Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New Vision - A Fruit of Contemplation

Christian Unity Week – 2005

Often when Violeta Chu, our Peruvian sister was here, it became necessary to try to explain what was meant by some difficult technical term. As we waited in the airport for her return flight the word paradox came up. How would I explain that? In the face of deficiency in language one often resorts to example in an effort to communicate a difficult concept. So I said, “You know how it is said that when women enter a monastery they leave the world. But in reality we in the monastery know that in this life we draw closer to the world. This is an example of a paradox.” Thinking about Christian unity and the unity of all people brought me back to that example and the paradox of moving away from the world only to become more united with it.

During this week we have been called to maturity and action recognizing that God the Creator is the source and the Son, Jesus Christ, the foundation on which we build. Sister Peg’s reflection yesterday elaborated on the act of “building” as one of conversion of heart which Lonergan described as a conversion to love – unrestricted, unconditional love.

Today’s theme and the suggested readings indicate that we will be judged by the effort we make to move toward that conversion, the conversion to love. I waited until yesterday to write this little piece because my impulse was to make it intimately relevant to our lives as contemplatives and I was searching for a way to do that. Here is my focus. We may not be called to create ecumenical services with our Protestant neighbors or to sponsor an ecumenical prayer group, although those are nice ideas. However, we do know that we are definitely called to contemplative prayer – it is our life. This is the realm in which we build. And what do I mean by that?

We know from the great writers and practitioners of contemplative prayer that one of its fruits is that paradoxical yet sure sense of connectedness to the world, to the people in it everywhere and to all of creation. Last night, I ‘googled’ the words “Fruits of Contemplation”. Post haste I found a very apt and concise list.

1. You learn to discern what really matters – and let go of what doesn’t.
2. You are less likely to judge other people.
3. You accept your own basic goodness.
4. You cultivate an open mind.
5. Your private and communal prayer grows deeper.
6. You transform your motivations and purify your intentions
7. You achieve inner freedom to serve truthfully in the outer world.

In short, we can say that the prayer to which we are particularly called transforms vision. Douglas Steere said, “Prayer does not blind us to the world, but it transforms our vision of the world, and makes us see it all, all people, and all the history of humankind, in the light of God.” (Intro. To Merton’s Contemplative Prayer)

We are all familiar with the story of Thomas Merton’s experience on the street in Louisville where he was suddenly transfixed by the graced realization that each and every person in the crowds before him was loved by God and that he love them too. It was truly a conversion experience. It was built upon, made possible by, a lifetime of contemplative prayer – a going inward to the place of transformation which we call union - and then a going outward to that unconditional, unrestricted love of which Lonergan spoke.

What is it that is happening? Maria Celeste might describe it as an exchange of hearts.
Through surrender in contemplation our ever discriminating heart is exchanged for the heart of Jesus - the heart of the Jesus who knew no distinctions; seemed oblivious to divisions of culture, gender, class or condition; who did not see separation, barrier, or difference. We see with new eyes and feel with a new heart and know the primacy of love and the essential unity of all humanity and all creation. We emerge with a new psyche. It is this condition that makes lists of rules printed inside missalettes about who can and who cannot receive Communion and the statements of bishops about refusing the Sacrament to public officials, repugnant to us. Especially so because we know that the sacrament of Holy Eucharist is the ultimate expression of Jesus’ desire to be one with us. And we know the rest of the equation. If Jesus is united to all then all are united with each other. In every Eucharistic Prayer we hear Jesus’ words, “Take this, all of you.”

I experience Holy Eucharist as the Sacrament of contemplation, both the food for and the fruit of contemplative experience.

Our unique lives as contemplative religious are God’s gifts to us. We are asked today to build on the central platform of that life – contemplation in Jesus – that we may increasingly bear as witnesses the mark of our essential oneness with all that is. May we share that unique vision of Jesus, allow all dualisms and distinctions to fall away and rightfully and worthily assume that prophetic voice which cries out to the world, “God is Love!”