The dream of a contemplative church in my own neighborhood began nearly a decade ago when I returned home from Iraq with my Army National Guard unit. At the time, I could barely wrap my head around the complete and utter life disruption that greeted many of us, including myself, upon homecoming. The routine explanations of "ptsd," "war", or "moral injury" barely touched the surface of what was really happening. I came to see that the unraveling I experienced was not mine alone but rather the culture around me appeared ill-equipped to do anything other than life-as-usual. The problem, however, is that only way to truly come home is to have one's new questions on life integrated into the daily rhythm of the surrounding community. Without this, one can quickly become a perpetual outsider which, in many ways, is what happened to me. I found that few wanted to engage with the questions that I found most pressing - one of them was whether or not the war dead I had left behind were a necessary sacrifice.
As a person of faith, this turning-a-blind-eye was excruciatingly painful especially when I encountered it among my peers within the church, a place where I had and continue to invest much of my time and talents. If it weren't for some key individuals who showed me a better way, I would still be lost. The wisdom of elders, mantra meditation, extended fasting, silent retreat, and rigorous study were some of the contemplative art forms which eventually brought me home. Not home to a roof and four walls but the other kind of home, the one where my existence on this earth has some kind of rhyme and reason to it. I think St. Augustine said it best, "Thou hast made us for thyself and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee." I can't say my restless is completely gone but I can say a contemplative life was instrumental in bringing me out of the white-knuckled existence I was living.
Prior to these events, I used to associate these spiritual disciplines only with those who lived apart from society, such as mystics and hermits. I have also been known to assume they were practices only for those with enough material resources to live a leisurely life of sitting and thinking. I am neither. Fortunately, the contemplative life is not just for them, it is for us too. It for those of us who live in crowded urban places, who sit in too much traffic each day, and who go to a job we may or may not like wondering if the bottom is going to fall out of our lives. I wonder if the contemplative practices were designed even more for us because we most certainly need some respite from the quiet desperation that keeps us in a vice grip. I took a winding, haphazard path to get to this point. It is my hope that the WS Contemplative Church (WSCC) will serve to straighten that road a bit and offer a smoother welcome for those wanting to question their restlessness, their growing dissatisfaction, or the pervasive meaninglessness that has a stranglehold on our society. I am a firm believer that none of these soul-sucking realities is the last word. A light still shines.