Contemplation Is Not Reserved For the Few

The theme of the Siena Symposium which I attended and delivered a paper at yesterday was Woman as Prophet and Servant of Truth. The day was an embarrassment of riches, with a wonderful array of speakers from difference disciplines speaking about the “genius” (to use Pope John Paul II’s phrase) and the role of women as prophet.

I was troubled by one comment. Speaking about the nonmarried state during a question and answer session, one of the speakers talked about the wonderful freedom of single women to be contemplative. She spoke of contemplative women standing alone before God, not mediated through family or husband. Her language suggested that contemplation was not an activity of those called to married life.

Without minimizing the value of the vocation of those called to live single lives (consecrated or lay), I was concerned with her suggestion that contemplation is for some not others. Formed by an Ignatian spirituality that calls us to be contemplatives in action, and doubtless also influenced by my years of Buddhist meditation, I believe we are all called to be contemplatives.

It is true that it is more difficult for those with family responsibilities (especially when children are young) to find time to be alone with God. But that alone time is no less important for them than for anyone else. My shorthand expression, which I used in my own talk in speaking of the lives of some of the women Christian mystics, is that we are all called to be both Martha and Mary, and not to pick between them.