Anabaptist radicalism and the life of contemplation

Hello good people
I stumbled upon this site two days ago while doing some thinking about a book chapter I’m writing for an upcoming publication about the conversation about gayness in the Mennonite world. Tim - did you come up with this? It’s fantastic! I’ve read through most of the posts here. I’m also supposed to be studying for the first round of medical boards right now, (taken in the middle of medical school), so it’s also one of those procrastination-inspiration things.

I’ve been rolling those words over in my head and trying them on for size; young is pretty easy, I guess - more the Anabaptist Radical part. I feel a little different than those who I consider my peers in this stage of faith. If I can attempt to draw a generalization first - a number of us might have been through similar phases of a childhood and teenage faith that was uncomplicated in its ability to answer all questions about the world and God, with reference to the Bible and church teachings/tradition; then for one reason or another entered a deconstructive phase where the internal inconsistencies of that faith, new thoughts and discoveries and ideas, worked a sea change on our souls and worldview; and are now working to recover/recuperate the foundational principles of the faith in a way that we can live with integrity. Maybe not - maybe that’s just me. But anyway… another generalization: one of those foundations that I think YARs (I’m using that acronym already!) in such a time of reconstruction rather consistently build on is the call to a life of faith in action, love in action - building/working/doing to address systems of violence or oppression present in the world. It’s a piece, a strand, of that original uncomplicated faith that has continued to grow.

All of this generalizing is leading up to what I sense as somewhat of a difference in the way this reconstruction has been for me. From the original faith of my childhood for me the piece or strand that has felt most continuous has been the personal relationship with God/the Divine. I felt as a teenager that I had a personal Lord and Savior in Jesus, and this isn’t something that I lost, but something that has rather evolved into an expanding sense of the Divine’s presence. For a way of working in the world toward community, justice, and peace, it seems that a young Anabaptist might return to the very roots and essence of his/her tradition - thus the Anabaptist Radical. But what for me, who returns to the contemplative aspect of faith? Rather than the quest for an essential aspect of my tradition, it has been a great expansion of sources of inspiration, since the essence of contemplation and connection to the divine doesn’t have any boundaries by religion or tradition. The saints and mystics of India have been central to an expansion of my sense of the presence of God, the poetry of Rumi, some medieval Catholic mystics.  I appreciate AngieLederach’s post on her responses in living with liturgy and the mass. Not that I’m considering becoming high church! - although I did cry the first time I was present at mass at the basilca of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

I still feel the call to work for social justice in my life (that’s a struggle right now, as the value system at the medical school I’m at now is centered on intellectual prestige as the only acceptable guide to a career) - but at the center of my spiritual life is a kind of inner song of constant connection and awareness of the eternal, and radical acceptance of all aspects of the world, of life.  Yes, that’s the essence of the path I’m describing: faith that has grown primarily into inner spiritual life, compared to faith that grows into action in the world.
So… maybe what I’m asking is… have I found a different way of being a post-good-Mennonite-kid than Young Anabaptist Radicalism?  Did contemplatives ever even have a place in Anabaptism?

In any case, I feel quite at home on this blog.

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5 Responses to “Anabaptist radicalism and the life of contemplation”

  1. TimN Says:

    Hey Luke, welcome to YAR! Glad you feel at home here and thanks for sharing about a different way of getting back to our roots. Glad to see you added a new category to go along with it as well. I hope there will be more posts in that category to follow.

    Good luck with the boards. I know there’s at least one other YAR poster (j.daniel) in the middle of medical school. It’d be interesting to hear you reflect more on how you deal with the value system based on intellectual prestige that you describe.

  2. Skylark Says:

    Hi Luke! It’s good to have you here on YAR. I appreciated a lot of what you had to say—I can’t relate to the medical school struggle, but the “simplification–>deconstruction–>reconstruction” model resonates with me. I can’t honestly say where I am between deconstruction and reconstruction. Maybe on some things I’m still in deconstruction, while other issues have been reconstructed. I do know the process is real, and I see it happening in others around me. It frustrates me to no end to see adults staying happily in the “simplication” stage, having never deconstructed anything. But then, maybe their deconstruction is coming a little later, and I shouldn’t judge. If/when it happens for them, they’ll need people to lean on who have been through it and aren’t jumping to criticize them.

    I also feel a call to social justice work that can’t be completely fulfilled by my current occupation. As much as I love news reporting, I also want to get my hands involved with needy people and tough situations. (Reporters are inevitably observers rather than participants.) I’m tentatively planning to take a few months whenever I get done at this particular job and go work in an orphanage in Bolivia. That should give me a better idea where I’m skilled and useful, in addition to what ideas I happen to like right now.

    I wish you the best in figuring it out! If Anabaptism isn’t big enough to include contemplatives, then perhaps we need to expand the definition of “Anabaptist.” :-)

  3. michelle Says:

    Skylark wrote: “Reporters are inevitably observers rather than participants.”

    I disagree. Yes, journalists observe, and report on what they observe. But journalists are definitely participants in the ways they make their decisions: What topics do they cover? Who do they choose to talk to, and then quote? Which research do they utilize? How do they frame that research? What facts do they include, and which ones do they leave out? What photos/images do they share with the public? And as editors, what appears on the front page, back page, or buried in the middle?

    Journalists have a tremendous power (and responsibility, in my opinion), as they make decisions about what information we receive, and in what form.

  4. Skylark Says:

    Michelle, oh absolutely. In some ways, reporters are participants by emphasizing some things and not others, as well as the rest of the issues you cited. However, we have to be careful not to cross ethical lines and become participants when that could compromise our credibility. If my sister were in court for allegedly poisoning someone with a wedding cake she made, I shouldn’t report on that. It doesn’t matter if she did or didn’t do it—I’m still too close to the story. Another reporter who could have more emotional distance from the accused should write about it.

    But you’re right that I have more power than I initially implied to affect needy people through my current occupation. :-)

  5. jdaniel Says:

    “I’m also supposed to be studying for the first round of medical boards right now…”

    “I still feel the call to work for social justice in my life (that’s a struggle right now, as the value system at the medical school I’m at now is centered on intellectual prestige as the only acceptable guide to a career)…”

    I don’t have a brilliant response to the actual question you pose; I simply want to say (re: above quotes), “I feel your pain!!”

    Welcome to YAR Luke!

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