General CBF

“The Work Before the Work”– Contemplation and Justice

By Brian Hollingsworth

How good it is to center down!
To sit quietly and see ones self pass by!
The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic;
Our spirits resound with clashings, with noisy silences,
While something deep within hungers and thirsts
for the still moment and the resting lull..

– Howard Thurman

I had to take a deep breath before writing this blog.

Following an afternoon workshop at the 2016 CBF General Assembly led by Bill Stanfield entitled “Contemplation and Justice,” I was eager to make it back to my computer and write down all of my thoughts. After all – there was still so much to do before General Assembly was over: Visit the exhibit hall! Dinner with friends! Evening worship! I needed to write down my thoughts before they left me!

Amidst all the excitement, I found it difficult to set some time aside to be quiet, listen, and reflect. I imagine I might not be alone in this.

We live in a time and a culture in which we are encouraged to always be “on the go,” always doing, always striving, always working toward what is next. There is always more on our “to-do” list than can possibly be done. “The streets of our minds seethe with endless traffic,” as Howard Thurman wrote. And when it comes to the work of justice, time is precious, and there is much to do.

We don’t often think to stop, take a deep breath, and quiet our minds and our spirits before we engage in the work to be done. Sometimes we even forget to pray.

In our workshop, we were encouraged to think of contemplation as the “work before the work,” the practice that centers us and prepares us for all the other work that is to come. It can be a short breath prayer, a dedicated time of meditation and prayer each day, or simply finding a few moments to pull yourself aside and take a deep breath. Contemplation is work because, for many of us, it doesn’t seem natural. It is work because it requires practice and discipline. It is work because it requires us to empty ourselves of all we think we ought to do and be.

“Contemplative life is about allowing God to bring our whole self into our work,” Stanfield said. It is the process of gathering ourselves, “centering down,” and allowing our minds and spirits to focus on what is most important. It is about allowing all the clashings of our minds and spirits to be silenced so that our purest motivations and our truest selves are brought to our work. Through contemplation, we welcome what Howard Thurman refers to as “the peace of the Eternal in our step.”

As we consider the many ways God is calling us to be and serve in the world, consider this also: How might God be calling you to “center down?” What does a contemplative life look like for you?

May we each make time for the “work before the work;” for prayer, for centering, and for allowing God to bring our whole selves to our work.

Brian Hollingsworth is a CBF Leadership Scholar, and a third year student at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity, where he is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. 

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