Being Contemplative in a Secular World


I just had to share this, even if it’s from the same resource as the previous post, because it’s on a different but parallel thought track.  These are Thomas Merton’s suggestions (highlighting mine) on how to live the contemplative life in a secular world, as capsulized in a talk by Fr. James Conner, OCSO:

Every person is called to this contemplation. Irrespective of whether one ever has any kind of extraordinary experience or not, irrespective of whether one finds God in light or in darkness, in joy or in sorrow, each person is called to live out this mystery of Christ in his or her own life.- It is not limited to monks or religious, not even to Christians or believers. it is intended for all, and only in that can we find our true fulfillment.

photo credits to Sophy Laughing

Merton certainly realized that seeking such a life and such a way of seeing and experiencing life is not easy for many people who live in the world, whose lives are filled with daily pressures of family, work and myriad of responsibilities. However he did point out several ways that even such people can strive to come to contemplation. In the Inner Experience he spelled out something of a program for such people. He suggested that people who are seeking a contemplative life should form groups to support one another in this endeavor to foster and protect something of an elementary contemplative spirituality. He says that the already existing movements interested in liturgy and the study of Scripture could help in this direction. He encourages contemplative monasteries themselves to help in this, striving not only to provide places for retreat and withdrawal, but to form groups of people who can help and support one another in something like a contemplative Third Order. Such groups could provide their members with books, conferences, direction and perhaps a quiet place in the country where they could go for a few days of meditation and prayer. But he cautions:

if you are waiting for someone to come along and feed you the contemplative life with a spoon, you are going to wait for a long time, especially in America. You had better renounce your inertia, pray for a little imagination, ask the Lord to awaken your creative freedom and consider some of the following possibilities. (12)

photo credits to ContemplativeCottage.com

He then goes on to indicate five possibilities which might be considered:

1) He says that it might be possible by the sacrifice of seemingly good economic opportunities, you could move into the country or to a small town where you can have more time to think. This might involve the acceptance of a relative poverty; if so, all the better for your interior life. The sacrifice could be a real liberation from the pitiless struggle which is the source of most of your worries.

2) Wherever you may be, it is always possible to give yourself the benefit of those parts of the day which are quiet because the world does not value them. One of these is the earlier morning hours. Even if a person cannot put a few hundred miles between himself and the city, if he can get up earlier in the morning he will have the whole place to yourself, and taste something of the peace of solitude. One thinks of the movements for Centering prayer with the encouragement to spend twenty minutes in the early morning and again, if possible in the evening in centering oneself before the Lord in a prayer which is wordless and which enables one to hold on to the Lord by a simple “word” to bring our wandering minds back before the Lord. He encourages one to go to early Mass, even though the later ones may be more splendid and solemn. At the earlier Mass, things are quieter, more sober, more somber, more austere. The poor go to early Mass, because they have to get to work sooner. And Christ is more truly with the poor; His spiritual presence among them makes their Mass the more contemplative one.

3) He says that it should be obvious that Sunday, is set apart by nature and by tradition of the Church as a day of contemplation. Puritan custom tended to make Sunday seem a negative sort of “Sabbath” characterized more by the things one “must not” do. The inevitable reactions against this has stressed the legitimate, but more or less insignificant, recreations that make Sunday a day of rest for the body as well as for the spirit. Sunday is the “Lord’s Day” not in the sense that on one day of the week one must stop and think of Him, but because it breaks into the ceaseless “secular” round of time with a burst of light out of a sacred eternity. We stop working and rushing about on Sunday not only in order to rest up and start over again on Monday, but in order to collect our wits and realize the relative meaninglessness of the secular business which fills the other six days of the week, and taste the satisfaction of a peace which surpasses understanding and which is given us by Christ. Sunday is a contemplative day not just because Church law demands that every Catholic assist at Mass, but because everyone who celebrates this day spiritually, and accepts it at-its face value, opens their heart to the light of Christ the light of the Resurrection. In so doing they grow in love, in faith and are able to ìseeî a little more of the mystery of Christ. Simple fidelity to this obvious duty, realization of this gift of God to us, will certainly help the harassed lay person to take their first steps on the path to a kind of contemplation.

4) No matter where one seeks the light of contemplation one commits one’s self by that very fact to a certain spiritual discipline. This is just as true outside the cloister as in it. But it would be a mistake for a man or woman with all the obligations and hardships of secular life, to try to live in the world like a monk. To try to do this would be an illusion. Active virtue and good works play a large part in the contemplative life that is lived in the world, and for this reason the discipline of the contemplative in the world is first of all the discipline of fidelity to their duty of state – to their obligations as a head of a family, as ,very great sacrifices. Perhaps indeed some of the difficulties of people in the world exact from them greater sacrifice than they would find in a cloister. In any case, their contemplative life will be deepened and elevated by the depth of their understanding of their duties. Mere conformism and lip service is not enough. It is not sufficient to “be a good Catholic”. One must penetrate the inner meaning of the life in Christ and see the full significance of its demands. One must carry -out the obligations not simply as a matter of form, but with a real, personal decision to offer the good one does to God, in and through Christ. The virtue of a Christian is something creative and spiritual, not simply a fulfillment of a law. It must be penetrated and filled with the newness, the Christlikeness, which comes from the action of the Spirit of God in their hearts, which elevates their smallest good act to an entirely spiritual level. But, he cautions, this must entail more than simply verbalizing one’s “purity of intention”. 

5) It follows from this that for the married person, their married life is essentially bound up with their contemplation. It is by marriage that such ones are situated in the mystery of Christ. It is by their marriage that they bear witness to Christ’s love for the world, and in their marriage that they experience both the trials and the joys of love. Their marriage is a sacramental center from which grace radiates out into every department of their lives, and consequently it is their marriage that will enable their work, their leisure , their sacrifices and even their distractions to become in some degree contemplative. For by their marriage all these things are ordered to Christ and centered in Christ. It should above all be emphasized that for the married person, even and especially their sharing of married sexual love enters into their contemplation, and this, as a matter of fact, gives it a special character. The union of husband and wife in nuptial love is a sacred and symbolic act, the very nature of which signifies the mystery of the union of God and human in Christ. Now this mystery is the very heart and substance of contemplation. Hence married love is a kind of material and It is a blind, simple groping way of expressing our need to be utterly and completely one. The Fathers of the Church thought that before the fall Adam and Eve were literally two _in one flesh_, that is to say, they were one single being, that human nature, united with God, was whole and complete in itself. But after the fall they were divided into two and therefore sought by sexual love to recover this lost unity. But this desire is ever frustrated by original sin. The fruit of sexual love is not perfection, not completeness, but only the birth of another Adam or another Eve, frail, exiled, incomplete. But the coming of Christ has exercised the futility and despair of the children of Adam. Christ has married human nature, united man and woman and God in Himself, in one Person. In Christ, the completeness we were born for is realized. In Him’ all are one in the perfection of charity.

Merton concludes this section of his writing by saying that contemplation must not be confused with abstraction. A contemplative life is not to be lived by permanent withdrawal within one’s own mind.

“The true contemplative is not less interested than others in normal life, not less concerned with what goes on in the world, but more interested, more concerned. The fact that he or she is a contemplative makes them capable of a greater interest and a deeper concern. The contemplative has the inestimable gift of appreciating at their real worth values that are permanent, authentically deep, human. truly spiritual and even divine. Their mission is to be a complete and whole person, with an instinctive and generous need to further the same wholeness in others, and in all humanity. They arrive at this, however, not by superior gifts and talents, but by the simplicity and poverty which are essential to their state because these alone keep one traveling in the way that is spiritual, divine and beyond understanding. (13)

Thomas Merton, then, presents to us both the great loftiness of contemplation and at the same time the simple ordinariness of it. It is not something that we do of ourselves, but which Christ does in us if we are poor of heart and ready to receive it from Him. For then He brings us to that original unity in which He created us and He is able to truly exert His Love, His Providence and His care for us, one and all. In that way we become the children of God that we are.

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Bios and Zoe


Bios and Zoe

 

Bios (biological) life is that life that comes to us from nature, the life that is always tending to run down and decay and needs to be nourished constantly with air, water and food.

Spiritual life (Zoe), on the other hand, is the life which is in God from all eternity, which has always existed and will always exist…

The difference between having bios and zoe is like the difference between a statue and a man. A man who changed from having bios to zoe would have gone through as big a change as a statue which changed from being a carved statue to being a real man.

C. S. Lewis

Text for Tired Eyes – by Tyler Knott


This is an ode to all of those that have never asked for one.

A thank you in words to all of those that do not do

what they do so well for the thanking.

This is to the mothers.

This is to the ones who match our first scream

with their loudest scream; who harmonize in our shared pain

and joy and terrified wonder when life begins.

This is to the mothers.

To the ones who stay up late and wake up early and always know

the distance between their soft humming song and our tired ears.

To the lips that find their way to our foreheads and know,

somehow always know, if too much heat is living in our skin.

To the hands that spread the jam on the bread and the mesmerizing

patient removal of the crust we just cannot stomach.

This is to the mothers.

To the ones who shout the loudest and fight the hardest and sacrifice

the most to keep the smiles glued to our faces and the magic

spinning through our days.  To the pride they have for us

that cannot fit inside after all they have endured.

To the leaking of it out their eyes and onto the backs of their

hands, to the trails of makeup left behind as they smile

through those tears and somehow always manage a laugh.

This is to the patience and perseverance and unyielding promise

that at any moment they would give up their lives to protect ours.

This is to the mothers.

To the single mom’s working four jobs to put the cheese in the mac

and the apple back into the juice so their children, like birds in

a nest, can find food in their mouths and pillows under their heads.

To the dreams put on hold and the complete and total rearrangement

of all priority.  This is to the stay-at-home moms and those that

find the energy to go to work every day; to the widows and the

happily married.

To the young mothers and those that deal with the unexpected

announcement of a new arrival far later than they ever anticipated.

This is to the mothers.

This is to the sack lunches and sleepover parties, to the soccer games

and oranges slices at halftime.  This is to the hot chocolate

after snowy walks and the arguing with the umpire

at the little league game. To the frosting ofbirthday cakes

and the candles that are always lit on time; to the Easter egg hunts,

the slip-n-slides and the iced tea on summer days.

This is to the ones that show us the way to finding our own way.

To the cutting of the cord, quite literally the first time

and even more painfully and metaphorically the second time around.

To the mothers who become grandmothers and great-grandmothers

and if time is gentle enough, live to see the children of their children

have children of their own.  To the love.

My goodness to the love that never stops and comes from somewhere

only mothers have seen and know the secret location of.

To the love that grows stronger as their hands grow weaker

and the spread of jam becomes slower and the Easter eggs get easier

to find and sack lunches no longer need making.

This is to the way the tears look falling from the smile lines

around their eyes and the mascara that just might always be

smeared with the remains of their pride for all they have created.

This is to the mothers.

via Tyler Knott.

I love the dark hours of my being


I love the dark hours of my being

in which my senses drop into the deep.

I have found in them, as in old letters,

My private life, that is already lived through,

And become wide and powerful now, like legends.

Then I know that there is room in me

For a second huge and timeless life.

– Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Robert Bly)

A Mindful Writer: An Interview with Diana Gould | Mindfulness and Psychotherapy


I would very much want them to know that what seems endless is not.  That there are very concrete and specific ways of being with painful emotions and experiences that can help transform them. That very often what we think is the worst thing that could happen to us turns out to be the best.  That if we have the courage to open to the darkness and not run from it, it can contain the source of our relief.  That as Rumi has said, “the wound is where the light enters.”  That happiness is possible.  Freedom is possible. That everything we could possibly want is contained within each present moment, if we just learn how to recognize it.

via A Mindful Writer: An Interview with Diana Gould | Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.