Wheat and Tares
On Wednesday nights we are holding a class on Zoom entitled, “Staying Spiritually Grounded During COVID-19”, the purpose of which is to offer you tools to develop a rule of life and encourage a more disciplined and contemplative prayer life. You can enroll in the live class by contacting Deonna Neal (firstname.lastname@example.org) or you may watch the class on Facebook, YouTube, or the St. John’s website. The class will run through the month of June so there are lots of classes ahead.
A contemplative approach to prayer is one which increases our awareness and acceptance of our various circumstances, allows for a more imaginative reading of scripture and sacred writings, and one that involves a great deal more listening than talking. While it is definitely true that contemplative prayer is a very optimistic approach to spiritual matters, it also involves a disciplined attention to the more negative themes in our lives. Very simply, if my goal is to accept and observe things as they are, I am going to have to deal with the fact that much of life is very hard and painful. To be more contemplative is to let go of the notion that faithfulness in prayer is always a happy and light experience. If I am paying any attention at all to the details of my life, pain and hardship are going to pop up on a regular basis. Great joy and wonderful peace are also going to pop up on a regular basis. But I’m going to have to learn that both ends of the spectrum are part of the faithful Christian experience.
Maybe the basic contemplative guideline is to accept my circumstances instead of seeking to change them. The reality of my everyday life is where God will be found. We don’t have to escape our current world to find the presence of God. The truth of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, the truth about Jesus, is that God honors this world with his presence. The more I live into my reality and my own life, the more I will come to know the presence of God. That brings an eventual and everlasting peace. But first it brings pain. It is not that we become Christians by being good; we become Christians by being present to our daily lives, acknowledging our need for help, and becoming dependent on the healing God gives to us.
Matthew 13:24-30 tells the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. The more contemporary translations call it the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds. The parable starts with someone sowing good wheat seeds in the field but someone else comes along and sows weeds. When the wheat begins to come up out of the soil, weeds grew up with the wheat. The servants come and ask the master if they should go and gather up all the weeds so that the wheat presumably could grow more easily. The master says, “No, lest in gathering the weeds (tares) you root up the wheat along with them.”
That parable may well be the most illustrative of the contemplative approach to life. That style of living and praying embraces the reality that good and evil coexist in this world, that living and dying are part of what we go through, that joy and suffering both come and go. The parable of the wheat and tares ends with the promise that later on, at the harvest, someone who knows better than us will do any sorting out that needs to be done. There is good and evil, right and wrong, in life but we’re not always in the best position to determine which is which. And we’re almost always powerless to create good or destroy evil. We’re not miserable wretches all the time but we are very limited creatures.
In some ways the contemplative approach may seem one of resignation or passivity. But the more consistently we practice contemplation, the more accepting we become of our present reality, and the more hopeful we become about the future. If I’m just trying to root out all the bad stuff in my life, I’ll inevitably develop a pretty negative outlook because there’s always more to root out than I’m capable of, and I will feel constantly under attack. If I move toward accepting my reality and looking for God’s presence in the midst of whatever wheat and weeds I have to deal with, then I come to a more trusting place as I find that God is more powerful than any adversity I face.
So much of our prayers are about ourselves, what is happening to us, and how we can find a more comfortable way of getting through life. Contemplative prayer begins with the question, “Who are you doing this for, for God, or for yourself?” Our prayers are offerings to God and the growing assumption that God will come to us. They are not little tools to bring us what we think we want.
Tune in on Wednesday nights for ways to deepen your prayer life and become a more accepting and hopeful person.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.