I am a contemplative by nature, but a rushed one. The demands of life in the 21st century – as husband, father of three, employee/manager, graduate student, lay minister – compel me to action, sometimes to a flurry of activity. Reading of some early church fathers impressed me with their strong calls to balance between the contemplative lives they preferred and the active lives demanded by their roles as pastor. Pope Gregory the Great called this balance consideratio. Both John Chrysostom and Gregory of Nazianzus, in the 4th century, at first fled the call to pastoral ministry, preferring the monastic life that would allow them to pursue the study of God’s word and the prayerful meditation they believed so necessary for holy living in a corrupt and decaying world. Yet for both of these men, the compulsion of God’s call to ministry (i.e., to service) drew them out of the monastery and into the torrent of life where they would face the grime and dirt and bruises and messes of people who, too, need to learn to live holy lives. Within this torrent, though, these early pastors sought to find times of solace and refuge where they could meet deeply and meaningfully with God in order to restore their souls and find new energy and purpose before returning to the rapids.
It is certain that life has become far more harried – and hurried – over the centuries. The world is not only continually changing; the speed of change itself is increasing exponentially. The face of ministry is changing on pace with the rest of life. In our (right and appropriate) desire to stay relevant to a world in constant transition, we find ourselves racing just to maintain that pace, let alone anticipate and possibly precede it. I suspect that most of us involved in ministry – while recognizing the need for balance between contemplation and activity – tend to err on the side of activity. Some of us are by nature Type-A, driven, task-oriented people, so action comes easier to us. Others are introspective and meditative…yet we still feel the need to perform. The motivation toward tasks and activities may come from within (our driven personalities) or from without (e.g., from the expectations of others), but the truth is that most of us probably find ourselves caught between the whitewater in the river valley and the peace of the mountaintop monastery.