A New Way of Contemplation

You no longer need to feed your mind by meditating on who you are and who God is. You're past that, although it helped you once. These meditations filled your mind and taught you about God. Through them, you gained spiritual wisdom. But now you need to shift gears. Seek God a different way. Grace will help you focus on holding yourself steady in the deep center of your soul, where you'll offer God the simple fact of your existence.


The Cloud of Unknowing, page 183

I've been experiencing a significant shift in my faith life these last few months, ever since those two friends asked me to consider the gift inherent inside my inadequacy. I mentioned that it's helped me reframe that difficult pruning year I endured through the latter part of 2009 and almost the whole of 2010. I also mentioned that a pretty significant quiet began to take up residence inside my soul upon that new reframing.

It's that quietness inside my soul I'd like to talk about today. 

Almost immediately after I recognized everything God had been about in my soul for those 14-15 months, I began to experience the quiet. I noticed it as I went about my day. I noticed it when I talked with others. I noticed it in my prayer life. There was a peace, a simplicity, a surrender. There was hardly a need for words, with others or with God. As I mentioned in a previous post, it felt like being present and absent at the same time, being present to a person or activity but also having stepped aside inside myself so that God could be present and at work through me, a mere vessel for God's work.

I marveled at this, and I loved it. It felt like such a comfort as it happened. I didn't have need of anything, for God supplied it all. I felt such peace, and even, at times, a new boldness. I wanted this to continue as long as possible, perhaps for the rest of my life. I began to believe this is what is truly meant when the Scriptures say "it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20).

A few days after all of this began, I went on a special voyage to visit my dear friend Kirsten. On the way there and on the way back, I began to read a book by Thomas Merton for my upcoming graduate residency called The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation

It spoke exactly about what was happening inside my soul. 

I can't recount all the words that Merton used in that book. There are far too many underlines, check marks, and stars littered throughout the pages of my copy for me to zero in on any specific passage that meant a lot to me as I read it. Really, the whole book meant a lot to me. It's become one of those prized books I will always cherish because of how it met and spoke to me along the path of my spiritual journey just when I needed it. (Have you ever encountered any books like that?)

Several times in these intervening months, I have described this experience as being one of discovering a point of utter stillness at the center of my soul. At any given moment, I can choose to go inside that still center or operate outside of it. When I am inside that still center, I truly feel as though I am breathing God, feeding on God, resting in God, and fully existing by and through the grace of God. When I'm not inside that still center, I grab onto the other part of me that tries to cope and manage life on my own, without regard for God or dependence on God at all. When I'm in that place, I usually land pretty quickly at the doorstep of despair, unhappiness, and overwhelm.

More recently, I've been reading the The Cloud of Unknowing, a book written in the fourteenth century by an anonymous writer who guides readers through the work of contemplative prayer. I've been reading it in small doses before bed each night, and I'm finding it to be such a comfort. 

The other night, I landed on the words I included at the top of this post, which speak exactly to the shift I'm describing that is at work in my interior life with God right now. It speaks of a former way of prayer, a way that includes meditations about who I am and who God is, a way that has taught me about God and has grown me up in spiritual maturity. It's so true that my journey deeper into my life with Christ began -- and was so long sustained -- with such meditations. I learned who I am and who God is over a long and beautiful journey of many years. Through that time, I became rooted and established in my faith. 

But now, as the quote says, it is time for a new way. It is the way of contemplation.

I am learning that new way now, and I find my soul refreshed and ready for it. God has prepared me for this new way, and I am deeply thankful for it.