Saturday, October 4, 2008

A Living Experience

“My chief care should not be to find pleasure or success, health or life or money or rest or even things like virtue and wisdom – still less their opposites, pain, failure, sickness, death. But in all that happens, my one desire and my one joy should be to know: Here is the thing that God has willed for me. In this His love is found, and in accepting this I can give myself with it to Him. For in giving myself I shall find Him and He is life everlasting.”[1]

Who he was is not really that important. In fact, the writings he left behind don’t even have his name on them. Anonymous. He’s simply known as an unknown English writer from the fourteenth century. I’m glad though for the life he lived and the contributions that he made. Any of us would be most fortunate to have a spiritual advisor like him.

In the forward to The Book of Privy Counseling, the unknown author writes, “My dear friend in God, this book is for you, personally, and not for the general public, for I intend to discuss your interior work of contemplation as I have come to understand it and you. If I were writing for everyone, I should have to speak in general terms, but as I am writing for you alone, I will concentrate on only those things which I believe to be most personally helpful to you at this time. Should anyone else share your interior dispositions and be likely to profit from this book also, all the better. I will be delighted. But it is you alone I have in mind right now, and your interior life, as I have come to understand it. And so, to you (and others like you) I address the following pages.”[2]

It’s interesting, at least to me, how people look at you when you mention the importance of contemplative prayer in your life. Some people look at you with that look that tells you they don’t have a clue what you are talking about. Some look at you with that look that tells you they think you are altogether off your rocker. Some look at you with that look that tells you they think you are one of those super-spiritual people, the kind they prefer to avoid conversing with. Whatever their thought may be, I’ve come to understand that I fit in the group, one of those “others like you,” referred to by the unknown mystic, theologian, and director of souls - a small beginning one, an infant, but one of the group nonetheless.

It’s also interesting how so much of the world that we live in today works overtime to run interference where contemplative prayer, any prayer for that matter, is concerned. We should expect this. After all, the world is on its own collision course with eternal demise and it will take with it all that it can. One of the disconcerting things about this element of reality is that our lives are so tightly woven into the fabric of the modern socio-economic climate that divorcing ourselves from it are practically impossible. Like it or not, the tares and wheat grow together.[3]

In my own contemplative infancy I’m beginning to understand how the Christian mystics, the contemplatives of past ages, lost all interest in the activities of the world. This world and the things of this world, once these men and women began entering into contemplative union with God, completely lost their charm and glitter. They lived with the simple awareness that God is as He is and they learned to live in the naked, stark, elemental awareness that they were as they were.[4]

This in no way suggests a semblance of modern day self-justification or rationalization. It is Ultimate Truth meeting in person with total honesty. It is being completely overwhelmed by Grace. It is contemplative union with the Infinite One uninterrupted by finite preconceived notions. This is a living experience of God that transcends human intellect and reason, something that is at once mind blowing and mind renewing.[5]

[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 17
[2] The Book of Privy Counseling, translation by William Johnston
[3] Matthew 13:24-30
[4] The Book of Privy Counseling, Ch. 1
[5] Ephesians 4:23