Contemplation as Letting Go

Spirituality of Letting Go: Week 1

Contemplation as Letting Go
Friday, September 2, 2016

It’s really hard to “sell” contemplation because it’s precisely like selling nothing. For Americans, contemplative prayer is counter-intuitive. Even worse, it is, at least for me, a daily practice of assured failure! If you are into success, you will give up quite early on. Contemplation is largely teaching you how to let go—how to let go of your attachment to your self-image, your expectations, your very ideas. Every such “set up” is a resentment waiting to happen. So maybe we are just redefining success as foundational happiness and contentment.

As you gradually learn to let go, you learn how to rest in what some call “the eternal now,” a kind of present satisfaction with the present as it is. You don’t need to manipulate or change the moment in order to be happy. What is starts being enough to make you happy, although to get there, you must be tested many times by your anger and fear about what is not. I must be honest with you here. Contemplation trains you how to let go of what you think is success, so you can find the ultimate success of simple happiness.

I’m going to say something that maybe will sound like heresy, but I’m offering you apearl of great price.” De facto “salvation” has little to do with belief systems, belonging to the right group, or correct ritual practice. It has everything to do with living right here, right now, and knowing a beautiful and fully accepting God is this very moment giving to you. All you can do is sit down at the banquet and eat. If you can enjoy heaven now, you are totally prepared and ready for heaven later.

Perhaps another metaphor will make this clearer. In A Sunlit Absence, Martin Laird, OSA—a brilliant teacher of contemplation at Villanova University—illustrates contemplation as an act of letting go and allowing ourselves to be sculpted into a masterpiece:

According to ancient theory of art, the practice of sculpting has less to do with fashioning a figure of one’s choosing than with being able to see in the stone the figure waiting to be liberated. The sculptor imposes nothing but only frees what is held captive in stone. The practice of contemplation is something like this. It does not work by means of addition or acquisition, but by release, chiseling away thought-shackled illusions of separation from God. . . . Contemplative practice proceeds by way of the engaged receptivity of release, of prying loose, of letting go of the need to have our life circumstances be a certain way in order for us to live or pray or be deeply happy. . . . With enough of this stone removed, the chiseling becomes a quiet excavation of the present moment. What emerges from the chiseled and richly veined poverty of the present moment? The emerging figure is our life as Christ (Phil. 1:21; Col. 3:3-4). [1]

Gateway to Silence:
Let be. Let love.

[1] Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation (Oxford University Press: 2011), 60-61.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Holding the Tension, an unpublished talk given in Houston, Texas (2007).