What is contemplation?


Contemplation is the ability of the intellect to see a truth at a glance as the eye sees a landscape at once. It consists of knowledge impregnated with love.

Man was created with the power of intuition, that is, with was a simple and pure awareness of truth both natural (self evident principles) and supernatural truths which man needed to direct his life toward its proper end, God. He lived in spiritual communion with God and Creatures. Today, we are still aware of these truths such as "I am". "God is". "be good". "do good", "follow the way of 'nature' ", but at times we call them into question because we do not see them so clearly as self evident truths. Something happened to shift man's consciousness from intuition toward reason as expressed by Lao Tzu.

"When the great Tao [Way of God] is forgotten,
Kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born,
The great pretense begins.
When there is no peace in the family,
Filial Piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in chaos,
Loyal ministers appears."
(Tao Te Ching, Ch. 18)

With man's revolt and forgetfulness of God his consciousness became fragmented thereby relying more on reason in order to discover the truth.

So the effort begins to know God and reality more directly. But, can there be a natural mystical experience, a kind of "metaphilosophical contemplation" that is the result of a deeper and more religious desire, not just to know that the cause of creatures existence, but to embrace and contact in some way this source of being? In the mystical experience especially found in the East, the soul reflects upon itself realizing a purely existential knowledge of the self by eliminating any distinct image and operation of the mind thus touching existence proper to the soul and and the source of its origin. (Ibid., Webpage) This is possible because God made man in his image and likeness. Upon reflection, the eastern mystics conclude that the soul is part of the All or to put it in western terms, the human soul is part of God. In reality, " We are 'like God' in our Highest Essence but we are not 'God the totality." This natural mysticism falls short of reality because it cannot know God's Way to salvation which comes only through historical revelation in Christ.

Unlike the impersonal Buddhist and Taoist contemplation, Christian contemplation is based on the encounter with the personal God of faith who is dynamically Trinitarian. "This loving relationship points to the kind of interior silence that is being developed in contemplative prayer. The goal of contemplative prayer is not so much the emptiness of thoughts or conversation as the emptiness of self. In contemplative prayer we cease to multiply reflections and acts of the will. A different kind of knowledge rooted in love emerges in which the awareness of God's presence supplants the awareness of our own presence and the inveterate tendency to reflect on ourselves. The experience of God's presence frees us from making ourself or our relationship with God the center of the universe." Upon reflection we see that it was the Holy Spirit's loving presence which brought the soul to an awareness of God's loving presence in our minds without words of concepts. Earthly contemplation is imperfect and awaits the vision of God. Obviously, a true Christian contemplative cannot deny the truths of reason an of faith because contemplation is their fulfillment.

Does contemplation do away with the Incarnation?

The Incarnation does not appear as a concept in contemplation but Christ as a divine person is present in the awareness of the contemplative. It is through his humanity that we have become children of God and without Him there is no Christian contemplation.

St. Theresa of Avila tells us that contemplation is a supernatural state in which the Lord gives peace through his presence as he did to Simeon. Through the senses Simeon saw only the son of these poor people rather than the Son of the heavenly Father. But the Child Himself revealed to Simeon Who He Was. Likewise, the contemplative soul knows who Christ is but cannot understand how it knows Him. She says, "There seems nothing left for it to desire. The faculties are stilled and have no wish to move, for any movement they may make appears to hinder the soul from loving God. They are not completely lost, however, since, two of them being free, they can realize in Whose Presence they are. It is the will that is in captivity now;...." (St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, Image Books, 1995, p. 95)

So, even though there is only One God who reveals himself, Buddhist and Christians contemplation are not identical. They have certain psychological similarities but the theological realities are far apart. In one case there is no recognition of a personal God or even that there is a God apart from self while in the Christian perspective the personal encounter with the living God is recognized and acknowledged.

9. The Purifying Dimension