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Doorways to Christian Contemplation
Doorways to Christian Contemplation

Offering Your Whole Self

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Doorways to Christian Contemplation

Offering Your Whole Self
Wednesday, July 14, 2021

“The Lord your God, the Lord is One. And you shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole soul, and your whole strength.”
(Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30, 33; Luke 10:27)

Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014), one of the great contemplative teachers of the 20th and 21st centuries, offers an unusual metaphor to help us better understand what it means to be “pure of heart,” and maintain a single focus when we “practice the presence of God.” It sounds very much like what we might call “being in the flow”!

These four faculties [in Jesus’ commandment above] can be interpreted in various ways. I have, for instance, called them intellect (mind), will (strength), imagination (soul) and affectivity (heart). . . .

Keeping the mind . . . single means keeping our heart whole, keeping our mind whole, our soul and strength [whole], not letting any of them divide in two. So when we
pray . . . we try to find our truest self by unifying and keeping whole our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This unification of the consciousness is what is usually called “concentration”: centering together. It is basic to spiritual practice.

How do you do this concentration? You just do what you’re actually doing in the moment, without thinking/feeling about the fact that you’re doing it. When you set your hand to the plow, you just concentrate on plowing and go straight ahead without looking back to see what you plowed or how well you plowed (Luke 9:62).

You put your whole mind onto plowing, the activity, in the moment in which you are actually doing it. You don’t allow the mind to divide into two, half on plowing and half on plowed. . . . And in fact, if you can put your whole mind on the activity, not dividing some part to look back and see what you have plowed, you will cut a beautiful furrow.

You put your whole will into plowing. You do not divide your will in two by partly consenting to plow, and partly resenting and resisting it and wishing you were doing something else. You “give yourself to” this activity totally, as you do it. The act of plowing and the act of willing to plow become the same thing.

Similarly, you do not allow your imagination to conjure up some other scene for you to enjoy in daydreaming while you plod behind your plow. The imagination must . . . “be here now.” This is where you actually are, this is reality. Don’t create a fantasy. . . . Know who you are and where you are and what you are doing and really be there.

Finally, put all your feelings into this plowing because this is where your life is at this moment. You have no other life here and now except this plowing. Therefore feel this plowing thoroughly, feel it in every way you can. Feel it through your body with all your senses, with your emotions. . . . Become plowing. This is you at this moment. This is where you really are and what you are really doing.

That’s how you center yourself, how you concentrate.

Beatrice Bruteau, What We Can Learn from the East (Crossroad: 1995), 90–92.

Story from Our Community:
Three years ago I finished 7 months of chemotherapy; the treatment was very powerful and I had to stay home from my job. Though I often felt physically miserable, the time alone was peaceful and rich. I watched the sun sweep across my room, listened to the Canada geese fly overhead, lost myself in a book, and listened to the breathing of my three dogs sleeping near me. I am not a formal churchgoer and don’t attach to one belief. But this experience and others I have had are not different from those of the religious I admire. The path is wide. —Laura C.

Image credit: Oliver, Magnolia (detail), 2014, photograph, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0.
Image inspiration: The quick blooming colors of the saucer magnolia invite us to move beyond the pressures of time. Whether we are surrounded by the constant motion of the city, or in the midst of a bare branch season, we still have the choice to pause and be here, in this moment, with these blooms.
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