Life Skills: Contemplation

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.”
Isaiah 30:15 NIV

(1) The “Why” of Contemplation

“In all the historic formulations of the Perennial Philosophy it is axiomatic that the end of human life is contemplation . . . that a society is good to the extent that it renders contemplation possible for its members; and that the existence of at least a minority of contemplatives is necessary for the well-being of any society.” Aldous Huxley


“Contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom–freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.” Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury


“Action without contemplation leads to hyperactive, frantic and frayed lives disconnected from their inner source that promotes peace, creativity and healing. A life of contemplative activism embraces rhythms and practices that affirm and nurture love of God, self and neighbor in a way that leads to enduring peace and social change.” Red Letter Christians blog

“Contemplation carves the posture of surrender into the fabric of our being, making us most receptive to the transformation that we cannot obtain for ourselves.” Phileena Heuertz

*Is practicing contemplation something you heard encouraged in church?
*At this early point in our discussion, what would you say is the need for, or “the promise” of contemplation?

(2) The “Way” of Contemplation

“Therefore, banish from your heart the distractions of earth. Turn your eyes to spiritual joys so that you may learn at last to rest in the light of the contemplation of God. Indeed, the soul’s true life and repose are to abide in God, held fast by love and refreshed by divine consolations. . . . little by little as you abandon baser things to rest in the one true and unchangeable Good, you will dwell there, held fast by the bonds of love.” Albert the Great


“Contemplation is simply the mind’s loving, unmixed, permanent attention to the things of God.” Francis de Sales (“Attentiveness is the heart’s stillness, unbroken by any thought.” St. Hesychios)

[contemplative prayer as the experience of being] “quiet enough to feel held, to feel the embrace of the divine, to realize that I am a part of something vaster than vast; and to feel that, to recognize that, to feel thankful for it, and to hope that by opening myself to that awareness, that I am allowing some of that to come through me.” Marilyn Nelson

“Contemplation . . . not only brings us face to face with God. It brings us, as well, face to face with the world, face to face with the self. And then, of course, something must be done. Nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. We carry the world in our hearts: the oppression of all peoples, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the Earth, the hunger of the starving, the joy of every laughing child.” Joan Chittister

“This combination of observation along with love—without resistance, judgment, analysis, or labeling—is probably the best description of contemplation I can give. You simply participate in ‘a long, loving look at the Real.'” Richard Rohr

“Bring yourself back to the point quite gently. And even if you do nothing during the whole of your hour but bring your heart back a thousand times, though it went away every time you brought it back, your hour would be very well employed.” Francis de Sales

*What is your emotional response to these ideas?

*What is a behavioral response you would aspire to in response to these ideas?

(3) The “End” of Contemplation

“Contemplation, at its highest intensity, becomes a reservoir of spiritual vitality that pours itself out in the most telling social action.” Thomas Merton

“There are two doors in the next life, someone once suggested–one is labeled ‘heaven’ and the other ‘lecture on heaven.’ Everyone from the West is lined up outside the second door.” Belden Lane

*What is your emotional response to these ideas?

*What is a behavioral response you would aspire to in response to these ideas?

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For further consideration (before or after our discussion):

(4) The “How Am I Doing?” of Contemplation

“The opposite of contemplation is not action, it is reaction. We must wait for pure action, which always proceeds from a contemplative silence.” Richard Rohr

“Our practice of contemplation is not the avoiding of distractions,’ as was foolishly taught, but instead we use them ‘to look over their shoulder’ for God! This was the brilliant insight of the author of the fourteenth-century book, The Cloud of Unknowing. . . . The persistence of the distraction can actually have the effect of steadying your gaze, deepening your decision, increasing your freedom, your choice, and your desire for God and for grace—over this or that passing phenomenon. The same can be true with any persistent temptation. The ‘shoulders’ of the distraction almost become your necessary vantage point, and they create the crosshairs of your seeing. Who would have thought? It is an ideal example of how God uses everything to bring us to God. I wasted years on trying to deny, repress, or avoid distractions and ‘dirty’ thoughts—which never worked very well. Many gave up on prayer and the spiritual life because of it.” Thomas Merton

“It is unwise to judge a prayer period on the basis of your psychological experience. Sometimes you may be bombarded with thought all during the time of prayer; yet it could be a very useful period of prayer. Your attention might have been much deeper than it seemed. In any case, you cannot make a valid judgment about how things are going on the basis of a single period of prayer. Instead, you must look for the fruit in your ordinary daily life, after a month or two. If you are becoming more patient with others, more at ease with yourself, if you shout less often or less loudly at the children, feel less hurt if the family complains about your cooking–all these are signs that another set of values is beginning to operate in you.” Thomas Keating

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Each week’s quotes usually come from Wisdom From the Margins. This is the book we will use for this discussion. If you can, try to read one reading daily in the book (perhaps the reading for that calendar day). Alternatively, this week you could read January 9, March 1, and/or March 20.)


If this discussion sounds like something you might be interested in, please contact me for more details. (Bill at wm_britton@mac.com) Also, if you’re in a completely different time zone and you’re interested, also please let me know, since a second gathering time, designed for people in the Eastern hemisphere may be possible.

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