Wesleyan Contemplative Vision
Wesleyan Contemplative Order is a community of individuals and small bands committed to opening space for God’ grace to nurture the process of inner transformation, through contemplative practices as exemplified in Wesley’s means of grace.
Membership, Practices, Rule of Life & Roots
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. Wesley was a process person. He emphasized various processes he called means of grace that, when practiced faithfully, lead us to a place of deep inner connection with God. From a heart connected to God arises compassion for his creation and from this centered compassion flow works of mercy and service.
• WCO Band Membership: The only requirements to participate in a band is to have the desire to open space for God through contemplative practices, be invited by current band members, and agree to participate wholeheartedly. Band members endeavor to support each other in the practice of the various means of grace. Each band evolves organically as deemed by the needs of the members and the wooing of the Spirit. Faithful participation in a band is one way to bring contemplative practices, accountability and joy into our journey.
• Order Membership: Prior to becoming an Order member, participation in a band is required.
Membership in the WCO is for men and women who have taken a vow to live a contemplative “Rule of Life” in community in order to foster the process of transformation in Christ so that they might be better equipped to bring peaceful change to make a more just world. Membership is a covenant declaration to intentionally live out that desire. New member induction happens once each year, usually at the conclusion of a Fall retreat, by the applicant taking the Order’s contemplative vows administered by an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church.2
The most effective way to take action in the outer world is from a place of grounded inner being connected to God that allows us to be fully open and present to the world.
• Works of piety (acts of worship/devotion, education, fellowship) are ways of opening ourselves to grace by spending time with God, alone and in community, to grow and deepen our relationship with God.
• Works of mercy (service) are how disciples of Christ live out their love for God in acts of compassion and justice.
Works of Piety (Devotion)
1. Prayer: in all its varieties ( different kinds of prayer are most helpful to different personality types, and we can learn the type which makes our prayer life most fulfilling.) e.g. centering prayer, welcoming prayer, body prayer, praying with icons, devotional prayer, the Jesus Prayer, prayers through gratitude and nature.
2. Scripture: particularly lectio divina because as a means of grace the focus of lectio is on what is the Scripture saying to us in the moment, or how are we opening 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.
3. Rituals of Communion: by communion we understand this to mean invocations of the opportunity for communication with the Holy Spirit. The rituals invoke God’s presence and Spirit and the more present we are in that moment the more we are in communion.3
4. Christian Conferencing: this was the Wesley term for community building which he included as a mandatory means of grace. Conferencing included bands (small groups) that met for mutual accountability and support for the spiritual journey. 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. For this the highest confidentiality was essential. Other ways of practicing this means of grace is through spiritual direction (either one-on-one or group).
5. Fasting or Abstinence. This is one way of changing one’s conditioned perspective, which is a necessary part of living a contemplative life. In Wesley’s view, set apart times of fasting or abstinence is essential to the Christian life. The fast might be from food, or cell phone, or computers; from noise or over consumption in any form–be it food, stuff, busyness. The purpose of the fast is not so much to take something out of our life as it is to put in it a physical awareness and reminder of our dependence on God. This means of grace prevents us from becoming Pharisees and opens space for God’s grace like few others. Wesley emphasized fasting. However, other means would be times of silence and solitude through retreats and pilgrimages, or the practice of simplicity through the avoidance of collecting and clutter. 4
Works of Mercy (Service)
They are the counterpoint for the works of piety. How do we maintain the balance that is so important to growing in love of God and neighbor? The two go hand in hand. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners, sheltering the homeless, welcoming the stranger, peacemaking for the common good. All these works of mercy are how we live out our love for God in the world by loving our neighbors in acts of compassion and justice. For Wesley, service was the result of being centered in God’s love and grace. Service flowed naturally from that state. In fact, Wesley believed if they did not flow from a leading of the Spirit, these acts would easily have one end up worshiping at the altar of the ego. Wesley also believed for the energy of the Spirit’s love to be readily replenished, so as not to lead to burnout, it must continually be replenished through practicing the means of grace of experiencing God’s love.
“Participating in the relationship with God through the means of grace does not, however, come naturally. We need to learn these basic practices of discipleship in the same way that a newly married couple must learn how to live together and love one another over time. Loving is a discipline that must be learned. It is learned, over time, through discipline and practice with experienced practitioners. We need help with this because left on our own, and even with our best intentions, our practice will gravitate (off course) and we will begin to neglect time alone with God in prayer and reflection” (Disciple’s Journal pg. 10-11).
With the support of a WCO Band, creating a simple “Rule of Life” offers a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for our growth in holiness.
Through the care of a loving God and the support of a band, I (________) vow to live a simple, personalized “Rule of Life” to provide a daily rhythm of formation and direction for my growth into a deeper and deeper communion with God.
Each member’s Rule of Life is grounded in these practices:
1. Faithfully opening space for God through the various means of grace:
a. Regular reading of scripture in the method of “lectio divinia”
b. Prayer and meditation, especially through centering prayer
c. Holy communion
d. Christian conferencing through creating community by participation in a WCO Band, the Order and through individual and/or group spiritual direction
- Fasting or abstinence
- Faithfully observing Sabbath Space
- Faithfully responding to the needs of the world from a place of inner contemplation.
- Faithfully attending regular meetings of my Band and the WCO; and
- Faithfully keeping these vows for the remainder of my life.
The Wesleyan Contemplative Order is a not for profit association. In the beginning stages, a coordinating council of trusted servants, including a representative from each band, will meet to seek God’s guidance for the Order through holy listening. The Order will strive to facilitate an organic community that will grow naturally and spontaneously grow in God’s Grace and direction.
Wesley believed that God’s grace is universal to everyone all the time. John Wesley’s idea of God’s abundant grace available to all is rooted in the idea of the 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.
Wesleyan Contemplatives believe that the only sustaining change in the world comes from people whose lives have been changed inside and that the key to this kind of transformative change is to live a contemplative life. A contemplative spirit brings compassionate action. We believe that the life and teachings of Jesus are the keystone for practicing a contemplative life and that other traditions have much insight to offer. We believe that any time we react to a situation out of fear, resentment, defensiveness or with a need to control, we do so from protective ego patterns which keep us cut off from a greater spiritual reality.
When we respond from a place of being open-minded, curious and present, then we come from a place of access to Christ consciousness out of which our response to the world is in partnership with the world and the Holy Spirit. Only when we live in the grace of God’s infinite love are we able to continuously respond from such a place of being and presence.
We believe that contemplative practices, as understood through the Wesleyan tradition, are one of the most effective ways to develop being and presence with God. A contemplative life is for people engaged with their lives. A contemplative life is not about the avoidance of the daily problems of life but it is a way to approach those problems directly and grow through those problems toward the greater reality that God’s love offers. A contemplative approach to life means that a person is aware that his or her resistances and denials will be confronted by the contemplative process despite the natural human attempt to cling to the safe, sure and secure.
1. Purpose of original band: Fellowship in the Methodist societies, classes and bands was the distinguishing feature of Wesley’s approach to Christian nurture. Those that were serious about the pursuit of Christian holiness might also become a member of a band. This was a group of four to six persons who met weekly and shared their spiritual journeys in a very intimate fellowship. They shared ‘without reserve and without disguise.’ Members fully disclosed their spiritual successes or failures, their temptations and weaknesses. They urged one another to hold them accountable to follow the guidance the Lord was giving them about their attitudes, life-style, service, and motives. They became to one another “soul friends.” (source: an address by George Lyons entitled “John Wesley on Deepening Our Relationship with God,” November 20, 1997 (College of the Nazarene, Nampa, Idaho)
2 Wesley urged each of his societies to conduct a Covenant Renewal Service once a year, most often on New Year’s Eve. The success of this Covenant Renewal Service encouraged Wesley to have it published as a pamphlet in 1780).
3 Wesley encouraged daily Communion. The primary focus for Wesley was on the ritual 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.
4 Wesley did not ask his preachers if they were fasting, he asked, “How do you fast every Friday?” As means they are not to be regarded as the ends themselves. But these five were regarded as invariable, that is they were not optional. They were: regular, methodical 1) prayer, 2) regular reading of scripture, 3) the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist , 4) fasting or abstinence 5) Christian conferencing. It is important to note: Conferencing included a hierarchy of groups dependent upon intensity of commitment to a spiritual life. It is interesting to note that one aspect of the subgroup called the class was that not only was all that was said there confidential, as occurs in spiritual direction, but the group itself was permanent. In other words, the class embodied the spirit of a life time commitment that a vow to enter the Wesleyan Contemplative Order contains. Wesley himself was described at being amazed at what he saw happening through the group spiritual direction process of the classes. He saw that when people “bear one another’s burdens.” that they quite naturally come to “care for each other.” The instituted means of grace and the container of the classes for spiritual direction were the means by which the inner life of a person is cleansed. The prudential means of grace were the outer results of this inner cleansing. Wesley had three rules to guide this outer activity: do no harm, do good of every possible sort and participate in social holiness. Wesley saw that once the process of inner purification had progressed a spirit of social openness to help those most in needs naturally occurs. Or, you could say in more modern terms that compassion is the natural result of spiritual growth. Early Methodism was particularly active in prison reform and the abolitionist movement. But this social action came not from an ego judgement of what was right or wrong but from the felt inner experience provided by group spiritual direction.