I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Cheryl de Beer's reflection titled "Contemplatively Living with Questions".
My contemplative nature was awakened when I was 13. I was blessed to attend Catholic high school where one of our teachers, a nun, taught our class silent prayer. I took to centering prayer and silence like a duck to water, eager to commune with the divine presence hidden within my heart. Through school I was also introduced to the Catholic Eucharist where I learned that the reality of Christ could be encountered in bread and wine. My spirituality took on decidedly Catholic leanings which favoured the age old traditions of silence and contemplation within a sacramental framework. My sacramental spirituality unfolded almost by accident, a graced accident. I had been sent to school by my Methodist family to receive a good education. I came away with much more. I became a deeply sacramental Methodist who sought the Presence within the silence of my heart and within the Eucharist (it was never just communion for me). And I started to live with questions.
My questions deepened when I was a young woman now married to a Methodist Minister. In this time, I sought to deepen my intimacy with Christ and entered spiritual direction. Direction brought me to the spiritual exercises of Ignatius and simultaneously the desert land of dry prayer. I found I couldn't pray with the method of imaginative contemplation. I was too deeply embedded within the tradition of imageless prayer. Stubbornness, Grace and the desire for deepened intimacy with Christ enabled me to prayerfully 'walk' my way through Ignatius' spiritual pathways – his four 'weeks' of the exercises. God in His grace sent nightly dreams which became my prayer material. The dreams surfaced images and content which not only deepened my experience of Christ who speaks from within my depths, but also gave me further questions to live with. I was led to live with the images whose meaning deepened over time. The whole prayer experience shaped me into someone who became familiar with God's language of dreams.
My dreams slowly took me into the deeper, darker parts of self and life. My questions intensified. Who was God and how was I being called to live my life in response to call? I began to test the call to ordained ministry. I was a contemplative seeking my practical vocation within life.
One dream in particular stands out in my memory from my early years of marriage. In this dream I'm in a classroom and have to write a letter about who I am. My husband starts to write it for me. I then take over, thinking "he can't write about the essence of me". I start writing and it flows. I write about how I'm like a friend of mine who I know to be a contemplative, and I think, shoo…that's the first part of me (being a contemplative). I then go on to write about the rest of me – the action part, but this part is fuzzy, and I can't remember the details thereof. Life and experience slowly taught me that the ordained ministry was not for me. I had my path to live. I became a pilgrim in search of life's answers and instead of answers, was led to live with Mystery. I was led to be still with the Presence in the midst of the images that slowly surfaced from my depths.
Grace then gifted me with another dream. In this dream the dream female asked me "what is your vocation?" I shook my head answering her " I'm not sure”. She looked at me and said, "I would dance." I have lived with that question for a long time. What does it mean for a contemplative to dance? Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered the Abbey of the Arts and the Order of "the Dancing Monks"!
The layers of this word "dance" are still being unwrapped. Artistic expression – dancing with the Trinity – giving form to and giving back that which one has received from the Divine, is becoming an increasingly soulful aspect of my spirituality. Writing in particular, is slowly being experienced as a call, one significant expressive form of "dance” for me.
I'm still a contemplative pilgrim living with questions but now I'm a dancing contemplative pilgrim living my way into a new life. Roughly 11 years after I completed the spiritual exercises my husband and I were called to the Church of Scotland. We were called to leave family, friends, country and even denomination to embrace a whole new life in the land of my ancestors, the land of my Scottish grandfather.
We didn't even have passports. On the 4th December 2014 we all found ourselves in home affairs – my husband, Kevin, myself and our two children, Michael and Sarah, applying for passports. We eventually arrived in Scotland from South Africa on the 15 July 2015. I arrived with Kevin, Michael and Sarah, as well as awareness of new questions. What new dance would the Trinity draw myself and my family into, within this promised land?
Upon arriving in Scotland my heart, like that of Wesley centuries before me, became "strangely warmed". I was coming home to the land of my ancestors, to the land of Celtic spirituality where God is to be encountered in all of life and the elements – in the wind, waves, fire, and earth.
My own journey continues to unfold. The contemplative life urges me ever forward to new pastures. The questions themselves have become part of my spirituality – a way of remaining increasingly open to life and the Spirit. I thus continue to live with questions, but am slowly learning to hold them lightly. I hold them as a way to prayerfully live with Mystery in the eternal now, and to dance my way deeper into life, love and the Trinity who waits with open arms to receive me in a future yet to be unveiled.
Cheryl lives with her husband and two children in Bellshill, Scotland. They recently emigrated to Scotland from South Africa. She is a contemplative who is discovering a love of artistic expression and writing. Her writing life emerged in the process of completing a Master’s in Philosophy, in Theology, specializing in Christian Spirituality.