Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Contemplative Order of One

I just need to point everyone to this article from New York Magazine. It's part of their Peace + Quiet segment.

This is about an urban hermit; Martha Ainsworth is a New Yorker who has formally petitioned the Bishop to be a solitary. She has chosen for herself a life of solitude and silent prayer, but not the usual sort we are used to:

But unlike a cloistered monk, who shares chores and helps generate a common income by making cheese or fruitcakes, Martha will arrange her prayer life around a schedule that looks from the outside like any other citizen’s. Week after week, she will encounter the din of the city. She will keep her apartment, shop for groceries, answer her phone, and earn a paycheck. She’ll have no abbot or abbess, and no sisters, owing her obedience only to the bishop. Martha will become, in effect, a contemplative order of one.

We have often assumed a city life is unsuited for the spiritual life. But here is someone who has challenged that assumption. I love what Martha Ainsworth has to say about prayer:

Most of us think of prayer as asking God for something: Let the surgery go okay, keep the kids safe, let Matsui get on for Posada. We’re praying for peace of mind; it’s a means to an end. But what if we prayed until we couldn’t think of anything else to ask for—and then prayed some more? Contemplatives attempt to reverse the direction of prayer’s flow, to listen instead of ask. If you approach prayer this way (and pray enough), Martha explains, it leaves the dimension of words altogether, and the distractions—even the unceasing stimuli of New York City—drop away.

To listen instead of ask. This is what silence truly means: Not merely to not speak -- instead, it is an active listening.


Ana S. said...

The second quote reminds me of this poem, which I came across the other day.

I'm not religious myself, but if I were, I wouldn't be inclined to think that it works that way...that God is some higher power you appeal to or try to bargain with at times of need. Even for the sake of people's peace of mind, it would be better to approach spirituality from a different angle.

So yeah...I like that quote. Thanks for sharing.

Ana S. said...

Sorry, that link was wrong for some reason... here's the right one.

darkorpheus said...

Thank you for the poem. I agree with the ending:

And almost everyone when age,
Disease, or sorrows strike him,
Inclines to think there is a God,
Or something very like Him.

We only remember God in the face of our suffering and mortality. How sad for us.

I'm not religious -- not in the conventional way -- but I do believe in a spiritual life. And I agree with you -- that God isn't a higher power that you appeal or bargain with. God is NOT a Sugar-daddy.

Actually, Robertson Davies wrote something about this. I have to post on it soon.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Listening certainly is an important part of that communication process. It takes the focus of of ones self and puts the focus where it should be. People tend to think a relationship with God should be something different than our relationships with others and yet the dynamics are the same. The only fulfilling relationships we have with others are those in which we are willing to sit still and listen to the other person and give of ourselves to them rather than spending all the time focusing on what we are getting or can get out of the relationship.

darkorpheus said...

Carl I totally agree with you. Listening is an act of "giving of ourselves" -- it's where you make the statement -- that I am interested in you.

But we don't seem to listen very well this day and age.