Contemplative life is not about creating a physically quiet life. Contemplative life can be lived in noisy contexts: families, cities, work, commutes, instability, illness. One need not be a monk to be contemplative. The first lesson a monk learns is that even in the quietest environment, interior thoughts and feelings can be deafening. The drive to gain our worth from activities, a roar. We take our interior noise with us wherever we go, no matter how quiet our surroundings.
Contemplative life is about cultivating a quiet life internally. Rather than silence, it requires a gentle practice of stepping back from the deluge of thoughts, feelings, and activities, in order to gain a wider perspective. We are more than our transitory thoughts and feelings. We are more than our doings.
Saying yes to every expectation or demand does not make us holy or a better Christian. More likely, it will make us exhausted, short-tempered, prone to illness, and joyless. We are spread thin, “sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” We will find it hard to be present to those nearest us as we disappear into our never-ending to-do lists, an unforgiving measure of our value. God’s gentle voice becomes harder to hear, even while doing those things we do in God’s service.
I invite you to stop for 5 minutes, just 5, and breathe. Attend to your life, attend to the parish of your soul. Whatever task, thought or feeling is at the forefront, acknowledge it, give it to God, and let it go. Repeat. Keep breathing, attending, acknowledging and letting go, seeking the quiet at the center of the storm.
This is the foundation of a contemplative life.