I struggle with the tension that exists between the vita contemplativa and the vita activa, the contemplative life versus the active life.
The vita contemplativa, rightly lived, affords one the opportunity of silent, studious solitude that cultivates and nourishes the "life of the mind" and the "life of the soul." Necessarily isolationist, the vita contemplativa speaks "peace be still" upon the roaring waves of that restless and tumultuous ocean we call "humanity," anchoring the soul and mind within the safe harbor of solitude. So devoted am I to studious contemplation that, if my dawn breaks without serious and long meditation, my noonday is clouded and my sunset grey. The vita contemplativa also shelters me from the mindless din of "the savage herd," that "mass of men" who "lead lives of quiet desperation" and "vex" my soul "from day to day." I am quite inclined to Pascal's opinion, "All human evil comes from a single cause - man's inability to sit still in a room." Typically, I rise and begin my daily contemplation before dawn, and I am often reminded that Jesus Himself practiced the vita contemplativa, probably habitually, and "rose up early while it was dark and went to a solitary place." But I never remember that verse without noting what the anxious disciples said to Him - "everyone is looking for you."
"Everyone is looking for you" epitomizes that awful encumbrance upon the soul - "love thy neighbor." Sometimes I jokingly remark that I wish Jesus had not explained exactly who my "neighbor" is. Had He not done so, I could have exposited "neighbor" to mean fellow citizens of heaven who live next door and down the street from me on New Jerusalem Avenue but, alas, He defined my neighbor for me - anyone roughed up and robbed on the road to Jericho - and that's "everyone." When I dare look down upon the "everyone," how faithful is the Morning Dove to light upon my stony heart and coo, "I thank thee that I am not like other men," reminding me who prayed that prayer, and indicting the echoes of his arrogant voice in the hard places of my own soul. I also remember that "when He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were bewildered and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." So the compunction of Providence compels me from the vita contemplativa to the vita activa, drives me out of my chair and onto the street to meet the Arab attendant and the Hindu tailor and the American pagan - all wounded, all in need of oil and wine and a place to lodge for the night, everyone of them looking, . . . unconsciously looking to be sure, but looking nonetheless . . . looking for Him . . . looking for me . . . looking for you . . .