I sit with a cup of coffee on my deck and watch life happen in my yard. I take a slow walk around my neighborhood, way below the pace of exercise, in order to observe what is there or happening in the present time. I just sit and contemplate without objective. These are the actions of a contemplative life. I have meditated or sat in contemplation for a number of years now every morning, but leading a contemplative life—I have never tried that before.
For the ten days in April that I had set aside to work on the book I’m writing about the kingdom of heaven, I experienced what a contemplative life is like. I had no inspiration or direction for the book. Not one single idea. So I was left with a cleared calendar and time to contemplate. Since then I’ve really felt most unsettled and now I realize that I have been hovering between two worlds, but not really in either one: the normal productive world where everything is judged by how much I accomplish and the contemplative world where there is no judgment placed on what I am doing or not doing. For the contemplative there is only the present circumstances and what they are calling me to do or not to do—the juncture between life and me where I have the most to give.
This week’s Bible study of the man whom Jesus freed from the demons (whose name was “Legion” because there were so many demons in him) and our discussion about our own demons have led me to this conclusion: I am driven by the productivity demon, by the questions: what did I do and accomplish today? and by the deeply engrained Protestant work ethic. As I try to relax and settle into a contemplative life, as I take on the writing of a book on the kingdom, I think I’m going to have to exorcise this productivity demon. I’m going to have to move my identity from what I do to who I am, from activity accomplished to being. How can I write about the kingdom of heaven if I am driven by a demon that exists only in the “real” world?
My demon is not of this world, it is my own internalized self. I have absorbed the lessons of my family and this culture so well that it has taken me forty-plus years of adult life to see this truth. That’s how insidious the things that we learn as a child can be. They are so much a part of us, so ingrained in every cell of our being that we don’t even know they are there, even as they drive us on an unseen path, regardless of whatever else calls us. As the contemplative life calls me over the outrageous din of the ingrained world, it’s a wonder that I hear its voice at all. How many years has God called me to contemplation? How many years has the Holy Spirit tried to get my attention? Oh, I know that I have been moving along this path to the Spirit for many years, but, oh, so slowly have I moved because of this demon inside that must also be called “Legion,” because he has so much power over me.
How can an exorcism be performed on me? Will it be successful? I have no idea how this can be done in me. What I am doing is setting my intention to be rid of this demon and putting it in the hands of the Lord, who knows how to exorcise demons as he demonstrated so long ago. What will it be like to be free of the demon(s)? I can’t imagine, but I do know that it will be accomplished. Every single thing that stands between the Lord and me that I have put in his hands has been healed, so I am expecting to be healed of this, too. How and when and where are not my concern. I need only put this intention in God’s hands and know that it will be done. Then I’ll go on to the next thing that comes up between him and me and do the same. Gradually I am returned more and more to the self I was born to be. Oh, I’ll still have my good manners, I’ll still be able wait in lines and take my turn, I’ll still know how to learn what I need to know, I won’t forget how to treat others, I’ll still give out of my own abundance and I’ll still know how to be a good citizen. These were the civilizing lessons of my childhood.
But I am walking away from the insistence in our culture to be productive, to stay on the cultural track and especially to cleave to its materialistic leanings. From now on I am going to follow my Lord, my heart, my mind, my body and my soul wherever they lead.
As the Lord transforms(casts out) my productivity demon, I know that new possibilities, new joys and new inspirations will emerge. Thanks be to God.