Contemplation

 

lavender
Photo source unknown

 

The path to the prayer room
runs beside a bed of herbs —
rosemary, sage, holy basil,
chervil, chives.

Lavender. Walking,
I pluck a stalk and crush
the woolly flowers lightly in
my hand, pausing
to inhale the fragrance.

I carry the sprig down
the steps, into the place of 
contemplation. My body stills,
but thumb and finger lift
the purple flame, an oblation.

The aroma is itself a prayer,
a reaching, a receiving. I sit
in silence, breathing what God is
telling me: he is in me
as he is in the flower.

Thanks be to God.

~ A poem by Luci Shaw 

 

Journey Inward

 

journey inward by elizabeth wang
Art by Elizabeth Wang

 

Somewhere along the road of life, by the grace of God, my soul awoke. And it was hungry, hungry for God.

Its hunger became a fire, a fire that consumed me and ate me up with its intense, devouring heat. I could not rest anywhere except in motion, that long, endless journey that every soul must undertake if she is to meet her God.

It is a strange journey, across arid plains and verdant valleys, across dried parchment-like deserts. A journey of many crossroads and endless sharp turns that confuse and make one clamour for a rest.

But the hunger for God knows no rest. So I go on and on and on.

Yes, it is a strange journey, that slowly makes me shed all the baggage I took for it, baggage I took before I knew that it would be too heavy a load for this kind of journey.
I don’t know where I felt it—somewhere back there by some crossroad.

Now I am baggageless, but still too heavily burdened. My hunger drives me on. For speedy traveling. I must start to shed my clothing.

There on this stone I lay the cloak of selfishness that kept me warm. It is cold without it, but I can walk faster, as my hunger urges me to.

Here on this branch, I hang my dress of selflove and compromise with the world. I shiver now in earnest, but my feet have wings. Yet this sheltered rock begs for my underwear.

Slowly, reluctantly, I shed my undergarments, one by one. Here goes self-indulgence. Tidily, next to it, I lay greed for possessions and love of ease and comfort. Next, not so tidily, go helter-skelter all the things in me that are not God’s.

Lord, behold I stand naked before thee, with wings on my feet. Wings on my feet! Now my journey inward will be swift.

But it is not. For I still stumble and fall and walk haltingly, inches instead of miles, while the hunger for God flays me and urges me to make haste.

Oh, I had forgotten my shoes, the heavy, comfortable shoes that have shielded my feet. Shielded my feet from the cutting stones, from the sharp pebbles. I must unlace my shoes, my comfortable stout shoes, the last covering of my naked soul. The last stronghold of my non-surrender to God.

I hesitate. The narrow path upward is so hard. It has so many sharp stones. So many knife-edged pebbles. But the hunger for God flames in me, a furnace of fire unquenchable, the fire of love, of passionate, utter love of God. I must go on, on that journey inward that alone will bring me face to face with him for whom I hunger constantly, without ceasing.

Quickly, I bend and with hasty, clumsy fingers unlace one shoe, then the other. My eagerness expresses my hunger. Recklessly I throw one shoe this way, the other that, not caring where they fall.

Now I am free, I am free and naked, and my feet have wings, huge wings that carry me across sharp stones and knife-edged pebbles without harm. Now the brambles and thorns that edge the path turn and point the other way.

I am a naked soul, free and untrammelled, driven by the hunger of my love for God, driven by my love for God, on and on, on this journey inward.

I did not know it would be so easy, once I shed all my garments. But now I know, for my hunger is being assuaged, satiated, filled, even as I fly on winged feet along the steep path upward. It is being filled, that hunger of mine, so much, so well, that I can feed others with the surplus of the food given to me so abundantly.

God meets half way the soul that starts on its journey inward, provided that the soul, driven by hunger of love for him, strips itself naked.

That is the secret of his love and of his kingdom, which begins even on this earth. But the price, I repeat, is nakedness complete, even unto discarding shoes.

 

~ A Meditation by Catherine De Hueck Doherty

Listen to yourself so as to find the path to God within the frail walls of your humanness.
Listen to yourself, for it is you alone who will lead yourself to him, or away from him.
Listen to yourself, listen to God, when you have led yourself to him.
Listen well, for if you hear his voice you will be wise with the wisdom of the Lord, and then you will be able to hear the voice of men, not as a surging sea, or as a mob.
But each man’s speech is his own, a treasure given to you beyond all expectations, because you led yourself to him and listen to his voice.

~ A poem by Catherine De Hueck Doherty 

Thoughts on Contemplative Life

 


“All things hide a mystery; all things are veils hiding God.”
~ Blaise Pascal


 

bird art by susan hall
Contemplation, art by Susan Hall

 

The vast separation between the good life and the holy life is always far more than we realize. The difference is not evident simply in the exterior activity of life. The generous accomplishments of a good person may outshine the limited works of the holy person. What distinguishes the holy person is the interior quality of a soul seeking God, and this is often not seen so visibly. The good life will always be observable to some degree, but whether or not a life is truly holy can easily be concealed in its essential truth. The most important acts of a holy life take place in secret, within quiet depths of the soul. And these most important acts are the offerings it makes for others. There is no great love of God unless a soul is great in offering itself for others. And this begins in the intensity of its prayer, where God alone sees.

The word holiness ought not to be tossed about too lightly, as though the reality were easily reached. There is a danger that an overworked and casual evocation of holiness as the goal of life reduces the immense challenge of giving all to God to a manageable habit of steady, low-cost generosities. Dorothy Day kept on her bedside table a striking phrase of Dostoevsky that conveys, by contrast, the starker reality of a true offering: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”  It is precisely the harsh and dreadful nature of sacrificial love that makes such love and the offering that accompanies it most fruitful for the salvation of souls.

A task in prayer that must be repeated with regularity: to search for the deeper solitary region of the heart where a single word spoken in silence has more impact on our soul than hours of replete eloquence taking place at the shallows of life.

 

~ A Reflection by Father Donald Haggerty, ‘The Contemplative Hunger’

 

Jesus and Saint Teresa of Jesus art by Maccha chmkoff
Apparition du Christ à Thérèse d’Avila, art by Macha Chmakoff

The Mystic Face

I never try to probe the sky’s blue span:
I never look to deep into the sea
But the dim face of a tragedian
looks out at me.

Neither the night nor day can find a place
where I have not been shaken with surprise
at the white beauty of a holy face 
and two great lonely eyes.

 

~ A poem by Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers), O.C.D.

 

 

The Fragrant Sacrifice of Love

 

Mary of Bethany the unction of Christ art by julia stankova
The Unction of Christ, art by Julia Stankova

In the Gospel of John we read how Mary of Bethany takes a whole bottle of expensive pure nard and pours it out over the feet of Jesus (Jn 12:1-8). This bottle contains a fortune, the costliest and very best that Mary has. When she has poured it out over Jesus’ feet, she dries them with her hair. What a waste! She uses no towel to dry his feet; she uses her hair, herself.

Since that time, there have always been people who feel drawn, yes forced to do as Mary. People, who in their innermost being know that they must give everything, not just what they have, but what they are. They must give their whole self. They must give it all at once. They don’t even ask what purpose it serves. But the whole Church, the whole world, is filled with the fragrance of their devotion.

There is no other incident in the gospel which so clearly expresses the uniqueness of the contemplative life. Those who enter such a life, whether in a monastery or in society, ask no questions about their talents and whether these will bear fruit, nor do they ask whether the contemplative life will develop their personality. All they think about is to give all their love to the Lord, spreading a fragrance everywhere.

~ A Meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.


Radiating Christ

by Blessed John Henry Newman

Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly,
that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through us, and be so in us, that every soul we come in contact with
may feel Your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us but only Jesus!
Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine, as You shine;
So to shine as to be a light to others;
the light, O Jesus, will be all from You, none of it will be ours;
it will be You shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise You in the way You love best, by shining on those around us.
Let us preach You by our words and by our example,
by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to You.
Amen.