I am not a monk but I am very interested in spiritual traditions handed down through monastic orders. And contemplation is one of these!
My first two posts on contemplation have considered the way we naturally contemplate beauty and awe-inspiring sights:
Turn to a Benedictine writer – I chose the book Finding Sanctuary by Christopher Jamison (he wrote this following television programmes about ordinary people experiencing the Benedictine way of life in a monastery for a period of some weeks) – and there’s not a sunset or moonrise in sight!
In his chapter on Contemplation, Jamison talks about prayer – which might include silent awe – and reading, a special type of slow reading called lectio divina. In lectio divina, contemplation might be the final stage of reading slowly, meditating on what is read, praying, and then being lost in wonder and the contemplation of God.
I love the art of Caspar David Friedrich, and you can see he uses nature a lot. Monastic thought has space for this. I have also been very drawn by Franciscan spirituality. St. Bonaventure, for example, explores how nature is a kind of “ladder” that leads to God.
But in Benedictine spirituality, you don’t need sunsets or moonrises. You need silence, prayer and scripture.
Each of these is a world.
Do you think silence, praying or reading can be ways of contemplation?
Theme 4 of “30 Days Spiritually Wild” I have dedicated to the earth, seas and plant life. I think St. Francs would approve of the project of the UK Wildlife Trusts to connect people with nature, although he would also have wanted them to look beyond the natural world to the supernatural …
The Canticle of the Sun, written by St. Francis of Assisi, is all about the beauty and wonder of the Earth, as this short extract shows:
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us and who produces varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
You might like to meditate on this short outburst of praise by repeating it several times, pausing for silence between repetitions, looking out of window at “sister mother earth”, and praying…
That’s what Sister Wendy Beckett says in her profound book Sister Wendy on Prayer.
“Because of God’s goodness, it cannot be something that is difficult…Accept that God is good and that your relationship with Him is prayer, and you must conclude that prayer is an act of the utmost simplicity.”
For Sister Wendy, prayer is God-centred:
“Prayer…concerns nobody except God – always longing to give Himself to us in love – and my own decision. And that too is God’s…”
Many people thing about prayer as something we do. Perhaps something we do for others – praying for others.
Sister Wendy’s view is something more divine-focused, even, at times, an overwhelming experience:
“If you want God to take possession of you, then you are praying. That is all prayer is.”
And it challenges us in the deepest parts of our own selves:
“What do I really want when I pray? … What you really want, ‘with all your heart and soul and mind and strength’?”
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
I have included part of this in my Rule of Life, which is this:
Every day I will face frustrations, challenges, stresses, obstacles and problems. Life will not be what I want it to be. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
This is a re-post from a sequence of posts on a “Rule of Life” I have been exploring and posted about, which I am trialling as a re-branded occasional type of post called “Light of Life”, with one piece of guidance for each day in each calendar month. This has now become the “Light of Life” for the 22nd day of each month.