Active people often have serious criticisms of the word "contemplative." It sounds monkish, escapist, elitist. A friend recently said, "Aren't contemplatives so heavenly minded, they're no earthly good. Mine is an active life. Jesus would never have entered a monastery." If that's what the contemplative life is then she's right, let's have nothing to do with it. But it's not. That's a caricature, not the real thing.

The contemplative life is the path of true compassion, and therefore the way of real, redemptive action in the world (Dag Hammarskjold is among the best, modern and public examples; I've written of him here).

"Contemplation" and "contemporary" come from the same Latin roots: "con" meaning "with," and "tempus," or "time."

So, "contemplative" simply means being truly "contemporary"--that is, fully here, now, immersed in the present. That can't, by definite or practice, be escapist. Contemplatives, then make the best engineers and airline pilots, surgeons and chefs, mothers and teachers. Contemplative living is noble living.

Jesus did not cloister himself away in a monastery. But that that doesn't mean he wouldn't have gone there periodically. Was not his forty days in the wilderness a monastic retreat? And St. Paul's years also, when he was hidden away in Arabia (Galatians 1.17)?

The monastery's prepared many of those who's worldly actions have matter most in our world.

Contemplation is an art. Learn it and you'll do some "earthly good."