Active vs. Contemplative

This morning, I read an excellent blog by Dr. Chuck deGroat, entitled “so you think you can dance?”.  He has started a series on relationship, community and mission.  I’ve found that there are two online sources for me that consistently (and weirdly) always align with where I happen to be spiritually whenever I sporadically check them out.  The first are Brian Houston’s sermon podcasts from Hillsong Church.  The second, are Chuck’s “The New Exodus” blog.

In his latest blog, Chuck talked about the tension we often face in our spiritual walk between the active and contemplative, the extraverted self-giving and the introverted self-satisfaction.  As someone who has been mildly obsessed with Myers-Briggs (much to the annoyance of many close friends), I still find it helpful to frame our spirituality in these terms.

Introverts find refreshment in alone time; Extraverts find refreshment in people.  I’ve realized that my preference is not clear cut either way.  I’m not an introvert who is uncomfortable in large crowds or hates parties (I love parties); neither am I an extreme extravert that can’t handle being alone and being still for a few hours.  I love long drives by myself while I listen to music; I don’t mind going to the beach or to the movies by myself; I also love being around people and encouraging them and finding ways to connect with people that might be different than me.  Likewise, I go through seasons in which I am consuming, enjoying, and being extremely satisfied, the best example of this being my trip to Australia with Walter and Jeanne.  Other times, my focus is very outward and people-focused, when most of my days and hours are filled with activity with not much room for contemplation.

I’ve realized that many churches tend to lean more toward the active or toward the contemplative.  In college, I attended a Presbyterian church that seemed more contemplative and introverted in their approach to God.  We would recite creeds, have silent moments of meditation, and the community was deeply intellectual.  A few of the members regularly gave lectures at the study center across the street from the University of Florida.  Last summer while I was in Australia, I attended Hillsong Church, an extraverted church that is extremely active in worship, community outreach and visible activity, but not necessarily being theologically deep or intellectually challenging or focused on fostering an inner contemplative life.  However, it was actually the experience of being part of this church that God ultimately used to kickstart lazy, self-focused me into action.  And for that, I am grateful.

Fastforward from last summer to this summer 2010.

Lately, I’ve been finding myself more active rather than contemplative these days, since I’ve recently joined the new Real Life East church plant on the east side of Orlando.  I’m still adjusting to the change, as my role with the church inherently includes increased responsibility and challenge.  As I’m writing this blog, a team of volunteers is going to the new campus to help renovate, paint, repair and clean up and I will be joining them in a couple of hours. Active.

I find it necessarily to still remain connected to my community at Status (a church that is more on the reflective, contemplative side), because I find myself challenged weekly by the messages and worship and community.  One thing I’ve always been grateful to Status for is the way the truth spoken there has consistently intersected with what’s been going on in my heart and mind on a deep soul level, and encountering that truth has resulted in actual change in my day-to-day relationships and habits.  Contemplative.

Emphasizing one over the other I’ve found often comes with its own set of pros and cons.  I’ve recognized that in the past, the contemplative side tends to result in a consumeristic mindset, where I’m simply there to be refreshed and satisfied and changed, with no external focus on other people.  And the active side sometimes becomes all about activity and getting things done and seeing visible change, without paying attention to the idols of the heart, and the constant daily need to foster intimacy with God.

I am still learning the tension between the active and contemplative.  I’ll probably continue to learn this for the rest of my life.  Much like the rest of spirituality, life is lived in the paradox and tension of both extremes.  I believe both are equally important in the economy of God’s power, presence and love in our lives.

What about you?  Do you struggle with these similar themes in your own life?  How do you handle the tension between the active and the contemplative?

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