Those who cultivate habits of contemplation in prayer also extend these habits to perceive the goodness, holiness, or woundedness of each creature. Such compassion motivates many contemplatives to confront injustices of the world, and to celebrate and support life wherever it flourishes. While these themes-the importance of silence, encounter with the Holy, and appreciative and critical perception-of contemplative Christian spirituality run as a thread through history, their expressions have taken many forms ranging from Ignatian spirituality to Quaker clearness committees to Methodist holiness meetings to Latin American base communities.
In addition to the comparatively passive practice of prayer, the contemplative practice of "deep gazing" also creates a contemplative orientation to human action. In other words, the way of contemplation is not exhausted in prayer, but is enhanced when we mindfully engage and explore the concrete world to learn its secrets. Exploring the Spirit's life incarnate in the world is often a matter of trial, error, and keen observation. The biblical wisdom tradition, of which the Proverbs are characteristic, exemplifies this way of spirituality by urging confidence that this world belongs to God, and is therefore capable of whispering to us of God's truth. In the book of Proverbs, wisdom is not an abstract or otherworldly truth, but involves very practical maxims about priorities, relationships, and daily conduct, which are learned only through experience. This view of spirituality recognizes that anything that unveils the truth hidden in the world, including our active participation in the world, opens us to perceive the Spirit and invites us into partnership. It is therefore a mistake to make hard distinctions between contemplative spiritual practices and lifestyle practices in general or Christian activism in particular.
ASCETIC PRACTICES AND RESISTING SIN
We should not imagine that Christian spirituality involves a simple matter of drawing out the best of our humanity, that is, love of God and neighbor, and true selfhood. Christians have long acknowledged forces that inhibit the love and glory for which we are created. Humanity does not stand unequivocally ready to cooperate with the Spirit. Our hearts are often beset with ambiguity-by fear, hatred, mistrust, and ambition that throw us back on our individual projects and inhibit love of God and neighbor. Further, these fears and ambitions do not simply live in our hearts, but we create entire cultures that foster these fears and ambitions. As these fears become culturally validated, they impact our lives with double force-from inside and outside. In order to resist the power of fear and to cooperate with God's project of love, Christian spiritual practices engage Christians in shaping a world that supports life and love, but also encouraging close attention to one's inner life, and to how fears and ambitions overwhelm individuals and fragment our communities. Christian tradition has characterized as sin the failure to resist these fears and ambitions, and has emphasized the importance of resisting these inner and outer forces. A particular form of Christian spirituality concerned with resisting sin and its contexts is asceticism. Ascetic Christians have for centuries fasted from food, abstained from sex, lived in cloisters, and eschewed the temptations of sensationalism, thus seeking to limit the possibility of seduction to these lesser goods and focus their lives on greater goods-love of God and neighbor. While contemporary Christians, particularly feminist Christians, have correctly challenged the body-denying aspects of ascetic practices, nevertheless ascetic traditions remind us of the importance of dehabituating from patterns that distort our humanity and rehabituating around practices that foster love of God, neighbor, and true selfhood.