Saturday, November 19, 2011

Collaborative Contemplation

Greetings fellow sojourners! I would like to ask if I could begin some dialog with you about this odd juxtaposition of terms: collaborative contemplation. I have been asked to talk about contemplation at a contemplative retreat in January, and after talking with the leaders, we noticed that there was a strong concern for the communal dimensions of contemplative prayer. Why do we come together to do this "individual" practice? I found the discussion inspiring because I was making connections between it and the book I'm currently reading: Cathy N. Davidson's Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Work, Live, and Learn. The book deals with "attention blindness" -- a state of unawareness which is a process of learning that begins in pre-infancy. We are culturally nurtured to "pay attention" to certain things and disregard others. While this is a necessary skill for survival, it is nonetheless a limiting agent in the observation of reality. Thus, Davidson argues that collaboration is a much needed factor in the lives of communities.

With this idea in mind, it seems that centering prayer (and other contemplative practices) may be viewed as a "tool" to help one's attention blindness by training the brain to take a break from its conditioned patterns of "paying attention." My question is, "Can the idea of collaboration work somehow with contemplation to add a new dimension of spiritual awareness to not just an individual, but also to a community?" I don't mean to imply that "two heads are better than one, and with more we'll figure out the Mystery." But can we come closer to the Mystery and be enriched in the process of viewing "it" in a form of collaborative silence that is not possible in isolation?

Do you know of writers that tackle such a perspective? Scripturally, I'm looking at the story of the Transfiguration and other instances of Jesus taking a few of his disciples with him to retreat in prayer as a springboard into the discussion. I would appreciate any advice, or corrective suggestions this idea inspires! By the way, it's interesting that this talk will be held during Epiphany.....


Paul Corrigan said...

Thanks for these questions, Mark. This is an meaningful area of inquiry, getting, I think, to the heart of some very important dynamics in the contemplative life.

"Why do we come together to do this 'individual' practice [of contemplative prayer]?"

I have a few thoughts.

First, coming together to pray is a very practical thing to do. This is how people can learn to pray, since most contemplative prayer groups include some discussion and/or reading before or after the prayer, and there are usually some members of the group who are older and more experienced in contemplative prayer to serve as guides and to answer questions (or ask questions). Having a group is also a very practical motivator/reminder to practice regularly, since many groups meet weekly. Because actually practicing is essential to the contemplative life, practical "helps" such as having a group are more than just "helpful."

Second, community is central to the gospel. Though we are not talking to or responding to one another when we practice contemplative prayer, simply being together with our hearts all turned towards God is an enactment of the kingdom of God.

Anna Cotton said...

Mark, I’m a huge fan of retreats, so I’m really glad you are going to lead a contemplative retreat day in January. I’ve been thinking about your question: Why do we come together to do this "individual" practice? It seems to me we do it in part precisely because we are blessed in the pooling of our silence. Not exactly because of the silence, but rather together we are embracing the unknowable mystery of God’s presence and action. It’s our communal experience of sharing in that mystery that both unites us and deepens our individual experience.

I’m looking forward to hearing what others can contribute to this conversation, and come January I’m sure your brothers and sisters in east Tennessee will be the recipients of all you pull together.

Blessings, Anna

deenor said...

I just combined the words collaborative contemplative missional community for the first time today as I imagined the sort of fellowship that I would like to be a part of. So I Googled them to see if anyone else was thinking similar thoughts.

So I'm just here to say help and ask if my vision is being lived out anywhere other than my imagination.

David Norling

RC said...

David, what a delight to see your comment on our community blog. I love your desire to "live out" being part of a "collaborative contemplative missional community." Certainly that is what we are trying to do. Our effort at being a non-geographical Christian contemplative community is small, experimental, and tentative, but we have managed to keep going--tentatively, experimentally--for five years now. Thank you for interacting with us.

David Norling said...

What are the implications of "non-geographical"?

Bless your experiment

Paul Corrigan said...

Most spiritual communities are in a single, physical, geographical place, whether a church, a prayer group, a monastery, etc. But we are spread out geographically, living in different cities and states, connecting with one another through the internet, rather than meeting face to face (though some of us do connect face to face from time to time).

David Norling said...

Thanks. It's nice to see that there are people, living people, connecting and exploring new/old ways of living deeply.

I'm new to this MO, where can I read more?

Paul Corrigan said...

I like that phrase "new/old" ways of living.

What should you read? It depends on what you're interested in. But you might browse some of the posts that have been left on this blog over the past few years.

You might also read the page that tells about Who We Are. Also, on our page on Core Values and Practices we discuss, well, our core values and practices and also recommend a book related to each of our core practices.

Our resources page also includes a longer list of recommended books, though without the explanations that the other page has.

David Norling said...

Good stuff. Like definition of contemplative. Reading same books. Practicing Centering Prayer. Is there something happening that hasn't been commercialized? Or is that asking too much?

RC said...

David, my thought is that it doesn't matter if it's been commercialized. The commercialization and popularity comes and goes, it seems to me. I try to respond to God and others in deep and genuine ways regardless of whether it's the "in" thing to do. That seems to me to be the best we can do. And sources like Keating, Nouwen, and Merton help me to do that. Blessings on you and your walk! Rickey

David Norling said...

Thanks Rickey. It was a good reminder that the real keeps happening and that genunie silence, self emptying and vulnerable receptivity will never become fadish.

Mark Wills said...

Hi David, I'm glad to see you have found some things on which to reflect and some people with whom to dialogue here. I started this thread off as I was preparing for a workshop I led on Centering Prayer last year. While preparing, I began reflecting on a homiletics class I took called "Collaborative Preaching." I was curious about mashing-up some ideas that this class spawned in me with the spiritual disciplines of silence and prayer.

You may have already seen my reflection on the workshop here on the blog . There is an interesting link in that post to an article on collaboration and contemplative leadership you might enjoy reading.

I too like the combination of collaborative, contemplative and missional community. Thanks for engaging and bringing these thouhts back to our attention!

David Norling said...

Thanks for the referencing the article. I will look for it.

On occasion I have opportunity to teach in our Spiritual Formation Communty and it is always most fruitful when I am more a conversation facilitator than a pedigogue. That feels collaborative.

After re reading your post, the one that lead me to this community, I noticed your curiosity about the mind and will and the place of attention. These are life long interests of mine. Simone Weil has a lot to say about attention and she has done more than any one to form my way of thinking on the subject.

Also there's a book called Mind and the Brain, I think, Swartzman a UCLA brain researcher, who I hear as come to have faith in the Christ mystery... well, his research reveals that mindfulness meditation is just about the most effective way to reduce the symptoms of OCD and Tourette's. And I've heard more recently that even Borderline Personality Disorder treatment is finding unprecidented help by incorporating mindfulness meditation. All that to say that the human will and attention are deeply connected and life in the spirit is interwoven with these human experiences.

Collaborative Contemplative is a meaningful field of study and hope.

David Norling said...

I started reading Now You See It. Really exciting stuff. Thanks for another great referral (I also loved the Tilden Edwards essay), you guys have to let me join in your community.
I did the "required" email but havn't received a reply.
Also, I'm a novice in the blog tech realm and need instruction on how to contribute new material and how the technical part of this community works.

Mark Wills said...

Glad you found some of those resources helpful. Also thanks for sharing yours. This collaboration thing really seems to work! Blessings, Mark

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