The need for contemplative communities
Sister Katherine Maryel SSB
If the Church of England wishes to keep the religious communities in the Church, they will have to move briskly. That active communities will always be admired for their work is obvious, but contemplative communities uphold the world in all its troubles by prayer. Where are the big men who support contemplative prayer?
We need another Dr Pusey to come forward and act. More than anyone he laid the bases of the religious life for women in our church. Inspired by the sense of vocation to the religious life in his daughter, Lucy, who expressed her desire to be a nun, her early death convinced him that her special vocation beyond the grave would be to pray for the revival of the religious life within the Church of England. Like St Thérèse of Lisieux, her martyrdom was that of intense illness.
A contemplative does not sit under a tree with legs crossed or edify themselves with the answer to ultimate and spiritual problems, but seeks to know the meaning of life not only in the head but with the whole being, by living it in depth and in purity. Contemplatives unite themselves to the source of life, which they know is too infinitely living to be contained in a word or concept. Contemplative vision is an intuitive perception of life in its source, an experience of God in Man, God in the world, God in Christ.
This intuitive vision is God’s gift, a revelation of himself. In the midst of ordinary life is discovered a new and transcendent meaning – ‘heaven in the ordinarie,’ or waking up every day as if you are in heaven. This living in the dimension of eternity transfigures the whole of life and ‘makes even drudgerie divine.’ It is being consciously aware of living in the spring of living waters that flow from the depths and where the contemplative’s spirit is united to God. It gives a power to create a new world and a new life.
We see this in George Herbert; also in Dr J.M. Neale the priest and hymn-translator, and Fr Gilbert Shaw, who established communities for women and men. Such people were visionaries because they were linked with the supernatural, and had that power, given to so few, of having glimpses of the supernatural. For Michael Ramsey, today’s Church needs the life of religious vocation in active and contemplative communities where the first priority is the hidden life of prayer – intercession for the conversion of souls, adoration to God for God’s own sake and glory. They remind us of the call to holiness.
Active forms of life like going out to work and women in the priesthood have contributed to the decline of postulants in religious communities. The contemplative life depends on prayer alone. Furthermore, the religious life is no longer preached about. Sixty years ago, such sermons in church did a great work. As a young postulant in our Mother House in London in 1945 the Novitiate was always on the move, postulants coming in and going out as a normal way of life.
Yes! The Church must stop being bogged down on one theme, and if it does believe in contemplative prayer for the world, then it must move swiftly. God must still be calling women into communities – to belong solely to him. Why do they hesitate? Is the world really so attractive?