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Chapter 35

Contemplation

 

Contemplation is nothing else
than a secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God,
which, if not hampered, will set the soul on fire
with the Spirit of love.
—St. John of the Cross

 

 

The gift of supernatural contemplation is the flow of grace into the soul on a higher and deeper level after the dam of sin has broken within.  It is the gift of God in greater abundance.  “I have come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  We are gradually freed from “the life of the senses,” no longer controlled by our passions or limited ideas, so as to live “the life of the spirit,” a spiritual life of infused contemplation and divine inspiration.  Human reason has its place, but gives way ever more completely to the supernatural life of grace, to the divine instinct of infused wisdom and inspired love.  For a long time, the two will work together as partners in the way of proficients, human reason being illumined by the light of the Divine Presence, but if the soul is to continue to grow in the spiritual life she must relinquish, more and more, her human way of thinking and reasoning in order to be absorbed in the “cloud of unknowing,” thereby growing in union with God until the day when she can become one with Him in a mystical marriage or spiritual transformation.  Then, she will be freed, if not entirely to a great degree, from the need for discursive reasoning, but will live a life of simple contemplation, divine inspiration and supernatural intuition, following the spiritual instinct of the Holy Spirit in “glorious freedom” as a child of God. (Rom. 8:21)

So, in contemplation the Holy Spirit, the Flame of Love, begins to absorb us in a prayer, above human thought and reasoning, which may be either “dry” or “sweet.”  A “general loving knowledge” that is substantial and spiritual, supernatural and divine, begins to flow directly into our heart and soul and mind through infused contemplation. (St. John of the Cross)  Our soul becomes more full of grace, of the Divine Presence.  Our heart is drawn away from the world and into the presence of God within us, into solitude and silence, peace and recollection.  We begin to seek more of Him and less of sin than we used to, spiritual recollection over worldly dissipation.  Consequently, we grow in holy detachment and union with God, which is the secret of love.

When one is aware during prayer of the presence of God and a peaceful longing for Him, whether dry or sweet, listen to Him who speaks to you in the silence of your heart—“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)  Except for inspiration, let go of meditation—thinking and reasoning—refraining “from the desire to feel or see anything” in particular, while practicing a peaceful and loving attentiveness to the presence of God within you. (St. John of the Cross, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II, Chap. 15)  In this general and loving awareness of God’s presence, letting go of all else, you will be infused with heavenly wisdom, filled with divine love, strengthened in spirit and united to God.  The Holy Spirit is praying for you “with unspeakable groanings…according to God’s will.” (Rom. 8:26-27)  So, you do not need to pray in any particular way. In contemplation, the less you do, the more God does, except for your loving attention and trustful abandonment to Him.

Divine Contemplation may be barely perceptible to begin with or only last a short while.  Try to ignore all distractions, the wandering imagination, and focus your loving attention on the presence of God within you.  No sense in batting gnats if that causes you to lose the delicate communication and loving inflow of infused contemplation.  “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it.” (Psalms 81:10)  Spiritually interpreted this means, open wide your will, that higher part of your “spiritual heart,” and God will fill it with “manna” from heaven in divine contemplation.  Gently move your “mouth,” your will, your loving attention, to receive as full a “loving inflow of God” as possible.  “O that my people would listen to me!  I would feed you with the finest wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you .” (Psalms 81:13,16)

However, if your spirit becomes restless and uneasy, barren or distracted, pray in the usual way again (vocal prayer or interior meditation) while doing some spiritual reading to recollect and feed your mind and heart and soul.  Then, return to contemplation when you are aware of being drawn there by the presence of God.  To make the transition back into contemplation or to remain there longer if you are becoming distracted, you could say a few loving words to our Lord, humbly seeking His peaceful and loving Presence, if that helps.  Sometimes, it is simply bodily indisposition that prevents the soul from receiving the gift of infused contemplation, or from receiving it more abundantly.  In that case, physical exercise or labor may help to dispose the soul better, or even fasting, if that is God’s will.  In these and other ways, you can cooperate with God—work with Him rather than against Him—according to the kind of prayer that He is giving you as the Holy Spirit leads you.  Thus, from time to time, and even during one prayer time, you may go back and forth between meditation and contemplation, and this is the safest and most profitable way to pray.  “God gave us faculties (intellect and free will) that we might make use of them.  Let us permit them to do their work until divinely called to something higher (the repose of contemplation).” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, Fourth Mansion)  As “nature abhors a vacuum,” the devil will fill the void and emptiness left from the false peace and self-hypnosis of centering prayer or transcendental meditation with a self-enclosed self-absorption. (Aristotle)  True infused contemplation is a gift from God which frees us from the senses and does not bind us to them, but unites us to Him.  It is “the love of God (which) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5)  It is the infusion of heavenly grace and the gift of Divine Wisdom with the Flame of Love.  It is touches of the Divinity that free the soul to be wholly united to God in a peace so profound and satisfying, in a love so spiritual and holy, that she knows there is nothing more important in life.  The spiritual fruit of this prayer, according to the degree of its fullness, flows out to others in a river of grace and blessing.  No one knows, but God alone, all the good that it does for the salvation of souls and the healing of humanity.

 

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