Several Ripon Gazette readers have asked about my references to contemplative praying and living. Most of my published books/booklets on the subject were written in the 1970s/80s. They have titles such as: “Contemplating the Word – A Practical Handbook”; and in 2010, “Fire in the Heart – Contemplative Praying and Living”.
The OED attempts a brief definition of the word contemplation: “the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time... deep reflection... [in Christianity] a form of prayer... in which a person seeks to pass beyond mental images and concepts to a direct experience of the divine.”
Thomas Merton, a renowned spiritual writer, said simply that “Contemplation is nothing else but the perfection of [selfless] love.” Clifton Wolters, translator of the late 14th century anonymous classic “The Cloud of Unknowing”, wrote that “Contemplation is the awareness of God known and loved at the core of one’s being.” Contemplative prayer involves attentiveness, stillness, silence, struggle, and openness of mind and heart. Brother Roger of the famous Taizė Community wrote a 1974 book entitled “Struggle and Contemplation.”
I gradually formed my own definition of contemplative prayer as “a tool by which human beings are encouraged to open themselves to the penetrating Word/Spirit/Life of the Eternal, to rediscover their own Godlike nature, and to be set free to live wisely, lovingly and powerfully.”
Generally speaking, today’s world, including the local area covered by the Ripon Gazette, makes it possible to pay profound attention to comparatively little. Such worlds as politics, industry, commerce, entertainment, social media, crime and punishment, as well as some church congregations, are like great classrooms of unruly, noisy, inattentive and possibly destructive children.
Jesus the Christ perseveres in his struggles to make his true Bible voice heard, in the hope that something of his divine wisdom, love and power will sink in, take root, grow, blossom and bear abundant and lasting fruit (Cf Matthew 13.1-23).
The current secular interest in the “therapeutic effect of “Mindfulness” needs to be treated with caution. There are several online sites that warn of its limitations, especially its tendency to be entirely self-centred and, therefore, damaging to vulnerable people.
Contemplative Prayer is Christ-centred and, therefore works far more deeply towards, not only mind-fullness, but heart-fullness and will-fullness.
The contemplative prayer discipline enables Christians to discover something of the overwhelming joy of being filled to overflowing with “all the fullness of God” (see Ephesians 3.14-19).
My published books include, “Embody the Word - Being a Temple of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Bible stresses that every Christian is a temple. The word contemplate contains the words “template” and “temple”. A template is a tool for marking out a space. A temple needs to be a mostly silent place where, for Christians, Christ is fully present and doing his holy, transforming, life-giving work.
In previous columns, I have emphasised Christianity’s central act of worship known, for example, as the Mass, Eucharist or Holy Communion. I am privileged to have devised a “Contemplative Eucharist” which includes a great deal of relaxed attentive silence. I am thrilled to say that it has found its way to Christian groups in various parts of the world. There is widespread hunger for silence, stillness and the authentic experience of Christ.