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What Does "Contemplative" Mean?

The word contemplative has many meanings today. It comes from the Latin roots cum (with) and templum (temple), connoting a sense of the sacred.

Stated simply, the classical tradition understands contemplation as a loving quality of presence in which one is open to things just as they are in the present moment.

In Christianity and other traditions that understand God to be present everywhere, contemplation includes a reverence for the Divine Mystery, "finding God in all things," or "being open to God's presence, however it may appear." When referring to prayer or other spiritual practices, contemplation is classically distinguished from meditation.

Generally this means that meditation seems like something we "do" by means of our own effort and intention, while contemplation always seems to come as a gift. Further, the reverence for mystery implies an openness to unknowing, a willingness to be led and guided by God without having to comprehend what is happening.

In this understanding, contemplation is in no way opposed to action. In fact, our sense is that truly effective, responsive action in the world needs to be undergirded and informed by contemplative awareness.

Also, although silence and solitude play a role in the contemplative life, contemplation does not mean withdrawing from the world. On the contrary, it is a responsive, participative presence in and with God, oneself, one's neighbors, and all creation.

Further Resources About Contemplation On Shalem's Web Site: