Yielding or surrendering to our triune God in Christ is anything but passive or spiritually slothful. Rather, it is a certain expression of the spiritual journey where one is malleable and fluid, open and spacious, gentle and meek, broken and humble, and lovingly rested in the One who became flesh and was crucified for me. There is nothing lazy about this practice.
It is a sweeping statement to paint all mystics and contemplatives with the same brush stroke of “quietism.” Labelling someone as a “quietist” has judgmental overtones by dint of its supposed heresy. But such a move often stems from a hyper-cognitive evaluative judgment than from real lived experience. Historically, we have seen how the Roman Catholic Church has imposed the “quietist” judgment on certain Christian mystics they deemed to have strayed from orthodoxy and thus branded as heretical. It seems odd to me that Reformed Christians, usually anti-Rome on many accounts, uncritically follow suit when it comes to such branding of heresy.
Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon (1648-1717) is one example. I do not claim to know her teaching very well but the little I do know makes me wonder whether branding her as a heretical “quietist” is justified. She has denied those charges against her, as far as I know. A lady who, to my limited knowledge, was devout and prayerful, Guyon suffered much in her family life under her in-laws. She was even imprisoned for her faith and spirituality. I am hesitant to paint her with the same brush stroke as modern antinomians who espouse “effortless” Christianity. That is unjustified and unfair. Nor do I see any historical connection between them.
As far as I know, Guyon taught that we cannot be saved by works, which is exactly what Reformed faith teaches. And surrendering to God in Christ in stillness and silence is not in itself heretical. Why is there such a knee-jerk paranoia towards stillness and silence, emptiness and nakedness of being, especially amongst go-getting do-do-do evangelicals? I submit to you that this is due to a combination of pride, ignorance, hyperactivity, over-cognitivism, and fear of the unknown. I am not convinced that constant busyness and activity in Christian life is the gold standard of faith that all without question should conform to. Whatever happened to the sabbath rest of believers?
While I admit that some mystical teachings seem to go overboard in erasing the ontological divide between created person and Creator God, there is much wisdom and inspiration to be gleaned from our Christian contemplative tradition. St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross probably avoided the heretical branding by virtue of saying some right things pleasing to the ears of ecclesiastical powers. Others who ran afoul of the religious authorities might not have been so diplomatic. Jeanne Guyon and Meister Eckhart for example. Nonetheless, in our time, we can and should revisit these writers and contemplatives and judge for ourselves without the cloud of cancel culture over our heads. It is imperative to avoid knee-jerk conditioned reactivity based on uncritical assimilation of ecclesiastical dogma but seek to sieve truth from facts and test each spirit with discernment.
Grace is not opposed to effort. Grace is opposed to earning. But effort does not mean hyperactivity and busyness, striving and stressing all the time, making the Christian life all huff and puff filled with sweat and tears. Often, much of evangelical activism looks to me more like earning than it does Spirit-enlightened, Spirit-empowered effort that, while active, can be effortlessly effortful. Since when is flowing in the unforced cadence of grace a bad thing that is inevitably slothful? Could this be a semantic misreading? Try flowing in grace and you will find it is not easy at all. Anyone condemning it as lazy obviously has not tasted and felt the real deal.
A touch of Zen paradox might help with evangelical frenzy and self-congratulating activism. There also needs to be a stop to this presumptuous and erroneous notion that eastern meditation is all about “emptying the mind” while biblical meditation is about “filling the mind.” Frankly, if the mind is already full of garbage, whatever you try to fill it with may end up twisted and denatured. As a matter of fact, I am not sure that the term “quietism” should be so negatively appraised and despised at all. In an era of postmodern madness and incessant performative striving, a good dose of quietism might just be what we need.