Material Statement

Contemplation is core to a life of discipleship.

Path Point Contributors:
Dorcas Cheng-Touzun · Drew Jackson · Julius Shumpert · Mondo Scott · Nilwona Nowlin · Osheta Moore · Phung Banh

Art By:

Julius Shumpert

Read Bio

Artist Statement

“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb…” (John 20:11)

A challenging aspect of contemplative activism is separating your stand for justice from your identity, especially if your stance is in defense of a part of your identity. In our culture, faithfully fighting against injustice can be seen as choosing victimhood. This was my thinking behind the previous artwork in the Myth path point of this StoryArc.

But contemplative activism offers a healthier approach: the act of seeing into. Contemplative activism sees into your reality through the lens of faith, helping you to recognize that it all comes from the same source.

At the memorial service for Rachel Held Evans, pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber shared why Mary Magdalene saw angels at Jesus’s tomb on Easter morning, when the disciples could only see dirty grave clothes. Mary was used to seeing in the dark. While working on this artwork, I thought about the hope displayed by Mary Magdalene. Despite her grief and pain, she chose to see into dead places and look for signs of light.

As human beings, we are all complicated. We have different backgrounds, are raised in different parts of the world, and are fueled by different worldviews. Naturally, there will be disagreement and conflict on the road to understanding. But contemplative activism allows us to see into those who oppose or harm us for any signs of light.

This is the challenge Jesus gave when he instructed us to “love our enemies.” Even when change and understanding seem impossible, Jesus challenges us to choose to look deeper. If your “enemies” forget the light that is in them, be the reminder for them. You are not a victim. Instead, you have been primed with a vision of a better world.

Contemplation | Reflection

Opening Contemplative Practice: Open Hands, Closed Hands

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore, PAX’s spiritual director, is a Black, Southern, everyday peacemaker. She serves as community life pastor at Roots Moravian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Osheta is the author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, and Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, on anti-racism peacemaking.

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore, PAX’s spiritual director, is a Black, Southern, everyday peacemaker. She serves as community life pastor at Roots Moravian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Osheta is the author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, and Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, on anti-racism peacemaking.

When we engage with social activism, it can be tempting to hold on tightly to everything we care about–social issues, people, organizations, strategies, and more. But the contemplative life challenges us to release all of that to God, the ultimate author of justice and righteousness. PAX spiritual director Osheta Moore walks us through this practice of open hands, closed hands, as we learn how to let go.

0:00
0:00

Art By:

Artist

Mondo Scott

Read Bio
Nilwona Nowlin

Nilwona Nowlin

​​Nilwona Nowlin is a redemptive artist who uses her creative abilities to bring about God’s shalom in individuals and communities. When not hopping on Sankofa buses, she serves on the ministerial team at Kingdom Covenant Church Chicago, as a chaplain at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, as a CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) board member, and–most importantly–as a daughter, sister, and aunty. Nilwona has an MDiv and a certificate in justice ministry from North Park Theological Seminary and a masters in nonprofit administration from North Park University.

Nilwona Nowlin

Nilwona Nowlin

​​Nilwona Nowlin is a redemptive artist who uses her creative abilities to bring about God’s shalom in individuals and communities. When not hopping on Sankofa buses, she serves on the ministerial team at Kingdom Covenant Church Chicago, as a chaplain at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, as a CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) board member, and–most importantly–as a daughter, sister, and aunty. Nilwona has an MDiv and a certificate in justice ministry from North Park Theological Seminary and a masters in nonprofit administration from North Park University.

I often joke that Jesus is If Jesus, God incarnate, thought it was important to pray before engaging in ministry, who are we to minimize the importance of prayer in our ministry endeavors?an introvert because he was always slipping away from the crowds to be alone and recharge. Being around people 24/7 would wear out even the most outgoing of extroverts.

While we may not know where Jesus falls on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, his disappearing acts reveal a pattern that should catch the eye of anyone who identifies as a Christ-follower. Though Jesus engaged in many activities and events, he just as frequently spent time doing things that we might consider not very productive: praying, reflecting, resting, and refreshing himself. What we now call contemplative practices were deeply interwoven with ministry in Jesus’s life.

Prayer as Preparation

This pattern of action and contemplation begins even before the start of Jesus’s public ministry. All four Gospels contain the account of John baptizing Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34), but Luke mentions that after Jesus was baptized—but before the Holy Spirit and God affirm him—he was praying. Immediately afterwards, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, where he fasted for forty days. This was a time of testing but also contemplation. Jesus was tempted by the devil three times; each time, he overcame the Devil’s temptations with Scripture.

Jesus continued to pray before significant ministry moments, including before the selection of the twelve apostles. Luke 6:12 says that Jesus went up to the mountain and prayed all night before selecting the twelve disciples who would work most closely with him and ultimately be entrusted with spreading the gospel to the world. Notice that Jesus didn’t immediately send the disciples out. They were part of the multitude of people who had been following Jesus for some time, and they had witnessed some significant miracles (Luke 6:12-16). Yet Jesus still spent substantial time preparing and equipping them before sending them out.

In every Gospel, Jesus regularly took time to pray before engaging in major acts of ministry (Matt. 14:23, 26:36; Mark 14:32; Luke 5:16). The twelve disciples didn’t always understand what Jesus was doing or why. But they did recognize that prayer was important to him. After a failed attempt to heal a boy possessed by a demon, the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn’t heal the boy like he could (Mark 9:14-28). Jesus answered, “This kind can come out only through prayer” (Mark 9:29). After watching Jesus pray regularly and seeing the fruit of that prayer, the twelve disciples didn’t ask Jesus how to do miracles but how to pray (Luke 11:1).
Being intentional about sleep can be an act of faith. But it also ensures we are mentally and physically fit enough to continue the work God has called us to.
If Jesus, God incarnate, thought it was important to pray before engaging in ministry, who are we to minimize the importance of prayer in our ministry endeavors? In addition to Jesus’s teachings on prayer (Matt. 6:5-15; Luke 11:1-11), many passages in the Old and New Testaments emphasize the importance of prayer (1 Sam. 1:10-16; Dan. 6; 1 Thess. 5:16-18; James 5:13-16). A regular prayer life keeps us connected to God and in tune with the Spirit.

Often, we make plans first and then ask God to bless them. But when we are connected to God through prayer, we receive more guidance in the planning process and can be more confident that the work, whether ministry or other kingdom work, honors God (Prov. 19:21; Ps. 127:1). There are also physical and emotional benefits to prayer. A regular prayer life can reduce stress, increase empathy, and build relationships.

Sleep as Faith

Another important contemplative rhythm Jesus demonstrates is sleep.

The Gospels tell us that, after a long day of preaching and doing miracles, Jesus and the twelve disciples got into a boat to travel across the Sea of Galilee. Shortly after, a violent storm hit. Wind whipped water all over, and the seasoned fishermen frantically worked to keep the boat from sinking. Where was Jesus during all this? Helping to scoop out water? Trying to stabilize the sail before it was torn to shreds? No, Jesus was asleep (Matt. 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25).

Being busy and active without properly resting has become a badge of honor in many societies. Christians and non-Christians alike proudly proclaim, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-seeing. We can trust the God who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Ps. 121:3-4) to hold our lives together while we take a short nap or aim for a full night’s sleep. If we truly believe this, then we can lie down and sleep in peace (Ps. 4:8).

In addition, science has shown that sleep directly impacts our mental and physical health. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep “stimulates the areas of the brain that help with learning and is associated with increased production of proteins.” Deep sleep, a stage of non-REM sleep, strengthens our memories and immune systems. It also contributes to heart health, tissue and muscle repair, hormonal balance, and metabolism.

Solitude helps ensure that we are prioritizing God’s voice over the voices of other people.Broken systems in our world have created a context in which rest is something only the privileged can afford. But rest can come in many forms. While you may not be able to afford a weekend getaway, perhaps you can spend a few minutes in a local park. Or you can take some time simply to do something unproductive, be still and decompress, or create a safe space for yourself.

Being intentional about sleep can be an act of faith. But it also ensures we are mentally and physically fit enough to continue the work God has called us to. When we consider all of this, we can see rest as the gift from God that it truly is.

Reflection as Wisdom

The path of discipleship requires that we be willing to learn and grow in knowledge and wisdom.  A model of learning in clinical pastoral education (CPE) is action/reflection/new action. In other words, you try an action, reflect on it, and try a new action based on what you learned. Organizations use a similar model when they take time to debrief what went well and what could have been improved after a program or event. This also resembles the scientific method: A hypothesis is created and tested. If the test doesn’t produce the expected results, data is reviewed. A new hypothesis is created, and the process starts over.

All these models have one thing in common: a time of reflection. After exhausting public ministry events, Jesus consistently spent extra time with the twelve disciples, sharing wisdom and insight that only they were privy to (Mark 4:10-11, 34; John 13:12-17). It was typical for disciples to live with their teacher; they were together even in the mundane moments. As such, Jesus was teaching the disciples even when he wasn’t actively teaching, and they were constantly learning.

Times of reflection allow us to celebrate successes and incorporate helpful strategies into our ministry. Reflection also empowers us to learn from our not-so-successful experiences, growing our humility as we ask for help. This can be done with others, but it is also important to do so in solitude, as Jesus did. Solitude helps ensure that we are prioritizing God’s voice over the voices of other people. Time by ourselves has
also been found to focus our attention, increase productivity, make us better friends, and encourage creativity.

Refreshment as Rootedness

Lastly, times of refreshment—hobbies or activities you enjoy alone or with others—are also important in the life of a disciple. Jesus attended a lot of social events, from the wedding at Cana to numerous dinners with his disciples and even tax collectors (Matt. 9:9-13; Luke 7:36-50). Yes, ministry was happening at these events, but God created us to be social beings. Taking time to experience joy and connect with others uniquely nourishes our souls. We are more self-aware and grounded as a result, and gain strength and encouragement that allow us to continue to serve.

Only when we are fully ourselves and fully nourished can we give our full selves in service of the kingdom.
Jesus’s life on earth offers a beautifully balanced picture of contemplative activism. In addition to teaching and healing, Jesus prioritized prayer, rest, reflection, and refreshment. He engaged in spiritual practices to prepare for and learn from ministry. He always made time for solitude and for connecting with others through meaningful conversations and social events. To be more Christlike, therefore, means to consider our holistic needs—spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, and social—even as we pursue ministry. Only when we are fully ourselves and fully nourished can we give our full selves in service of the kingdom.

VIEW FULL TEXTCLOSE full story

Art By:

Artist

Mondo Scott

Read Bio

Mondo Scott is a co-founder of PAX and served as its creative director for five years. His other creative side hustles include design, photography and mentoring urban youth in the digital arts at AMP Los Angeles, where he serves on the Board of Directors. He also serves on the pastoral team at Ecclesia Hollywood in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife Salena and daughter Selah.

Poetry | Inspiration

When I Sit Down

Drew Jackson

Drew Jackson

Drew Jackson is the author of two collections of poetry, God Speaks Through Wombs and Touch the Earth, poetic and theological engagements with the Gospel of Luke. Drew is a co-founder of Pax and serves as the chair of Pax's board of directors. He is currently on staff with the Center for Action and Contemplation. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Genay, and their twin daughters, Zora and Suhaila.

Drew Jackson

Drew Jackson

Drew Jackson is the author of two collections of poetry, God Speaks Through Wombs and Touch the Earth, poetic and theological engagements with the Gospel of Luke. Drew is a co-founder of Pax and serves as the chair of Pax's board of directors. He is currently on staff with the Center for Action and Contemplation. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Genay, and their twin daughters, Zora and Suhaila.

0:00
0:00

Inspiration | Reflection

Those Who Came Before: Wisdom from Influential Contemplative Activists of the Twentieth Century

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is the editorial director of PAX, an award-winning writer, and a communications consultant. She has served in the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors for more than fifteen years, including stints in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Kenya. Dorcas is the author of three books, the most recent being Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul: How to Change the World in Quiet Ways. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two hapa sons.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is the editorial director of PAX, an award-winning writer, and a communications consultant. She has served in the nonprofit and social enterprise sectors for more than fifteen years, including stints in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Kenya. Dorcas is the author of three books, the most recent being Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul: How to Change the World in Quiet Ways. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two hapa sons.

A key tenet of contemplative activism is wisdom. We gain some wisdom through experience, of course, but the depth of wisdom available to us through our elders and those who came before us is far greater. Below we highlight three major figures of contemplative activism in the twentieth century who were each engaged in addressing the greatest social concerns of their time: civil rights, racism, war, genocide, and more. In addition, they were individuals deeply committed to the rhythms of connecting, thinking, healing, learning, and restoration.

Artist Statement:

Each element of the portraits of these three influential contemplative activists was chosen with great care and intentionality.

I illustrated anti-war activist Dorothee Sölle with black-eyed susans around her, standing firm for justice. The color blue represents freedom, sensitivity, and intelligence. I've depicted her hand reaching out, demonstrating her influential role as a visionary theologian and thought leader.

To celebrate Pedro Arrupe and his storytelling, I illustrated him with a raised hand, as if he was speaking to a crowd. Irises are blooming around him against a green background, representing hope for a better future.

In Howard Thurman's portrait, I wanted to celebrate his contributions to civil rights by illustrating him looking away as if he is looking into the future with hopeful eyes. The purple background represents wisdom and spirituality, while the chamomile blooming around him stands for patience in adversity. This aligned well with his advocacy of nonviolence and the transformation of souls.

- Phung Banh

View Artist StatementClose Artist Statement

Art By:

Artist

Phung Banh

Read Bio

“Becoming empty or ‘letting go’ of the ego, possession, and violence is the precondition of the creativity of transforming action.”

German theologian Dorothee Sölle grew up during the rise of the Nazi regime. Over time she remained deeply troubled by the actions of her fellow Germans, especially the many Christians who were complicit in mass oppression, violence, and murder. A driving question shaped her after the Holocaust: “Is theology possible after Aushwitz?” Sölle came to understand that Germans had compartmentalized and privatized their faith until it had no relevance to actual world events. She dedicated her life to teaching a socially active faith and demonstrating how theology could be applied to real-world issues.

Later in life, Sölle was a leading anti-nuclear voice during the Cold War, opposed the Vietnam War, and spoke against injustices in the developing world. She believed that “the mystical worldview is revolutionary enough to resist ‘powerful but petrified institutions’ that trade in oppression and violence.” Sölle was also a well-regarded theological scholar and a prolific author, addressing a wide range of issues, including feminism, ecology, consumerism, and imperialism.

Contemplative Practice: Political Liturgies

Sölle led a series of Politisches Nachtgebet (“political night songs”), evening liturgies that connected faith with social injustices through prayer, reflection, and considerations of protest. She described the services as consisting of “political information, confrontation with biblical texts, a short address, calls for action and finally the discussion with the community.” Current events addressed by the monthly services, which began in 1968,  included the military dictatorship in Greece, the Vietnam War, and the coup in Chile.

Reflection: In Dorothee Sölle’s Footsteps

  • What events or conditions in the world most trouble you today? What has been the church’s response to this?
  • What real-life issue would you like to see theology applied to? Are there teachers, pastors, mentors, or others who have addressed this? If not, how might you be able to learn about this?
  • What “powerful but petrified institutions that trade in oppression and violence” exist in your community or country? How might a contemplative approach effectively challenge such institutions?
  • If you were to design a church liturgy focused on a specific social issue or injustice, what elements would you include? Are you part of a Christian community that might consider organizing such a liturgy?
VIEW FULL TEXTCLOSE full story

Art By:

Artist

Phung Banh

Read Bio

“Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.”

Pedro Arrupe was a Spanish Basque Jesuit priest of renowned spiritual depth and commitment to justice. He is recognized for refocusing the Jesuit order toward a “preferential option for the poor.” Arrupe studied medicine in Madrid for several years before being drawn to the priesthood.

While a missionary in Japan, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement on suspicions of espionage after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was released after a month because of his gentle, prayerful attitude. Arrupe happened to be stationed in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped; he used his past medical training to serve as a first responder. His imprisonment and his experience of nuclear warfare profoundly affected his dependence on God and his heart of compassion. He was known for his daily devotion to prayer and meditation.

Elected superior general of the Jesuits in 1965, Arrupe led the order to more directly serve, teach, and collaborate with poor communities in developing countries. Under his leadership, the Jesuits focused on both spirituality and social activism, and saw the image of God particularly reflected in the poor and marginalized.

Contemplative Practice: Communing with Nature and One Another

Pedro Arrupe liked to tell the story of serving mass in the poorest slum of a region of Latin America. Afterwards, a man invited Arrupe to his home, which was little more than a crumbling shack. The man expressed his gratitude to Arrupe and said he wanted to share the only gift he had to offer: watching the sunset together. Arrupe later reflected, "He gave me his hand. As I was leaving, I thought: 'I have met very few hearts that are so kind.'"

Reflection: In Pedro Arrupe’s Footsteps

  • What is your understanding of God’s love for the poor? How do you see the image of God reflected in poor and marginalized communities? How does this affect your own discipleship journey?
  • What is your response to those who unjustly accuse or oppress you? What would it require for you to be able to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?
  • How can you prepare now in case you encounter a crisis where people are hurting or vulnerable and require assistance? What gifts and skills do you have? What would you like to develop?
  • Have you spent time pondering the gift of natural beauties and wonders? How could you incorporate this into your ongoing practices?
VIEW FULL TEXTCLOSE full story

Art By:

Artist

Phung Banh

Read Bio

“Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Howard Thurman provided the moral heartbeat behind significant social movements of the twentieth century. The grandson of former slaves, Thurman became a theologian, philosopher and religious studies professor, as well as a minister. When he was in his mid-thirties, Thurman participated in a delegation to South Asia, where he met Mahatma Gandhi and discussed nonviolence as an approach for social change. He later joined Boston University as the dean of Marsh Chapel, becoming the first African American dean at a predominantly white institution.

Howard Thurman advocated for integration and Black civil rights through his teaching, writing, and the founding of a racially integrated church in San Francisco. He promoted nonviolence and the transformation of souls. Thurman did not march on the streets but served as a mentor and spiritual adviser to many prominent civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Marian Wright Edelman, and John Lewis. Dr. King carried a well-worn copy of Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited in his pocket throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

Thurman believed that “those who would be contemplative must identify with those who are suffering, and those who would address suffering must be contemplative.”

Contemplative Practice: Collective Listening and Waiting

In the worship services he led, Thurman often encouraged congregants to experience God’s presence together through prayer, silence, and deep listening. He taught them to wait for God to appear, to look for those moments of divine presence. “Often there was the need for quiet, for silence, to deepen the collective, corporate sense of worship, and many times during this period in the Sunday services there came ‘breaths’ of waiting,” he wrote (With Head and Heart, 159).

Reflection: In Howard Thurman’s Footsteps

  • What examples of nonviolent resistance do you see today? Or are there justice-oriented movements or organizations that you wish would incorporate more of a nonviolent approach? How might that look?
  • If you were to prioritize the transformation of souls in your activism, how would that affect your approach, your interactions with others, or the activities you participate in?
  • How can you identify with those who are suffering? How can you lament and contemplate that suffering without giving in to despair?
  • Have you tried engaging in extended silence or deep listening for the voice of God? Is this something you could incorporate into your regular rhythms? Are there others who might be willing to try this with you?
VIEW FULL TEXTCLOSE full story

Art By:

Artist

Mondo Scott

Read Bio

Contemplation | Reflection

Closing Contemplative Practice: Lectio Divina

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore, PAX’s spiritual director, is a Black, Southern, everyday peacemaker. She serves as community life pastor at Roots Moravian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Osheta is the author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, and Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, on anti-racism peacemaking.

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore

Osheta Moore, PAX’s spiritual director, is a Black, Southern, everyday peacemaker. She serves as community life pastor at Roots Moravian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Osheta is the author of Shalom Sistas: Living Wholeheartedly in a Broken World, and Dear White Peacemakers: Dismantling Racism with Grit and Grace, on anti-racism peacemaking.

Justice was God’s idea first. We remember this when we spend time in Scripture, letting the words sink into our spirit as we wait on the Lord. PAX spiritual director Osheta Moore guides us through the practice of Lectio Divina as we meditate upon the hopeful words of Romans 8:18-27. May our hearts be directed toward the God who redeems all things.

0:00
0:00

Continue your journey

The next path point is Motion. Learn how to faithfully live out our calling as disciples.

Contemplative activism homeManifestoMythMaterialMotion