Experience the Holy Spirit in Contemplation | 06

AUTHOR: Holy Scripture

READ:

Read or listen to Matthew 26:36-46.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he told the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. He said to them, “I am deeply grieved to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” Going a little farther, he fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. He asked Peter, “So, couldn’t you stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray, so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Again, a second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And he came again and found them sleeping, because they could not keep their eyes open.

After leaving them, he went away again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? See, the time is near. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up; let’s go. See, my betrayer is near.”

What did Jesus command Peter and the sons of Zebedee (vv. 37–38) in the Garden of Gethsemane?

The written Scripture is CSB, however, the audio Scripture is ESV.

FOCUS:

Read or listen to the blog. What is one thing you learned about what it means to lovingly gaze on Jesus? How can you incorporate what you learned into your daily routines? For example, I will pay attention to the beauty in nature around me, and acknowledge that it is from the hand of God.

Contemplative Prayer: Learning from the Mystics

by Gabe Coyle

 

Prayer has a big, built-in assumption: someone is listening. As Christians we proclaim according to both Scripture and experience that the Triune God is indeed at work through our words of prayer.

Contemplation goes one step further. At times prayer can conjure an image of sending a message to a far-off king. In the Catholic tradition, lighting candles can communicate the idea that as the smoke rises so also our prayers and praises rise to the Lord. We imagine transcendence and grandiosity.

Contemplation on the other hand has neither a task-oriented goal nor distance from God within its frame. Contemplation or contemplative prayer, as it is sometimes called, is about experiencing union with God whether words are used or not. Throughout Christian history, those who (1) believed experienced union was the goal and (2) believed this was possible, were the mystics.

Contemplation, which comes from the Latin com templum “with a temple,” is a reality anchored in God’s presence, our awareness of his presence, and our union with God in the temple of our whole being (1 Corinthians 6:19).

Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) and John of the Cross (1542-1591) are two well-known Christian mystics who were brilliantly ahead of their time in human psychology, and expounded a richer, deeper intimacy with God within Christianity. Additionally, they were also good friends bound by their longing for a richer intimacy with Jesus. Both Teresa and John use the language of active and passive aspects of intimacy with God, but it is Teresa who gives a more explicit taxonomy, or classification of prayer.

Teresa distinguishes between active prayer, which involves some level of our practice and intentionality, and passive prayer, which is purely by the grace of God outside of our intentional effort. Contemplative prayer can mean a lot of things today, but to mystics throughout history, it meant more the latter: passive prayer.

Contemplation was not something we practiced per se. Sometimes contemplation comes while involved in active prayer and sometimes not. In The Dark Night of the Soul, Dr. May, studying Teresa’s work, highlights two psychological qualities that are normally included in contemplation. First, “awareness is open, not focused on one thing to the exclusion of others.” Contemplation is less about using the right words as it is an open posture. This is not limited to moments of peace and tranquility. In some ways it is becoming aware of the groaning of the Spirit within us that is too deep for words (Romans 8:26). In moments of emotional or physical suffering, the awareness and openness to the presence of God can be like the eternal streams of life refreshing a scorched soul.

The second quality of contemplation is “centeredness in the present moment.” Contemplation comes with a feeling like you are in an “endless moment” in the now. This can feel astoundingly foreign to us. Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) in his Pensees writes of a constant struggle for humanity with time. He writes,

Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end. So, we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.

Contemplation is a moment of God’s unmerited favor where one is aware and experiencing God’s eternal union in the present moment, which feels like eternity itself has come within the moment. We finally know what it means to be fully present. No wonder the mystics exclaim there is no higher joy!

And how could one know whether or not this was God at work and not the deception of Satan or one’s own delusions? John of the Cross describes these experiences—if experience is even the right word—as ”dark” in that they defy explanation, but this did not shirk a responsibility for knowing the source of this moment. The key litmus was and is the key test within Scripture: if you walk away more loving as God defines loving in his word, then that was God. There is always a place for discernment (1 John 4), and the test wasn’t merely “having an experience” or walking away with “knowledge.” Rather, the key marker of union with God was becoming more like God in his love for Jesus and others (1 John 4:20).

If you’re reading this and long for this kind of experience, I resonate with you. While I have had moments that are more than moments but found myself fully in the moment with God, I too want to figure out how to fabricate these moments or “usher” them in and so get that from God. But contemplation isn’t something we control. It’s not something we put on our calendar. It’s a clear reminder that God is in control, and in his unfathomable love, he wants to be with us on his terms doing more than we can imagine even in the moments of his “perceived” absence.

So what can you do? The only guidance from the mystics is to pursue a life in constant surrender to God with curiosity to how he is present, always. Okay…but how do I do that? One active prayer practice that is helpful but not determinative of contemplation is centering prayer. Fr. Thomas Keating (1923-2018) was helpful for a world that is not only busy around us but also has the tendency to stir up busyness within.

In centering prayer, you find a quiet place and you come with one word that you breathe out in prayer—like the word “peace.” Then as the thoughts come, whether they be bad things, good things, or normal things, you surrender them until they are gone, shepherding them away with your singular word of intent and awareness of God. Don’t get frustrated with yourself. This takes practice. Your body and mind is used to always sprinting. It takes a while to learn just being. The purpose is to be with God in union. The goal isn’t to experience transcendence or get something from God. Just be.

But even there, I hesitate to say “This is it!” That’s not it. God will not be instrumentalized for our conscious or subconscious self-actualization projects. Rather contemplation can be God’s union grabbing you while you wash the dishes or in centering prayer or in neither. It’s God’s prerogative, because it’s God’s world. He’s here. He’s aware of you. Are you aware of him today?

PRAY:

Jesus, I want to be awake to you, alert to you, present with you. Grant me energy and discipline.

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Week 6 of 8 Contemplation

1 Comment

  1. Jerry Wilkinson

    “Only to sit and think of God, oh what a joy it is! To think the thought, to breathe the Name, earth has no higher bliss.”
    –Frederick Faber-

    Reply

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