The first weekend of October brought Southeast Texas the first hint of fall. I was excited to get out of the house and into my backyard to do some projects from which the heat had kept me for weeks. Although I enjoyed hoeing and digging and rearranging the flower beds, I knew it would be best to pay attention to my body regarding when to stop my work. I hadn’t done this kind of labor for a while and knew my body would know when it was time to quit. It did.
The first time I read Richard Foster’s Streams of Living Water, years ago, I encountered the story of a person I hadn’t heard of before—Frank Laubach—a historical example of the Contemplative Stream. I thought I knew the Contemplative Stream pretty well. I practiced silence, solitude, and Sabbath-rest as much as I could as a mom with four teenagers, working a full-time job as administrative pastor and a part-time job as editor of a national newsletter. In addition to that, I was a pastor’s wife. My husband encouraged people in our Colorado congregation to take a half day or a full day to go to the mountains for a spiritual retreat as often as possible, but I wondered how that could possibly work, especially when I needed to wash clothes, make dinners, and so much more.
Then I read this in Foster’s book: “One of the most stunning lessons Laubach learned was how prayer and work blend into one.” What? I read that sentence again before continuing with Laubach’s words, “Of all today’s miracles, the greatest is this: To know that I find Thee best when I work listening, not when I am still or meditative or even on my knees in prayer, but when I work listening and co-operating.”
Could it be? Was it possible to work listening and become a true contemplative? I remembered trying to get a newsletter article written when the pipes at the church office froze during a cold, Colorado winter and I had to figure out how to get them thawed. I considered the time my husband was away on sabbatical and I was at the church building alone only to find a homeless man had broken in and was living in the basement. How could I manage all of these things and care for responsibilities, much less write, think, and pray? But I did, and I remembered how close to God I felt when I paid attention to the presence of the Spirit while crazy things were going on around me.
Just like paying attention to my body when working outside on that gorgeous October day a few days ago, I have been reflecting on Laubach’s words for years, learning that I can also pay attention to the Spirit when caring for the things in my busy life that I love. I try never to forget the importance of this lesson.
These days, I have more time for silence, solitude, and Sabbath-rest, but there is still work to do. As I work, I often think of the words of Richard Foster and Frank Laubach and rejoice that I too can learn to be a working contemplative, listening to and co-operating with God, even while hoeing and digging.
Today’s post is written by Dr. Becky Towne, Associate Academic Dean, at Houston Graduate School of Theology.