A Contemplative ReturnsSep 02, 2021 06:00AM ● By Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks
When I was a little girl, I loved my time at the beach on the New Jersey shore. On long, summer days, especially, I enjoyed twilight time—when the sunbathers and vacationers had gone home. I would breathe deeply, walk for the sheer joy of it and spend time collecting pieces of sea glass, bathing my feet in the ocean and feeling sand crabs tickle my toes.
I felt instinctively that God was in the midst of everything around me: the sand, the sea, the setting sun and the rising moon. As I watched seagulls feast on the day’s remains, I knew that God was both with me and within me, too. I was a young contemplative; I drew from God as my source.
As I grew up, I had less time to wander along the shore. I moved to Washington, D.C., to attend American University, where I received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s in literature. Life became a day-to-day whirlwind of classes, papers, internships, degrees, networking and to-do lists. For a while, I tried to live the definition I had for success: build a resume, gain experience, find a job, work the system and establish power.
I rose to leadership positions quickly. I served as managing editor of a construction trade magazine and then as editor of a trade paper for professional counselors. When I was promoted to director of communications for the professional counseling association, I became responsible for my own team and a $1 million publishing budget. I wore Brooks Brothers suits, attended conferences around the country and ate power lunches.
At one of those lunches, my colleagues and I gathered with our boss to discuss strategic planning. Her jovial, calm demeanor invited us to be at ease, and she asked us questions about our organizational vision and how we thought we could best contribute.
“Give me one sentence,” she said. “What do you know that will help us grow?”
We went around the table, each of us sharing our idea. When she turned to me, I said, “Everything I need to know is inside of me.” I heard myself speak as if someone else were talking; it felt like an out-of-body experience.
“That’s nice,” she commented.
I don’t remember anything else from that lunch except that I felt, deep within me, that I had spoken truth.
That truth led me to spiritual and world religion studies, a career change, a Mastermind group, a Unity church, and then seminary. I still longed for a richer experience of God; it felt like something was drawing me back to the seashore and the source of what I felt when I was a little girl.
Shortly before I was ordained, I met with Sister Carol at the end of my hospital chaplaincy rotation. She had reviewed my verbatims, the reflections I had written about my encounters with the people I’d served as well as my encounters with God.
Sister Carol commented on the depth of my writing, the little details I noticed, and my sense of God’s presence. While I accepted her praise, I also wondered how they would support me in ministry. Although I didn’t say it out loud, I doubted I was good enough. Still, she knew. She smiled, rose from her chair, went to a bookshelf and handed me Father Thomas Keating’s Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel.
“Jennifer, you’re a contemplative,” she said. “You’ll find your way. Remember, you already have your answers.”
A contemplative is one who seeks and experiences inner transformation with God. That is who I am—who I always have been.
Now, when I sit in my den re-reading Father Keating’s wisdom or meditating on my collection of sea glass, I draw on that source, that spirit, which is God in the midst of and at the heart of every aspect of my life—all our lives—all the time. ❧