The Wesleyan Theological Roots of the Wesleyan Contemplative Order
The focus of the WCO is on contemplative practices, not on theology. For it seems that in our contemporary world a focus on theology is a way to separate fellow seekers rather than to bring them together. But that said, it is important to acknowledge our debt to the Wesleyan tradition out of which the WCO takes root.
John Wesley had a different view from other Protestant reformers. Wesley believed that God’s Grace is universal to everyone all the time. He ardently rejected the Calvinist idea that some were elected and predestined to be saved and others damned. John Wesley’s idea of God’s abundant Grace available to all is rooted in the idea of God Wesley saw in the Gospels, that God loves us all, all the time. This is indeed good news.
The focus then for Wesley, was on the means of Grace. Over and over again Wesley stressed that for a means of Grace to actually be a means of Grace, it must be Spirit filled. Without the means being Spirit filled, it was just an empty form. Means of Grace are the seekers engagement in a response to God’s universal Grace extended to all, in Wesley’s terms, God’s prevenient Grace.
Means of Grace
Prayer – in all its varieties ( different kinds of prayer are most helpful to different personality types, and we learn the type which makes our prayer life most fulfilling.) e.g.
- centering prayer
- welcoming prayer
- body prayer
- praying with icons
- devotional prayer
- intercessory prayer
Particularly lectio divinia because as a means of Grace the focus of lectio is on what Scripture is saying to us in the moment; on how the Word is opening us to God’s Grace and Spirit in the present moment. A focus on lectio conforms with Wesley’s idea of how to keep scripture reading Spirit filled.
Rituals of communion
By communion we understand this to mean a communication with the Holy Spirit. These rituals invoke God’s presence and Spirit and the more present we are in that moment the more we are in communion. The primary focus for Wesley was on the rituals of the Eucharist and baptism. Like the priest who cannot serve the Eucharist by himself, rituals of communion are dependent upon the presence of others. Wesley does not, however, limit rituals of communion and there are other practices such as foot washing, Christian hospitality etc. that fall within this means of Grace.
Changing one’s conditioned perspective
This is a necessary part of living a contemplative life, and in Wesley’s view essential to the Christian life, in order for us to avoid a sense of self satisfaction, or ego contentment with one’s practices. These means of Grace prevent us from becoming Pharisees.
- Fasting – the one that Wesley emphasized.
Wesley believed that Christian conference is an instituted means of grace because he understood that when Christ chooses and calls people (John 15:16) into relationship with him, he calls them into community. Any conferencing, or any scale of community building, comes within this understanding. Conferencing thus includes different levels of groups with different levels of intensity of commitment to a spiritual life. Wesley saw the necessity of strict confidentiality in such groups, particularly in the small groups he called Bands. Again, for this means of Grace to be Spirit filled required each person attending to be fully present, open and vulnerable to each other and God.
Service is not a means of Grace. Any suggestion that it was would have been antithetical to Wesley, who would have associated it with the doctrinal strand in Catholicism that suggests one can earn Grace. Rather, for Wesley, service was the result of being centered in God’s love and Grace, and flowed naturally from that state. In fact doing good deeds by themselves, if they do not flow from a leading of the Spirit, will easily have one end up worshiping at the altar of the ego. Service must come not from ego but from love. And for the energy of that love to be readily replenished, and not lead to burnout, it must continually be replenished by participation in the five categories of means of Grace, which are the means of experiencing God’s love.