Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Reflecting on Contemplation

Ok, so I haven't written for a while, but life's been busy flowing around me, so I haven't had much of a chance to collate the bundle of thoughts whooshing in my brain. I have however had time to read a lot of books, and one of them has been Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practising the Presence of Jesus by Mark Yaconelli. I heard him talking at Greenbelt and he's an inspiring guy. His dad was pretty famous for pioneering youthy stuff in America, and it is so reassuring to read that his son has exactly the same worries and problems as those of us who have merely risen through the ranks, without inherited knowledge. He describes how he nearly burnt out at the beginning, because of the expectation that he would be his father's son, and because he tried so hard to create successful programs, relationships, groups and to do it all himself.

This book however is about his experiences with using silence and contemplation as a tool of spiritual development at youth groups. "What?" I hear you say, "silence, contemplation with my rowdy bunch? They can't sit still for 5 seconds, let alone an hour!" And that's exactly what I've been thinking as I read it - sounds good in theory, perhaps great for the leaders, but with the youth? Really? You've read my previous post, you know how I crave silence to get God's peace, and should understand that I really appreciate any opportunity to sit with God and try to listen to what he's telling me. But do others? Especially people with endless energy, who can't sit still, who've grown up channel surfing, flicking through magazines, requiring excitement to keep them interested.

Hang on. That's me! I'm like that. I am a fidgeter, I have too much energy, I channel surf when I'm bored with the ads, I rarely read an entire article in a magazine, and I have trouble reading books that don't capture my attention through fast plots or interesting characters. But I also need quiet sometimes. Hmmm.

Every week at school we had to sit in silence for 50 minutes, to make up to-do lists, imagine what we would like for dinner, learn sign language and giggle behind our hands. At least, that's what I did at first. Slowly though, I got the hang of what the Quakers were about with their sitting in silence thing. That was when I started to enjoy the chance to reflect on God's work in my life, pray a bit, and listen. I usually got pretty distracted quite easily, but it planted the seeds of appreciation. My memories of those weekly gatherings are of forced silence, with a few muffled giggles or occasional snores, but generally I remember them as being silent.

And that is why, on reflection, I believe silence at a youth group could become accepted and an appreciated part of our journey with Jesus. I've been praying about what I've been reading, and looking for inspiration for how to use it. I would like to implement some form of contemplative reflection at our grade 11-12 group or the 7-10 Bible study, and will keep praying about it.

In the meantime, however, I think God's been sending me messages again. I read this article today, after Mum thought it might interest me, unaware that was the book I was reading. It gave me real hope - the book is written by an author, and I have an inherent distrust of the advice in books, something to do with the person seeming to be more professional, with far greater resources, larger numbers. But the article is by an Australian, on the ground, in a familiar environment, with the same hesitations as me. And it worked for him!

Just now, while watching The Bill, a character has just said "Silence can be so uncomfortable. But they say I'll get used to it after a while". Isn't that such a common attitude. I've heard it said that the quickest way to be fired from a job in ministry is to suggest 10 minutes of silence be held during a service, but why? Jesus spent a lot of time sitting, listening to God (some examples are Matt 26:36, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16, but there are heaps of others). Why do we reject that particular aspect? In an alternate reality, could Christians be scared of sermons and shun them as an important aspect of worship?

Think about it, and consider why you might not encourage contemplation in your area of ministry. There are a lot of different ways to 'do' contemplation, and Yaconelli talks about quite a few, but there are a lot of others too. Look into it, don't be afraid to give those in your team a chance to listen and reflect, without time pressures or other distractions. And let me know how it goes. I'll be reporting back on our adventures.

I pray that God will bless your socks off if that's what you truly require, but will knit you a new pair when that's what is necessary.