by Jayne MacGregor
WHAT IS CONTEMPLATION? A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
I think it is a universal human experience to get to the place in a relationship when talking and doing come to an end, and we long to just ‘be’ with the other. This ‘being’ does not negate the talking and doing, but opens us up to a deeper level of communion which yields its own, unique connectedness and quality of relationship. Just being with the beloved, beyond words and actions, is how I would describe contemplation. It happens within human relationships and it happens between our deepest self and the Divine Source.
True seekers and travellers into the realms of spirit will inevitably discover that at the heart of any serious spiritual tradition there exists a deep, inner path which is contemplative in nature. Within this contemplative core, there are recognised stages of spiritual life and growth which the travellers encounter and are then helped to embrace, integrate and transcend, as their journey of pilgrimage to the centre continues. In this respect, contemplative practice is very far from being just a Christian thing – it is the essential key to all deep and true spirituality and the ultimate answer to all unreality. To quote the previous Arch-Bishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, ‘To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need to live truthfully, honestly and lovingly – and is therefore a deeply revolutionary matter’.
So what is contemplation from a Christian perspective? It is a form of praying and living where we simply seek to be with God (Divine Source) from our truest and deepest self, spirit to Spirit. The words contemplation and meditation are often used synonymously. However, I see meditation to be the outer practice of silence and stillness which we can learn, whereas contemplation is the gift from the Divine which comes in to fill the inner luminous space created by our outer efforts. This gifts us with the experience of non-duality or unitive consciousness.
Many people do not realise that Christianity has its own treasure store of contemplative practice and that to meditate within the Christian tradition is a surprisingly ancient practice. There are numerous references to silent, still, ’empty’ prayer within the Bible, and Jesus himself exemplifies self-emptying surrender to God. Christian mystics throughout the ages, from the Desert Fathers and Mothers in 400 AD, right through the middle ages and up to the present day have kindled the flame of this transformative path of love, preserved the ancient teachings and ensured that the stream of contemplative practice did not get completely submerged. Cradled and kept within the monastic tradition for centuries, contemporary spiritual teachers have now made Christian contemplative practices and meditation available to all.
The founder of the World Community for Christian Meditation, John Main, said that ‘meditation takes us to that place where mystery is known and knows us’. When we sit down to meditate each day, we are not alone, but part of a vast cosmic communion, where the silent, effortless radiance of deep being ensures the most powerful action – in ourselves and in all creation. Beyond words and the constructs of our mind, we come to a place of deep surrender which eventually becomes a place of union with God. As someone so rightly said, contemplation is nothing else than a secret, peaceful and loving inflow of God. Amazingly, it is within this very dynamic that we discover our deepest and truest self.