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We don’t appreciate something until we lose it. Often that is true but not necessarily. If we live consciously and protect the inner space for joy to bubble through from its hidden spring, we will fully appreciate the good things of life and when we lose them, we will be able to let them go. And wait.
But what if we find something wonderful for the first time? Like a blind person suddenly being able to see the world. (Jesus restores sight to at least eight individuals, more than any other affliction). I can’t remember where I saw this particular colourful display of fruit but whenever I see fruits and vegetables on proud, exuberant show like this in a market I delight.  Such humble and glorious things. Whatever else there may be going on in your life to be sad about, the colours, enticing shapes, sensual textures and promise of sweetness from these fruits of the earth claim their undeniable moment of celebration. It’s hard not to touch and squeeze them, juggle with them or, of course, eat them. Imagine seeing this eruption of colour with its forty shades of orange for the first time after a life of greyness.
There is no language to describe colour adequately because colour is its own language. As, too, is the experience of contemplation which is in its own way also an energising and en-joyable vision of beauty. Aquinas said contemplation is the simple enjoyment of the truth. Why, then, should religion so often have a problem with contemplation? Why were the pharisees so jealous and upset by Jesus restoring sight to the blind? In many religious cultures throughout history, not least in the Christian, religious officials have felt threatened, furious or violently repressive towards manifestations of contemplation. Branches of Islam persecuted the Sufis. St John of the Cross spent nine months imprisoned by his brethren in a tiny cell with a single small window high up in the wall, the ‘dark night’ of his soul that became one of the great works of Christian mysticism.
I think some of our recent and contemporary spiritual teachers would have suffered a similar fate if their more extreme critics could have had their way. Why? No doubt, politics, power and jealousy are partial answers. More essentially, it is the misunderstanding of contemplation itself. Let’s say, theology is the mental thinking-aspect of religion. Liturgy is its physical and emotional. Contemplation is its spiritual essence: when Jesus speaks of prayer he teaches contemplation, not theology or external forms. Religious institutions can control theological orthodoxy and enforce liturgical correctness, but the contemplative is beyond human control. It is beyond mind and body because it unites them.
Religion likes to replace contemplation with mental prayer. This has hijacked and confused the language we use. ‘Meditation’ which is the way to receive the gift of contemplation came to mean thinking, discursive reflection which is a fine form of prayer but not for the ‘inner room’ of the heart. Even ‘the word ‘contemplation’ suffered the same fate. This coup justified the heavy-handed repression of contemplation by the ignorance and fear aroused by the radical poverty of laying thought aside – or interior silence as it is called.
Why does this matter? The problem is that religion without a proper understanding and respect for contemplation becomes a dangerous, rogue elephant on the human stage.
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2023
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