Being a Contemplative in Action

The phrase “contemplative in action” is a commonly-used description of Ignatian or Jesuit spirituality. It conveys the idea the contemplation is fulfilled by action, that prayer is complemented by our actions of love in the world.

It also conveys something about how we are in the world. I read a wonderful statement that conveys beautifully what that means. It is posed in the form of a question I read in a back issue of Listen, a newsletter for spiritual directors. The question is:

Is it possible to be alive, active in the world, and yet have such calm, such kind of inner openness and presence that one can lead a life, at least in part, that is an expression of that quality of meditative quiescence that’s one the one hand quite alert and on the other hand, completely at ease, completely at rest?

Although framed as a question (the answer to which is yes), it lays out some qualities that describe one who is a contemplative in action: Alive. Active in the world. Possessing an inner openness and presence. Alert. Completely at ease. Completely at rest.

Some of those sound, at first blush, to be contradictory. But they really aren’t. At our best, when we are being contemplatives in action we can be, at one and the same time, active and alert (being Christ in the world) and at ease and at rest (secure in God’s presence in and with us). Busy with our hands, but peaceful in our hearts.

I say “at our best” because we don’t manage to unite those seemingly contradictory elements all the time…maybe not even most of the time. But it is a worthy goal.