Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Use of Contemplation

The Fall
“Then the Lord God said, ‘See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil…’”
- Genesis 3:22

It began with an act of disobedience. The man, now no longer innocent, knows the difference between good and evil and can exalt his ego by an exercise of will, by making a choice which before had been reserved to God alone. The man chooses the pleasures of gratifying his own will and separation from God – gazing into a mirror and adoring his own reflection as a substitute for the face of God until one day, the man can’t tell the difference anymore, even though the face of God is still there, just on the other side of the mirror.

Now fully blind to God, we fight our fellows for power, for fame and treasure, in desperate fear of death…for an illusion of immortality through control bought at the cost of a now barely-remembered time when we lived in abundant life and communion with God.
We now utterly dominate the world and its creatures. Still… something seems wrong. It’s not enough somehow. Utter domination of the world and its creatures STILL isn’t enough. God is missing. We think God is gone, if he ever was in the first place, and we are alone and in pain. But God is not gone and we are not alone even if we don’t know it right now.
“For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” - Acts 17:28
And because that is so, because we are, all unawares, actually of God, in God, and with God, there must be hope for our reconciliation with God.

Our Hope
“If the distortion of perception that is caused by the choice to see reality in man’s image instead of God’s is the problem, the solution must be the sacrifice of ego. To reconnect with reality, the false version of man must dissolve. The will must give itself up. The correct application of free will is to use it to annul itself. In Adam’s original test, he was not asked to do something; he was asked not to do. The real test of will is in its control; the ordeal is to give it back to God.”
- Rabbi Akiva Tatz, Will, Freedom and Destiny: Free Will in Judaism

Tools to flip ego on its head, to make use of the will to see past itself and through the mirror of our ego identity, revealing the face of God behind, have been discovered and refined in multiple traditions. From the Zazen of Buddhism, through the ritual dance of the Dervish, Pranayama and Mandalic contemplation in Hinduism, Visio Divina and Lectio Divina in the Christian tradition, and ritual chant everywhere we look, all the way to the modern Mindfulness movement, each tool seeks in one way or another to quiet the mind, because, we are told:
“Be still, and know that I am God!”
- Psalm 46:10
For a quiet mind in contemplation is finally open to the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit and…
“…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
- John 14:26

Our Salvation

Just as water wears away the hardest stone drop by drop and the touch of a million million hands imperceptibly smooths a coin and obliterates the human image impressed on its face, regular contemplative practice establishes and enhances awareness of the ever-present voice of the Holy Spirit, slowly rubbing away the silver of the mirror of our ego until we see, instead of our own reflection, the face of God, whose will we now can serve instead of our own.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:12
“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
- William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

And here, then, lies our salvation – in conversion of life. Such conversion, from dedication to service of the ego to service of God’s will, can at last restore our communion with God and allow us to live more fully into our baptismal covenant – which is nothing less than a solemn vow made before God and in the presence of the Body of Christ binding us to the work of bringing the kingdom of God on Earth:
Celebrant Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People I will, with God’s help.
His Promise

But can we be sure? We have been disappointed so often by placing faith in our human-created reality. How do we know that if we open our hearts to the Lord, he will respond? We have his promise:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
- Matthew 7:7-8
“A new heart I will give you and a new spirit put within you. I will take the stone heart from your chest and give you a heart of flesh. I will help you walk in my laws and cherish my commandments and do them. You shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
- Ezekiel 36:26-28
And, of course, you can try it for yourself, and see.

 Harold Slatore p/OSB

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