Contemplation

Contemplation, for me, is awakening to wonder.

It starts with letting myself be surprised, awed, astonished – at whatever. It may be a beautiful landscape or a smile from a friend.

I have the blessing of a valley I can see from my house and birds that come to my window.

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But last week I also had the blessing of seeing the smiles on the faces of a couple in their eighties who were married in their poor, dirt-floor home at the bedside of the ill husband.

If we open our eyes, our hearts, we can experience these as signs of God, of God’s joyful embrace of all creation – not only in the beautiful but even in the painful.

But it is not mere than emotion or aesthetic appreciation. Thomas Merton puts it well in New Seeds of Contemplation”:

Contemplation is the highest expression of [our] intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. [Italics mine.]

When we receive the gift of contemplation, we can experience what the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem “God’s Grandeur,” calls “the dearest freshness deep down things.”

Opening ourselves to beauty, to the interconnection of all that is, to the creator of all that is, make a space in our hearts, so that they can be contemplative, literally “temples with” God.

Contemplation is not only a way of prayer; it is a way of living, open to God in the little things of this world. It enables us to recover what William Blake wrote about:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.

Open the temple of your heart, so that God may dwell therein.


This is an article that Franciscan Common Venture asked me to write for their March newsletter. 

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