Contemplation is difficult for many people because they have not developed the discipline.
There is even a “commercial mentality”, a busyness which has been brought into spiritual life, said Sr Julie Marie Peters SSM, director of the Franciscan Institute Trinidad on Thursday October 1, in her talk ‘Contemplation and Compassion’. It was the third and final instalment of talks for the #SeasonofCreation Challenge online on the Institute’s Facebook page.
She said, “so we do a lot of things like we need to buy God, as if the more we do the more we will have God; when we can’t have God, we can’t buy God.”
Sr Julie said she liked to view contemplation as stopping, being aware and taking stock. Another explanation, “contemplation is coming to see the world as God sees the world; it is learning to put on the mind of Christ.” In order to contemplate Sr Julie said, “We have to stop. We have to allow ourselves to see, to see the way we think determines how we behave and it determines who we are and how we live”.
Contemplation takes the individual beyond just seeing. She cited famous Franciscan Richard Rohr OFM, “the contemplative mind does no tell us what to see; it teaches us how to see”. Referring scripture (Jer 5:51) people who have eyes to see but cannot and ears to hear but cannot hear, she added, “We have to have eyes of perception”.
Delving into what is required to develop the contemplative state, Sr Julie said contemplation is a disciplined way of being in silence, not a dead silence but active silence.
“It awakens the senses to our reality, the reality that is in us, our internal reality and the reality that is without—outside of us, and contemplation puts those realities in dialogue that is the easiest way I can say it.”
Highlighting a quote from Pope Francis, “without contemplation it is easy to fall prey to an unbalanced and arrogant anthropocentrism”. Sr Julie said this means, the ‘I’ and ego becomes the centre of everything without reference to God or anyone else. Contemplation by contrast deepens perspective and compassion. She said without compassion there is no desire to risk solutions for the greater good. “It is always going to be about me and my benefit, people even speak so in the spiritual life ‘me and my God’; How could it be you and your God? Yes, you and your God, for others”.
Compassion is not sympathy, pity or kindness. Sr Julie explained the word ‘compassion’ came from the Latin ‘compati’ which means “to suffer with”. Those who think of themselves as compassionate and say they felt pity for someone else were really saying they were better.
Sr Julie said the Bible does not really explain what compassion is but it shows is involved in being compassionate. “It is a love that yearns to alleviate suffering and pain,” she said.
Compassion is the engagement that comes out of the recognition ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ and moves the person to action. Sr Julie said, “To have compassion means to get involved, it prompts us to act, compassion compels us to do something to reduce the suffering of others”.
Taking this further she stressed, “compassion embodies tangible expression of love that alleviates both the suffering of humanity and the suffering of creation, the degradation of creation”.
Trying to alleviate poverty cannot be done without also turning attention to the planet, the world, and seeing how degradation affects the livelihood of others and the effects of human behaviour on the planet. Sr Julie elaborated, “What we choose to do and what we choose not to do. We have to see in our own life how this relationship we have with God affects the choices we make and I dare say…saying prayers really don’t lead us there.” Prayers must lead to God or else the individual risks compromising themselves to the world.
Sr Julie said renewal of her mind and contemplation of what God is saying has happened in moments of silent reflection. She suggested God can be heard speaking in the environment or in a conversation with someone but the hearing does not occur in the “busyness of saying plenty prayers”. Contemplation is allowing God to penetrate one’s being, heart, and to enlighten “to see yourself as you are and in relationship to others…to the world”.
Sr Julie said renewal of the mind is an ongoing process sustained in a discipline of contemplation. She reiterated, “…it is in the quiet that we come to know who we are and who God is. In the quiet we grow that relationship.” Also speaking was artist Nathaniel Davis who shared art pieces based on impressions of nature and man’s impact.