the Pope appealed “sincerely” and “respectfully” to those who “feel far from God and from the Church” and to “those who are fearful and indifferent: the Lord is calling you too.” The Lord is calling you to be a part of His people and He does it with great respect and love.”
“The Lord does not proselytize; He gives love,” reaffirmed the Pope. “And this love seeks you and waits for you, you who at this moment do not believe or are far away. And this is the love of God.”
Waiting for a child’s return.
Identifying with God.
While not making any claim to be God, I identify with Him as the Pope spoke of him on the Feast of the Epiphany. Some of my children are far away and will not speak with me; others have stayed close-by and, for others, new avenues of communication are opening up.
I know my children have suffered as a result of things I have done and that they have felt abandoned and uncared for. What I can say, without any hesitation or doubt, is that my love has been seeking and waiting for each of them without cajoling or demanding. It is the love of a father and is without conditions or limits and quite unchanged by my behaviour or theirs. It simply is, as it has been since each life began, through good times and bad.
“And this is the love of God.”
This is simple love, enduring and even growing through human weakness. I can recognise, in my own love, God’s love. “Love melts into love,” said St Teresa of Avila. We look everywhere for God’s love, but we already have it. Famously St. Augustine looked everywhere for God and then found him already nearer than he could imagine, in his own heart.
No matter how imperfect we are this Love is perfected within us.
Towards the end of his excellent little book, “Contemplative Prayer”, Thomas Merton warns, in the strongest of terms, against methods of meditation which don’t lead us face to face with our own emptiness and “dread”. In the following passage the context ( in which Merton may have had in mind the popular meditation of the Beatles) gives way to a caution which is still relevant to us all today, especially those of us who desire to have a life based in contemplative prayer.
“…a form of contemplation that merely produces the illusion of “having arrived somewhere”, of having achieved security and preserved one’s familiar status by playing a part, will eventually have to be unlearned in dread – or else we will be confirmed in the arrogance, the impenetrable self-assurance of the Pharisee. We will become impervious to the deepest truths. We will be closed to all who do not paricipate in our illusion. We will live “good lives” that are basically inauthentic, “good” only as long as they permit us to remain established in our respectable and impermeable identities. The “goodness” of such lives depends on the security afforded by wealth, recreation, spiritual comfort, and a solid reputation for piety. Such “goodness” is preserved by routine and the habitual avoidance of serious risk – indeed of serious challenge. In order to avoid apparent evil, this pseudo- goodness will ignore the summons of genuine good. It will prefer routine duty to courage and creativity. In the end it will be content with established procedures and safe formulas, while turning a blind-eye to the greatest enormities of injustice and uncharity.”
“Contemplation is essentially a listening in silence, an expectancy. And yet in a certain sense, we must truly begin to hear God when we have ceased to listen. What is the explanation of this paradox? Perhaps only that there is a higher kind of listening, which is not an attentiveness to some special wave length, a receptivity to a certain type of message, but a general emptiness that waits to realize the fullness of the message of God within its own apparent void. In other words the true contemplative is not the one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but remains empty because he knows he can never expect or anticipate the word that will transform his darkness into light. He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation. He does not demand light instead of darkness. He waits on the Word of God in silence, and when he is “answered”, it is not so much by a word which bursts into his silence. It is by his silence in itself suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, the full voice of God.”
The great pre-requisite: Silence.
In my desire to learn about contemplative prayer I read and I pray and I wait. There is no particular technique for contemplation which “does the trick” although I’ve tried several and followed advice which I have always found useful until I begin to get used to one or other of the practices and then, like driving or walking, I develop my own style, not deliberately but more like wearing clothes till they fit, perhaps untidily but comfortably. There is one condition for contemplation on which all agree, I think, and that is silence.
Thomas Merton, in the passage above from his classic book, “Contemplative Prayer” expands on the emptiness of true silence in a way which echoes his attraction to Zen Buddhism. For me, as a novice in prayer, I am just learning about what silence actually feels like. I have been greatly helped by finding myself attracted to walking long distances. The routine and simplicity of walking and keeping walking on and on for hundreds of miles is one way of entering silence. Having a lot of time, some form of routine and the most basic simplicity are good conditions for incubating silence and stilling competing voices and urges within us.
When I have walked many days I become more silent within. This means that I have few worries or fears or resentments or urges: in general I am not in reactive mode but rather responsive mode. The more silent I become the more aware I am of what remains as noise within me because there is less and less of it. The rhythm of footstep after footstep shakes down and out the junk accumulated in a world of competition, deceit and false promises with battles for power and money and influence which create conflicting desires and confuse my sense of inner direction. My compass becomes fixed on the Way and with regular, continuous prayer I begin to know where I am heading. Yes, I have to keep alert , to notice when I am off my track, but the conditions of not being rushed, repeating the same routine and having little baggage are liberating and free me to note the disturbances which interrupt my silence. Silence grows.
As silence grows it is possible to start listening…………….