On Being Impoverished

A few days ago I read this quote from Carl McColman’s Joy Unspeakable: “The problem is not that privileged people are drawn to contemplation. The problem, as I see it, is that the contemplative community has not yet found a way to step beyond its privileged pedigree and become a more truly multi-cultural and diverse community of contemplatives.”

I’ve thought about it for days because something about it bugs me. And here’s the closest I was able to get in words: I think there is power and necessity to this point of view, but I also think there is power and necessity to the opposite point of view: “meditation”, “contemplation” (in the sense it is used here) and “mindfulness” are, perhaps, not privileges that need to be shared but correctives. Correctives that God graciously offers to those of us too much dependent upon words and thoughts, too little skilled in approaching God in the immediate exigencies of NOW (which, as C.S. Lewis says, is where time touches eternity). So maybe the practice of meditation is not a privilege but a corrective. Maybe those of us who use it are not uniquely privileged but rather impoverished. And maybe, with a little luck and a lot of Divine assistance, we can learn how to hold both of those views simultaneously.

Then, in a coincidence that I choose to see as something of a Divine affirmation, today in a transcript of Maria Kalman’s interview with Krista Tibbett for On Being, I read this:

It’s taken me these many years to understand that a human being can encompass very contradictory ideas and feelings at the exact same time. They’re not separate; they don’t even follow each other so much. They just live in you. And for me, to clarify what I love, to do what’s amazing, to understand my confusion or my sorrow and to still continue to — I mean the thing about it is that you persevere. And so I do follow my nose, and I do have many rituals that I love following; and I love breaking the rituals, so I’m not a prisoner of the construct of my day.

Sometimes, I’m spending too much time wandering around when I actually have work to do, but I always say that’s — “Oh, well, this must be the work that I need to do right now, before I do that other work.” And really, I think, the more that I work and the more that I see what my life is, the more simple it becomes and very elemental. I mean it’s really — it’s very boring, actually, for probably — if most people had to live it, they would go, “Oh, that’s it?”


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