I began exploring contemplative prayer at a very basic level when I was in High School, but it was not until my freshman year in college that I started studying contemplative practices in earnest. My major at the University of Georgia was in Relgion with an emphasis on world comparision.
What I discovered was that every major world religion has a contemplative branch: the Sufis of Islam, Kabbalists of Judaism, Monastics of Christianity, Yogis of Hinduism, the teachings of Buddhism, the Taosits of Eastern Asia. Contemplative practice is everywhere! Why then was there such an absence in the Christian tradition in which I grew up?
Delving into the earliest writings of contemplative Christians, I saw where the root of contemplative spirituality had always been a part of the Christian tradition. To the detrement of the Church as a whole, however, these early mystics were quickly cloistered and keep under lock and key when the Church hierarchy saw the great pull these desert hermits were having over the laity.
Sadly, this has been the case with most contemplative sects in every religion. Because contemplatives find faith in the question of God , this tends to upset a hierarchy that is founded on dogmatic answers.
Nonetheless, that spiritual wellspring has always been a part of religion. It is the balance to the institutionalized Church. For every Martha there is a Mary. So why then was there such a vacum of contemplative teaching in the Church when I found I needed it so much?
Well, the answer to that lay in the split of the Western Christian world 500 years earlier during the Protestant reformation. Because of the abuse of power that had riddled the Roman Catholic Church, there came an eventual breaking point that would seek to rebalance and redirect the Christian faith. Unfortunately, as human history shows, the pendulum swung to far in the other direction.
Wishing to rid themselves of all things Romish, the Protestants threw out centuries worth of tradition that in itself was never bad. Gorgeous art showing the greatness of God’s creation in humanity’s creativity was destroyed. Centuries worth of some of the greatest theologians of the Church were discarded. And finally, using the monasteries as the ultimate scapegoat, the Religious Orders were condemned and abolished.
Yes, these Orders had amassed great wealth. Yes, there were many that sat high on the back of the peasants that worked their land. Yes, there was need for restructure. But in the zeal of the of the Reformation, the baby got thrown out with the bath water. The Orders had been the keepers and practitioners of the contemplative traditions and with their abolition the Christian faith lost that entire foundation of spiritual practice.
Since then, even within the apostolic traditions that still allow for Religious Orders, this way of life has been dying off. Still, there are some remnants. By making contact with those that were left and those that had started learning on their own, I solidified my own contemplative growth.
Then in 2004, I began teaching a group of Episcopal students at the Absolom Jones Chapel in Atlanta. This group which met every week to learn the various contemplative practice I had discovered quickly began more of a community than it was a class. And so the Order of Saint Anthony was born.
It is my hope that contemplative spirituality will return to the Church. That parishes will be spiritual communities, not businesses. That the Church will act out of contemplative centering instead of politics. That there will be a place where those who wish to live a contemplative life may find a community in which to do so.
To that end, to make contemplative spirituality an available resource for everyone in the Church, our Order is founded on the traditional vows that foster a contemplative life, but they have been tempered to make them accessible to all.
The contemplative life has become my life now. I’m an urban monk and I am grateful for it. But what most people need to realize is that monks are still people like everyone else. To help take apart some of that romaticism that has seperated the contemplatives from the rest of the Church, our members are encouraged to keep their own personal blogs and online journals.
Here you will find mine. Comments and discussion are always welcome. All that is required is that a certain level of courtesy is maintained. This blog will include sermons I give, meditations I have and the general remablings that come out of quiet solitude.
For those that are searching in their own life for that place of purpose inside themselves, welcome. For those that have found that space of God within, welcome. For all who come across this, I hope you enjoy. God’s Peace.