THE TRUE NATURE OF CONTEMPLATION

“Contemplation,” Benedictine Fr. Thomas Keating has written, “is basically the predominance of the gifts of the Spirit over our own activity during the time of prayer.  At the same time, it gradually works itself into daily life through the active gifts of the Spirit: counsel, prudence, fortitude and knowledge.” Christian contemplation is most often achieved through stillness and silence, allowing a place and time to open oneself to the Spirit.

“We go into silence to listen to messages from God,” purports Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, an Anglican priest, teacher and author of Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening:

If we can get our own noise down far enough, we can hear God speak to us. God is always present. It’s we who are absent. We run away and hang out in our noise and our ideas and our talking. So when we are being silent we simply restore a condition of ‘is-ness’ and we discover that we are joined to God by a great umbilical cord of love that never lets us down.”

Judy Cannato (2002) speaks of the importance of prayerful contemplation as a “non-judgmental gaze” at the whole of life:

Only when we have become still can we contemplate our life’s journey, find fresh meaning in what we thought were detours, name illusions for what they are, reclaim lost parts of ourselves, or discover new potential that we never dreamed was there. Contemplative awareness is essential: integration and integrity demand it.

The process of contemplation is not simply the act of making a detailed analysis of strengths and weaknesses, illusions, values, and goals. It is rather a non-judgmental gaze at the whole of our life, a gaze that affirms our gifts and is truthful about how they have been used and misused.  In contemplation we examine… the elements of the shadow – those parts of the self that cause us to reject our truth and project our illusions onto others. Non-judgmental is the key word, since judgement and blame will bring up our defenses and will be counterproductive.

Contemplation is essentially the growing recognition that our lives are intertwined with divine mystery, that meaning comes not from proving ourselves to be successful or good but from allowing the truth and love of the Spirit to penetrate and transform our hearts, The light of God’s loving presence first illuminates our darkness, allowing us to recognize what is false and futile, then invites us to yield to a clearing out that renders us transparent. Contemplation will allow us, if we are courageous and open, to see the truth. And the truth will set us free-free from the “darkened crisis” to “look once more upon the stars”– free to live the rest of our life in unimagined beauty and light’.

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