What Do Contemplatives Want?

(or, Results from My Reader Survey)

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Inspiration, right this way…

First a disclaimer about my headline. I’m answering this question (What do contemplatives want?) based on the results from my 2015 readers’ poll. If you aren’t interested in the survey results, scroll to the bottom of the post to see my conclusions.

All the blogging gurus suggest that professional bloggers should survey their readers once a year or so. My last poll was in late 2013. The questions in this year’s survey were partially demographic (so I could get a sense of who you, my readers, are), partially evaluative (do you think I’m doing a good job?), and partially idea-generating (how can my blog be helpful to you in the future?). So let’s took a look at what almost 300 of you had to say — about yourselves, about contemplation, and about how to make this blog better.

Demographics. If there is such a thing as “typical,” then the typical readers of my blog are:

  • Residents of the USA (79%) who live on the east coast (66% – I really must get out more);
  • Christian (71%); primarily Catholic but plenty of Anglicans and mainline Protestants as well;
  • Involved in a church with some sort of leadership role (51% are either clergy, spiritual directors, or lay leaders);
  • Your favorite prayer styles are contemplation (80%) or meditation (73%);
  • Your favorite social media hangout is Facebook (61%), with Twitter running a distant second (21%). Almost a third of you don’t use social media at all;
  • You are probably either a Baby Boomer (47%) or a Gen X’er (24%);
  • You’re well educated, too — have a college degree (83%), or perhaps an advanced degree (53%);
  • You’re a balanced group, gender-wise, too, which is unusual for readers of spiritually-themed books and blogs (the guys usually take a pass; thanks for showing up here).

Your biggest frustrations when it comes to your spiritual life include:

  • Not having enough discipline (55%),
  • Dealing with too many distractions during prayer or meditation (41%),
  • Feeling like you don’t have enough time for your practice (30%).
  • A significant, percentage of readers feel out of step with your faith community (24%);
  • Or are trying to find a creative and graceful way to balance an affinity with more than one faith tradition (15%).

Your two favorite topics to read about on my blog are Christian mysticism (81%) and contemplative prayer (79%). Good thing I like to write about those things.

Only 56% of you have recommended my blog to others. I take that as a challenge that I need to do better. My goal is to support the spiritual journey of my readers; hopefully in such a way that you’ll want to share it with your friends, your pastor, and anyone else who might be interested (I know that spirituality is such a private issue that many people choose not to talk about it, so that could also be keeping these numbers down. But remember, this is how I make my living, so if you like it, share it!).

Speaking of “doing better,” here are some of the suggestions you’ve offered for future topics:

  • How do I find a community of like-minded persons (contemplatives and students of the mystics)?
  • How do I fit in with a faith community where my values are in the minority?
  • How do I balance my affinity with, or attraction to, more than one religious tradition?
  • Why are Christian clergy, Bishops, the Pope, etc., not supportive of contemplative prayer?
  • What is the relationship between contemplation, mysticism, and esotericism?
  • What is a contemplative approach to:
    • Darkness
    • Disability
    • Poverty
    • Confession/Penance
    • Dementia/Alzheimer’s Disease
  • What is spiritual direction? How do I find a spiritual director?
  • How do I ground my prayer life in loving service?
  • How can I persevere in prayer, when it feels like no one is listening?
  • More about Protestant or Anglican mystics.

Here’s your advice for making this blog better:

  • Stronger conclusions (I’m assuming a request for more definitive statements about what I think/believe)
  • Create a series of posts on a particular theme
  • More pictures and cartoons
  • More practical advice about the “tools” for spirituality
  • Handouts (PDFs) for meditation and reflection
  • More videos
  • Shorter posts (today’s post obviously is not following that advice, sorry!)
  • Poetry

Thank you for your input. The suggestions for future content are especially helpful.

So… based on this admittedly very small and unscientific sampling, here are my thoughts about what Christian contemplatives in America today appear to want:

  1. We want to be more disciplined and to find the time to pray and meditate regularly. We don’t just pay lip-service to spirituality; we want it to be a regular part of our lives.
  2. We want to be integrated into a community of faith — but with the freedom to learn from other religious traditions. While some of us shy away from the traditional parish or congregation, most of us see the value in community — but we chafe at how the neighborhood church sometimes seems opposed to interfaith or interspiritual exploration.
  3. We want the leaders of our faith community to understand and support contemplative practice. Too many religious leaders are not only illiterate when it comes to classical Christian spirituality, but they are even hostile to it. On the other hand, many clergy who are drawn to contemplation feel frustrated by how few laity embrace the spiritual disciplines. We need to find ways to build contemplative communities that may look different from traditional congregational or parish models.
  4. We want to integrate contemplation with “real life” issues such as dealing with suffering, disease, or disability, and we want to integrate our spirituality with our social and political values. We’re not into navel-gazing: the time we devote to silence and prayer is meant to make a real difference in every area of our lives.

Okay, my friends — these principles will be front and center in my mind as I continue to create new content for my blog and the other websites where my work is published. Stay tuned — more to come.


Is there anything missing from this report? Have I left something important out? Are there any question you have of me, or suggestion for improving this blog, or a topic you’d like to see me cover? Please post your thoughts in the comments below (or on my Facebook or Twitter feeds). Thank you!

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Author of Befriending Silence, Christian Mystics, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Catechist. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

A word from Carl: Thank you for posting your constructive comment. The goal of this blog is to encourage people to pray. Therefore, I invite you to pray before you submit a post. Please note, I will delete any comments that are offensive, abusive, off-topic, or spam.

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9 thoughts on “What Do Contemplatives Want?

  1. Very insightful. It does show a hunger for something other than the stuff on the front pages (Duggar family and Matt Channdler (Misogynistic religion). I too was surprised to see so many male readers. I look forward to hearing how you are going to incorporate this info into future blogs. Wish we could have seen you in Conyers last week, but it was wonderful to meet Br. Cal!

    • Br. Callistus is a great guy. Glad you could connect with him. As for my blog, look for content that in particular will begin to address the four points at the bottom of this article. The adventure continues…

  2. Great conclusions and I’m looking forward to your further thoughts on them! Perhaps as a sub-topic of wanting to be understood and supported by our faith community leaders, could you help with the pervasive “it’s not about you” response that seems to always be given to counter any attempted discussion on or opening up to new practices within our faith community. Thank you!

  3. Suggestion:study Beguine movement(men and women)in the Low Countries and the Rhineland cum influence on Van Ruysbroeck

  4. Having been with the Catholic Church and seminary trained for all my 71 years of life . I am naturally contemplative . But I do now believe practising formal meditation/contemplation is false . Aren’t we missing the point if we try and set time aside for contemplation?
    Surely if we are made in Gods image we are already suffused with Gods holy grace and we are divinised, so if we are living in Christ what’s the point in pretending to get closer to God when He’s already there? The very air we breathe is holy .
    A religionless Christianity is for me. There is now no need for a Church, priests, bible, sacraments, prayer.
    My parish is the world wherever I am.

    • Denis, thank you for your comment which is giving me much food for thought. I want to reply but I think that once I get cranking I’ll end up with something too long for a blog post comment (occupational hazard of writers, we tend to be verbose, or the word I prefer, loquacious). So I think I’ll write a new blog post building off of your comment, and will let you know when I post it (hopefully this week). Many thanks, and God bless!