In-Sight: Contemplation–Perspective & Power

Previously (September 10, 2018), I wrote a blog entitled, “Contemplation: Essence and Vision.” My purpose was to liberate contemplation from a limited definition of its being a spiritual practice, releasing it into the broader notion of it being an overarching experience.

Today’s post holds onto that message, but now I want to look at contemplation as a perspective and a power.  By perspective I mean that contemplation is a unitive consciousness which is formed when (to use Pauline language) “spirit, soul, and body” (1 Thessalonians 5:23) interact to produce (as we saw in the earlier post) the love of God, neighbor, and self. 

Richard Rohr recently described this perspective as “a unique way of knowing…the way you know and think of yourself [in relation to God and others] when you are sincerely praying and present.” [1]  Contemplation creates the awareness that at the core of existence is oneness, interconnectedness, and unity. [2]

It is out of this perspective that the power emerges–the power of transformation.  Contemplation is not so much an elevated consciousness as it is an engaged one.  The vision given in contemplation becomes the voyage initiated by contemplation.  Here is the outcome of contemplation’s unitive consciousness–action.

Thomas Merton looked long and hard at the relation between contemplation and action, concluding that “a certain depth of disciplined experience is a necessary ground for fruitful action.” [3]  Here again we see the root/fruit sequence, but today we see it to note we need not fear that contemplation will produce a passive interiority.  Jesus himself taught that abiding in him, and he in us, enables us to bear much fruit (John 15:5). Authentic contemplation provides a vision which moves us to action in some way.

In 2012, then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, moved this realization into our time.  Speaking of it in an address  at the Vatican he said, “To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. 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.” [4]

The ‘deeply revolutionary’ nature of contemplation is Williams’ way of describing its power.  The fact is, there is nothing more powerful than a vision that never fades away (despite challenges and setbacks), but rather prevails to overcome evil with good.  Messengers come and go (by natural death and martyrdom), but the Message never dies.  Nothing is more powerful than something you cannot kill.

[1] Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, 9/16/18.

[2] It is important to note that this singularity does not mean the loss of differentiation, but rather leaving behind notions of separateness, superiority, etc.  In the spirit of Richard Rohr, everything is not the same, but everything belongs. In/out thinking is overcome so that our energy is given to finding ways to experience life together.

[3] Thomas Merton, ‘Contemplation in a World of Action’ (Doubleday, 1973), 172.  Though not published until after his death, Merton had written and arranged most of what is in this book.  Some of his other writings were added.  I am re-reading this book, and coming to think it is among his most important contributions in relation to matters of renewal, wholistic spirituality, and living faithfully God’s call in our day.

[4] Archbishop Rowan Williams, address to the Synod of Bishops in Rome, October 10, 2012.  Richard Rohr quoted a longer segment of this address in his Daily Meditation, 9/16/18.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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