Contemplative Practice as Service

Meditative practice has the potential to help you become a better version of yourself.  At least that is the claim from many who have made some form of meditation a serious part of their lives. 

If this is true, then one way to think about contemplative practice is as a form of service to others.  By becoming a better you, your natural response to those in your life, whether they be family, friends, or other people you encounter, will be better responses.  If a tree is healthy, it produces good fruit.  

From a Christian contemplative perspective, some relevant quotations from The Cloud of Unknowing include:


"This is what you are to do: lift your heart up to the Lord, with a gentle stirring of love desiring him for his own sake and not for his gifts. Center all your attention and desire on him and let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart. Do all in your power to forget everything else, keeping your thoughts and desires free from involvement with any of God’s creatures or their affairs whether in general or in particular. Perhaps this will seem like an irresponsible attitude, but I tell you, let them all be; pay no attention to them. What I am describing here is the contemplative work of the spirit. It is this which gives God the greatest delight. For when you fix your love on him, forgetting all else, the saints and angels rejoice and hasten to assist you in every way—though the devils will rage and ceaselessly conspire to thwart you. Your fellow men are marvelously enriched by this work of yours, even if you may not fully understand how; the souls in purgatory are touched, for their suffering is eased by the effects of this work; and, of course, your own spirit is purified and strengthened by this contemplative work more than by all others put together. Yet for all this, when God’s grace arouses you to enthusiasm, it becomes the lightest sort of work there is and one most willingly done. Without his grace, however, it is very difficult and almost, I should say, quite beyond you. "

The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 3


"I tell you, that if you keep this law of love and this life-giving counsel, it really will be your spirit’s life, as Solomon says. Interiorly, you will know the repose of abiding in God’s love. Exteriorly, your whole personality will radiate the beauty of his love, for with unfailing truth, it will inspire you with the most appropriate response in all your dealings with your fellow Christians. And on these two activities (the interior love for God and the outward expression of your love in relating to others) depend the whole law and the prophets, as the Scriptures say. Then as you become perfect in the work of love, both within and without, you will go on your way securely grounded in grace (your guide in this spiritual journey), lovingly offering your blind, naked being to the glorious being of your God. "

The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 6


"As a person matures in the work of love, he will discover that this love governs his demeanor befittingly both within and without. When grace draws a man to contemplation it seems to transfigure him even physically so that though he may be ill-favored by nature, he now appears changed and lovely to behold. His whole personality becomes so attractive that good people are honored and delighted to be in his company, strengthened by the sense of God he radiates. And so, do your part to co-operate with grace and win this great gift, for truly it will teach the man who possesses it how to govern himself and all that is his. He will even be able to discern the character and temperament of others when necessary. He will know how to accommodate himself to everyone, and (to the astonishment of all) even to inveterate sinners, without sinning himself. God’s grace will work through him, drawing others to desire that very contemplative love which the Spirit awakens in him. His countenance and conversation will be rich in spiritual wisdom, fire, and the fruits of love, for he will speak with a calm assurance devoid of falsehood..."

The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter 54


Perhaps the next time I think about skipping my Centering Prayer, the thought of practice as service to the world will encourage me to sit.  Authentic contemplative practice is not about a solipsistic focus on self; it is that which allows for the transformation of self, for the good of the world.