What is Contemplative Life?

“What is the contemplative Life?”

The contemplative life is a life long journey to God in prayer and worship, turning from all else that could make the journey less direct. Contemplative nuns and monks are concerned less with themselves and more with God and all those whom God loves. Prayer is essential for all Christians, but contemplatives are called to make their whole lives a prayer in solitude and silence and community. As lofty as this may seem, contemplatives are human beings – HUMAN, yes indeed!

“How do I know if I am called?”

If you were to ask contemplatives to explain their vocation or why they came to the monastery, several phrases would often be repeated. They express subtly some of the signs of a contemplative call. There is room for a word of caution here. Even if all the phrases fit your feelings at the moment, all this must be grounded in a deep, ongoing desire to be a contemplative nun as a response to God’s call.

“I am happy at this moment in my present situation.”

Sensing a personal happiness now is an important starting point in discerning God’s will to a contemplative community. Monasteries are the wrong places to run away from an unhappy, unhealthy situation. Contemplative life is a journey forward, not an escape. The structure becomes too confining and burdensome for a runaway. Contemplatives are wayfarers bent on seeking God and bringing everyone with them.

“I want to give myself totally to God.”

As often as nuns and monks are questioned on why they joined a contemplative Order, total giving of oneself to God is expressed as the primary reason. This seems indispensable.

“There are many other things I could do with my life to help others, but this seems right for me.”

We all recognize our gifts, we usually set out to use our gifts, and to develop our potential for the services and enjoyment of other people. For a person experiencing a contemplative call, no gift or potential (contemplative are enriched with many!) seems sufficient in the measure the person desires to serve their sisters and brothers. Accompanying the total gift to God is the yearning to give everything for all people everywhere.

“I feel drawn to a simple life where there are others who have the same Christian values.”

A joy-filled community following the Gospel is one of the most convincing witnesses to the presence of Christ. Simplicity is rather obvious in a contemplative community with our monasteries having a simple, unpretentious look about them! Actually, monks and nuns are known to have that same look as well! Community affirms the person, giving to one another what rank, education or position cannot: the promise of love and the support to grow.