Tag Archives: contemplation

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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Dominic in prayer

The Convento of San Marco in Florence has the most incredible frescos I have ever seen, painted by the Dominican friar, Fra Angelico, and his school.Saint_Dominic_(Detail_from_The_Mocking_of_Christ)

What is most remarkable is that the paintings are on the walls of the cells where the Dominican friars studied, prayed, and slept. They are aids to contemplation for these friars noted for their preaching. Preaching without contemplation is worth little.

In one cell there is a famous image of Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers. He is attentively and carefully reading a book, in his lap. He is said to have carried with him the Gospel according to Saint Matthew and the Letters of Saint Paul.

But this image of Saint Dominic is only a small part of the fresco which features Jesus blindfolded, crowned with thorns, being buffeted by hands and spat upon by a disembodied head.

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Faced with this, Dominic is absorbed in contemplation, not looking at the mocked Christ, but still before God.

What could this mean for us?

My initial thoughts are that we are called to contemplate the suffering Christ but also the Word of God – so that we may absorbed in Him, in love. Not either/or – but both. Not just gazing at the wounded Christ, but trying to understand this mystery, with the assistance of the Scriptures. Most of all, this means sitting still – in tranquility.

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46: 10)

Poverty, contemplation, and Charles de Foucauld

One hundred years ago today, on December 1, 1916, Charles de Foucauld was killed by Tuareg rebels in Tamanrasset, Algeria.

DSC06472My white diaconal stole bears his symbol of the heart of Jesus with the Cross. Why does he appeal to me so much?

When I lived in New York City in the early 1970s, I came across the Little Brothers of the Gospel, a community inspired by his life and spirituality. Their life of contemplation combined with living and working among the poor, inspired me. Their simplicity and their evangelization by the witness of their lives still challenge me.

This combination of accompanying the poor and living a contemplative life can be found in other heroes of mine – Saint Francis of Assisi, Servant of God Dorothy Day, and Saint Benedict the Black. There is no opposition between a life with Jesus and a life with the poor.

I hardly live a life like the poor, even though I live among them. I also fail to spend enough time in contemplation with the Lord. But these are the challenges of my life. These are the challenges that Blessed Charles de Foucauld gives me.

But I believe that I cannot respond well to these challenges until I can pray with conviction Charles de Foucauld’s Prayer of Abandonment:

Father, I put myself in your hands;
Father, I abandon myself to you.
I entrust myself to you.
Father, do with me as it pleases you.
Whatever you do with me,
I will thank you for it.
Giving thanks for anything, I am ready for anything.
As long as your will, O God, is done in me,
as long as your will is done in all your creatures,
I ask for nothing else, O God.
I put my soul into your hands.
I give it to you, O God,
with all the love of my heart,
because I love you,
and because my love requires me to give myself,
I put myself unreservedly in your hands
with infinite confidence,
because you are my Father.