Friday, April 27, 2012

Devotion for today: contemplation: firmly rooted in life

Scripture for meditation: 2 Corinthians 5:7
We live by faith, not by sight.

Scripture for reflection: John 20:29
“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet believe.”

Thomas Merton tells us: In meditation we should not look for a “method” or a “system,” but cultivate an “attitude,” an “outlook”: faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust, joy. All these finally permeate our being with love in so far as our living faith tells us we are in the presence of God, that we live in Christ, that in the Spirit of God we “see” God our Father without “seeing.” We know him in the “unknowing.” Faith is the bond that unites us to him in the Spirit who gives us light and love. Some people may doubtless have a spontaneous gift for meditative prayer. This is unusual today. Most people have to learn to meditate. There are ways of meditation. But we should not expect to find magical methods; systems which will make all difficulties and obstacles dissolve into thin air. Under the pretext that what is “within” is in fact real, spiritual, supernatural, etc., one cultivates neglect and contempt for the “external” as worldly, sensual, material, and opposed to grace. This is bad theology and bad asceticism. In fact, it is bad in every respect because instead of accepting reality as it is, we reject it in order to explore some perfect realm of abstract ideals which in fact has no reality at all. Very often the inertia and repugnance which characterize the so-called “spiritual life” of many Christians could perhaps be cured by a simple respect for the concrete realities of everyday life, for nature, for the body, for one’s work, one’s friends, one’s surroundings, etc. A false supernaturalism which imagines that “the supernatural” is a kind of realm of abstract essences (as Plato imagined) that is totally apart from and opposed to the concrete world of nature offers no real support to a genuine life of mediation and prayer. Meditation has no point unless it is firmly rooted in life (excerpt from Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton, as found in Devotional Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, Harper Colllins, 1993).

Prayer: Praises of God (Prayer of St. Francis and St. Clare)
You are holy Lord, the only God, and your deeds are wonderful. You are strong. You are great. You are the Most High. You are almighty. You, Holy Father, are King of heaven and earth. You are Three and One, Lord God, all good. You are Good, all Good, supreme Good, Lord God, living and true. You are love. You are wisdom. You are humility. You are endurance. You are rest. You are peace. You are joy and gladness. You are justice and moderation. You are all our riches, and you suffice for us. You are beauty. You are gentleness. You are our protector. You are our guardian and defender. You are courage. You are our haven and our hope. You are our faith, our great consolation. You are our eternal life, great and wonderful Lord, God almighty, merciful Savior. May the power of your love, O Lord, fiery and sweet as honey, wean my heart from all that is under heaven, so that I may die for love of your love, you who were so good as to die for love of my love.

My thoughts: Thomas Merton has a way of rooting us in reality as we complete our week of looking at contemplation. Although a strong prayer life must contain quiet time to hear the word of God in our hearts, we must also recognize that everything in our lives can and should be a prayer. No one recognized this better than St. Francis of Assisi, who wrote canticles to “Brother Sun and Sister Moon and Stars.” To spend time in contemplation of God’s goodness in our lives, to see His hand in our talents and successes, to ask Him to show us His will for our lives is a good and necessary way to spend time with Our Father. The next step, however, is to take everything we learn from our quiet time into the world. Who we are and what we have is all a gift – meant to be given away. Let us go forth from our week of learning about contemplation more determined to spend quiet time with God, to make every effort to hear His will for us, and then to joyfully give ourselves over to the transformation of our part of the world!

Our prayer to God: A good way to start a quiet time with God is to prepare our hearts and minds for contemplation. St. Francis’ prayer of Praise helps to settle our minds and aids us in focusing on God and not our worldly concerns. Try it out as you come before the Lord.

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