My friend asked me what my goal was, here at The Contemplace.
As I started to explain it to him, I realized this would be a good thing to write about: Why, precisely, am I doing this?
I am a middle aged guy. And I spent the whole first half of my life searching.
I had this love-hate relationship with Jesus. I was fascinated by the things I heard about this person. And pretty contemptuous of his followers. This is, in part, because they were sometimes hypocrites. It seemed like taking that name, ‘Christian’ was more of a political thing than a spiritual one. And the politics they endorsed, didn’t seem very consistent with the fascinating stories I heard about the man.
But, in truth, it was also about me. I was not willing to be particularly tolerant. I had this sense that taking that leap– following Jesus– would change everything. In college, I majored in philosophy. I got a chunk of the way through a master’s degree in philosophy, too. Philosophy of Religion was my field. I wanted to find out how these things could be true.
In the midst of all of it, there were these things that didn’t make sense: trinity, for example. And the crucifixion, as well: Why would God need to kill his first son because of something his other sons did?
On a night when my life was falling apart, there was this tremendous storm. It’s embarrassing to admit how the thunder shook the window panes; if I saw that scene in the movie, how the weather outside so mirrored my feelings within, I never would have believed it.
In a way, some of my thinking changed. I had a sense about how the Jesus thing could work. More importantly, that night, I got the sense that I did not need to understand it.
I became a member of a church. At that time, it was really good.
They accepted me and all of my thoughts and questions. It felt like home for a long time. I loved being there for about ten years.
There were lots of ideas shared with me. Some of them worked. Some of them didn’t. In that place, there was an emphasis on the things we do. And the things we believe. I started to drift away.
I remembered my time as a philosophy student. When you are a philosophy student in Southern California, you are legally required to identify as a Buddhist. I loved to meditate, back then.
As a Christian, all those years later, I found myself longing for some sort of practice that ran deeper than the sorts of prayer I saw done. A gulf was forming between who I was and the others who were around me.
This gulf began with this sense that I might somehow be more connected to God. But there was also a blossoming isolation from the other people around me. I would hear whispers about these old practices: lectio divina; centering prayer; contemplation. Nobody specifically and explictly told me to stay away from them. But nobody seemed to think it was a good idea to explore them, either.
Eventually, I worked up the nerve to explore them. I found a church home that wasn’t skeptical of them. And I thought about the years, all the years, that I was so very close. I could almost touch God. But he had still been far away.
This is why The Contemplace exists. Because I wish somebody had told me all those years ago. I wish they had told me about this forgotten, neglected group of practices. I wish my community had cheered me on.
I am just a step or two down this very long path. I suspect that someday I will look at this time in my life and smile wryly, and think that I was trying so hard to be so deep, but that there were lots of things I was pretty clueless about, way back in 2016.
I am willing to take that risk, though. Because even if I have got a bunch of stuff wrong, I have this sense that I have got a few things right. I believe not only in the power of these old practices. I also believe that we can be closer to God than right beliefs and ideas will ever get us by themselves. I believe that we ought to be urging each other on, toward this closeness.
I believe, most of all, that I am not alone. We feel homeless, we fear that we are headed down the wrong path. But we have grown out of easy answers and pat explanations, and we are ready for something more. This is what The Contemplace is really about: taking this journey together, toward God.