One of my favorite things to do is going to visit museums. Now that I am married, I get to drag my partner Blair along with me. Recently we visited the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, which, if you are ever in Fort Worth, you should go and check out (fo’ free!).
I love the larger landscape paintings, masterpieces like “Yosemite Valley” by Albert Bierstadt, and could stare at them for hours. Blair, on the other hand, is not so much a fan of landscapes. Rather, she was drawn to a detailed close up of a red cannas flower by Georgia O’Keefe. We each enthusiastically called the other over to share what we loved in our favorite paintings. While we could acknowledge the beauty in each other’s landscape and flower and we were not naturally drawn to them, we could experience the beauty of each through the other person.
Why was I drawn to paintings of landscapes and Blair to flowers? What did each painting mean to us individually? Our experiences lay at the heart of these questions. We experience things differently as human beings, which is a beautiful, if complex, thing.
When we talk about how we each experience God, there will be uniquely beautiful images we hold personally, and yet we are called to share our faith not solely as individuals but as a collective community. It’s as if God has made the earth as a museum and we each bring our existence as our work of art, and look to express our beauty, complexities, and strokes that embody who we are while at the same time looking to observe the beauty, complexity, and strokes of others.
Contemplation gives us a significant way to exploring our individual experience. Through contemplation we journey to find those thin spiritual places where God’s incarnate grace is found within us, around us, and in others. But, to see ourselves, we have to find a way back to ourselves.
As Elaine Heath describes in her book, The Mystic Way of Evangelism, “Through contemplative prayer we can find the path toward healing. I have come to think of it as ‘homing’ prayer. This kind of prayer leads me home to God and to my true self, and it opens ways for me to welcome others into the home of my life. Ultimately, contemplative prayer leads to hospitality, the radical mercy of God extended in human community.”
For some, a contemplative experience may be found in nature: looking at a tree and receiving what is being offered in the wind swaying the leaves and branches. For others it could be listening to hymns or other music and feeling a deep resonance with the words and tunes. Perhaps it is in silence—shedding the many to-do’s and responsibilities we lug behind us and letting it all go to simply sit and saturate in the sacredness of God’s Spirit paying attention to our breath.
Or, it could be that we find contemplation by looking at art, at landscapes… flowers… and much, much more.
Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:
This is an excerpt from the Clarify curriculum available in our store:
This week choose a time during the week when you can practice Contemplative Walking. After you have chosen a time, follow the suggestions on page 94 in, Come & See, for Contemplative Walking:
Find a place where you can have relative quiet and space for walking, such as a park or an empty church. Stand motionless, begin a deep rhythm of breathing and let yourself become relaxed in body, mind, and spirit. When you feel that you are centered, slowly begin walking, taking small steps and keeping your feet roughly parallel with your shoulders. Walk slowly, with a rhythm that allows your feet to alternate touching the ground without stopping between steps…Continue your deep breathing as you walk.
Remember that each step is the only step, and that each moment is the only moment to be in the presence of God. Be aware of each foot's gentle contact with the earth, carpet, or floor. Relax your mind and become aware of objects that appear as you walk, but do not try to evaluate or analyze them. Let them be what they are as you encounter them…
When distractions or thoughts appear, try counting the number of steps you take as you inhale and exhale. This may help restore you to a relaxed attentiveness. When you wish to end the walking, stop and continue your deep breathing for a minute or two. Offer thanks to God and resume your other activities. Contemplative walking can be very short, but it is best to allow fifteen to twenty minutes.”*
*Adapted from: David Keller, Come & See: The Transformation of Personal Prayer. (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 2009), 94.
Elaine A Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008).