Creating the I-Thou Relationship
Sunday, February 5, 2017
The gift of contemplative prayer is not a way of thinking or speaking. It’s much more a way of not thinking and not talking. It is more about naked presence. It finally moves beyond words into silence, into awareness of the Mystery that is too deep for words. Our awareness of God’s presence is outside of and beyond our power to express in any words or conceive in any thought.
While our prayer of words is an attempt to express to ourselves our relationship with the Great Mystery, the prayer of silence is not so much to express but to experience that mutuality. We acknowledge and rejoice that we are the beloved. We sit and wait until we know this truth in our body and in our memory. Silence leads to resting in the Beloved’s arms, reveling in the quiet that follows making love. There is simply an awareness that “It is very good,” as it says in our Creation Story (Genesis 1:31).
This experience of belovedness is the primary gift that Jesus came to give us, much more than the mystery of the church. In fact, this is the foundational experience that alone creates all healthy and happy “church” or spiritual family. Lacking such safety and wisdom, it is hard for churches, governments, and leaders to move beyond ego, the deep desire for control, and public posturing. Everything divides into oppositions such as liberal versus conservative. Even theology becomes more a quest for power than a search for God and Mystery.
In the Buddhist tradition, we must have three things to keep growing: the practice, the teaching, and the community. Without these three, there is no Buddhism. The Christian tradition can affirm the same. We need the experience of contemplation (the “practice”), mature theology and use of Scripture, and some kind of community. Many Catholics thought that all they had to have were the second two: the teaching and the community. We didn’t necessarily have to experience the Holy One in prayer. The result has been an often dry, ineffectual, and disappointing Christianity.
Some form of spiritual community is the testing ground, showing whether we are actually growing in love, service, and faithfulness. We must not withdraw to a private, isolated spirituality in which we do our contemplative sit each day and ignore the school of relationship. Private or individualistic prayer is no prayer at all, in fact it is not possible, because prayer is precisely plugging into a shared field of knowing, feeling, and loving. St. John Cassian called any attempt at “private prayer” pax perniciosa, dangerous peace, because it keeps us feeling separate and superior instead of connected and compassionate.
We’ll spend the next three weeks exploring the deeper meanings and methods of contemplative prayer. It is indeed “the pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46).
Gateway to Silence:
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 2:5
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 28-29, 149-151.