To live a contemplative life, to be spiritual, does not mean that we spend life in some kind of sacred spa designed to save us from having to deal with the down and dirty parts of life. The contemplative life is not spiritual escapism. Contemplation is immersion in the God who created the world for all of us…. And so must we do whatever justice must be done in our time if we claim to be serious about really sinking into the heart of God. A spiritual path that does not lead to a living commitment to the coming of the will of God everywhere for everyone is no path at all. It is, at best, a pious morass, a dead end on the way to God.
If we are truly to pray, truly to live without anaesthesia in a broken world, then we must avoid any hint of escapism. The kind of prayer implied by Romans 8.26, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words…", and the Jesus Prayer, is anything but escapism. It is becoming one with God's mercy, caught up in what he is doing, even when we don't know what he is doing. This longing in prayer for Christ's mercy, longing for the healing of the Cross in this place of bitterness, involves changing our own hearts, taking away all that insulates us from God, and from the brokenness towards which his mercy reaches out. (This, I take it, is what self-denial actually means.)
What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation.
For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.
(Isaac of Nineveh, Ascetical Homilies, pp. 344-5)