Contemplation is the awareness and realization, even in some sense experience, of what each Christian obscurely believes: “It is now no longer that I live but Christ lives in me.”
Hence contemplation is more than a consideration of abstract truths about God, more even than affective meditation on things we believe. It is awakening, enlightenment and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God’s creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life. Hence contemplation does not simply “find” a clear idea of God, and confine him within the limits of that idea, and hold him there as a prisoner to whom it can always return. On the contrary, contemplation is carried away by him into his own realm, his own mystery and his own freedom. It is a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word “wherever he may go.”
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New Directions Books, 1961, pp. 5-6
It is that poverty and purity towards which we must always be straining, it seems to me. It’s that which underlies all Francis’ romance with Lady Poverty, and all the Franciscan teachings regarding simplicity and poverty. We sometimes forget, Franciscans as much as others, that simplicity is far more about purity and contemplation than it is about lifestyle. St Francis was, for all his preaching, and his founding of the Orders that bear his name, a contemplative at heart.
Even saying this somehow muddles what I’m trying to say. This is why, perhaps, this inescapable muddle-headedness of mine, God has called me so clearly to the practice of the Jesus Prayer. Here, for me at least, is the very definition of “a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word ‘wherever he may go.’” It is as necessary to me now as the air I breathe; perhaps, even, rather more necessary in the long run…