Jesus' agony in the garden may be seen
in the twisted trees of Gethsemane.
I once witnessed someone become distressed when it was suggested that Jesus might have been able to tell his disciples on which side of the boat to cast their nets because he could see a school of fish from his vantage point on the shore. For that person, it “destroyed” the miracle.
And a 7th grade teacher at my fundamentalist school got very upset when my oral book report included a character’s thought that the food with which Jesus fed the multitude might have been food that the crowds had brought but kept hidden lest they be expected to share. For her, it became less of a “miracle.”
That Jesus had the common sense of a fisherman to look for a dark patch near the surface of the water and the prescience to know his followers would share what food they had are, to me, examples of “futuring,” having knowledge of what is to come. And such abilities are often associated with contemplation, serious thought about the nature of things, as well as practical application of ancient and modern wisdom.
Some of you will be relieved to know that this may be my last reference to Teilhard de Chardin’s The Future of Man, which I’ve been reading during morning prayer. This has not been my only source of meditation, as I am usually reading several books during any given period. But it has both lifted me up and caused a “downcast spirit within me” as I’ve considered his optimistic view in the light of so much distressing news in this and other countries.
But as a Jesuit and a paleontologist, he shares the long view of human history. He sees the future in terms of our evolutionary past, that what took millions of years to evolve may still have millions of years to mature and further evolve. That he could do so in the midst and aftermath of two world wars suggests we may share his faith in the future in our own difficult times.
In a sense, he too sees the fertile “dark patch in the water” that Jesus saw, and has the prescience to know we already hold the resources to address our common human concerns, just as Jesus had by providing food to eat and food for thought to a multitude.
Which brings us back to Jesus, our exemplary contemplative, whose time in the wilderness and whose prayers in lonely places gave him perspective and hope. He could see a realm beyond religion and Israel and Rome, a “kingdom not of this world” yet “in the world” and “among us” when healing and reconciliation occur, where mercy and grace are experienced, and as compassion informs our every choice, political and spiritual.
He saw those who needed “catching” for this new world (“the harvest is plentiful, but the harvesters are few”), and knew offering his own “loaves and fishes” would prompt others to share ours. He warned of trials and tribulations to come, foreseeing his own martyrdom and that of his followers, while promising to be with us through the ages.
One could say that his “last supper” with his loved ones served also as the “first supper” of the world to be, as he offered meaning to what was to come this holy week and the means by which to hold the community together afterward, by remembering through shared bread and wine, rituals and words. A recent social science study reveals that shared ritual increases trust even among strangers.
These six Wednesdays I have offered memes of contemplative prayer and of contemplative life. I consider myself a “contemplative-wannabe,” wanting to incorporate these practices into my life more and more: remembering, solitude, unceasing prayer, holding myself “in quiet and silence,” spiritually struggling like the psalmists, recognizing the sacred everywhere and in everyone and in everything, treating life as a pilgrimage, and anticipating the possible.
Many progressive Christians hope to do the same: we realize that without a strong spiritual center we can neither transform ourselves nor the church nor the world.
Like other “contemplative-wannabe” writers, I take comfort in John of the Ladder, a seventh century ascetic of forty years, who wrote:
If some are still dominated by their former bad habits, and yet can teach by mere words, let them teach…For perhaps, being put to shame by their own words, they will eventually begin to practice what they teach.
Previous posts in this contemplative series:
Remember the Gift – The role of memory in contemplation
“Peace! Be Still!” – The prayer of the Desert Mothers and Fathers
Rage to Ecstasy: Praying the Psalms – Monastic use of the psalms
Altars in the World – Contemplative vision of the sacred everywhere and in everyone
Pilgrim’s Progress – Pilgrimage as an aid to contemplation
The next two Wednesdays: “Resurrection Today: Parts One and Two”
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