Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
A Contemplative Heart
A Contemplative Heart

A Contemplative Heart: Weekly Summary

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Learning to dance the cosmic dance—this is why we are here on this earth, living the life we are living. At least this is one way of expressing the heart’s conviction concerning the need to recognize and move with the divinity manifested in the primordial rhythms of the day by day life we are living.
—James Finley 

Most of the things that we notice, we notice in passing, on our way to something else; then, every so often, something gives us reason to pause. Something catches our eye or draws our attention, and we’re drawn for a moment to ponder or to reflect on that which awakened us in this way.
—James Finley  

Staying awake comes not from willpower but from a wholehearted surrender to the moment—as it is. If we can be present, we will experience what most of us mean by God, and we do not even need to call it God. It’s largely a matter of letting go of resistance to what the moment offers or to quit clinging to a past moment.
—Richard Rohr 

You sit down to meditate not only because it helps you to find rest in the arms of the formless Beloved but also because it increases your chances of being stunned by beauty when you get back up. 
—Mirabai Starr 

A contemplative practice is any act, habitually entered into with your whole heart, as a way of awakening, deepening, and sustaining a contemplative experience of the inherent holiness of the present moment.
—James Finley 

Each time we give ourselves over to our contemplative practices, whatever they might be, we find ourselves, once again, one with the communal mystery in which there is no separate self.
—James Finley 

Seeing Not Looking  

Author Esther de Waal considers Thomas Merton’s practice of contemplative photography:   

Thomas Merton was of course a writer and a teacher, and a poet, but he was also a photographer, and it is from his photographs that we learn much about how he saw the world, and how he prayed—and the two are of course intimately connected…. He handled a camera as an artist would, and used it as an instrument of delight and perception. It was in the later 1950s that the journalist John Howard Griffin [1920–1980] visited Merton in his hermitage. He had his camera with him and … let [Merton] keep it on extended loan. At first when Merton sent him the negatives, John Howard Griffin was puzzled, for [Merton’s] view was so different from that of most people. Merton photographed whatever crossed his path—a battered fence, a rundown wooden shack, weeds growing between cracks, working gloves thrown down on a stool, a dead root, a broken stone wall. He approached each thing with attention, he never imposed, he allowed each thing to communicate itself to him in its own terms, and he gave it its own voice.  

Later on when he was out in the woods with a young friend, Ron Seitz, both with their cameras, Merton reprimanded him severely for the speed with which he approached things. He told him to stop looking and to begin seeing:  

Because looking means that you already have something in mind for your eye to find; you’ve set out in search of your desired object and have closed off everything else presenting itself along the way. But seeing is being open and receptive to what comes to the eye…. [1] 

He used his camera primarily as a contemplative instrument. He captured the play of light and dark, the ambience, the inner life. But above all he struggled towards an expression of silence through the visual image, so that his photographs show us that ultimately his concern was to communicate the essence of silence.  


[1] Ron Seitz, Song for Nobody: A Memory Vision of Thomas Merton (Liguori, MO: Triumph Books, 1995), 133. 

Esther de Waal, Lost in Wonder: Rediscovering the Spiritual Art of Attentiveness (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), 63–64, 65. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Ruah (detail), print. Izzy Spitz, Chemistry of Self 3 (detail), digital oil pastels. Izzy Spitz, momentary peace (detail), digital oil pastels. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Like this simple shape, the contemplative heart is found in the simplicity of everyday life. 

Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.