Contemplation Lesson 1 (What Contemplation is and is not)
This Lesson will offer an introduction-to, and overview-of … a thousand-year biographical history of "Infused-Prayer" by setting-forth, in bold-relief, the writings of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.
This Lesson will...
As you read the Sources, look for the following:
To undertake study of this Lesson, go to: http://www.contemplativerudder.com/ContemplationIA.pdf
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Lesson 1 (Contemplation)
This Lesson will offer an introduction-to, and overview-of … a thousand-year
of "Infused-Prayer" by setting-forth, in bold-relief, the writings of John of the
Cross and Teresa of Avila.
This Lesson will...
1) Identify the single, radical distinction between
Oriental Mysticism and Christian Contemplation.
2) Expose the oft-ignored difference between the Desert Fathers of Syria
and the Fathers of Egypt.
3) Put "Prayer of the Heart" in bold-relief by citing carefully-selected
excerpts of John of the Cross’ writings.
4) Set a stage for Unit Seven's attempt at a common-sense / five-part
teaching on Contemplation.
As you read the Sources, look for the following:
1) The critical difference between Oriental Mysticism and Christian
2) Root-cause of the critical difference between the Desert Fathers of
Egypt and those of Syria.
3) A sense of the absolute richness of John of the Cross' Inner Life.
4) A grasp of essential characteristics in the growth-stages in
1) Re-read # 1 (A & B only)
2) Re-read # 2
3) Re-read # 3
4) Re-read # 4
PASTORAL THEOLOGY 601:
Unit 7 ("Sacred Silence") /
Lesson 1 (Contemplation)
1. What is Contemplation?
A. Mosaic: It is commonly imagined that contemplation is for cloistered Monks
and Nuns, not Plumbers ...: "One reason so many people assume that
Contemplation is reserved for a select few is that they imagine it to be what it is
not." (Thomas Dubay) <> "Sometimes contemplation is like balancing on the edge
of a razor blade, with a meadow full of wildflowers on one hand, and madness on
the other." (Brother Roger of Taize) <> "There is always a temptation to diddle
around in the contemplative life, making itsy-bitsy statues." (Thomas Merton) <>
"[Contemplation] is being poured-out through. Solitude is ordinary life, normal
life, though my ordinary is not your ordinary." (Brother Roger) <> "The gaps are
the thing. The gaps are the spirit's one home. Go up into the gaps. Stalk the gaps.
Squeak into a gap in the soil ... and unlock ... a universe." (Annie Dillard) <>
"Initial infused prayer is so ordinary and unspectacular in the early stages that
many fail to recognize it for what it is." (Dubay)
B. Oriental Mysticism: While Contemplation is a love communion with God,
Oriental Mysticism is, in accord with what Masters themselves say of their
Contemplation, a state of impersonal, neutral awareness. Be it Buddhist
contemplation, Hindu transcendental meditation, Zen contemplation, or Yoga
contortion, there is never claim to "a knowing-loving that we cannot produce
but only receive" (i.e. as is the nature of Christian contemplation). When a Zen
Master was asked about the meaning of Buddhism he replied, "If there is any
meaning in it, I myself am not liberated." In Hindu or Tao, "The spiritual man
tends toward an absorption of his proper personality in a deity which is, itself,
impersonal." (Louis Bouyer)
Nowhere does Oriental mysticism speak of the wordless awareness
and love that man, of himself, can neither initiate nor prolong
(i.e. as in Christian Contemplation).
C. Jung and Oriental Mysticism: This father of much of modern-day Psychiatry
had grave reservations about the wisdom of Westerners giving up their religious
traditions and embracing those of the East. He wrote, "The spiritual development
of the West has been along entirely different lines from that the East, and has
therefore produced conditions which are the most unfavorable soil one can
think-of for ... repressing and controlling the unconscious, and least of all by
imitating methods which have grown up under totally different psychological
2. Christian Contemplation in Early Christianity.
A. The Desert Fathers: In the Fourth Century, groups of Christian men and
women literally moved into the deserts of Egypt and Syria. There they sought to
"climb the tower beyond time, consciously." They were described as "men
intoxicated with God." Impelled by the same Holy Spirit who drove Jesus into
the desert, they sought to pray always, to push their mind into their heart (i.e. into
the deepest level of consciousness). In their hearts He reigned progressively [more
and more] as the desert hermits strove vigilantly to, "bring every thought and
imagination under captivity and in obedience to Jesus Christ" (2 Co. 10:5).
These Athletes of God, in their attempt to reach the state of integration they called
a p a t h e i a (i.e. passionless passion), subjected themselves to fasting and vigils
through the night.... This rugged profile, however, is only half the story! For,
while in Egypt (it being the center of Greek culture in exile) Platonism and
Stoicism had become the philosophical carriers to articulate a form of Christian
life for the monks of the desert, in the deserts of Syria, Semitic Christianity was
the vehicle. The resulting differences of "method", the residual influences on
Christianity … are both profound and of great and serious import into the present
B. Egypt: Plato taught that we can separate the mind from the body. Stoics
counseled a self-imposed Gulag (i.e. harsh discipline) to bring the body under
control. The merging of these seminal influences produced an Abba Agathon
(considered a giant among the Egyptian Fathers) who believed that, "there is no
labor greater than praying to God ... in order to pray, a man must struggle to
his last breath."
Neo-Platonism taught that one must empty the mind so as to make the soul a
mirror reflecting the ever-present Light of God. From this same [Platonic]
influence came the Jesus Prayer * which demands voluntary synchronization of a
continual mental recitation with [involuntary] breathing-in and breathing-out.
After studying volumes of writings by these [Egyptian] Fathers, one is compelled
to ask: "Where is the 'wordless awareness and love that man of himself
cannot initiate or prolong' ... as taught by the John of the Cross / as
experienced by so many present-day Contemplatives?"
* The Jesus Prayer is: "Lord Jesus Christ … Son of the living God …
have mercy on me a sinner."
C. Syria: The Monastery of St. Catherine of Mt. Sinai was built in the 6th
Century. It was characterized by personal, warm, contemplative devotion to Jesus.
The [Semitic] Desert Fathers of the 4th & 5th Centuries had seen contemplation
as something beyond human reason. In the tradition of Moses, they were prepared
to hear God on His terms (i.e. as did Moses hear from the Burning Bush). For
them, the mere name of Jesus, coupled with silence of heart and lips (i.e. the
reduction of all cares to only the essential one) brought the wordless
awareness of God's love.
Macarius, rooted in a Semitic (Syrian) "Spirituality of the Heart", emphasized the
feeling consciousness of the Presence of Jesus dwelling within the heart, the
deepest level of awareness where one encounters God as "the ground of human
being." St. Theophan the Recluse expressed all of Semitic understanding of
Contemplation in this manner:
"Stand in the heart, with the faith that God is
also there, but how He is there do not speculate."
3. Christian Contemplation in the Middle-Ages
A. John of the Cross: We know very little of this Spanish mystic's activities but
know much about his deepest-self. John seldom used the personal pronoun "I" in
his writing, but few men or women in history have possessed such an
extraordinary talent for describing an immensely rich inner-life. While his
teaching is the unvarnished Gospel, John so loved nature that he enjoyed going
outdoors and praying immediately from the Book of Creation which lay before his
eyes. John, in his supernatural natural-ness, stood in the stream of Semitic
B. Brief excerpts of John's writing.
Note: selections are arranged that the Student might use them as brief meditations
for days of the week.
"Loving substantial quietude, where nothing is understood
particularly, and in which they like to rest .... A secret and
peaceful and loving inflow of God."
"... aware of the delight of love, without particular knowledge
of what he loves ... the thirst of love ... a loving thirst ... [the]
urgent longing of love."
"A secret inflow of God ... a ray of darkness ... a bright ray of
His secret wisdom ... a divine and dark spiritual light."
"A tranquil reception of this loving inflow ... the touch of
burning in the will ... the touch of understanding in the
intellect ... an inflaming of love."
"A secret inflow of God into the soul ... so delicate and interior
that the soul does not perceive or feel it, even though occupied
"... remaining in God's presence with a loving attention and a
tranquil intellect ... you will find, little-by-little ... a divine calm
and peace with a wondrous, sublime knowledge of God,
enveloped in divine love, infused into your soul."
This final note on John the Man, and the transformative nature of Contemplation:
We are told that, in a crowd, John could easily be missed and passed over. Yet,
"once seen and spoken to alone, he could never be forgotten." (E. Allison
Peers, The Spirit of Flame)
4. Contemporaneous Contemplation
A. Tabernacle Prayer and Infused Contemplation: The Institute has urged the
Student to rigorously pursue the Tabernacle in the Desert pattern for Thirty Days
(cf. Lesson 3). Afterwards, the "wheat" (vs. inevitable intellectual and
imaginational "chaff") of that discipline should become instinctual (i.e. should
require very little effort of the mind or will).
"Infused contemplation is the normal, ordinary development
of Discursive Prayer. The former gradually and gently replaces
the latter when reasoned thought has run its course as a
method of communing with the Lord." (Thomas Dubay)
B. Traits of Growth: “Beginning” Contemplative Prayer is usually delicate and
brief. “Advancing” Contemplation becomes burning, powerful, absorbing and
prolonged. While Contemplation even in the beginning stages is transformative of
life, Advanced Contemplation culminates in the "Transforming Union."
C. Order and Content of Unit Seven: While this Unit in no way presumes it can
lead the Student to the gift of Infused Prayer, it does attempt a progressive and
comprehensive presentation of the topic, as understood by a contemporary
Spiritual Director of great stature, Father Thomas Dubay (see Lesson Four, # 1).
Lesson Two focuses on the Fourth of Teresa's "Seven Mansions". This
"Mansion" is the crux of a transition from Discursive to Infused Prayer;
Lesson Three examines Teresa's understanding of the conditions for
growth in Contemplative Prayer.
Note: Nowhere in the writings of either Teresa or John is there
a single sentence that speaks of methodology: Conditions? Yes!
Lesson Four illustrates "Fire in the Nights", wherein the Lord first
discloses, then burns away, the unredeemed clingings of our soul;
Lesson Five introduces the "Transforming Summit", a union / communion
which has come to maturity;
Lesson Six proclaims the Universal Call: Jesus invites all, without
distinction, to come to this living water (John 7:37).
Growing up in a Parish manned by The Blessed Sacrament Fathers made
Adoration a part of life. Through Grade School and High School there were
numerous opportunities for us to tackle an hour on the prie-dieu under the
watchful eyes of one of the priests. We quickly found respect for their ability to
do two hours a day, seven days a week, fifty two weeks a year, through all hours
of the day and night.
We learned the wisdom of carrying the Gospels or some other spiritual reading to
focus our easily distracted minds. Great men had touted the advantages of hours
before Christ in the Monstrance but, in truth, He did not easily reveal Himself to
His fledgling worshippers. Learning to pray, learning to be before the Lord,
neither came easily nor quickly. The first thing we needed was to learn to show up
with a degree of fidelity…
That has not changed. Physical quiet was easy enough. Mental silence was
another thing. It still is in this world. (G.M.)
1) If you have had experience in one or the other form of Oriental prayer,* please
script a few observations that would either confirm of contradict the position
taken in # 1 of this Lesson.
* Very much in vogue in the Sixties and Seventies, it is likely that many
Christians of the West took a stab at this. The Mentor himself seriously attempted
Yoga (openly / with others … in Seminary / it was recommended !) and Zen (in
Korea / in the late 60's and early '70's Roman Catholic Missionaries – and not a
few Bishop’s were caught up with it)!
2) Discuss the ancient root & modern flower of "Desert Prayer" (i.e. Egypt vs.
Syria: is Prayer of the Heart a methodology or a sovereign gift?) Minimum: 150
3) Contrast John of the Cross' writings with, a) the nature of Oriental mysticism
and, b) the present-day influence / impact (i.e. among R.C. spiritual writers) of the
Desert Fathers of Egypt (250 words).
For the remaining Lessons of this Unit, go to: