The Contemplative Struggle: Radical discipleship in a broken world

The Contemplative Struggle: Radical discipleship in a broken world

Author : Ian Cowley
£8.99

Redefines contemplative spirituality for an activist culture

How do we embrace and work out our call to be disciples in a broken world? In The Contemplative Struggle Ian Cowley sets the central themes of the gospel of John alongside each other – abiding in Christ, conflict, light and darkness, obedience, loving one another – and explores how these can be reconciled in daily life. Drawing on his experience of living in his native South Africa during the apartheid era and challenging understandings of contemplative prayer and spirituality as essentially inward-looking, he highlights the urgent need for Christians to be active in bringing transformation to a suffering world and paints a compelling picture of radical discipleship for today.


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Title The Contemplative Struggle: Radical discipleship in a broken world
Author Ian Cowley
Description

How do we embrace and work out our call to be disciples in a broken world? In The Contemplative Struggle Ian Cowley sets the central themes of the gospel of John alongside each other – abiding in Christ, conflict, light and darkness, obedience, loving one another – and explores how these can be reconciled in daily life. Drawing on his experience of living in his native South Africa during the apartheid era and challenging understandings of contemplative prayer and spirituality as essentially inward-looking, he highlights the urgent need for Christians to be active in bringing transformation to a suffering world and paints a compelling picture of radical discipleship for today.

‘Just as we are all meant to be contemplatives and to hear the voice of God in our lives, we are all meant to answer God’s call to be his partners in transfiguring the world. This calling, this encounter with God, is always to send us into the midst of human suffering.’
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Details
  • Product code: 9780857469823
  • Published: 19 March 2021
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 144
  • Dimensions: 130mm wide and 198mm high

How do we embrace and work out our call to be disciples in a broken world? In The Contemplative Struggle Ian Cowley sets the central themes of the gospel of John alongside each other – abiding in Christ, conflict, light and darkness, obedience, loving one another – and explores how these can be reconciled in daily life. Drawing on his experience of living in his native South Africa during the apartheid era and challenging understandings of contemplative prayer and spirituality as essentially inward-looking, he highlights the urgent need for Christians to be active in bringing transformation to a suffering world and paints a compelling picture of radical discipleship for today.

‘Just as we are all meant to be contemplatives and to hear the voice of God in our lives, we are all meant to answer God’s call to be his partners in transfiguring the world. This calling, this encounter with God, is always to send us into the midst of human suffering.’
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Ian Cowley is an Anglican priest who has served in parish ministry in South Africa, Sheffield, Cambridge and Peterborough. From 2008 to 2016 he was Coordinator of Spirituality and Vocations in the Diocese of Salisbury, where he set up and developed the Contemplative Minister programme. He is the author of five books on spirituality, discipleship and the local church.

Here is a much-needed book: the story of the battle against racism, injustice, poverty, held in tension with the necessity of time for contemplation. We need to hear it – there is much here that applies to our world today.
Esther de Waal, writer and scholar

I do appreciate Ian Cowley’s interleaving of storytelling with spiritual reflection. It is good to have the story of UCM told to a wider audience than South Africa.

Ian’s tribute to Steve Biko is welcome and true, and so is his account of white students’ struggle on the matter of conscription.

 

His major concern with contemplation fits well into his account of this crucial time in the South African church struggle... 
John D Davies, former bishop of Shrewsbury and one-time national chaplain of the Anglican Students’ Federation of South Africa

What an incredible book this is! I was deeply moved reading it. It is very inspiring and ignited a hope that we can be agents of change in this world. As someone who has known the value of contemplative prayer and practice in my own life, it felt like a gentle call back to that which I know and love, without being remotely judgemental. In fact, the whole book brings a wonderful balance of challenge without condemnation.

I pray that all who read this book will examine afresh their response to the issues raised and explore the riches of contemplative prayer for themselves.
Louise Rose, community projects manager, Fresh Hope Ministry, Stamford

The Contemplative Struggle is a generous gift and a profound challenge. Ian Cowley draws on a deep well of (sometimes painful) personal experience to pour out this vision of contemplation in action. If you’re tired of rootless activism and otherworldly spirituality, and you’re looking for the common ground where prayer and protest can flourish, you need to read this book.
Chris Webb, deputy warden of Launde Abbey and author of God Soaked Life

 

Church Times 25.06.21. Review by John D. Davies

Ian Cowley is a white South African man, born nearly 70 years ago, brought up in the benign rural environment of Natal. If he had fulfilled expectations, he would have become a conventional Anglican gentleman, a superior English-speaking member of the white race.

 But Cowley’s life took a somewhat different course. His book is primarily about spirituality; but, to convey his message, he has to tell something of his life-story. This starts with his entry into the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, to study law and business administration. By the time that he started at university, the 1959 Extension of University Education Act had taken effect.

This created a scattered establishment of black tribal colleges, segregated on racial and ethnic criteria. The previously ‘open’ universities, in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Natal, were restricted to white students only; they became white tribal colleges.

But there were vigorous national student bodies; these functioned on these segregated campuses, but they flourished as racially integrated organisations at regional and national level. For both black and white students, their conferences provided a converting experience, an alternative vision of society, where black and white people could meet as genuine friends and not only on a master/servant basis; and this was at a time when the apartheid machine was grinding ever more successfully, and when hope for change was wearing very thin.

The integrated organisations enabled the generation of courageous, independent-minded students, who were prepared to defy the expectations of parents, teachers, and government. They included the Anglican Students’ Federation and the ecumenical University Christian Movement. For Cowley, they opened up a whole new world. They brought him into contact with impressive characters of all race-groups, people such as the dynamic black students’ leader Steve Biko (who would, in my view, have become the natural successor to President Mandela, if he had not been cruelly done to death by the Security Police).

These ecumenical organisations were viewed with suspicion by some other Christians, notably by Evangelicals who had been caught up in the newly arrived Charismatic Movement. For them, the ecumenical groups were unbiblical humanists, dangerous quasi-Marxists. For the ecumenical types, the Evangelicals were pietistic, concerned only with their individual salvation, indifferent to the injustices experienced by most of the population. But, for those who were impressed by the Black Consciousness influence, this hassle was merely white people’s games, irrelevant luxury. The Anglican Bishop Alphaeus Zulu summarised their position: ‘We Africans have no need of a Charismatic Movement — we have always been charismatic, without any pressure from outside.’

People like Cowley were attracted by the Evangelical emphasis on conversion, but it had to include conversion from the heresies and illusions of apartheid, which were otherwise winning all the battles. A new ingredient was being discovered in the Christian mix. This was where Cowley found himself.

Cowley was deeply drawn to the insights of medieval spiritual teachers such as Richard Rolle and Thomas à Kempis, and Thomas Merton of our own day. This is the kind of commitment which underlies his book. Readers who are interested in spirituality will be attracted by his excellent summary of the discipline of contemplation. But, to get there, they will need to work through Cowley’s exploration of the demonic powers of racism, financial injustice, and indifference to the degradation of the environment.

His spirituality has been formed in a situation of loss, of oppression, of cruelty, when all the signs were that the powers of evil were winning. His kind of contemplation draws us to awareness of God’s critique of the disobedience in our human systems, and into commitment to the struggle for the realisation of God’s Kingdom. 

And this is not only for South Africa; Cowley was ordained priest in his native land and served in parish ministry there. But he came to England some years ago, and has been a parish priest and adviser in spirituality in English dioceses. For South Africa and for Britain, his book provides a well-formed and personally validated guidance concerning the claims of our Creator upon our obedience and our energies. 

The Rt Revd John D. Davies was National Chaplain to the Anglican Students’ Federation of Southern Africa, and Convener of the Council of Churches’ Commission which created the University Christian Movement

 

Review by Nicholas King SJ


Christians are often charged with being of 'no earthly use' (because their gaze is fixed on the heavens); evangelicals find themselves accused of giving insufficient time to contemplative prayer; white Christian South Africans often have it alleged against them that their discipleship is pure self-indulgence, because they benefited so largely from the sin of apartheid; and that the Roman Catholic tradition has nothing to offer Christians today. In this splendid book, those four myths are soundly 'busted': Ian Cowley is an evangelical Christian who has given himself to transform this unjust world into something that looks like the Kingdom of God; he has for many years as a busy Anglican priest given himself over to the practice of solitary contemplative prayer (and offers some useful tips about how to approach it). More than that, he is a white South African whose Christianity drove him, at some considerable cost, to engage in student activism against the apartheid regime, and who reveals his immense admiration for Steve Biko, who died that appalling death in the hands of the SA Police. He has, moreover, drunk gratefully of the waters of the Roman Catholic contemplative tradition, including Thomas a Kempis, Richard Rolle, and that remarkable Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton. He has, besides, the Protestant gift of a solid grasp of Scripture and the awareness that it can change your life. He was also alert to the dangers of environmental pollution at a time when such interests were dismissed as mindlessly sentimental “tree-hugging”. Nowadays we wish that more students had followed his example, half a century ago. This book is to be warmly recommended.