A Grateful Contemplative
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).
Nothing matters more to me than keeping my eyes and heart open to God every moment. Since I frequently wake up from dreamy notions and distractions, I must spend much time in slumber from which to awaken. That’s OK as I think 24/7 awareness of God would overwhelm anyone. We only see God in unscheduled glimpses. But aspiration to the unreachable still takes us to higher places. Returning over and over to a welcoming openness to God bears much fruit even in long stretches between epiphanies.
Call mine the confession of a contemplative Christian, if I may presume to identify myself that way. Contemplation is loving openness to God, free and incomprehensible, here and now. It rests on convictions that God loves me and neither finished speaking to me two millennia ago with the inking of scripture’s closing words nor bid me wait until death or rapture to save and fill me. The God of history is the Lord of now.
My son, Philip, shared with me a distinction between night dreamers and daydreamers. Night dreamers get lost in their wishes and fail to act, while day dreamers dare pursue their hopes in reality. Contemplatives are day dreamers, eager to put aside the fantasies and biases that cloud our vision and see reality on its terms. We believe that the God “above all and through all and in all” will meet us there (Ephesians 4:6), even its harshness.
On my contemplative path, I came to realize the central importance of gratitude. I first discovered it in the dark. Amid great pain and the dying of many night dreams, I found the beauty of simple things that point to their Creator who lavishes even the poor with sunrises and lilies, laughter and sadness, the surprising music of silence. Then I got deeper lessons when I fell in love again despite the excruciating memory of losing love, and every loving moment fills me with gratitude to the God from whose heart all love issues.
Poverty of spirit, that posture of gratitude toward One who gives all, generates joy and contemplation. Ronald Rolheiser wrote: “To become grateful, one must practice the asceticism of joy. The greatest compliment one can offer the giver of a gift is to thoroughly delight in his gift. We owe it to our creator to delight in the gift of life and creation.”[i]
Suffering presents an opportunity for contemplation, for grieving our losses and waiting for God in the poverty that remains. At the same time, joy presents an opportunity for contemplation, for counting our blessings and catching the sweet scent of the Giver. It takes discipline to seize those opportunities. But I wouldn’t live any other way.
[i] Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering the Felt Presence of God. (New York: Crossroad, 2004), 165.
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