Many blessings, fellow disciples. Another glimpse into contemplation.
Fr. Matta leads us next into what he calls “voluntary contemplation”, which is what most concerns us because it involves our effort. However, he is quick to point out that this is only how it begins. We can only persist in this effort with the help of the Spirit. He then backs up a bit further, “…it is a state of inward readiness of the mind and soul to accept the divine truth and its sway over them”. Essentially, its only aim should be “attainment of a certain measure of interior quietude and mental tranquility” that prepares us to accept full contemplation. He then continues on to describe how one might proceed to the contemplative exercise of repeating and focusing the mind on a short verse or prayer (the Jesus prayer is a well-known example).
- It seems as though Fr. Matta has given us some mixed messages. After telling us that contemplation is accessible to all, he then instructs us about repeating our small verse with the mind focused on it, “constantly without stopping for long hours every day”. How can anyone outside of monastic life accomplish this? What might this mean for those of us living in the world?
- Fr. Matta also tells us that our minds will wander and we must summon them back “without boredom”. (This may be a struggle for some of us, given our lives in a culture that beckons us to constant change and stimulation.) Are there other ideas that may help us train our minds to not “meander”? (I might add the suggestion that we summon our minds back without judgment, a concept used in mindfulness meditation. Often we are prone to becoming upset with ourselves for these perceived “transgressions” and our negative self-judgment may lead us to more wandering – in a negative direction. It may even lead us to discontinue the practice because we conclude that we are not good at it or we cannot do it at all.)
- I will issue a little warning here as well. I suggest to anyone who does not have experience with extensive use of the Jesus prayer or similar forms of contemplative prayer to talk with their spiritual father/mother/director before undertaking extensive practice on the basis of Fr. Matta’s instructions alone. I am not saying this, of course, because I think there is anything wrong with what he has written, but simply because I have no way of knowing who is reading this blog or may read it in the future. Anything can be dangerous for one who is not ready for it – just as honey is dangerous for an infant, though otherwise a good food. Fr. Matta writes that contemplation “protects God’s people” and that it strengthens and is “one of the richest means of building up the soul”. Let us therefore not fear it but remain humble and aware of our own need for spiritual guidance.
I’m afraid my time and energy runs short again so this is but a brief post. Continue on, my brothers and sisters! Certainly you are free to read beyond what I have posted and to add comments as you wish…