VALUE #3: “We need to come off our religious high horse and get our feet on the lowly, earthly ground of God’s primary activity as creator and sustainer of life. We must relinquish missionary presuppositions and begin in the beginning with the Holy Spirit. This means humbly watching in any situation in which we find ourselves in order to learn what God is trying to do here, and then doing it with him” (Taylor 1972:39).
Minding the Gap
Soul Action believes prayer – especially the kind that encourages contemplative listening with others – is how we begin to mind the gap between faith and works. In both the Old and New Testament God is described as leaving heaven to reveal His will to His people – initially as Wisdom, then as the person Jesus, and now by the Holy Spirit. In The Dynamic of All Prayer, G. Granger-Fleming (1914) explains how:
“Prayer is not so much a means of bringing God to see as we do, and to act as we desire, but rather giving opportunity to the Lord to carry out His great desires and purposes….rich opportunities [await] the soul that comes into line with the holy will of God, and has learnt the art of being awake to His delicate leadings.”
Listening to God with Others
Soul Action believes that listening to God with others is how we become more aware of His mission in relation to the poverty and potential that He sees around us. Rather than skipping straight from faith into action, or getting stuck at some kind of theoretical faith, Soul Action facilitates opportunities to listen to what God is doing and saying through and to His people.
On a visit to South Africa, Bishop Graham Cray, Missioner to the Archbishops’ of Canterbury and York, issued the following ‘health warning’ to the church, “We must be careful not think we can simply take models of church and mission off the shelf. Rather than cloning, we ought to be listening to, and following, the Holy Spirit.” He added, that this “Invitation To Improvise!” is on offer to the church, community and / or network.
Contemplative in Action
“‘Contemplative in action’ is an Ignatian buzzword” (Manney 2009). It is a way of describing Ignatius Loyola’s (1491-1556) way of straddling the worlds of prayer and action. Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises is regarded as one of the most influential books on the spiritual life ever written. He and a small group of friends conceived the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits as ‘contemplatives in action.’ Barry (2008:85) writes:
This Ignatian notion can be understood as analogous to the kind of friendship that develops over a long time between two people. They are aware of each other even when they are apart or not engaging directly with each other. Although they may not be talking, at some deep level they are in touch with each other. Ignatius’s contemplative in action has such a relationship with God. Engaging closely with God over time, we allow the Spirit to transform us into people who are more like the images of God we are created to be—that is, more like Jesus, who was clearly a contemplative in action.
Practice Makes Permanent
Soul Action values planning, strategy, and so on, but not at the expense of reliance and obedience to the still small voice of God. However good our intentions might be, unless we listen more, learn from, and join in with what God is doing, we act in vain. In an attempt to get in touch with, and deliberately reflect upon, the revelation of God, Soul Action practices contemplative prayer and informed action personally, as a team and a Network. Although the ultimate aim is to hear God in the everydayness of life, the following meditation may help some to first practice His presence in stillness and space. John Main, Benedictine Priory of Montreal founder said:
“The all-important aim…is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence within us to become more and more not only a reality, but the reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we do, to everything we are.”
For the first five minutes of silence people are encouraged to:
- Sit down
- Sit still and upright, comfortable and alert, with their backs straight
- Close their eyes lightly
- Breathe calmly and regularly
- Silently, interiorly, say a single word, e .g. sha-lom, reciting it as two syllables of equal length as they breathe in-and-out
- Listen to the word as they say it, gently and continuously, but not to think or imagine anything – spiritual or otherwise
- If thoughts or images come, they are to be regarded as distractions; if significant they will most probably come back in the second half of the prayer. Instead people are to let them float away, and – for now – return to simply saying the word sha-lom
Following the first five minutes of total silence, the Holy Spirit should be invited to speak to people’s imagination either through words, Scripture, song, poetry and / or pictures, etc.
Try it Yourself
If you think you would find it helpful to practice, you can download a ‘Christian chime’ featuring five minutes of silence to rest following by five minutes of silence to hear God – 5 silent 5 prayer