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Center for Action and Contemplation

Choosing a Contemplative Path

Monday, April 8, 2024

James Finley continues to reflect on how, once we notice the “fire within,” we can commit to the life-changing practice of attending to it. 

Once we acknowledge this “depth deprivation,” we get an insight into life. The essential, that which is given to us in the metaphorical fire of this quiet oneness, never imposes itself on us, while the unessential is constantly imposing itself on us. We begin to wonder, “How can I learn not to get so caught up in the complexities of the day-to-day that I keep losing my sense of connectedness with this depth, this fire, which alone is ultimately real?” Thomas Merton says it beats in our very blood whether we want it to or not.  

It doesn’t lie in our power to make these insights happen, but here’s the key. We can freely choose to assume the stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by the fire that we cannot make happen. This is our daily rendezvous, and the key is that it’s personal. We have to find those acts, those persons, those modes of service, those moments of creative unfolding, those moments where we feel something is being asked of us….  

When I was in the monastery, the whole monastic life was carefully designed to protect us from distractions and enable us to experience what I’m talking about. But the world we live in isn’t like that, so we have to create a contemplative culture in our heart. We must vow to ourselves: I will not play the cynic. I will not break faith with my awakened heart. I know that in my most childlike hour, the cutting edge of the pain, the sweetness of the glance, the smell of the flower, I was graced by what transcends and permeates every moment of my life.  

Therefore, we want to set aside a quiet time of availability to this. We have to stay with it. We have to be patient and be calm. We have to be receptively open to this way of being. And at the end of each rendezvous with the deeper place, we ask for the grace not to break the thread of that sensitivity as we go through the rest of our day. Although the thread breaks many times from our end, it never breaks from God’s end….  

We don’t live in a monastery but out here in the world, and I think that it’s what contemplative programs like the Living School are about. I think it’s what the Daily Meditations are about. It’s what centering prayer is about. We have to look for the thread of sensitivity to such insights and decide that we’re going to live this way. It’s a kind of obediential fidelity that nobody can see but it matters more than everything. We try to live out of it with integrity with people because it changes the way we see everybody. Everyone’s an infinitely loved, broken person in a fleeting, often not-so-fair, gorgeous, lovely, unexplainable world.  

Reference:  
Adapted from James Finley, 2024 Daily Meditations Theme: Radical Resilience: Tending the Fire Within, Center for Action and Contemplation, video, 9:35.  

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Untitled (detail), Washington, 2020, photo, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image. Within our deep and tender inside spaces there is a bright light to tend and care for.

Story from Our Community:  

As I reach my 80th birthday, I have experienced a deepening awakening during my contemplative morning practice. After reading the Daily Meditation each day, I set a timer, light a candle, and turn off all the lights. I rest for a moment with my eyes closed, then very slowly open one of my eyes—just until I see the candle flame moving. Gazing at the candle, I am filled with a deep joy. For me, this is an experience of God’s actual presence, both in the candlelight and in my very heart. —Mary W. 

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