What can rugby teach us about contemplative practices?
There's something that speaks to my "inner barbarian" when sports are raw and tough and men get stitched up on the side of the field and thrown back in the game. That's why my two favourite sports are rugby and ice hockey. There's no place for fake injuries or divas in rugby; the game is too fast, too rough, and too messy... kind of like life. There's no time to sit on the sidelines and catch your breath.
When it comes to spirituality and contemplative practices, I am definitely in the "Martha" camp rather than "Team Mary" (see Luke 10). Who has time to sit at Jesus' feet? There are jobs to do, bills to pay, families to take care of, household chores screaming for attention, and endless other obligations! How do I justify just "being" with Jesus when there is so much on my to do list? Besides, doesn't the Bible say we are to be good stewards of our time and resources?
This is where rugby comes in. I won't go into the details of the game, so if you don't live in a rugby-playing country, don't worry! All you need to know is that there is a formation called a "scrum" where the two teams face each other and the ball is fought for through the combined sheer weight of the players. The two teams crouch down and face each other, and the referee says, "Touch. Pause. Engage." The teams must show that they are close enough to touch, there is a brief pause, and then the teams engage in battle.
When it comes to daily life, we are always touching and engaging the world in a multitude of contexts. From our jobs and our families to our neighbours and friends, we are in a constant battle touching and engaging the world for the Kingdom of God
But how often do we pause? How do we even know we're in the right position or engaging most effectively if we don't slow down once in a while? If we don't stop and listen to our Captain, how will we know what his directions are?
Contemplative practices are not so much about prayer and Bible study (though they do include that) as they are about anchoring one's soul in the unconditional love of God and moving forward from there into service and fruitfulness. We cannot give to others what we have not received ourselves.
Trevor Hudson, in his book The Cycle of Grace, says that in order to be fruitful we must first begin with acceptance (God's unconditional love), move on to sustenance (sustaining our relationship with God), and finally significance (in Christ, which includes our particular vocation). Only then will we truly bear fruit for the Kingdom. So often, though, we've gotten it backwards: if I do a lot of things in ministry, I will find significance, which will sustain me and lead to God's acceptance of me.
That, dear friends, is a good strategy for burnout!
The first time I was forced to went on a silent retreat, I thought I was going to die. I'm an introvert by nature, but even so, the thought of being silent for 24 hours just being and listening to God was less-than-appealing.
The first few hours my mind was spinning out of control and my thoughts were infiltrated with everything from meal-planning ("Do I have enough cheese to make that dish?") to my primary school bicycle lock combination (42-28-6... hey, I still remember it!) to my neighbour's interesting habit of jumping on a trampoline while drinking beer ("How does he do that... and why?").
The next few hours I slept.
I spent the fifth and sixth hours imagining I was a sloth hanging from a tree, so still that algae was beginning to grow on my fur and slowly engulf me. Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I shouted at God (silently, of course), "I can't do this! My mind is too cluttered, there are a million things I need to do, I don't have time to just sit here, and I'm not a nun in a cloister, okay?"
And that's when God replied, "Aah, now we're getting somewhere!"
Thus began a beautiful journey of learning to come to God as I am and how I am, and letting him meet me there. In dropping all of my pretenses, masks, and agendas, standing before the Holy One at what I thought was my "worst", I discovered a grace and love deeper than I had ever known before. It was only when I emptied myself of me that God could fill me and from the overflow of His love guide me to a place of ministry that was life-giving and fruit-bearing.
These days I crave that intimacy. I need to be filled with God and emptied of me, anchoring my soul in his love and grace. And while I don't always have time for a silent retreat, I surely have a bit of time each day to pause with Jesus and be.
If you are new to contemplative practices and want to try your hand at them, we've got a few exercises to help you get started. And the good news is, you don't have to go on a silent retreat, join a cloister, or even play rugby!
>> Annie Erickson and her husband, Dan, live in Tshwane, South Africa where they minister to churches and church leaders. Click here to read more about their work.