Contemplation - Christian

 

"Stand guard over your spirit, keeping it free of concepts at the time of prayer so that it may remain in its own deep calm. Thus he who has compassion on the ignorant will come to visit even such an insignificant person as yourself. That is when you will receive the most glorious gift of prayer.

 

Do not by any means strive to fashion some image or visualize some form at the time of prayer."

 

The Cloud of Unknowing

 

If you would know God, and worship and serve God as you should do, you must come to the means He has ordained and given for that purpose.

 

Some seek it in books, some in learned men, but what they look for is in themselves, yet they overlook it. The voice is too still, the Seed to small, and the Light shineth in darkness.

 

They are abroad and so cannot divide the spoil; but the woman that lost her silver found it at home after she (searched abroad?) and you shall find what Pilate wanted to know, viz., Truth.

 

The Light of Christ within, who is the Light of the world, and all that take heed unto it out of darkness into God's marvelous light; for light grows upon the obedient.

 

William Penn (1694)

 

 

Contemplation, understood as the knowledge of God based on the intimate experience of His presence, remained the accepted meaning of the term until the end of the Middle Ages. . . . .

 

Lectio Divina is the most traditional way of cultivating contemplative prayer. It consists in listening to the texts of the Bible as if one were in conversation with God and He were suggesting the topics for discussion. . . .

 

The reflective part, the pondering upon the words of the sacred text in lectio divina is called meditatio, discursive meditation. The spontaneous movement of the will in response to these reflections is called oratio, affective prayer. As these reflections and particular acts of will simplify, one tends to resting in God or contemplation, contemplation. These three acts - discursive meditation, affective prayer and contemplation - might all take place during the same period of prayer. The are interwoven one into the other. One may listen to the Lord as if sharing a privileged interview and respond with one's reflections, with acts of will or with one's silence - - with the rapt attention of contemplation. The practice of contemplative prayer is not an effort to make the mind blank, but to move beyond thinking and the multiplication of particular acts to the level of communing with God, which is a more intimate kind of exchange - - a presence-to-presence, being-to-being exchange. . . . .

 

"Non-conceptual prayer -- prayer without images and thoughts -- does not by itself imply bypassing the humanity of Christ. There is a phase in the spiritual life when Christ is not the object but the subject. The one who prays is standing within the Trinitarian circumcision, one with the Son, towards the Father in the Spirit." (Ama Samy, "May a Christian Practice Zen or Yoga?" Inculturation)

 

. . . . Quoting the prophetic words of Isaiah to the Israelites, "to what have you likened me?", St. John of the Cross warns that if we rely on concepts and thoughts to go to God, we are likely to fall into human projections and the kind of image making that God condemned with such force in the Old Testament.

 

In human relationships, as mutual love deepens, there comes a time when the two friends convey their exchanges without words. . . . . This kind of relationship points to the level of interior silence that is being developed in contemplative prayer. The goal of contemplative prayer is not so much the emptiness of thoughts or conversation as the emptiness of self. In contemplative prayer, one ceases to multiply reflections and acts of will. A different kind of knowledge rooted in love emerges in which the awareness of God's presence supplants the awareness of one's own presence and the inveterate tendency to reflect on self. The experience of God's presence gradually frees one from making oneself or one's relationship with God the center of the universe. The language of the mystics must not be taken literally when they speak of emptiness or the void. Jesus practiced emptiness in becoming a human being, emptying himself of his prerogatives and the natural consequences of his divine dignity. The void does not mean void in the sense of nothing at all, but void in the sense of attachment to thoughts and acts that are necessary preliminaries to getting acquainted with Christ, but which have to be transcended if Christ is to share his most intimate prayer to the Father which is characterized by total self surrender.

 

 

In contemplative prayer, the humanity of Christ is not ignored but affirmed in the most positive and profound manner because contemplation pre-supposes a living faith that the sacred humanity of Jesus contains the fullness of the Godhead. Christ leads us to the Father, but to the Father as he knows Him. In virtue of Christ's sacrificial death and resurrection, we participate by grace in Christ's divinity. We are invited to move beyond our superficial faculties and to worship the Father in spirit and truth. This is to follow Christ into the bosom of the Father where, as the Eternal Son of God, he surrenders to the divine Source from who he eternally emerges - and returns - in the love of the Holy Spirit.

 

Since the "love of God is poured into our hears by the Holy Spirit", as Paul says, we too, as contemplative prayer grows, participate in this movement of grace. The divine presence is simply a fullness that no longer requires the stepping stones of particular acts. One has penetrated the mystery of Christ's humanity and entered into union with the divine Person who is identified with it. During contemplative prayer one transcends the details of Christ's humanity because one has accessed the divine person who possesses it. One returns to daily life with this transformed consciousness, manifesting the fruits of the Spirit and the beatitudes.

 

Negative theology (sometimes called the apophatic tradition) means opening to the mystery of the divine presence within us which transcends the capacity of every human faculty. It is an important bridge in East-West dialogue, without which that dialogue is virtually unthinkable. Many who have gone to the East in search of spiritual wisdom have been able to return to their Christian roots upon hearing that there is a Christian contemplative tradition.

 

Thomas Keating -

Centering Prayer and the Christian Contemplative Tradition