present a different perspective.

 

Thus there is an inherent imbalance; the contemplative perspective is more difficult to find or to hear because by the very nature of the contemplative life, which involves an inward turning, there is a reluctance to speak.  Inward silence, assisted by outward silence, is the reason for the contemplative’s presence at Meeting for Worship and this is best accomplished by embodying that silence.

 

From the perspective of the activist such a stance is almost incomprehensible.  In the 14th century classic ‘The Cloud of Unknowing’ the anonymous author writes, “Whenever anyone turns aside from the business of the world in order to give more time to prayer and meditation, others who do not share this interest will grumble.  Family and friends will speak out sharply against what they interpret as ‘idleness.’  Because they do not observe any outward activity, they assume nothing is happening.”  (Section 18, page 30, Bernard Bangley edition, published by Christian Classics)  For the activist silent prayer is a means to support more effective activity towards a goal.  For the contemplative silent prayer is the goal.  This is the chasm which separates the two.

 

In the 1946 edition (reprinted by Pendle Hill in 1979), of ‘A Guide to True Peace’, Howard Brinton writes in his ‘Introduction’ that the contemplative solution of turning inwards “ . . . will seem too simple to intellectuals and too inadequate to activists, the two groups that dominate our age.”  (Page ix)  I believe Brinton is here pointing to the same chasm which separates the contemplative from the activist today, and which the author of the ‘Cloud’ commented on centuries ago.

 

Does this means that the gap between the two is unbridgeable?  I’m not sure.  But it is my view that without the contemplative foundation the Quaker tradition will simply become an adjunct to various and sundry causes of the moment.  What is needed, I think, is some kind of vessel, some means, for holding the contemplative perspective and practice of the Quaker tradition; a vessel which can hold these teachings and practices and pass them on to others.  I’m not sure how

Views: 41

Comment

You need to be a member of QuakerQuaker to add comments!

Join QuakerQuaker

Support Us

Did you know that QuakerQuaker is 100% reader supported? If you think this kind of outreach and conversation is important, please support it with a monthly subscription or one-time gift.


You can also make a one-time donation.

Latest Activity

William F Rushby replied to William F Rushby's discussion 'Northeastern Anabaptist/Conservative Friends' in the group Conservative Friends
"A bit more advice: Leadership should not be limited to one person or one family.  Such…"
yesterday
William F Rushby replied to William F Rushby's discussion 'Northeastern Anabaptist/Conservative Friends' in the group Conservative Friends
"This is some advice I gave to Barbara Smith many years ago about starting a new Conservative…"
1st day (Sun)
William F Rushby commented on William F Rushby's blog post 'From John Woolman on Ministry'
"++++"
5th day (Thu)
Keith Saylor commented on William F Rushby's blog post 'From John Woolman on Ministry'
"Preface to Study Hello William In consideration of how to proceed with this study of John…"
5th day (Thu)
Matthew Callow replied to Aaron J Levitt's discussion 'Led to song?'
"Aaron, At a Meeting for Worship many years ago, my heart was weighed heavy with grief, so I…"
5th month 21
Mitchell Pearson posted a photo
5th month 20
Mitchell Pearson liked Mitchell Pearson's profile
5th month 20
Ransome Reed updated their profile
5th month 20

© 2020   Created by QuakerQuaker.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service