Francis and Clare of Assisi’s quest for the living God included a life dedicated to contemplative practice. Their deepest desire, in fact, was to emulate Jesus Christ. They knew from Scripture that Jesus encouraged us to “go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees you in secret will repay you” (Mt 6:6). It was through quiet prayer that they came to know what God was asking of them, and their deep relationship with God gave them the courage to leave their lives of privilege and embrace simplicity.
As a nature mystic, Francis’ many stories that relate to all of God’s creatures—indeed all of creation—reflect so much more than just lovely stories. Without quiet time and consistent contemplative practices, a leader will never be able to lead effectively. Yes, this is a strong statement, but it has been scientifically researched and both lay- and religious-based research have demonstrated that contemplative practices change our brains and our abilities to act mindfully and effectively.
One of the many fruits of contemplation is an ability to see the world and its many complex or paradoxical situations differently. Father Richard Rohr expounds on this fact in a chapter from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi. Citing Scripture, Rohr explains, “that only Spirit can hold and absorb the seeming contradictions and allow us to see and to know from an utterly new and unitive vantage point, which is the deepening fruit of contemplation. Only Spirit-in-us can know non-dually or paradoxically and absorb contradictions inside of and with God” (p 77).
Contemplation is not just about being quiet, however. It starts with quiet, but if true to its intent, over time it should result in a more open heart and appropriate action. In a recent podcast, Father Richard comments that contemplative practices do not always result in this openness. His observation is that both love and pain are required to create a deeper experience in which one comes to realize, as Francis and Clare did, that we are all equal and beloved in God’s eyes and we should strive to speak and act accordingly.
I consider contemplation a tenet of Franciscan leadership. Not everyone is a meditator, but every leader needs to find ways to connect to something bigger than himself or herself. This Tree of Contemplative Practices addresses both religious and secular practices that can help anyone become a more contemplative leader. This tenet is not solely a Catholic religious practice. It is a human practice that can teach us how to become human “beings” not simply humans “doing.”
The Padua Program is dedicated to supporting the formation of Franciscan organizational leaders, helping them to better understand their role in helping others to live out the Franciscan spirit. Contemplative practices are simply one ingredient in a complex web. To learn more, click the image below!