Let us give glory to God, my friends, for the opportunity to learn and share about the gift of contemplation. My time this week seems to be available in smaller bits and this is a longer section, so I will post in smaller bits as I am able. Read and comment as you are able, with the Spirit guiding all of us in our longing for Him.
As Fr. Matta has just led us to better understand meditation and how to approach it, he now explains that there is no clear boundary between meditation and contemplation. Rather, meditation is the practice that leads us to contemplation and is its foundation. Meditation is effortful work that activates our spirits. We are relieved of the “effort” in contemplation, so as to experience a more spontaneous activity of the spirit.
- Fr. Matta starts us off with the sobering words, “Very few people spend any time practicing being with God.” I find myself feeling sad at these words while recognizing their truth. What is it in our world and our culture that contributes to this? What personally interferes with my “spending time” practicing being with God? (Do I feel like I don’t know how? Do I feel rushed to move on to the next thing, to “accomplish” something? Is my life filled with necessary – or unnecessary – activity that distracts?)
- Fr. Matta assures us that contemplation is accessible to people in all states of life. This sounds good in theory but when he continues on to write of “total quietude”, what is the mother at home with a troop of young children to do? Or the machinist, customer service representative or teacher? (To name just a few of the occupations that make inner quiet difficult…)
Fr. Matta tells us that contemplation is normal and natural to our souls, i.e. “…the soul in its original state can contemplate divine truth when it stands quiet and silent before its Maker. In its normal and natural condition, the soul is not presupposed to be positive or negative.” The primary qualification we need is to not be preoccupied with anything other than God. Having left behind its other preoccupations, the soul becomes watchful or “sober”. The “quietude and cessation of all mental and psychic activity” is simple and makes our hearts ready for God. Simple is not easy for all people, however. Yet the Spirit helps us, as do the teachings of the saints.
- Depending on our individual personalities and experiences, what Fr. Matta writes here may seem attainable or completely beyond our reach. If you find yourself more in the latter category, it may be helpful to move from “all or nothing” language to a continuum perspective, i.e. rather than expecting a cessation of all mental activity, move toward gradual quieting.
- Do you have any personal practices that help you quiet your inner activity? Are there any you might feel comfortable sharing here? [An example from my own experience is taking a contemplative walk with my camera – something I learned from another. A contemplative walk is one that has no particular destination or purpose. I tend to walk in nature with my camera with the notion of “receiving” images, i.e. I am not going to “take” pictures but receive images of whatever might be there, whatever might be given to me in the particular moment that I am passing through. In “receiving”, I am less concerned with the good photo than with the encounter and I begin to see with my heart. I find that the camera helps me focus – yes, I know it’s a pun! – but I find that I am more more watchful than if I walk without it.]
Fr. Matta is going to tell us more about how the soul is to be trained for the quietude of contemplation (itself a form of contemplation) in the paragraphs that follow. To be continued…)