The Mission of the Ursuline Sisters is to transform society through contemplation, justice and compassion. I believe contemplation and a contemplative attitude are integral to living a deep prayer life, a vibrant spiritual life. Because of my personal commitment to contemplation and the importance I believe it has for all spiritual adults, I would like to share some thoughts on contemplation and the contemplative attitude. From my own Ursuline roots I will begin by quoting Angela Merici who states in her Rule that, “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” It takes a certain kind of attitude to place one’s self in God’s presence, and to pray by just being present to God, and allowing whatever happens to happen. There is no agenda when one comes to contemplative prayer and when one develops a contemplative attitude.
Sometimes people use the word “contemplation” when they really mean “meditation.” The term ‘meditation’ usually refers to the active use of the mind, the feelings, the imagination when they are applied to a passage of scripture, or our own situation in life, or to any active way in which we try to understand ourselves in relation to God or God’s world. This activity brings in a great richness and may well lead us to expressions of joy, wonder, thanksgiving, or penance. It is a bringing in rather than emptying.
But contemplative prayer is the opposite. Some of us, at a certain stage of our lives, come to find that ideas, images, imagination, and feelings, good though they are, somehow get in the way between God and ourselves. We wish to be open to God as God is without anything being a distraction. In contemplative prayer we try to put aside the thoughts and ideas that come to us, and simply focus on God’s presence. It is an emptying.
The regular practice of contemplative prayer, of emptying the mind of distractions, gradually helps us to develop a contemplative attitude. When we have a contemplative attitude, we have an openness toward all of life, a sense of wonder, a capacity to experience life as gift or as mystery. By this I mean that we have the ability to allow God to affect our interior reactions to our everyday experiences. It simply has to do with our attitude or ability to listen, to be open. We allow God’s word or presence to penetrate and to affect our hidden or interior self. In other words, God’s mystery is allowed to touch our own mystery.
Contemplation is a gift and it is there for the asking, provided we are open to it. But learning how to be open to a contemplative stance usually takes desire, a willingness and openness on our part.
How have contemplation and/or meditation helped you deepen your spiritual life?
How has contemplation helped you to develop a contemplative attitude?