Sunday, September 26, 2010

Contemplation begins with desire

"Contemplation begins with desire – not our desire for God, but his desire for us. The first and greatest commandment may be to love God with every fibre of our being, but there is something still more fundamental: the realisation that we are loved first. Every contemplative makes this discovery, and in fact bases his/her life on it: that our God is a pursuing God. The whole Carmelite tradition is clear: our desire for God is first awakened by his desire for us. This is the message of our great saints and mystics. The Dark Night and The Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle – together with every other spiritual classic – celebrate this divine pursuit: the Lover and the beloved seeking each other in the light and the darkness of love’s turbulent ways.

The hungers of the heart and the longings of the spirit are the result of God first desiring us and coming to us in love. This is what Iain Matthew, one of our most popular Carmelite writers, calls ‘the impact of God’: a God who is not a bystander waiting for us to find him but a restless God seeking to make space for himself in our lives. The challenge, of course, for all of us, is to let ourselves beloved, as the young French Carmelite, Elizabeth of the Trinity has said, and allow the reality of this love to change our hearts. It often comes as a surprise that Carmelite writers speak so little about ways and methods of prayer. Instead, they go straight to the heart of what prayer is all about: exposure to this selfsurrendering God. Their concern does not consist in the knowledge that we are saved, but in the assurance that we are loved. For them, the focus is clear and what they seek most of all is to awaken the heart to the presence within. ‘No matter how much you think you are searching for God’, John of the Cross reminds us, ‘he is searching for you much more.’

The one we are searching for is here in the very depths of our being, inviting and waiting for our response. This is why the key element of Carmelite prayer is silent, loving attentiveness to the one who dwells within.

The heart of contemplative prayer is love, and love is the only reality that will ultimately change us. Only when we have found a greater and a deeper love can we let go of the lesser loves that can ensnare the heart and hold it captive. Contemplation is the key to freedom of heart; it is a way of opening ourselves to the embrace of God’s love. John of the Cross may have a reputation for rugged asceticism but at the core of his teaching is the fact that love is the only reality that will ultimately change the heart from within. John is at pains to remind us that there is no setting out on the contemplative journey, unless the soul is, in the beautiful Spanish phrase, en amores inflamada, ‘enkindled with love and yearning’."

-- Contemplative Prayer in the Carmelite Tradition by Fr Eugene McCaffrey, ocd

1 comment:

Mark said...

Thank you. I find your extracts from Carmelite authors - especially those extracts which share insights about prayer and contemplation in the Carmelite tradition - helpful and inspiring.