Contemplative prayer is the practice that grounds my personal relationships and my work. This grounding in prayer is a means through which the Holy Spirit, when I am open, equips me with clarity, compassion, and courage to resist the Powers that would destroy and diminish life. As Karl Barth said, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”
I write about this my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization:
We are called to resist being taken over by the forces of a culture that would have us believe that comfort and pleasure and ease and looking good are the most important things in life. We are called to refuse to worship our culture’s dominant gods of money and domination, to resist the lure of materialistic values that keep so many enthralled, and instead to value human life and the natural world. By so doing, we plant seeds of hope and honor the Creator.
Prayer is crucial in this process. Prayer is an act of humility, a way to acknowledge our utter dependence on God and our gratitude for the new life we have received in Christ. In prayer, we open ourselves to the clarity, guidance, and empowerment that only the Spirit can bring. Prayers of intercession and petition have immeasurable effects on our lives and on lives around us. Prayer “with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” as Karl Barth recommended, helps us develop the ability to discern God’s activity in current events. Contemplative prayer and meditation can help us stay grounded in the present moment and give us a sense of freedom from time. Prayer can also enable us to discern the inner effects of the Powers. Regular ongoing prayer can help us resist collective thinking and to understand our own inner dynamics, so that we can know which of our impulses are based in anger or fear, and which are Spirit-led, guiding us in the direction of God’s call and empowering us to move toward creative transformation. The inner journey and the outer journey together constitute the spiritual life. Prayer is essential. So is action. In Resistance and Contemplation: The Way of Liberation, James Douglass wrote of the inner and outer journeys as two sides of a mountain, as two parts of a whole way of life:
“Contemplation is an encounter on the dark side of the mountain, in the soul. Contemplation, the struggle to experience reality as it is, in the life-giving water of the One, is the acceptance of the upward wind of the Spirit and the disciplined loss of my self-control. I struggle for the power of the powerless, where I would lose myself, where only the Spirit moves. . . .
“Resistance, on the bright slope, is the struggle to stand against a murderous collective self and to express communally the living unity of all . . . in the One. Resistance is active opposition to the death forces discernible in every modern state. The confrontation of resistance therefore takes place on the bright side of the mountain, in the sunlight of public or collective consciousness, where [people] struggle with the powers of war, racism, exploitation.”
Contemplative prayer and other spiritual practices can equip us for resistance against social, political, and economic “death forces” in the outer world. Such practices repudiate the values of domination, violence, and greed. They also constitute resistance in their own right. Douglass sees contemplation itself as a form of resistance:
“The Spirit is received through a painful resistance to, and renunciation of, the claims of the self on the climb into greater darkness. Contemplation receives by resisting. At its center contemplation is receptivity to the wind of the Spirit, but it is conditioned by my active resistance to the fears and claims of the self: claims of comfort, security, self-control.”
If we neglect to nurture our relationship with God through prayer, we lose ourselves in outward activity and we forfeit what peace, freedom, and clarity we have attained. Open me to your Spirit, O God. May I practice your presence throughout this day.