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Center for Action and Contemplation

Contemplation: Week 1 Summary

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Contemplation: Week 1

Summary: Sunday, December 9-Friday, December 14, 2018

Contemplation is an exercise in openness, in keeping all three spaces open: heart, mind, and body. (Sunday)

Contemplation is the highest expression of [human] intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. —Thomas Merton (Monday)

The spiritual path is relationship itself, not just practice, discipline, or holy posture. Authentic contemplation of the Other, through all the necessary stages of personal relationship, calls us beyond our tiny and false selves and into The Ultimate Self. (Tuesday)

As you practice Centering Prayer, you begin to experience the value of inner silence, which reveals the true self. The presence of God can also be experienced through the love of nature, deep friendship, conjugal love, generous service of others, or the discoveries of genuine science. —Thomas Keating (Wednesday)

If we stay faithful to the practice, our false self begins to be dismantled and we live more and more from our center, from that Divine Ground of Being, from our true self. —Susan Rush (Thursday)

In meditation, you move from ego consciousness to soul awareness, from being fear-driven to being love-drawn. (Friday)


Practice: Silence

How good it is to center down! To sit quietly and see one’s self pass by! —Howard Thurman [1]

Contemplation does not always happen in physical silence, stillness, or solitude. And wordless prayer does not necessarily imply contemplation. Thomas Merton noted that his brothers in the monastery may have been more introverts than contemplatives! The “silence” we’ve referred to this week is not so much a lack of sound as it is a deep, interior openness to Presence. That openness—of heart, mind, and body—can take many forms.

Barbara Holmes, one of CAC’s guest authors and teachers this year, writes about contemplative silence from an African American perspective.

Although silence is not necessarily the focus of contemplation in Africana contexts, it is always a part of the human experience. We tend to presume that one must create silent spaces for contemplation. It is as if we have drawn the spiritual veil around contemplative activity, seeking to distance prayerful and reflective practices from the noise of the world. . . . European domination in Africa and in other nations elicited the silence of those captive cultures. . . . In Africana contexts, this may mean that ineffability is translated into dance or song. Accordingly, an ontological silence can occupy the heart of cacophony, the interiority of celebratory worship. . . .

Silence [is] the source of all being. . . . Silence is the sea that we swim in. Some of us allow it to fully envelop and nurture our seeking; others who have been silenced by oppression seek to voice the joy of spiritual reunion in an evocative counterpoint.

As frightening as it may be to “center down,” we must find the stillness at the core of the shout, the pause in the middle of the “amen,” as first steps toward restoration. Contemplation in Africana contexts is an act of communal reflection and reflexive engagement. . . . [2]

[Recalling experiences from her own life, Barbara writes:] . . . contemplation was an everyday practice that included nurture of the body and spirit.

The lesson was that life was not to be lived as a truncated interlude without meaning. In the midst of a noisy secular life space, we were to know without question that the sacred far exceeded ordered Sunday worship services. . . .

Although our lives were grounded in the context of social and political realities, we knew that God was also present. Sometimes the indwelling was ritually invoked through liturgy and worship, and at other times the mystery arose in the midst of ordinary activities. We learned to embrace a spectrum of contemplative experiences in the most unexpected places. . . . [3]

[1] Howard Thurman, “The Inward Sea,” Meditations of the Heart (Friends United: 1976), 28.

[2] Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, 2nd edition (Fortress Press: 2017), 20-22.

[3] Ibid., xxxii-xxxiii.

For Further Study:
Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart, 20th anniversary edition (Bloomsbury: 2006)

Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (Shambhala: 2003)

Richard Rohr, Contemplative Prayer (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2007), CD, MP3 download

Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017)

Richard Rohr, What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2015)

Image credit: Brown Wooden Chair, Marcelo Jaboo.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Centering Prayer is based on the wisdom saying of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you want to pray, enter your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” —Thomas Keating
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