Contemplation.

Contemplation is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life (...). It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being preceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant source. Thomas Merton, quoted after: Novak Philip, The World's Wisdom, P.276.

Contemplation is a gift of God, in which the soul, purified by His infused love, suddenly and inexplicably experiences the presence of God within itself. Merton, Thomas. Bread In The Wilderness. P. 143. Submitted to L-Center Discussion Group by Gary Horn <ghorn@qwest.com>

Closing your eyes, ears and mouth, peep within yourself. Inner Spiritual Power shall spring forth and Lord's vision shall be revealed. You shall even be able to hear Him and talk with Him. Shanti Vachan Bhandar, 1852.

For in the beginning it is usual to feel nothing but a kind of darkness about your mind, or as it were, a cloud of unknowing. You will seem to know nothing and to feel nothing except a naked intent toward God in the depths of your being. () But learn to be at home in this darkness. Return to it as often as you can, letting your spirit cry out to Him whom you love. For if, in this life, you hope to feel and see God as He is in Himself, it must within this darkness and this cloud. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.49.

() by the work of contemplative love man will be healed. Failing in this work he sinks deeper into sin further and further from God, but by persevering in it he gradually rises from sin and grows in divine intimacy. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.50.

() the difference between contemplative work and its counterfeits such as daydreaming, fantasizing, or subtle reasoning. These originate in a conceited, curious, or romantic mind whereas the blind stirring of love springs from a sincere and humble heart. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.52.

It is inevitable that ideas will arise in your mind and try to distract you in a thousand ways. () To all of them you must reply, "God alone I seek and desire only Him." The Cloud of Unknowing, P.55.

A naked intent toward God, the desire for Him alone, is enough. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.56.

I call it a naked intent because it is utterly disinterested. In this work the perfect artisan does not seek personal gain or exemption from suffering. () He is so fascinated by the God he loves and so concerned that His will be done on earth that he neither notices nor cares about his own ease or anxiety. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.80.

But in the higher degree of the contemplative life, he transcends himself because he achieves by grace what is beyond him by nature. For now he is bound to God spiritually in a communion of love and desire. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.59.

Be sure that if you are occupied with something less than God, you place it above you for the time being and create a barrier between yourself and God. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.60.

If God is calling you to the third part (i.e. contemplation) () work for it with all your heart. It shall never be taken from you, for it will never end. Though it begins on earth, it is eternal. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.77.

() God gives the gift of contemplation freely and without recourse to methods; () methods alone can never induce it. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.90.

Contemplative prayer is God's gift, wholly gratuitous. No one can earn it. () He who experiences God working in the depths of his spirit has the aptitude for contemplation and no one else. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.91.

Now if you ask me what sort of moderation you should observe in the contemplative work, I will tell you: none at all. In everything else, such as eating, drinking, and sleeping, moderation is the rule. (...) In all these things, I say again, keep to the middle path. But in love take no measure. Indeed, I wish that you had never to cease from this work of love. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.100.

Contemplation is a long, loving look at the real. Ascribed to William McNamara.

Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding. For every gain in deep certitude there is a corresponding growth of superficial "doubt". This doubt is by no means opposed to genuine faith, but it mercilessly examines and questions the spurious "faith" of everyday life, the human faith which is nothing but the passive acceptance of conventional opinion. This false "faith" which is what we often live by and which we even come to confuse with our "religion" is subjected to inexorable questioning. This torment is a kind of trial by fire in which we are compelled, by the very light of invisible truth which has reached us in the dark ray of contemplation, to examine, to doubt and finally reject all the prejudices and conventions that we have hitherto accepted as if they were dogmas. Hence it is clear that genuine contemplation in incompatible with complacency and with smug acceptance of prejudiced opinions. It is not mere passive acquiescence in the status quo, as some would like to believe  - for this would reduce it to the level of spiritual anesthesia. Contemplation is no pain-killer. What a holocaust takes place in this steady burning of ashes of old worn-out words, clichés, slogans, rationalizations! The worst of it is that even apparently holy conceptions are consumed along with all the rest. It is terrible breaking and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty: the enter, the existential alter which simply "is." Thomas Merton, The New Seeds of Contemplation, P.12-13.

Contemplative experience is not arrived at by the accumulation of grandiose thoughts and visions or by the practice of heroic mortifications. It is not "something you can buy" with any coin. however spiritual it might seem to be. It is a pure Gift of God, and it HAS TO BE a gift, for that is part of its very essence. It is a gift of which we can never, by any actions of ours, make ourselves fully and strictly worthy. Indeed, contemplation itself is not necessarily a sign of worthiness or sanctity at all. It is a sign of the goodness of God, and it enables us to believe more firmly in His goodness, to trust in Him more, above all to be more faithful in our friendship with Him. All these should normally grow up as the fruits of contemplation. But do not be surprised if contemplation springs out of pure emptiness, in poverty, dereliction and spiritual night. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, P.185.

Contemplation is a mark of a fully mature Christian life. It makes the believer no longer a slave or a servant of a Divine Master, no longer the fearful keeper of a difficult law, no longer even an obedient and submissive son who is still too young to participate in his Father's counsels. Contemplation is that wisdom which makes man the friend of God, a thing which Aristotle thought to be impossible. For how, he said, can a man be God's friend? Friendship implies equality. That is precisely the message of the Gospel. Thomas Merton, The New Man, P.17.

The truth is that God, in His wisdom, determines the course and the character of each one's contemplative journey according to the talents and gifts he has given him. The Cloud of Unknowing, P.140.

It will suffice to say that the contemplative work, when it is authentic, is that reverent love, that ripe, harvested fruit of a man's heart. (...) It is the cloud of unknowing, the secret love planted deep in an undivided heart, the Ark of Covenant. (...) It is what leads you to a silence beyond thought and words and what makes your prayer simple and brief. And it is what teaches you to forsake and repudiate all that is false in the world. The Book of Privy Counseling, P.170.

(...) Almighty God Himself, independently of all techniques, must always be the chief worker in contemplation. (...) And what you must do (...) is make yourself completely receptive, consenting and suffering His divine action in the depths of your spirit. The Book of Privy Counseling, P.170.

Your whole personality will be transformed, your countenance will radiate an inner beauty, and for as long as you feel it nothing will sadden you. A thousand miles would you run to speak with another who you knew really felt it, and yet when you got there, find yourself speechless. (...) Your words will be few, but so fruitful and full of fire that the little you say will hold a world of wisdom (though it may seem nonsense to those still unable to transcend the limits of reason). Your silence will be peaceful, your speech helpful, and your prayer secret in the depths of your being. Your self-esteem will be natural and unspoiled by conceit, your way with others gentle, and your laughter merry, as you take delight in everything with the joy of a child. How dearly you will love to sit apart by yourself, knowing that others, not sharing your desire or attraction, would only hinder you. The Book of Privy Counseling, P.182-183.

Close your eyes. Half of the world disappears, because we think most of what we see. (...) Choose a sacred word of one or two syllables that you feel comfortable with. (...) Keep thinking this sacred word. (...) As you go to a deeper level of reality, you begin to pick up vibrations that were there all the time but not perceived. This broadened perspective gives you a chance to know both yourself and God in a new way. Thomas Keating, Finding Grace at the Centre, P.25.

This prayer is communion with the Spirit of God who is charity, pure gift. (...) Accept each period of centering prayer as it comes, without asking for anything, having no expectations. Thomas Keating, Finding Grace at the Centre, P.30.

The reflective part, the pondering upon the words of the sacred text, was what the monks called meditatio, meditation. The spontaneous movement of the will in response to these reflections they called oratio, or affective prayer. When these were very simple, these reflections and acts of will often moved on to a kind of resting in God, and that is what they meant by contemplatio, contemplation. Thomas Keating, Finding Grace at the Centre, P.37.

We ruin our prayer if we are constantly examining our prayer and seeking the fruit of prayer in a peace that is nothing more than a psychological process. The only thing to seek in contemplative prayer is God; and we seek Him successfully when we realize that we cannot find Him unless He shows Himself to us, and yet at the same time that he would not have inspired us to seek Him unless we had already found Him. Merton, Thomas. Thoughts In Solitude. P. 53. Submitted to L-Center Discussion Group by Gary Horn <ghorn@uswest.com>

Suppose that my "poverty" be a secret hunger for spiritual riches: suppose that by pretending to empty myself, pretending to be silent, I am really trying to cajole God into enriching me with some experience - what then? Then everything becomes a distraction. All created things interfere with my quest for some special experience. I must shut them out, or they will tear me apart. What is worse - I myself am a distraction. But, unhappiest thing of all - if my prayer is centered in myself, if it seeks
only an enrichment of my own self, my prayer itself will be my greatest potential distraction. Full of my own curiosity, I have eaten of the tree of Knowledge and torn myself away from myself and from God. I am left rich and alone and nothing can assuage my hunger: everything I touch turns into a distraction. Merton, Thomas. Thoughts In Solitude. PP. 93, 94. Submitted to L-Center Discussion Group by Gary Horn <ghorn@uswest.com>

All truly contemplative souls have this in common: not that they gather exclusively in the desert, or that they shut themselves up in seclusion, but that where He is, there they are. And how do they find Him? By technique? There is no technique for finding Him. They find Him by His will. And His will, bringing them grace within and arranging their lives exteriorly, carries them infallibly to the precise place in which they can find Him. Even there they do not know how they have got there, or what they are really doing." Merton, Thomas. Thoughts In Solitude. P. 96. Submitted by Gary Horn <ghorn@uswest.com>

Many methods of meditation make use of "sacred words," but these words are used in different ways, aimed at different levels of our awareness. The sacred word is a gesture of the consent of our spiritual will to God's presence in our inmost being.  The word appears in our imagination but exercises no direct, quieting function on the level of our ordinary stream of consciousness.  Rather, it only expresses our intention, the choice of our will to open and surrender to God's presence.  This is the difference between Centering Prayer and a practice that utilizes some form of "attention," as in looking at a candle, repeating a mantra, or visualizing some image.  That is why we do not have to repeat the sacred word continuously.  We only us it to maintain our intention of faith and love toward God.  As long as thoughts go by like boats on the surface of the river without attracting our desire or causing an aversion, we do not need to return to the sacred word.  In these instances, there is no interruption in the orientation of our "intention" toward God.  Keating, Thomas. Intimacy with God. PP 66-67.

Certain processes, of which contemplation has been taken as a type, can so alter the state of consciousness as to permit the emergence of this deeper self; which, according as it enters more or less into the conscious life, makes man more or less a mystic.  The mystic life, therefore, involves the emergence from deep levels of man's transcendental self; its capture of the field of consciousness; and the 'conversion' or rearrangement of his feeling, thought, and will - his character - about this new centre of life. Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness.. PP.67-68

Contemplation is not a deepening of experience only, but a radical change in one's way of being and living, and the essence of this change is precisely a liberation from dependence on external means to external ends. Merton, Thomas. Faith and Violence. P 217. Submitted to L-Center Discussion Group by Gary Horn <ghorn@uswest.com>

A method of meditation or a form of contemplation that merely produces the illusion of having "arrived somewhere", of having achieved security and preserved one's familiar status by playing a part, will eventually have to be unlearned in dread-or else we will be confirmed in the arrogance, the impenetrable self-assurance of the Pharisee.  We will become impervious to the deepest truths.  We will be closed to all who do not participate in our illusion.  We will live "good lives" that are basically inauthentic, "good" only as long as they permit us to remain established in our respectable and impermeable identities. Merton, Thomas. Contemplative Prayer. PP.103-104. Submitted by Gary Horn mailto:ghorn@uswest.com

Contemplation is the life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of being. It is gratitude for life ... It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible source. Thomas Merton. Quoted in: Kilcourse George A. Jr. (1999). When the Heart is Right. Thomas Merton Contemplative Contribution to Interreligious Dialogue.

The important thing in contemplation is not gratification and rest but awareness, life, creativity, and freedom ... (Contemplation) is a flash of the lightning of divinity piercing the darkness of nothingness and sin... It is the awakening of Christ within us. Thomas Merton. As above.

This is why the term 'contemplation' is both insufficient and ambiguous when it is applied to the highest forms of Christian prayer.  Nothing is more foreign to authentic monastic and 'contemplative' (e.g. Carmelite) tradition in the Church than a kind of gnosticism which would elevate the contemplative above the ordinary Christian by initiating him into a realm of esoteric knowledge and experience, delivering him from the ordinary struggles and sufferings of human existence, and elevating him to a
privileged state among the spiritually pure, as if he were almost an angel, untouched by matter and passion, and no longer familiar with the economy of sacraments, charity and the Cross.   The way of monastic prayer is not a subtle escape from the Christian economy of incarnation and redemption.  It is a special way of following Christ, of sharing in his passion and resurrection and in his redemption of the world.."  Merton, Thomas.  Contemplative Prayer. PP. 23-24.

Some Aspects of Christian Meditation (Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on October 15, 1989.)

Contemplation is not a means to an end.  It is not even a goal sought for itself.  It is so utterly simple that the very desire for it becomes an obstacle to achieving it.  And when you achieve it, you haven't really achieved anything.  You do not get some place where you were not.  You are getting where you always really are:  in the presence of God.  You have achieved nothing.  Yet you have achieved everything.  For you have been transformed in consciousness so that at last you recognize yourself for
who you really are."  William H. Shannon, Seeking the Face of God. [in]: The Fire of Silence and Stillness: An Anthology of Quotations for the Spiritual Journey. P.16

It is common to regard contemplation as a rare and exalted gift, an so no doubt it is in its plenitude.  Yet the seeds of a contemplative attitude exist in all of us.  From this hour and moment I can start to walk through the world, conscious that it is God's world, that he is near me in everything that I see and touch, in everyone whom I encounter.  However spasmodically and incompletely I do this I have already set foot upon the contemplative path. Ware, Bishop Kallistos. The Orthodox Way. P. 120. Submitted to L-Center Discussion Group by Gary Horn mailto:ghorn@uswest.com

It seems right to say that one who wants a contemplative life today must do two things: First, he must, as far as possible, reduce the conflict and frustration in his life by cutting down contact with the "world" and his secular subjections. This means reducing his needs for pleasure, comfort, re-creation, prestige, and success, and embracing a life of true spiritual poverty and detachment. Secondly, he must learn to put up with the inevitable conflicts that remain -- the noise, the agitation, the crowding, the lack of time and, above all, the constant contact with a purely secular mentality which is all around us everywhere and at all times, even to some extent in monasteries." Tuoti, Frank X.  Why Not be a Mystic. P.162

How many there must be who have smothered the first sparks of contemplation by piling wood on the fire before it was well lit.  The stimulation of interior prayer so excites them that they launch out into ambitious projects for teaching and converting the whole world, when all that God asks of them is to be quiet and keep themselves at peace, attentive to the secret work He is
beginning in their souls. Merton, Thomas.  New Seeds of Contemplation.  P. 207. Submitted to L-Center Discussion Group by Gary Horn ghorn@uswest.com

Contemplative prayer is the normal development of the grace of baptism and the regular practice of lectio divina.  We may think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression. Contemplative prayer is the opening of mind and heart-our whole being-to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions.  We open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer that breathing, closer that thinking, closer that consciousness itself. Contemplative prayer is a process of interior purification leading, if we consent, to divine union. Keating, Thomas.  Reawakenings. P. 8.

Such practice of inward orientation, of inward worship and listening, is no mere counsel for special religious groups, for small religious orders, for special "interior souls," for monks retired in cloisters.This practice is the heart of religion.  It is the secret, I am persuaded, of the inner life of the Master of Galilee.  He expected this secret to be freshly discovered in everyone who would be his follower.  It creates an amazing fellowship, the church catholic and invisible, and institutes group living at a new
level, a society  grounded in reverence, history rooted in eternity, colonies of heaven. Kelly, Thomas R. A Testament of Devotion. PP.32-33.

There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once.  On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs.  But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings. (...) The secular world of today values and cultivates only the first level, assured that *there* is where the real business of mankind is done, and scorns, or smiles in tolerant amusement, at the cultivation of the second level--a luxury enterprise, a vestige of superstition, an
occupation for special temperaments.  But in a deeply religious culture men know that the deep level of prayer and of divine attendance is the most important thing in the world.  It is at this deep level that the real business of life is determined. (...) Kelly, Thomas R.  A Testament of Devotion. PP.35-36

The heart of contemplative prayer is a selflessness that assimilates the soul to God and enables it to receive those supernatural "touches" of grace by which it becomes aware of God, as He is in Himself, not through, the medium of ideas and species, which cannot perfectly represent Him as He is in Himself, but in the immediate contact of obscure love.  The secret of contemplation is the gift of ourselves to God. Merton, Thomas. Bread In The Wilderness. P. 64. Submitted to L-Center Discussion Group by Gary Horn  <ghorn@qwest.com>

One of the fathers said:  Just as it is impossible to see your face in troubled water, so also the soul, unless it is clear of alien thoughts, is not able to pray to God in contemplation."  Nomura, Yushi. Desert Wisdom:  Sayings from the Desert Fathers. P.4

The way to contemplation is an obscurity so obscure that it is no longer even dramatic.  There is nothing in it that can be grasped and cherished as heroic or even unusual.  And so, for a contemplative, there is supreme value in the ordinary everyday routine of work, poverty, hardship and monotony that characterize the lives of all the poor, uninteresting and forgotten people in the world. Merton, Thomas, New Seeds of Contemplation, Ch.35. Submitted by Gary Horn to Merton-L Discussion Group.

Contemplative prayer ...is nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone
with him who we know love us. Ascribed to St. Teresa of Avila.

Go and contemplate God's wonders, become lost to yourselves from the majesty and awe of God. When the one who beholds the wonders of God abandons pride and egoism from contemplating God's work, that one will know his proper station and will be silent concerning the Maker. Such person will only say from their soul, "I cannot praise You properly," because that declaration is beyond reckoning. Rumi, Mathnawi IV, 3708-3710, quoted in: Helminski, Kabir (2000). The Rumi Collection. P.22

If the intellect has not risen above the contemplation of the created world, it has not yet beheld the realm of God perfectly. For it may be occupied with the knowledge of intelligible things and so involved in their multiplicity. St. Evagrios the Solitary (345-399 C.E.), quoted in: The Philokalia, Vol. I., P.62.

When we have to some extent cut off the causes of the passions, we should devote our time to spiritual contemplation; for if we fail to do this we shall easily revert to the fleshly passions, and so achieve nothing but the complete darkening of our intellect and its reversion to material things. St. Hesyhios the Priest (8th or 9th Century), quoted in: The Philokalia, Vol. I., P.165.

When there are no fantasies or mental images in the heart, the intellect is established in its true nature, ready to contemplate whatever is full of delight, spiritual and close to God. St. Hesyhios the Priest (8th or 9th Century), quoted in: The Philokalia, Vol. I., P.178.

All spiritual contemplation should be governed by faith, hope and love, but most of all by love. The first two teach us to be detached from visible delights, but love unites the soul with the excellence of God (...). St. Diadochos of Photiki (circa 400-486 CE), quoted in Philokalia, Vol. I., P.253.

This darkness is more beautiful than all the glory of soaring Athos. And we can find it by simply doing as the Lord said and closing our door and being with the Father in secret. () The quiet of our monastery, our monastic cell, our own room, is a blessing, but of no use unless we want to and do close the door of inner cell, too. Pennington, Basil. (1978). O Holy Mountain! Journal of a Retreat on Mount Athos. P.218.

When will I go and contemplate the Face of the Lord? Psalm 41:3. Quoted in: Pennington, Basil. (1978). O Holy Mountain! Journal of a Retreat on Mount Athos. P.261.


Last updated: 2008/03/25.

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