If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.

-George Herbert

Monday, June 28, 2010

Contemplative Prayer 2

Why sit silently? Why set aside precious time - time that might be more usefully spent performing works of mercy for a suffering world - in order quietly to surrender one's heart to God? Is it mere narcissism? Are we simply seeking spiritual experience for our personal gratification, or indulging in a self-centered spiritual therapy?

The answer lies in the biblical notion that humanity is one body, and that what one does, even in the secret recesses of one's own heart, has an effect upon all. Furthermore, the ancients considered that the human being is a microcosm - a recapitulation in miniature of the entire universe - and that alterations in human consciousness therefor have effects in the "external" world. In short, contemplative prayer is a hidden ministry performed on behalf of the entire creation because it is a means of inner healing. "Acquire a peaceful spirit", says St. Seraphim of Sarov, "and around you thousands will be saved."

The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, the fourteenth century classic on the art of contemplative prayer, says this to his young pupil: "This is the work of the soul that most pleaseth God. All saints and angels have joy of this work, and hasten them to help it in all their might…All men living in earth be wonderfully holpen of this work, thou wottest not how."

It can be a terrible stretch for the imagination of the modern, rationalizing Christian to conceive that the joy of the blessed in heaven might be increased, and all people living on earth mysteriously helped by God through the simple interior act of lifting our hearts secretly and continually to the Divine Presence; that God might will, through the surrendered and silent hearts of contemplatives, to bless every creature in heaven and earth. But there are deeper modes of apprehension than reason. Consider if this idea does not resonate in your heart. If it does, God may be calling you to this work.

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