Friday, September 23, 2011


In analyzing the forces in our culture that work against a sense of contemplation, Ronald Rolheiser puts “pragmatism” high on the list. The following thoughts are from pages 40 and 41 of his book The Shattered Lantern.


As far back as 1989 a Time Magazine cover story entitled “The Rat Race: How America is Running Itself Ragged” pointed out that time had become the most precious commodity in the world. Parents in 1989 had to make appointments to spend time with their own children, and technology had “increased the very heartbeat of today’s generation.” For many people back then the demands of staying on top of their careers took all their time and energy. That was then. We can see how much worse the problem has become since that time. “In our world” says Rolheiser, “there is simply no time or energy (or even the capacity) to pray or be contemplative.”  

He goes on to argue that when self-worth depends on achievement, then very few people are going to spend much time in prayer or contemplation since these are by definition not utilitarian efforts. They're useless in practical terms, a waste of time. Contemplation and prayer don’t accomplish anything, produce anything, or add anything concrete to life. He notes that we feel better about ourselves when we’re doing something useful.


“We have little time for what is useless and, for that, we are contemplatively the poorer. Caught up as we are in the efficiency demanded by our culture, we often end up like the people in Christ’s parable who refuse the king’s invitation to the wedding banquet (Lk 14:16-24). They did not turn down the invitation explicitly at all; they simply never showed up. They were too busy” (40-41). This interpretation of the parable seems to put the issue pretty starkly. The folks who had been invited had nothing against the king personally, they were simply too preoccupied with measuring land, testing oxen and going on honeymoons to accept his banquet invitation. Doesn’t that describe pretty well the situation of a whole lot of good people these days? They’re simply too busy to respond to the invitation to the Lord's banquet!


But I don’t want to point too big a finger at others either. Even in the monastery, where lots of time is carved out explicitly for quiet prayer, there is sometimes the American temptation to prefer to be doing something more “useful.” As I’ve gotten older the temptation has subsided quite a bit – not because I overcame it but because I outgrew the need to be constantly producing and achieving. I hope that in this present stage of my life I will indeed be able to continue to shed my American attitude toward productivity so as to devote myself more wholeheartedly to the “useless” activities of contemplative prayer and meditation. 

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised you didn't quote Fr Lucien in this post. When people used to ask him what he did and he would respond: "NOTHING!"

    According to society's definition of productivity - a lot of what you do is considered "wasted time." Recently another monk said a great phrase I want to share here...he said "You need to waste time, with a PURPOSE!" So I would say that would apply to you.

    I guess we can only hope you continue to "waste time" productively :)