Tom and I are just back from one of our quarterly retreats. This has probably been one of our best ever as so much seems to be blossoming in our lives and in our ministry. Reading back over my notes from the last retreat, I was struck again by the Trappist Monks who are successful “because they worked from a contemplative centre fully present to God rather than to the business they are doing.”
When I mentioned that to Tom he asked: “What does working from a contemplative centre mean to you? What are the concrete outcomes you want to accomplish as a result of this approach?” His question was the pivotal point of my retreat time and made me realize how important it is to listen not just to what we sense God says to us directly or through scripture, but also through the questions of those around us. Questions like this don’t tell us what to do or to think, they open our minds and our hearts to the answers that God has already placed within us.
Working from a contemplative centre does not come easily for me. My busy lifestyle and type A personality mean that my mind is quickly distracted from what God is saying to me through scripture, prayer and the voice of others. Setting concrete outcomes can be even more challenging – I like free flowing creativity. However, each time I go on retreat I realize that growing my faith and my closeness to God only occurs when I commit myself to structure and discipline. Listening, reflecting and responding to the whispers through which God seeks to draw me close is essential. And do do that I must slow down, take notice and then take action.
Coming close to God does not happen in a vacuum. We all need the questions that others pose for us to guide us into discernment. Years ago, I heard British theologian John Stott speak. He reminded us that “the answers we get depend on the questions we ask.” And we do not always frame the best questions for ourselves. The questions God would have us address may rise from within our own spirits but they more often come through the voices of others – through friends and relatives as in this case, or through the joys and suffering of those with whom we share the planet. They can also come through listening to God’s creation – God speaks through the beauty and the pollution we see around us.
So my challenge this morning is – what voices are you listening to? How do you nurture the contemplative centre in which you are fully present to God?