The following five reflections are a way to get acquainted with the SoulStream initiative called Contemplative Response to the World. They were written by Jeff Imbach in 2014 as the new initiative was being formed. There has been some minor editing and updating, but they are essentially what emerged when the initiative began. We hope that they will provide some reference and encouragement as we live our contemplative journeys together.
Here is how it started. From the beginning, SoulStream has strongly emphasized a personal encounter with God. This powerful truth has been bedrock to both our Partner formation and to the Participants who have taken courses through SoulStream. God always loves us. God loved us into being, loves us now in the rich complexity of our lives, and will love us without end! This emphasis on a personal, experiential encounter with the God who has always loved us has truly been a grounding and healing theme for both Partners and course Participants.
Yet, while the focus on a personal experience of God has been an essential gift to be treasured, it is not the whole story of our contemplative journey. In an individualistic society, such as the one we are living in these days, this grounding theme can easily suffer from the danger of distortion. When our contemplative experience becomes privatized and focused on “the private relationship that I have with God on my own” it can become lopsided. There was some concern within SoulStream that the emphasis on personal and experiential relationship with God could be misunderstood and become unbalanced. Thomas Merton goes so far as to say that a practice of contemplation, limited to one’s own personal life with God, is actually a false contemplation! * That is a strong warning, but it serves a very important point. So these reflections became a way to open the door to considering that our relationship with God includes both our personal lives and our lives within the structures of society.
How do we respond to the God who is at the centre of all of life? SoulStream’s community initiative, Contemplative Response to the World, seeks to provide balance in our our personal experience of God at the center of all life – in the small things of our daily experience, in our relationships with others around us, and in our experience within the larger social issues that we face. Large movements such as the protest at Standing Rock and more recently the choice of SoulStream to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery (given the terrible structural evil that religious doctrine imposed on Indigenous people) have helped to give this initiative energy.
Living in communion with God and open to the world, in the midst of all its beauty and brokenness, we experience the fulness of life – both the joy and the sorrow. It also opens us up to the experiences that touch us personally as well as the issues that have implications within the larger structures of society. We trust that these reflections will ground us all ever more deeply in the truth of our contemplative response to the world.
* cf. The Dangers of Solitude, http://merton.org/itms/annual/07/Eastman14-20.pdf