[While] European mystics and contemplatives often lived in community, they tended to focus on the individual experience of encountering the divine presence. African American contemplatives turned the “inward journey” into a communal experience. . . . The word contemplation includes but does not require silence or solitude. Instead, contemplative practices can be identified in public prayers, meditative dance movements, and musical cues that move the entire congregation toward a communal listening and entry into communion with a living God. . . .
.. This is how Howard Thurman describes the embodied locus of contemplation:
There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea is an island and on that island there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the “angel with the flaming sword.” Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority. Nothing passes . . . unless it be a part of the “fluid area of your consent.” This is your crucial link with the Eternal. 
. . As I see it, the human task is threefold.
- First, the human spirit must connect to the Eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning.
- Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity, facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace.
- Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts.
Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. These tasks require a knowledge of self and others that only comes from the centering down that Thurman advocates. It is not an escape from the din of daily life; rather, it requires full entry into the fray but on different terms. . . . Always, contemplation requires attentiveness to the Spirit of God. .
The books of the Prophets represent the birth of good and necessary critical thinking. Without it, we remain far too self-enclosed and smug. The lack of healthy self-criticism within both Judaism and Christianity shows how little attention we’ve paid to this part of Scripture. (We read the prophets as if their only function was to “foretell Jesus” which is really not their direct message!) The Roman Catholic Church did not allow prophetic/critical thinking for almost 500 years after the Reformation, nor did the United States for most of its 200-year history (slavery and segregation are the most obvious examples).
.. While critical thinking typically arises in human development in the teens and early adulthood, it is usually oriented outwardly, in criticizing others. But honest and humble self-critical thinking is necessary to see one’s own shadow and usually well-hidden narcissism. Only when I encounter my shadow do I realize that my biggest problem is me!
.. We have to go through interior deaths to reach the third stage of wisdom. Only here does contemplation and nondual thinking become possible; we can begin to learn to live with mystery and paradox and to develop true compassion. If stage one is order and stage two is disorder, then stage three is the final goal of reorder. There is no way around stage two! It is what Paul calls “the folly of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Conservatives tend to stop at stage one, liberals tend to get trapped in stage two, but only stage three is the full risen life of Christ.
Many people presume that the job of religion is to eliminate evil; however, how we eliminate evil is much more important! Violence, injustice, and greed only increase when they are denied in ourselves and projected onto others—this is the “shadow” self.
Most immature religion has attacked the shadow directly, focusing on the symptom while missing the actual source of evil. This leaves self-righteous and high-minded people feeling like they are in control, when in reality they are ignoring the core problem—the mistaken belief that we are separate from God and each other.
.. They help us rediscover all beings’ inherent unity and belovedness. Conversion demands immense humility and honesty rather than zeal or purity. The autonomous, egocentric, and separate self must give way to our True Self.
.. Suffering—whenever we are not in control—is the most effective way to destabilize and reveal our arrogance, our separateness, and our lack of compassion. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.