Wonderful to see all of you who could make it to our WCO fall retreat. Ann Starrette reminded me after we met that for our new folks no one really spoke to the meaning of the name — Wesleyan Contemplative Order.
The name is important, particularly in a paradoxical way — it connects us to a Christian heritage that frees us from the problems of many religious heritages, such as theological correctness, denominational orientation, liturgical preferences, etc.
John Wesley was an Anglican all his life. Like Jesus he had no desire to start a new church. Like Jesus he saw that form and structure of his religion were blocking the Spirit.
Like Thomas Merton, who was not in church or his monastery but in Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, when he “was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people,” Wesley’s deepest spiritual experiences were not in a church service but on a ship in a storm and attending a meeting when his “heart was strangely warmed.”
So Wesley fashioned a method to try to allow people to get back to living connected to an unitive experience with God. His method hearkens back to early contemplative Christians, before there was any “church,” who gathered in small trusting groups to open to the experience of God in their lives in the moment.
So the WCO is Wesleyan because it puts a method, or what we would call today practices, which open us to God’s Grace, at the center of the spiritual journey. It is Wesleyan because it is ecumenical. As he said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” It is Wesleyan because Wesley, who was a stuffy old Anglican studying theology at Oxford early in his life, came to understand that vulnerability is the key to spiritual growth and we can only first learn to be deeply vulnerable to others and God in small groups or to use his word, Bands.
The word Contemplative is used because that is the nature of the practices such as Centering Prayer, Welcoming Prayer, lectio divina, etc., that we adopt to deepen our life with God. Contemplative practices are any practices aimed to break down the dualistic experience of life and allow our lives to flow from the experience of unity with God.
The word Order is used because over the centuries Christian followers have banded together in orders to form communities that reflect a profound commitment to a spiritual path and to nurture each other together in their spiritual journeys. To become a part of an order is not like joining the Rotary club or a Sunday school class (thought many of us do these too); it is the reflection of a deeper level of commitment to the nature of our spiritual journeys than to the ordinary things of life. It is a way of saying I wish to put this journey with God in community first on a daily basis for the rest of my life.
Anyone can become a member of the WCO by being a member of a WCO Band and by agreeing to adopt a set of contemplative practices, or Rule of Life as it is traditionally called, to enliven their spiritual journey.
Don Carroll, WCO Magdalene Band Member