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A Tree of Life

Doorways to Christian Contemplation

A Tree of Life
Sunday, July 11, 2021

Anyone familiar with my writing knows that I believe that immediate, unmediated contact with the moment is the clearest path to divine union. Naked, undefended, and nondual presence has the best chance of encountering the Real Presence. I approach the theme of contemplation in a hundred ways, because I know most of us have one hundred levels of resistance, denial, or avoidance. For some reason, in our complicated world, it is very hard to teach simple things. Any “mystery,” by definition, is pregnant with many levels of unfolding and realization. That is especially true of the “tree of life” that is contemplative awareness.

I call contemplation the tree of life that promises access to eternal things (see Genesis 3:22), grows “crops twelve times a year,” and sprouts “leaves that are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). It accesses the deep ground of God and the True Self. The contemplative, nondual mind is a tree of continual and constant fruitfulness for the soul and for the world.

We might also think of the diverse methods of contemplation as a tree of life as well. They are the many varied, fruitful, and life-giving practices and ways of praying that are nourished from the same root—the Sacred Presence. In my novitiate I was exposed to an early method of silent Franciscan contemplation called pensar sin pensar or no pensar nada as described by the Spanish Friar Francisco de Osuna (1492–1542). [1] (He was a primary teacher to Teresa of Ávila, as she says in her Vida.) I didn’t totally understand what I was supposed to be doing in that silence of “thinking without thinking” and probably fell asleep on more than one occasion. Yet it had the effect of moving me away from the verbal, social, and petitionary prayers I had been taught almost exclusively up to that time.

Prayer is indeed the way to make contact with God/Ultimate Reality, but it is not an attempt to change God’s mind about us or about events. It is primarily about changing our mind so that things like infinity, mystery, and forgiveness can resound within us. A small mind cannot see Great Things because the two are on two different frequencies or channels, as it were. The Big Mind can know big things, but we must change channels. Like will know like.

There are as many ways of accessing the naked now as there are individuals, so no exploration could possibly be comprehensive, even within our own Christian tradition. However, this week’s meditations on Doorways to Christian Contemplation will offer some modern descriptions of traditional contemplative practices. I hope something engages your heart and imagination enough to try it out for yourself.

References:
[1] Francisco de Osuna, Tercer Abecedario Espiritual (The Third Spiritual Alphabet), treatise 21, chap. 5.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (Crossroad Publishing: 2009), 102, 105–106, 113.

Story from Our Community:
Father Richard brings the true meaning of scripture with such clarity to my life! These teachings of contemplation have changed my whole perspective on God’s place in my life. I now know with certainty the depth of God’s love and guidance for me and all who seek. These words are in my life every day calling me to live a “kingdom” life through prayer, meditation, and service to the world. —Margaret W.

Image credit: Oliver, Magnolia (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The quick blooming colors of the saucer magnolia invite us to move beyond the pressures of time. Whether we are surrounded by the constant motion of the city, or in the midst of a bare branch season, we still have the choice to pause and be here, in this moment, with these blooms.
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