A comment thread on my post about the World Clock has me thinking about the relationship between contemplation, celibacy, and child-rearing.

If there really is going to be global population decline by the year 2100 (I’m not convinced there will be, but some people think so), then it seems that it would be our civic duty to have children. Now, consider that in light of these ideas:

Christian dogma eschews the idea of reincarnation. In other words, the life you have is the life you get, period. No second chances. So if you choose to be celibate, for all eternity you never have children. If you choose to have children, for all eternity you are denied the experience of celibacy.

Traditionally, contemplation has been the bailiwick of the celibates. It has thrived in monasteries, and, up until recently, very little was written (or said, or done) to encourage contemplative spirituality among marrieds. The Cloud of Unknowing is particularly pointed on this, where the author makes no secret of his bias that the contemplative life is a “higher” calling than the active life.

So here’s my question: if we have only one life to life, and contemplation is our highest calling, than shouldn’t we all be contemplatives? But if that’s the case, how does contemplation integrate with the messy business of marriage and family life? Of course, that is the great adventure that lay contemplatives (like yours truly) are wrestling with in our day. But if contemplation is now being integrated into the family, does this render monasticism (as traditionally understood, in terms of a community of celibates) obsolete?

Even more to the point, so much of the literature of mysticism and contemplation is so focussed on the individual: how do I become holy, how do I make my consciousness pure for God, how do I pray without ceasing — and when it does look at community, it is the community of “I”s (i.e., the monastery). Is this tradition of self-focussed purity-projects really relevant to the frontier of mysticism as deification-in-community? Think about it: deification-in-community is what I think the Holy Trinity is all about, and certainly would be the way to define a mysticism grounded in the life of a family with children. Indeed, any community where the emphasis is on mutual self-giving would be a place where deification-in-community might flourish. But doesn’t this stand in direct contrast, if not opposition, to the traditional contemplative focus on the self growing in holiness so as to partake in the Divine nature?

“Become like little children,” declared Jesus to those who would seek to enter the kingdom of heaven. Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up” and “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” In other words, why do we teach children how to paint — perhaps they should be teaching us? Back to Jesus: if mysticism is the art of living in heaven-consciousness, perhaps we adults need to learn the contemplative life from children. Even those who are celibate.