As we discussed, Contemplation is not something that can be intellectually understood, it must be experienced with an open heart and by being fully present to the reality of the moment. Only when are able to take a long, loving look at what's real, do we become open to the grace of Contemplation. The primary intention of these 3 month's together is for each of us to grow to become more aware, open and present to this grace.
In our first look at Chapter 1 of New Seeds, we began to explore "What is Contemplation." For Merton: Contemplation is beyond understanding, it is the depth of sacredness found in the experience of being fully alive in this very moment and connected to the Source of all life! By reflecting on our lives, each of us will find moments of Contemplative experience. Last night, some of us shared a time when we felt fully awake, alive and connected to the present moment. The experiences we shared were very different from each other but each one completely absorbed us with a sense of wholeness and connectedness. These experiences opened us to the sacredness of the ordinary situation we were in, and in some ways helped us to transcend our cares or concerns in that moment. The experiences were powerful enough that they stuck with us for the rest of our lives.
As we explored Chapter 3, the ideas that seemed to strike folks most were:
- Every expression of the will of God is in some sense a “word” of God and therefore a “seed” of new life. This gives me access to an uninterrupted dialogue with God.
- My willingness to open to God’s will depends upon my image of God. I must realize that the love of God seeks me in every situation, and seeks my good.
- The contemplative must be detached, but he can never allow himself to become insensible (cultivated indifference) to true human values.
Though God may seem silent, if we open to the will of God in our lives (the moments of our lives that touch us deeply) we open to a dialogue with Him. Many of us shared moments from our lives that touched us deeply, from the impact of an aunt who was a nun on a young boy, the joy and connectedness to Jesus at first Communion or at the end of a drive-in movie,connection to the lives of others and all of creation or the deep love and joy at the birth of a child. These all planted seeds of truth, joy and love that has impacted our lives.
Many of us were able to relate to a struggle to get beyond a God seen as domineering and insensible to a good and gracious God. As Merton wrote, we will only open ourselves to the intimate encounter of God in Contemplation if we come to know God to be Love. Perhaps that is why so many struggle with opening themselves to be present in this way in the first place.
Finally, many people seeking "holiness" seem to go through a period in which they seek to detach themselves from the world and being fully human so they can focus on what they believe are God's ways. Merton fully realized at the time he wrote New Seeds that a cultivated indifference to being fully human vitiates (invalidates) the true path to knowing God. We will see more of this in upcoming chapters.
I'd like to share the quote from Chapter 3 that most touched me:
If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of God’s life, that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest. For it is God’s love that warms me in the sun and God’s love that sends the cold rain. It is God’s love that feeds me in the bread I eat and God that feeds me also by hunger and fasting. It is the love of God that sends the winter days when I am cold and sick, and the hot summer when I labor and my clothes are full of sweat: but it is God who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood.’
‘God’s love spreads the shade by the sycamore over my head and sends the water-boy along the edge of the wheat field with a bucket from the spring, while the laborers are resting and the mules stand under the tree. It is God’s love that speaks to me in the birds and streams but also behind the clamor of the city God speaks to me in God’s judgments, and all these things are seeds sent to me from God’s will. If they would take root in my liberty, and if God’s will would grow from my freedom, I would become the love that God is, and my harvest would be God’s glory and my own joy. And I would grow together with thousands and millions of other freedoms into the gold of one huge field praising God, loaded with increase, loaded with increase, loaded with corn.’
This reminds me that God's love (His will) is found in every moment of each day, even in the midst of the day's difficulties. When I'm able to detach from my own expectations and judgement, I'm able to see this.
Finally, I'd like to share the following piece that I received from Fr. Bill Barry SJ which is an account of a Contemplative experience that has touched me deeply.