“To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to [our] unreal and insane world … and our chaotic and unexamined emotions … To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.” Dr Rowan Williams, 104th Archbishop of Canterbury
Fr. Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation, explains: Let’s just look at the emotions issue. I think we all realize—I sure do—that much of the time we’re just jerked around by our passing emotions. So much so, that you don’t have feelings; feelings have you. There is no stable ‘you’ there to hold and process a feeling or thought. Contemplation teaches you how to stand guard and not let your emotions and obsessive thoughts control you. Contemplation and silence nip the ego and its negatives in the bud by teaching you how to watch and guard your very thoughts. As Paul says, ‘Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:7).
Ask yourself when feeling hurt or agitated, ‘What part of me is feeling this?’ The part of you that’s feeling offended or agitated is what Thomas Merton would call your false self. This false self is almost entirely a creation of your own changing mind, and therefore finally an illusion. My novice master called it a cobweb. He would hold out his hand and pretend to blow it away.
Contemplation Has Three Parts
In The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen describes three parts to contemplation: solitude, silence and prayer.
Solitude need not be isolation although there are times when getting away from it all is useful. Rather, Nouwen describes solitude as a “place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the new man and the new woman occurs.” When distraction disappears and we discover solitude, we find that the greatest distraction from reality and recognizing God within is our own busy mind.
Silence is where we enter God’s realm. Meister Eckhardt, a 13th century German theologian, philosopher and mystic, describes this encounter. He writes, Silence is a privileged entry into the realm of God and into eternal life. There is a huge silence inside each of us that beckons us into itself, and the recovery of our own silence can begin to teach us the language of heaven. For, silence is a language that is infinitely deeper, more far-reaching, more understanding, more compassionate, and more eternal than any other language… There is nothing in the world that resembles God as much as silence.
Prayer – contemplative prayer – involves how and when we encounter God. Modern theologian and mystic, Thomas Merton, writes, Contemplation is the highest expression of … spiritual life…it is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of 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”
Merton tells us, To separate meditation from prayer, reading and contemplation is to falsify our picture of the [contemplative] way of prayer … as meditation takes on a more contemplative character, we see that it is not only a means to an end, but also has something of the nature of an end.
Merton continues … meditation and contemplation are not so much a way to find God as a way of resting in Him whom we have found, who loves us, who is near to us, who comes to us to draw us to himself.