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Center for Action and Contemplation

Perceiving Reality

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Contemplation: Week 2

Perceiving Reality
Tuesday, December 18, 2018

All forms of contemplation share the same goal: to help us see through the deceptions of self and world in order to get in touch with what Howard Thurman called “the sound of the genuine” within us and around us. Contemplation does not need to be defined in terms of particular practices, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, or lectio divina. Instead, it can be defined by its function: contemplation is any way one has of penetrating illusion and touching reality. —Parker Palmer [1]

The German mystic Meister Eckhart (12601328) said, “Let us pray to God that we may be free of God that we may gain the truth. . . .” [2] There is no concept of God that can contain God. As Saint Augustine (354430) preached, “If you comprehend it, it is not God.” [3] Thomas Keating described how contemplation evolves our perception of reality and God:

Contemplation is awakening to the contemplative dimension of life. In the Eastern traditions some call it meditation or the path to enlightenment. Every development in contemplation reveals more and more of the mystery of silence and the importance of receptivity over effort, especially in prayer. It gives you a whole new perspective on reality.

. . . Contemplative Prayer is gradually detaching us from the God we know to the God who actually is and whom we don’t know. At a certain point in our spiritual development, we realize we have known Him [sic] only through our human limitations. The nature of our prayer reflects our idea of God, and that idea changes as our consciousness continues to evolve. A child becomes an adult who is capable of more intimate relationships. . . . Every human being has the potential for a unique relationship with God, and God is totally committed to the transformation of each of us into Himself. . . .

The world desperately needs people, free of cultural illusions, who are undertaking a dedicated exploration of true reality, not just to know the material nature of things, but also to know the very Source of everything that exists. An unfolding contemplative practice eventually becomes total receptivity. In that receptivity, one is aware of a silence that is becoming an irresistible attraction. Silence leads to stillness; stillness leads to surrender. While this doesn’t happen every time we sit down to pray, interior silence gradually opens to an inner spaciousness that is alive. In this context, if we speak of emptiness, we are not speaking of just emptiness, but of emptiness that is beginning to be filled with a Presence. Perhaps we could say that contemplation occurs when interior silence morphs into Presence.

This Presence, once established in our inmost being, might be called spaciousness. There is nothing in it except a certain vibrancy and aliveness. You’re awake. But awake to what, you don’t know. You are awake to something that you can’t describe and which is absolutely marvelous, totally generous, and which manifests itself with increasing tenderness, sweetness, and intimacy. [4]

[1] Parker Palmer, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.: 2018), 57.

[2] Meister Eckhart, Beati Pauperes Spiritu, Sermon on Matthew 5:3. See The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, tr. and ed. Maurice O’C. Walshe (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 422.

[3] Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 117:5 on John 1:1. Original text: “Si enim comprehendis, non est Deus.”

[4] Thomas Keating, From the Mind to the Heart (Temple Rock Company: 2017), pages are unnumbered.

Image credit: Dancers in Green and White Dresses, Vinicius Vilela.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The word contemplation includes but does not require silence or solitude. Instead, contemplative practices can be identified in public prayers, meditative dance movements, and musical cues that move . . . toward a communal listening and entry into communion with a living God. —Barbara Holmes
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