Seven gestures of contemplation

New Order Voice

May 11, 2011 | Viewpoints
by Aiden Enns |
Aiden Enns

I find hope as I tend to my mystical side. As a youth growing up in church, I did this through prayer. But, in spite of my earnestness, it often felt formulaic and contrived.

In my journey since then, I’ve been through a desert of no prayer and drab contact with God. I’ve been through a hall of mirrors where every appeal to the divine seemed only a flat reflection of myself. Now I’m in a foreign land where language fails me: I trust it is possible to interact with God, but I do so through posture and gestures.

In a recent issue of Geez, where I serve as editor, we focussed on the inner work needed for outer change. Associate editor Bre Woligroski wrote a little booklet (the size of a business card!) to go with that issue called, A Beginner’s Journey into Contemplation.

I’d like to reflect here on seven things she suggests we do to invigorate a life of prayer:

1. Breathe. When I’m full of anxiety, I often recall the platitude, “Just live in the moment,” which echoes Jesus’ admonition to not worry about tomorrow. That’s fine advice, but how do you do this? A simple guide can be our breath. As we sit still, close our eyes and “watch” our breath come and go, we are able to set aside, or sit beneath, the flurry of thoughts and emotions that normally cause anxiety. This quietness can become a place of conversation with God or a time to simply dwell in the presence of Life Itself.

2. Slow down. In his classic Christian text, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster names “hurry” as the a major adversary to the spiritual life. Often I want to get several things done at once. But when I resist the temptation of distraction, allow myself to slow down, accept the feeling of being less productive, I enter a more contemplative space.  

3. Notice. I’m come to realize that, really, all we have is everyday ordinary things. As I notice the ordinary, I appreciate the transcendent dimension. Our culture of spectacle will have us believe otherwise: that the exceptional is amazing. That’s a lure away from the fullness of emptiness, or the splendour of ordinariness. “The transcendent is disclosed in what is wonderfully familiar: bread, wine, fire, ash, earth, water, oil, tears, seeds, songs, feasting and fastings,” says Gertrude Mueller Nelson in her book, To Dance with God: Family, Ritual and Community Celebration.

4. Write. To keep a journal—to write down thoughts, feelings, observations and insights—is to pause, acknowledge and nurture that which happens within us. This is not an essential practice, but it can be very helpful. It’s better to notice more, judge less.

5. Pray. Be mindful of something more than yourself. “Dwell in confidence. Trust in the divine,” writes Woligroski. In his book, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer, Richard Rohr assures us that words are secondary, “Prayer lives in a spacious place. It is free of personal needs or meanings or even interpretations.”

6. Make. The simple act of creating—it could be making a meal, a postcard, a table or a sock—is an offering to the world. The process of making something can lift the soul; creativity is the midwife of joy; it also reflects the Spirit of creation.

7. Rest. For us Mennonites, this feels like a sin. To do nothing feels irresponsible, unproductive and wasteful. Yet this is the great insight of the sabbath principle: when we stop and force ourselves to rest, we discover a priority higher than productivity. We acknowledge our dependence on God, or the forces beyond our control. Harmony can be restored when we allow ourselves—even oblige ourselves—the time to rest.

Aiden Enns is a member of Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg and the editor of Geez magazine. He can be reached at

Aiden Enns

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I am glad to see a connection between Mennonites and mysticism/contemplation. Thank you for this article.

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