The Word is near you; it is in…your heart.              Rom. 10:8

By: Rob Des Coates – Guest Writer
We are blessed through the writings of many theologians, monks and lay people who have pursued God through prayer and have understood enough of their experience to be able to share it with us.   In a glorious chapter of his Seeds of Contemplation, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton offers such eloquent articulations for the soul.   In it he speaks of the mystery of contemplative prayer as the vocation of every soul when he writes,

Contemplation—by which we know and love God as He is, apprehending Him in a deep and vital experience which is beyond the reach of any natural understanding—is the reason for our creation by God.   Although it is absolutely above our nature, it is our proper element because it is the fulfillment of deep capacities in us that God has willed should never be fulfilled in any other way.

Contemplative prayer seeks unity with God in the only form that such relational intimacy can ever be obtained—through immersion in the very object of our knowledge.   Merton explains,

Contemplation is the pure and peaceful comprehension of love in which the contemplative perceives the truth not by understanding it objectively, but by being absorbed into it.

A radical transformation must take place at the root of our being before this relational knowledge can be formed in us.   Such a conversion of heart, towards an intimate experience of God’s nearness, is what contemplative prayer seeks.   Merton recognizes how God prompts us, through the undoing that comes from the experience of His initiative in us, towards the self-emptying disposition that this prayer requires.   He writes,

God touches us with a touch that empties us.   He moves us with a simplicity that simplifies us.   Nothing more is desired.   Nothing more is wanting.  The function of this abyss of freedom is to draw us out of our own selfhood and into its own immensity of liberty and joy. You have become nothing.  You have sunk to the center of your own poverty and there you have felt the doors fly open into infinite freedom, into a wealth which is perfect because none of it is yours and yet it all belongs to you.

No longer objectifying God, contemplative prayer breaks down the illusion of separateness that otherwise prevents us from truly “knowing” our intimacy with Christ.  As our spirituality becomes more porous, our sense of self more accurately expresses the Christian ontology that Jesus describes most intimately as “I in you and you in me”.  Our understanding of God now shifts from knowledge of the Lord, to knowledge in the Lord.   No longer is it we who are trying to apprehend God, as though our experience of God were something separate from Him.  Our knowledge now comes more from the intimacy of relationship that we share with our Creator—the more direct experience of God’s ways in us, and of our ways in God.
To be continued next week.
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Copyright Lynda Chalmers