Four Questions--Part 2A--What Is Contemplation?

| | Comments (1)

I think the best way for me to approach this question is to give some quotes from others that begin to describe at least subjectively what contemplation is and cap it with a formal definition. Then I will try to say what I mean when I use the word--a combination of subjective experience and formal definition.

Once again, Neil's quotations below provide and nice beginning to our discussion. Coming from Protestant writers, they show that the experience of contemplation is not confined to vowed religious or even to Catholics alone; not that anyone implied they were. But sometimes I think that these forms of prayer are seen as so abstruse as to transcend any ordinary individual's ability. Well, of course they do, because they come from God; however, I do believe God invites everyone into at least some aspects of this form of prayer.

Following is an excerpt from Neil's post below in which he includes writings of some of the major protestant mystics and "Divines."

Here are, for instance, a few very insightful quotations from Calvinist authors:

"Contemplation is a prayer in which our entire being is taken hold of by wonder at Godís love."
-- Brother Roger of Taize, meditation, 1 Jan 2004

"The spiritual intense fixation of the mind, by contemplation on God in Christ, until the soul be as it were swallowed up in admiration and delight, and being brought unto an utter loss, through the infiniteness of those excellencies which it doth admire and adore, it returns again into its own abasements, out of a sense of its infinite distance from what it would absolutely and eternally embrace, and, withal, the inexpressible rest and satisfaction which the will and affections receive in their approaches to the eternal Fountain of goodness, are things to be aimed at in prayer, and which, through the riches of divine condescension, are frequently enjoyed. The soul is hereby raised and ravished, not into ecstasies or unaccountable raptures, not acted into motions above the power of its own understanding and will; but in all the faculties and affections of it, through the effectual workings of the Spirit of grace and the lively impressions of divine love, with intimations of the relations and kindness of God, is filled with rest, in 'joy unspeakable and full of glory.'"
-- John Owen, "The Work of the Holy Spirit in Prayer"

"God's excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon, for a long time; and so in the day time spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things: in the mean time, singing forth with a low voice, my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning. Formerly, nothing had been so terrible to me ... But now, on the contrary it rejoiced me. I felt God at the first appearance of a thunderstorm. And used to take the opportunity at such times to fix myself to view the clouds, and see the lightning's play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God's thunder: which often times was exceeding entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God."
-- Jonathan Edwards, "Personal Narrative"

All of these quotations define the experience of contemplation and get at the definition, but subjectively; that is, this is what the pray-er experienced in the course of prayer. This is what we might term an "experiential definition." This is what it felt like to be caught up in contemplation. These experiences are probably correlative to what St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila refer to as the "consolations" of prayer. They are not experiences to be sought after in themselves, but they are small foretastes of what the experience of Union might be like. Their purpose is to lead the person praying more deeply into prayer.

Later stages of this prayer are described by St. Teresa of Avila in a very simple phrase, "Mira que tu mira." Which, I'm told, roughly translates to "Look at the One who is looking at you." This implies a gaze of love into the face of the beloved.

(Stay tuned for more.)

Bookmark and Share


Thank you for putting the above experiences for us to see and then showing that this was what St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila meant by "consolations". Sometimes the saints use words in their writings that I don't understand and because of their modesty they are prevented from giving the details.

Thank you for reminding us that these are gifts and we are not to seek after them. We are to always seek the giver of the gifts and not the gifts themselves.



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 26, 2004 7:47 AM.

Reading into Oblivion was the previous entry in this blog.

Prayer Requests 4/27/04 is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll