Don’t just do something, sit there!

Submission to the May “Connections” newsletter of Mill Woods United

This reflection borrows its title from a 1996 book by American meditation teacher, Sylvia Boorstein. As I begin a three-month sabbatical, I have adopted her phrase as a touchstone.

Boorstein puts a twist on a common cry of alarm. In its original form, it reminds us that in times of crisis, we are supposed to do more than just sit around. We are supposed to act to make a positive difference.

But despite this common sense idea, I agree with Boorstein that sometimes the best thing we can do in the ups and downs of life is to just sit and observe. Sometimes contemplation is what our souls and the situation require.

At least, I hope this is the case because for the next three months, I am not doing the usual activities associated with being the minister at Mill Woods United. I’m not going to preside and preach on Sunday mornings (and thanks again to David Faber and Jo-Anne Kobylka for filling in!). I’m not going to attend committee meetings. Nor am I going to involve myself in outreach and justice work. A lot of the time, I’m just going to sit.

Of course, I will be doing more than just sit. I plan to write every day; I will read more widely than I usually do; and I will listen to leaders of other faith communities. But despite these plans, my activity level will drop. I look forward to this time of contemplation, and I see it as gracious punctuation in my work at Mill Woods United, which is in its sixth year.

On December 23 last year, I delivered a sermon on the connection between contemplation and action. I was inspired by one of my mentors, Franciscan pirest Richard Rohr, whose community in New Mexico is named “The Center for Action and Contemplation.” Rohr writes:

“I founded the Center in 1987 because I had met many social activists who advocated for crucial issues but who were not working from an energy of love. They were still living out of their false self with a need to win and look good.

They might have answers, but they were not themselves the answer. In fact, they were often part of the problem. That’s one reason why most revolutions fail and too many reformers self-destruct. That’s why, I believe, Jesus and other great spiritual teachers emphasize transformation of consciousness and soul; for without inner transformation, there is no lasting reform or revolution . . .

When we can integrate our activism with a contemplative mind and heart, we embrace our shadow and live at peace with those who are different. From a contemplative stance, we come to know almost naturally what action is required.”

I realize there can be a shadow side to contemplation. Sometimes, we may practice Sabbath in the hope that it will make us more productive. We may meditate to gain a competitive advantage. We may sit in solitude even as we continue to wallow in the petty dreams and fears of our egos.

I hope I can avoid these traps. I appreciate this opportunity to retreat and contemplate. And I look forward to our life together this Fall and into the 2020’s. I will be back in the office on August 26 and back in the pulpit on September 1.

As members of a community characterized by both contemplation and action, I pray that we will find opportunities for relaxation this summer and that they will bring us closer to Source. May our actions to increase love and justice always flow from that Source and thus fill our lives with the joy of true companionship.

Blessings, Ian

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