A Grateful Contemplative

by | Jun 25, 2024 | 1 Poor in Spirit

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. Yet, nothing is further from my reach. Only by God’s grace could this practice bear fruit. Only a grateful heart can taste this fruit.

Actually, 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. So 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 who is free and incomprehensible, here and now.  It rests on the convictions that God first loved me and always will. Moreover, God did not finish speaking two millennia ago with the inking of scripture’s closing words.  Nor did God wait until death or rapture to save and fill me or anyone else. The God of history is the Lord of now.

Years ago, my son, Philip, shared with me a distinction between night dreamers and day dreamers. 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.

My son, Philip, and me.

Two day dreamers, my son, Philip, and me 10 years ago. He is taller now. I am not.

William McNamara defined contemplation as, “a long, loving look at the real.”[i] We believe that God “above all and through all and in all” will meet us in reality (Ephesians 4:6), even when it is harsh.

On my contemplative path, I came to realize the central importance of a grateful heart for contemplative vision. 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.

Later lessons from falling in love filled me with gratitude to the God from whose heart all love issues. Why focus on this version of reality grounded in an unmanageable God? Because I fell in love with God, just as I fell in love with my wife. Falling in love with her and sustaining that love in marriage is a rich parable of contemplative life. Thus, I open my heart to God. My desire for intimacy with God every moment does not result from a persuasive argument or a threat that scared me into submission. Rather, it flamed up because I fell in love. And that’s what lovers do.

Poverty of spirit, that posture of being grateful 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.”[ii]

On one hand, suffering presents an opportunity for ascetic contemplation, for letting go and waiting for God in the poverty that remains. On the other, joy presents an opportunity for grateful contemplation, for counting our blessings and catching the sweet scent of the Giver. Granted, it takes discipline to seize those opportunities. Moreover, it is humbling because I am regularly reminded of my need to refocus with God’s help. But I wouldn’t live any other way.

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“Lord, Teach Us To Pray”: Petition As Contemplation

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[i] William McNamara as quoted by Walter J. Burghardt, “Contemplation: A Long, Loving Look at the Real,” in An Ignatian Spirituality Reader, ed. George W. Traub (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008), 91.

[ii]Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering the Felt Presence of God. (New York: Crossroad, 2004), 165.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash, Public Domain.

This post is a modification of one published May 7, 2015.


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