We are in time. We practice the active life in time, knowing that our goal is in eternity. The role of the contemplative is to remind us that there is in the world something other than the world, that the goal of human life is beyond the human. Contemplation is the goal and meaning of work just as sabbath is the goal and meaning of the weekdays.
We may love the wisdom of Brother Lawrence or Thomas Merton, Julian of Norwich or Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross; what we must understand is that each one of these spiritual geniuses and giants was deeply influenced by their regular, daily observance of morning and evening prayer as part of a faith community.
Since our inmost “I” is the perfect image of God, then when the “I” awakens, he finds within himself the Presence of Him Whose image he is. And, by a paradox beyond all human expression, God and the soul seem to have but one single “I.” They are (by divine grace) as though one single person. They breathe and live and act as one. “Neither” of the “two” is seen as object.
If we look for Christ only in the saints, we shall miss Him. If we look for Him only in those people who seem to have the sort of character we personally consider to be Christian, that which we call our “ideal,” we shall miss the whole meaning of His abiding in us.
It is often said that contemplation is a very refined and special activity of the mind, something that only monks and holy people do. Because there are places set apart for the refined search for God, it is assumed that those who reside there have some kind of edge on the God-market. But there is something of the monk in everyone. We all know and cherish places where we can gather ourselves, our thoughts, our loves. And we monks know that what we strive for is to be found everywhere.
Thinking about the future of Christian leadership, I am convinced that it needs to be a theological leadership. For this to come about, much— very much— has to happen in seminaries and divinity schools. They have to become centers where people are trained in true discernment of the signs of the time. This cannot be just an intellectual training. It requires a deep spiritual formation involving the whole person— body, mind, and heart. I think we are only half aware of how secular even theological schools have become. Formation in the mind of Christ, who did not cling to power but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, is not what most seminaries are about. Everything in our competitive and ambitious world militates against it. But to the degree that such formation is being sought for and realized, there is hope for the church of the twenty-first century.
I got to know the Christian faith through its contemplative form, through abbeys. This is no faith of rules and merits. Neither is it a faith of dogmas that must be accepted as truths. Here I discovered a faith of lived experience and inwardness, preserved throughout the centuries and passed on… I knew nothing about abbeys. I had even less of a sense of what can happen to you in silence. Student life — yes, that I knew. And I knew that in a quiet moment, negative thoughts can surprise you. But that at times silence can fill a person with unspeakable richness — no, that was new and foreign to me. I could not figure it out. But it exerted an irresistible pull, and I returned.
We eventually become what we pay attention to, what we contemplate; and paying attention to our hearts in their longing for God eventually builds us up as children of God, and brothers and sisters of each other.
The contemplative life is a marvelous school of discernment where, in the course of the contemplative adventure, one learns to recognize the true consolations of the Spirit among so many desires swarming in the heart.
Often the most troubled aspect of the spiritual life is the violence people feel has been inflicted on them by the narrowness or rigidity of a religious tradition. Worse, many suffer from a deep oppression of the spirit, having been taught that God is the source of a punishing absolute truth. This wound of being alienated from God’s truth, a truth that we mortals are destined to never perfect, seeps into the ground of consciousness, creating a loneliness of heart that no material good can assuage. Yet how different this view of God is from those who have intimately touched the divine embrace! Those, like the mystics, who have come face-to-face with the divine presence do not encounter a finality, but a radical openness that transforms the core of being and one’s orientation to all of creation.
Is God humble?
Humble derives from the Latin humus, “earth.” To be humble is to be earthed in reality. God is grounded in what truly is, at an infinite level of truth. Because humility is part of the divine image, when we grow in that value increasingly, we reflect God’s humility. We see things as they are, from within the vastness of our Creator.
Prayer is not so much something one does as something one is.
Since the sixteenth century, especially in those cultures secretly influenced by Cartesian dualism, there has been a tendency to consider the spiritual life entirely as a matter of interior feelings, states, and actions. The disembodied spirituality that resulted often concentrated excessively on the conscious experience of individuals and neglected not only the deeper stirrings of the human spirit but also the everyday role played by sacramental practice, good works, and community life. The spiritual life was considered almost as a private affair between oneself and God, and meditation became a means of exercising control over one’s life rather than a channel by which one could open oneself to be surprised by God… Traditional monastic life, on the contrary, emphasized the importance of arriving at a harmony of body and soul, both working together toward the same goal. A monk prayed and a monk worked; it was expected that the bodily work he did for the support of the community would be permeated by prayer.
It is not enough for a tree to be blessed with leaves, branches, trunk, and shoots. It must have roots.
To be human, it is not enough to feel, think, remember, dream, and imagine. We must have roots; a silence that reaches down into the silence of God, the Origin of Faith.
Inner silence means “no thinking.” This seems to be very simple and easy. But it is very difficult. It is not the beginner’s work. I think it is everything to mystical training, including Zen. Indeed almost every method or device is nothing but a means to keep us in complete silence.