Are you enjoying or contemplating life?

Perched on a rock overlooking the sea, I caught sight of two men knee-deep in the waters, throwing a net for a catch.

Nov 05, 2021

By Nicholas Lye
Perched on a rock overlooking the sea, I caught sight of two men knee-deep in the waters, throwing a net for a catch. I marvelled at what they were doing, filled with awe and wonder, until I suddenly thought about how I hated being soaked in sea water. Immediately, I lost interest, and turned my attention away.

A few days later, perched on my kitchen stool, I caught, on a podcast I was listening to, the difference between contemplation and enjoyment, as described by C. S. Lewis in his Meditation in a Toolshed. This dichotomy is based on philosopher Samuel Alexander, who explains contemplation as looking at things from the outside, inspecting them from a neutral, dispassionate point of view; and enjoyment as experiencing things from the inside, knowing and committing to something from personal knowledge.

This brought to mind my brief encounter with the two fishermen. What I did at that time was contemplate what they were doing from afar. I did appreciate it for a moment, but it didn’t last long, especially when other thoughts got in the way. They, on the other hand, would probably have been enjoying themselves, getting personally involved in the fishing and being thoroughly committed to and engrossed in it.

What stopped me from sharing in that enjoyment was my displeasure of being soaked in seawater, or so I thought.

“I have come that they may have life, life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10) How often do I contemplate the life Jesus promises me, only to have certain fears, discomfort, or negative thoughts discourage me from taking one step into the waters? How often do I marvel at the life Jesus speaks of from afar, savouring the thought of it for a very brief moment, only to lose interest as the demands and challenges around me take over, and I turn away from that fullness of life?

During a recent online programme organised by the ICPE School of Mission, Sabah, we were invited to play a simple game that involved finding items around our house that begin with all the letters of the alphabet. My initial reaction was that of disbelief, wondering what this activity could possibly have to do with God or our faith. Still, I chose to go along with it, and soon found myself engrossed in looking for as many items as I could find, determined not to miss out on any one letter.

After everyone returned with their items, we had such good fun and laughter witnessing people’s creativity in fulfilling their task, such as grabbing an orange-coloured book to satisfy both letters ‘B’ and ‘O’ or using brand names to tackle some of the obscure letters. When asked how we found the activity, many remarked on how much fun they had had, and how that surprised them. It was then that we were introduced to the quote by Charles Schaefer: “We are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything as when we are playing.” It then dawned upon me how much I was ENJOYING myself and personally tasting what it means to be fully alive and completely myself as a child of God, in that play experience. To merely contemplate it and watch others play would not have given me that deeper experience and understanding of what being child-like really feels like.

“Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:3)

Through the above experiences, I have come to realise that it is not sufficient to merely contemplate the truths of God, or the events happening around me. Far more important is to get my hands (and feet) dirty, to put aside any fear or doubt or discomfort I might have, and jump in to experience for myself what the truth of the Gospel really means, what the life that Jesus desires to give us is really like, and how I can truly still be in the world and enjoy the truths and promises of God as His precious child.

How that looks like, for me personally, was taking the plunge into unknown waters by committing myself as a staff member to the School of Mission, Sabah, a four-month Catholic programme to form missionary disciples. Even though people were sceptical of it, being run online due to the pandemic, God continues to show up and show off His providence and love in so many varied ways. Even the online programmes we ran were helping people encounter God so powerfully in their very own homes and bringing life to their ‘locked down’ situation.

I am now convinced that if we learn to embrace the present for what it is and are open to jumping into unknown waters with faith and trust, we can indeed find things that spell out God’s faithfulness, providence, and love. We can continue to fish out His countless blessings, and enjoy all that He continues to offer us, and eventually, to realise we don’t mind getting soaked in His ocean of grace.

--Nicholas is a creative evangelist and current staff of the ICPE School of Mission, Sabah. He loves God, people, and creativity. He loves it more when He can bring people to God through art and creativity.

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