school of contemplation

[At SSU today, we started a new experiment that we’re calling the “School of Contemplation.” Here are two quotes that were discussed at our first gathering:]

  • All that we can do with any spiritual discipline is produce within ourselves something of the silence, the humility, the detachment, the purity of heart, and the indifference which are required if the inner self is to make some shy, unpredictable manifestation of his presence.

– Thomas Merton, The Inner Being

  • For a religion is known from the inside. Catholics say this of Catholicism, but it is true of every religion. Religion is a form of nourishment. It is difficult to appreciate just through a look the flavor and dietary value of a food that one has never eaten.

– Simone Weil, Awaiting God

(Thanks to Peter Fitch for including the second quote in a sermon at the St. Croix Vineyard yesterday.)

communal contemplation

[a bit of a challenging read – but if you  take the time to work through this I think you’ll see something unique that is often missing in Western contemplative traditions]:

Communal contemplative practices in Africana contexts have been hidden from view by the exigencies of struggle, survival, and sustenance…

The spiritual practices become public theology through acts of shared liturgical discernment. These acts of shared contemplation move individual mystical events from the personal private toward the public and pragmatic. Accordingly the inward journey transcends the private imagination to become an expanded communal testimony.

I am contending that communal contemplation is richer than the immediacy of personal experience because the experience, the story, the event is subjected to the gaze of both the individual and the community. In Africana and other indigenous cultures, this unique orientation toward the sacred elements of life begins at a very young age. Children soon learn that when events surprise, frighten, or mystify them, they can face the unknown with a discerning community. It has only taken a few generations to lose sight of this integral aspect of Africana community life.

Such losses can result from inclusion/integration into dominant cultural paradigms. The price for full acceptance is often cultural and spiritual amnesia…

I am offering an understanding of contemplation that depends upon an intense mutuality, shared religious imagination, and the free flow of interpretation within the context of a vibrant and lived theology.

– Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church

true wisdom knowing

[The SSU staff and faculty met yesterday for an afternoon of community discernment. The second paragraph below helped us focus our thoughts for the afternoon.]

Contemplation is an entirely new way of knowing the world that has the power to move us beyond mere ideology and dualistic thinking. Mature religion will always lead us to some form of prayer, meditation, or contemplation to balance out our daily calculating mind. Believe me, it is major surgery, and you must practice it for years to begin to rewire your egocentric responses. Contemplation is work, so much so that most people give up after their first futile attempts. But the goal of contemplation is not success, only the continuing practice itself. The only people who pray well are those who keep praying….

The capacity for nondual seeing that is developed through contemplation allows us to be happy, rooted in God, comfortable with paradox and mystery, and largely immune to mass consciousness and its false promises. This is true wisdom knowing, and it is the job of elders to pass it on to the next generation so we need not start at zero.