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Center for Action and Contemplation

Path of Descent: Weekly Summary

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Path of Descent

Summary: Sunday, July 30-Friday, August 4, 2017

Jesus is a person and, at the same time, a process. Jesus is the Son of God, but he is also “the Way”—the way of the cross. He’s the goal and the means. (Sunday)

Jesus undoes religion by doing the most amazing thing: he finds God among the impure instead of among the pure! (Monday)

“To die and thus to become” is the pattern of transformation in the entire physical and biological world. Why not the human? There seems to be no other cauldron of growth and transformation. (Tuesday)

“God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.” —Meister Eckhart (Wednesday)

Jesus’ story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) and his story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) are both wonderful illustrations of how Jesus turns a spirituality of climbing, achieving, and perfection upside down. (Thursday)

“Little by little, breath by breath, love dissolves the illusions and fears born of our estrangement from the infinite love that is our very life.” —James Finley (Friday)


Practice: Surrender to the Present Moment

James Finley, one of CAC’s core faculty members, is one of the wisest and most authentic teachers of meditation I know. For simple instructions on how to meditate, see his reflection from earlier this year. Here Jim offers a broad definition for contemplation, inviting us to see ordinary, day-to-day tasks as opportunities for presence and surrender. Contemplation opens us to experiencing the path of descent as a way of life.

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. Your practice might be some form of meditation, such as sitting motionless in silence, attentive and awake to the abyss-like nature of each breath. Your practice might be simple, heartfelt prayer, slowly reading the scriptures, gardening, baking bread, writing or reading poetry, drawing or painting, or perhaps running or taking long, slow walks to no place in particular. Your practice may be to be alone, really alone, without any addictive props and diversions. Or your practice may be that of being with that person in whose presence you are called to a deeper place. The critical factor is not so much what the practice is in its externals as the extent to which the practice incarnates an utterly sincere stance of awakening and surrendering to the Godly nature of the present moment.

The following exercise is intended to demonstrate how meditation and the performance of daily tasks might gradually flow together in a habitual state of present moment attentiveness. The exercise consists of first choosing some household chore that needs to be done. I will use, as an example, washing a sink full of dirty dishes.

Begin by first sitting in meditation for about twenty to thirty minutes. Then slowly stand, and walk in a slow mindful manner to the kitchen sink full of dirty dishes. Stand at the sink, mindfully gazing for a moment at the dishes. Slowly and mindfully put soap in the sink. Fill the sink with hot water, attentive to the simple givenness of the sound of running water. Wash, rinse, and place each item in the drainer with mindfulness.

When the dishes are finished, pull the plug, listen to and watch the water going down the drain. Rinse out the sink with mindfulness. Dry each item and put it in its proper place with natural and deliberate mindfulness. Wipe off the counter tops with mindfulness. Then slowly walk back to your place of sitting meditation and sit for another twenty to twenty-five minutes.

Then open a journal and begin writing spontaneously and sincerely about what it would be like to live in this way. What would it be like to open and close doors, take some boxes out of the garage, file papers, answer the phone, not as rude interruptions into a carefully sequestered-off contemplative life, but, to the contrary, as living embodiments of the hands-on divinity of daily living?

Adapted from James Finley, The Contemplative Heart (Sorin Books: 2000), 46, 125-126.

For Further Study:
James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (HarperSanFrancisco: 2004)
Richard Rohr, Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003)
Richard Rohr, The Path of Descent (CAC: 2003), CD, MP3 download

Image credit: Jonah and the Whale (detail), Jami al-Tavarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), circa 1400.
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