Contemplative / Active Spiritual Vocations

This is a very broad question, but ... as a recent convert to the faith (or at least, a convert to taking it at all seriously), I am looking to find some way of deepening my knowledge and practice of it in a structured way.

The difficulty is, I want to engage in a sort of continuum of activities: I want an order of life that encourages and deepens prayer and meditation; I want it to involve study and learning; and I also want it to manifest in action, such as helping the poor or conserving the environment.

In my head, these aren't all separate activities: they're all aspects of appreciating and understanding God's Creation, with prayer deepening understanding, and both serving to inspire and inform action. But in practice, I can't seem to find a single path that combines all these things.

I was originally thinking of the Tertiary Franciscans as a group that did this - but my understanding is that they in fact tip a lot more toward the contemplative/prayer side of the scale. I'm also now looking at the Iona Community as a path of engagement. But does anyone know of any other groups or rules I should be aware of? Or do others have experience of these two groups they'd like to share?

Comments

  • There are a few shipmates involved in one way or another with the Iona Community and (I think) the Northumbria Community. Perhaps one of them will see this thread and weigh in.

    Good luck!
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, Hell Host
    Many religious communities accept associates (calling them by different names). You could look for one that appeals to you, and see if they do have lay associates.

    The Sisters of St. Margaret are an active group that does have them.
  • You might also consider something ah, less organized, and look into Brother Lawrence's book The Practice of the Presence of God. This is the approach I favor in my own life, basically looking around at the place I've been set and seeing how best I can serve God, pray, read, learn, etc. given the environment I've already been handed. I find that makes for a pretty good mix of active and contemplative.

    It's possible that as you increase in maturity and experience you may find yourself called to something organized, but for a recent convert I'd tend to suggest starting with baby steps--and this is one. Even the book is short!
  • Sounds like you want to be Orthodox. (only partly joking).
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited September 29
    I am an Iona Associate as such can I suggest a book the book Living by the Rule by Kathy Galloway.

    One of the things about adopting a rule is that you need to a certain extent find out whether it suits you. The religious often talk of an order having a Charisma which is somewhere between a communal spirituality and vocation. In exploring which way to go I would suggest you listen to your heart and see where it skips with hope. Also that choosing one over another only makes that one the right one for you, not the right one for everyone.
  • p.s. I actually have my own rule which though totally compatible with being an associate of the Iona Community is not identical with theirs.
  • @Timo Pax
    You wrote:
    " The difficulty is, I want to engage in a sort of continuum of activities: I want an order of life that encourages and deepens prayer and meditation; I want it to involve study and learning; and I also want it to manifest in action, such as helping the poor or conserving the environment."

    I can really identify with this summary but I'm not sure if you'll find everything you need "under one roof". I know several people who are companions of the Northumbria Community and who follow their rule of life as a dispersed community.

    I'm not sure which church tradition you would most closely identify with but if you are in England and the C of E appeals your Diocescan website might be a good starting point. For example, within my Diocese, you can access spiritual direction and do various courses of study (used to be called the Bishop's certificate. You can also join weeks of guided prayer and contemplative prayer groups. I think for the outward outworking/ action you might need to work through a local church/ groups of churches to help with something like a Foodbank- this of course involves working with people from other traditions and so can be mind-boggling and life-giving in equal measure- and that applies in all directions!
  • Another point is The Iona Community origins are in the Reformed Tradition so its spirituality is very much activist. If you want a tradition that seeks to build individual spirituality and perhaps looks towards meditation as part of it then Iona Community is not for you.

    Indeed it is in my time as an associate that a formal private office came into being which could be used by individual members and associates on a daily basis. For those wondering the office for the Iona Community has three related forms that I call the Public, Communal and Private. The public is said on Iona every morning and is by far the oldest. The communal is said whenever the community gathers. The private is a reworking of the communal for private personal use. The use of this office is not part of the rule but the commitment to private prayer and bible study is.
  • I seek the same kind of structure as you do. I’ve found that attempting to institute a fairly rigorous prayer and meditation regime while being actively involved with local ministries has worked best for me. That being said, if there’s a monastery nearish you, it may not be a bad idea to look into being an associate. That way you’d have a community to help deepen your prayer life and guide you spiritually. As for activism, it may be best to just locate a non-profit and volunteer there.

    I believe I’ve read in one of your posts that you’re Anglo-Catholic. I am as well, and in my experience ACs tend to learn towards the spiritual and intellectual side of things, rather than the practical and activist. It may also be useful to see if the Center for Action and Contemplation has anything going on near you. https://cac.org
  • Thanks very much for all the useful replies - which have clarified for me the nature of the question I was trying to ask, and some of its possible answers.

    The difficulty for me is that, frankly, when it comes to spiritual matters I'm just a bit crap. I feel a strong urge to take vows, just because, from my years involved with Zen Buddhism, I know what will happen if I don't: a commitment with wavering peaks and troughs that tends to dip into nonexistence as soon as other life events intervene.

    I've also realised why I want these things so strongly unified in the first place: I don't really understand activism not built upon prayer and motivation. I need a straight line from heart through mind to expression, or it's just not going to happen often and will feel hollow to me when it does.

    Ponder ponder ponder ....
  • mousethief wrote: »
    Sounds like you want to be Orthodox. (only partly joking).

    Hmmm. Can you expand on that a little? I don't really know anything about Orthodoxy, beyond the little I picked up from a visit to a church in Estonia and a Russian friend's wedding.
  • @ECraigR: Thanks for the link to the Center for Action and Contemplation. It looks like exactly what I'm looking for ... but doesn't seem to have a UK presence. :-/

    Also, thanks for the observation on the Anglo-Catholic tradition. It's sort of a practical problem for me. Reverence and devotion for me ideally involves incense, bells, the KJV, and, ideally, a lot of Latin and Greek. All things I know are seen as insufferably pretentious barriers to access by a good swathe of the Church, and certainly can't help much with outreach to the poor ....
  • I worship at Chichester Cathedral which is thought of by many people to be in the catholic tradition (and our services sometimes include Latin 😊)and there are a group of us who are very involved in the local Foodbank- you never know what's possible!
  • Timo Pax wrote: »
    @ECraigR: Thanks for the link to the Center for Action and Contemplation. It looks like exactly what I'm looking for ... but doesn't seem to have a UK presence. :-/

    Also, thanks for the observation on the Anglo-Catholic tradition. It's sort of a practical problem for me. Reverence and devotion for me ideally involves incense, bells, the KJV, and, ideally, a lot of Latin and Greek. All things I know are seen as insufferably pretentious barriers to access by a good swathe of the Church, and certainly can't help much with outreach to the poor ....

    Oh dear, I should have known you were in the UK. Well, perhaps there’s something through one of the similar groups? Maybe do a Google search for “Centering Prayer near me” and that may lead to something. I’m afraid I’m a bit clueless as to what groups are around in the UK.

    Hear hear on incense, bells, Latin and Greek. The KJV I’ve a fraught relationship with, but needn’t go there. Although true that these things are viewed as barriers to many, I have a tendency to fall back on the importance of reverence, sacredness, and mystery when engaging with those who don’t go in for all of that. I also, personally, feel that the Church should be separate and distinct from the world, and these practices are a way of physically manifesting that distinctiveness.

    Now, of course, reconciling that with the need to be active in the community is one of the great contradictions of the Christian life. In my own case, it comes with reconciling all of that with my rather developed and committed Marxism. But, one thing at a time.

  • Timo Pax wrote: »

    The difficulty for me is that, frankly, when it comes to spiritual matters I'm just a bit crap. I feel a strong urge to take vows, just because, from my years involved with Zen Buddhism, I know what will happen if I don't: a commitment with wavering peaks and troughs that tends to dip into nonexistence as soon as other life events intervene.

    I've also realised why I want these things so strongly unified in the first place: I don't really understand activism not built upon prayer and motivation. I need a straight line from heart through mind to expression, or it's just not going to happen often and will feel hollow to me when it does.

    It has taken me years of Christian life to come around to these kinds of ideas, and I envy you whatever preparation life gave you before what I think you describe as your recent conversion. Good luck with it :smile:

  • Timo PaxTimo Pax Shipmate
    @ECraigR Thanks for sharing your sense of the importance of the sacred snd its possibke separateness. I always feel a sneaking guilt at my appreciation of these things, which is ridiculous, really .... and thank you also to @MrsBeaky for reminding me of what's possible. @ECraigR, you might want to look up Giles Fraser if you're not familiar with him already. He's got quite a Marxist background, though I think he's no longer a Marxist as such.
  • Timo PaxTimo Pax Shipmate
    It has taken me years of Christian life to come around to these kinds of ideas, and I envy you whatever preparation life gave you before what I think you describe as your recent conversion. Good luck with it :smile:

    Well, you're right it's a recent conversion. But I spent ten years - TEN YEARS - as a pretty serious student of Zen Buddhism. That probably adds up to something like 3600 hours spent staring at a wall - which, if it were good for nothing else, at least gives you a lot of time for introspection...

  • What worries me just a tad is that you ARE a new convert, in most senses, and taking vows can really backfire in several ways. That would depend on your circumstances and personality, of course, but a couple I can imagine would be a) starting to chafe at the self-imposed loss of freedom, and going off Christianity-as-a-whole as a result; and b) spiritual pride (this would be my personal downfall, given my sins, so I avoid official statuses like the plague).

    Could you perhaps get the "do it!" reinforcement you crave from asking one or more people to hold you accountable in a friend-to-friend kind of way? or even finding a spiritual director of some sort whom you meet with regularly?

    It might be useful to look back at your Zen days and figure out what exactly you had there that kept you "at it" for ten years. Was it personal friendship ties? vows? a public commitment? force of habit? Whatever it was, see if it is duplicable in your new context.

    And I'm sorry to inform you... the peaks-and-troughs thing is a feature of most human activities, including Christian faith, and vows won't change that. Though if they keep you "at it" when you don't feel like it, and have no negative effects like those mentioned above, they could be helpful. Me, I find habit to be a great help, and also making small-to-medium-sized commitments to responsibilities that, if I don't show up, someone is guaranteed to notice and whine mention the fact to me later. Which is a lifehack that dovetails neatly with your desire for activism--if you're really doing something useful, chances are high that you will be whined at encouraged to be faithful on a regular basis.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host
    Timo, I can identify so much with much of what you write -- I had a startling and unexpected conversion experience in my early 20s and have spent the decades since figuring out the implications of that.

    I would think about what mousethief suggests as regards Orthodoxy. Although I remained within the Roman Catholic church for a number of reasons, Orthodox writings on liturgy and mysticism have influenced me in many, many ways. I could offer some suggestions for reading, but I'm sure others here will have read more deeply. A thread on this would be a great resource.

    I second what Lamb Chopped says: don't rush into any commitments.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    When I was a new convert a fellow Christian talked to me about mountain top experiences being followed by valleys. This is what we see in the story of the Transfiguration. Peter wants to stay on the mountain, but Jesus walks down from the mountain and re-engages with the affairs of the world. And walks right into the middle of an argument. So peaks and troughs are the normal pattern of the spiritual life. We would like to go from mountain top to mountain top. But the way to the next mountain top is to go down into the valley.
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    I am on the contemplative end of the spectrum, but three things strike me.

    1. Don't be in too much hurry. If you have a soul friend, 'spiritual mentor,' spiritual director they should be the one holding accountable through the initial stages of being Christian. I had both a close Christian friend, and a retired priest keeping an eye on me in the early days, and it stopped me making a lot of silly mistakes, and got me through my initial peaks and troughs.
    2. I would suggest that you set yourself a period simply for looking and learning. Lamb Chopped's point about 'what attracted you to Zen' is a valid one. I discovered that what got me through the dry patches is the daily office; and the Office is what keeps me anchored when I take one of my rare trips into the mountains. Despite early attractions to both the Mirfield Fathers and to the Franciscans, I have ended up getting the most out of the Benedictine tradition, though I have never formalized that relationship.
    3. When you pick something don't expect it to be all wine and roses. You have to grow into it, and although you will have a natural affinity for a particular tradition, it may still give you some blisters until you work out (hopefully with the assistance of others) where you fit. Hopefully whatever you do choose will actually have chosen you in a sense, and will help develop the weaker side of your spirituality. I have to beware of two things - I have a certain restlessness, which means I need the Benedictine discipline of stability - and I am also inclined to over complicate things, which is where lectio divina is useful as although it appeals to the intellect, it is not itself primarily an intellectual exercise.

    I am probably recapping what others have said, but that is probably a good thing.
  • Please don't take this the wrong way @Timo Pax but the difficulty you have understand[ing] activism not built upon prayer and motivation and your desire for rules/vows suggests to this very cod cod-psychologist that you might have a slight autistic tendency.

    The peaks-and-troughs thing, as Lamb Chopped mentioned, is common to pretty much all human activity and while a self-imposed rule/vow may help keep you motivated, the flip-side is that it can lead to a lot of guilt should you fail to keep the rule/vow.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    A Rule of Life is an optional spiritual discipline. One of many options for developing your spiritual life. But it doesn't suit all personality types. I looked into it and decided that it didn't suit me at all. In fact, I found that I rebelled against it. Other personalities would find it liberating. When you explore the treasures of the spiritual life you can discover what attracts you and what doesn't. That's a very Ignatian approach and I really like his spirituality. Find what speaks life to you.

    Follow your bliss.
  • There are two different things I think might be useful to consider. One is temporary vows, that are taken for a specific time. This is what the Iona Community does with an annual renewal and also some monastic communities. The other is that it may not vow but accountability that you are looking for and you might find a community that does that without formal vows or acts of commitment. Giving an account of your actions and reflecting on them in the light of the gospel with others need not involve a rule at all.
  • Timo PaxTimo Pax Shipmate
    Thank you, all, for your comments. Many points were reiterated: clearly I'm drawing upon the collective wisdom of a community that has been there, and the common pitfalls are many. And then there was some more specific advice, for which I'm grateful: that Orthodoxy might be a route to explore; that I should think about where I'm weak.

    Broadly, the consensus seems to be not to rush into anything; not to over-hype my own expectations; to be ready for valleys as well as peaks; and that there's more than one way to accomplish what I want, which is to ensure what I do becomes a continuous active practice of service to others.

    So indeed, much to mull over here, and to reflect upon. I think I'm clear upon what I want; but the how requires much more deliberation.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Please don't take this the wrong way @Timo Pax but the difficulty you have understand[ing] activism not built upon prayer and motivation and your desire for rules/vows suggests to this very cod cod-psychologist that you might have a slight autistic tendency.

    Good of you to pick up that the guy with the PhD in a dead language, who practiced Soto Zen meditation for ten years, and who is now spamming the boards with tales of his sudden conversion to Christianity might, in psychological terms, be a bit odd. Full marks. :-)

  • ECraigRECraigR Shipmate
    Wait it’s cool and normal to know dead languages I thought.
  • PhD in what language? (Says she, ears pricked up, sniffing the wind for another appreciator of Greek, Hebrew, or Old English)
  • Timo PaxTimo Pax Shipmate
    @Lamb Chopped: did Classics, so plenty of Latin and Greek (though the PhD was on a Latin subject). Also not averse to a bit of Old English, though I never studied it. Hebrew is a closed book, though I did get to listen to a theologian fuming that no-one knew how to read it without “points” anymore for about an hour once.

    Certainly up for a Dead Languages reading group, though!
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host
    This is one of the few forums around where a PhD in dead languages would be considered normal, exciting, and even endearing.
  • Aww, you say the sweetest things....
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    edited October 4
    Dead languages? Endearing? Pah!!!! (modern linguist not-quite-PhD moving through - clear a path for person capable of using their knowledge to talk to actual living people.....)

    ETA: in terms of the actual point of the thread, that balance is something I've been working out for a long time, and in particular how to integrate a life which resists comprehension in these terms.

    Spiritual direction is your friend for this purpose - though as I'm training in the art, I could be said to be biased.
  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    edited October 4
    Pat pat pat--Dear ThunderBunk, you mustn't fret, your chosen language will make it to the lofty status of "dead" eventually... and in the meantime, you can take comfort in its utilitarian nature!
  • Pat pat pat--Dear ThunderBunk, you mustn't fret, your chosen language will make it to the lofty status of "dead" eventually... and in the meantime, you can take comfort in its utilitarian nature!

    Chapeau! (for which the notworthy emoticon would be an adequate translation)
  • Timo Pax wrote: »
    Please don't take this the wrong way @Timo Pax but the difficulty you have understand[ing] activism not built upon prayer and motivation and your desire for rules/vows suggests to this very cod cod-psychologist that you might have a slight autistic tendency.

    Good of you to pick up that the guy with the PhD in a dead language, who practiced Soto Zen meditation for ten years, and who is now spamming the boards with tales of his sudden conversion to Christianity might, in psychological terms, be a bit odd. Full marks. :-)

    I've yet to find anyone on The Ship who isn't a bit odd, me included :smile:
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