"Contemplation Revisited"
November 15, 2023, 6:00 AM

To you I lift up my eyes,
to you enthroned in the heavens.
Our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he shows us his mercy.
Psalm 123: 1,3

“A life of faith isn’t just about walking with God, but how one walks with humanity. The goal of religion is to improve our willingness and our ability to see,” writes Rabbi Donniel Hartman. Choosing not to see is immoral. Contemplation is the way to see the world as Christ sees it – faithfully in love. A person must let go of indifference and learn how to really see in order to lead an ethical and moral life.

Those words create fear and trepidation for me. I hear yet another project on the horizon. I see more endless nights trying to figure this out. Isn’t going to church every Sunday enough? Now, it’s contemplation? I already do enough prayer, meditation, reading of Scripture. So, what am I missing?

It wasn’t until I began to study the writings of Guigo II the Carthusian (1114 CE - c.1193 CE) that my own disarray of thought came into focus. There is a sequential process that goes into contemplation whether or not we realize it. Seeing beyond what we already know is the major purpose of contemplation.

Guigo II saw that contemplation (or a union with Christ) was preceded by three steps: Scripture, Meditation, Prayer, and only then, Contemplation.

  1. Focusing on the Word (Scripture)

Unique to the Christian tradition is the use of Scripture. Unlike other religions, God comes to us. We do not make our way to God. Scripture shows us how we need to live currently with others in the world. By studying Scripture, we begin to sense something else is going on that is not easily apparent in our everyday chaotic world. Scripture challenges us to empty ourselves of our own self-importance.

  1. Meditation

Meditation is practiced in numerous religious traditions in order to achieve a mentally clear and an emotionally calm state. Meditation is a practice in which an individual uses a technique such as mindfulness (focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity) so that solutions to problems become clear. However, meditation is not contemplation. It’s not about trying to feel good.

While calming oneself may have positive benefits, meditation in terms of Christianity has distinctive characteristics. For Guigo II, meditation occurs when a person ponders the stories of Scripture and asks, “Is there more? And, what does this mean?” When a person realizes that they cannot figure out the answer, meditation drives that individual to prayer asking for someone who is more loving and intelligent to give an answer.

  1. Prayer

In asking God for answers, prayer changes from an initial tenor of pleading with God to one of simply allowing God to be God in the silence – asking for nothing. “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) This silence opens the door to contemplation.

  1. Contemplation

In deep Christian contemplation, all thoughts are dismissed (no thinking). This comes with constant practice. What emerges is the experience of the intimate immediacy of the love of Christ where God, and you, and others, and the world all are one and have been one, long before creation. It is Eucharistic in nature. In this realization, all perceptions change. We begin to see things for what they are. We see ordinary daily scenes become bright, and change color as we identify ongoing acts of mercy, love, and justice. 

At the same time, we see more clearly the scenes that are devoid of mercy, love, and justice. We begin to recognize root causes of injustice, war, and the sorrow that exists upon the earth. However, it does not stop there.

True contemplation ultimately results in ACTION that follows and addresses inhuman conditions and distorted belief systems. Action is the clearest response to what God has told and requires of each of us: “Do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

The question now becomes, “What role will contemplation play in your life and in the upcoming Advent Season?”

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John