Christian Life/Personal Holiness: June 2005 Archives

For those interested in what exactly contemplation is or does, you could have no better description than this passage from the first book of The Prelude.

from The Prelude
William Wordsworth

Content and not unwilling now to give
A respite to this passion, I paced on
With brisk and eager steps; and came, at length,
To a green shady place, where down I sate
Beneath a tree, slackening my thoughts by choice
And settling into gentler happiness.
'Twas autumn, and a clear and placid day,
With warmth, as much as needed, from a sun
Two hours declined towards the west; a day
With silver clouds, and sunshine on the grass,
And in the sheltered and the sheltering grove
A perfect stillness. Many were the thoughts
Encouraged and dismissed, till choice was made
Of a known Vale, whither my feet should turn,
Nor rest till they had reached the very door
Of the one cottage which methought I saw.
No picture of mere memory ever looked
So fair; and while upon the fancied scene
I gazed with growing love, a higher power
Than Fancy gave assurance of some work
Of glory there forthwith to be begun,
Perhaps too there performed. Thus long I mused,
Nor e'er lost sight of what I mused upon,
Save when, amid the stately grove of oaks,
Now here, now there, an acorn, from its cup
Dislodged, through sere leaves rustled, or at once
To the bare earth dropped with a startling sound.

We have the poet clearing his mind to focus it, and then focusing it upon such things that the imagination leaves off and

"a higher power
Than Fancy gave assurance of some work
Of glory there forthwith to be begun,
Perhaps too there performed."

This becomes the perfect metaphor for the entry into the state of acquired contemplation. One exercises the imaginative faculty and the will in the course of meditation, until suddenly meditation leaves off and a conversation begins. We start to speak with God almost unknowingly. He has entered quietly through the door we have left open by asking His presence. He sits down and when we are focused enough, we see Him and begin to treat Him as the honored guest He is.

For Wordsworth (and for St. John of the Cross, and though I'm less well versed, for St. Francis of Assisi, as well) nature gave entry into this place. Nature is not the end, but it is in reading the book of nature and accepting its welcome that some can enter the realm of meditation and contemplation.

Add to that vision this:

From that soft couch I rose not, till the sun
Had almost touched the horizon; casting then
A backward glance upon the curling cloud
Of city smoke, by distance ruralised;
Keen as a Truant or a Fugitive,
But as a Pilgrim resolute, I took,
Even with the chance equipment of that hour,
The road that pointed toward the chosen Vale.
It was a splendid evening, and my soul
Once more made trial of her strength, nor lacked
Aeolian visitations; but the harp
Was soon defrauded, and the banded host
Of harmony dispersed in straggling sounds,
And lastly utter silence! "Be it so;
Why think of anything but present good?" 100
So, like a home-bound labourer, I pursued
My way beneath the mellowing sun, that shed
Mild influence; nor left in me one wish
Again to bend the Sabbath of that time
To a servile yoke. What need of many words?

Makes a pretty convincing picture of some of the solace captured in contemplation and some of the trial of emerging from it. And then "of harmony dispersed in straggling sounds,/ and lastly utter silence!" This seems to speak of the time that we leave the consolation of acquired contemplation and move into the realm of infused contemplation and spiritual dryness where we no longer "feel" the consolations and yet we are not deprived of peace. We come to undersand "What need of many words?"

God speaks in so many places. When I first read these words, I had no idea of their weight or their meaning. Now I do, although I am not so close as I would like to be to the experience. I understand more fully what Wordsworth speaks of, and it sounds as if he were a "natural mystic" something akin to an Emerson--which to be speaks profoundly of God's grace and His constant reaching out to us to correct our error and lead us to Him.

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Living in this Moment

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One of the most difficult things to relearn after a certain age is the ability to live in the moment. As we enter adulthood we often lose the ability to live moment-to-moment in anything like comfort. We find ourselves planning for this expense and that expense, for this vacation and that event, for retirement, for college expenses for children, for hurricanes, for the Apocalypse. You name it, we're planning for it.

Not that planning is a bad thing--it isn't. But too often we are so wrapped up in planning that we forget to live. We're living in the future that is not yet here. In other words, we're not living at all, but waiting for some magical instant when the harmonic convergence will converge and we will enter the age of milk and honey.

Ain't happening. This is Satan's most clever ploy. How many times do we hear, "There will be a better time. Just wait. The time will come"? How many times do we listen. "We should wait to have children." Why? What are you waiting for--more money, better time? It isn't going to happen. "We should wait to get married. . ." Until?

Occasionally there is great prudence in waiting. For example, waiting upon God's will is what we are supposed to do. Of course that waiting isn't an example of mere stasis, it is waiting in the sense of table-waiting--performing then as it were. But even at that there are prudential times and there are times for things to come to fruition. Problem is, we aren't really good at tellilng when these are AND so, as we age we tend to wait.

Well, there's really no point. Even when we're maxed out, as I have been at work recently--those are moments to embrace and live and feel the vbrant, life-giving, encompassing love of God that fills every moment of every day. Seize this moment, this time. Now is the proper time. This instant is the proper instant. Don't think about yesterday and tomorrow--at least don't allow them to loom so large that their shadow obscures everything present. Live now. Live in God's Love which is now, in the present, in the only moment we have. We have lost yesterday and we may not have tomorrow. Now is the time to practice the presence of God. Each time we sin is the time to repent and start up again.

We can stand all summer at the edge of the pool and contemplate whether or not we will jump in. Or we can plunge in, swim and rejoice in that mysterious lightness of body that comes from being present to God, from living in Him.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Christian Life/Personal Holiness category from June 2005.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: May 2005 is the previous archive.

Christian Life/Personal Holiness: July 2005 is the next archive.

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