Monday, February 03, 2020

An Ordinary Path

The mystical capacity of the human mind needs to be strengthened again. The capacity to renounce oneself, a greater inner openness, the discipline to withdraw ourselves from noise and from all that presses on our attention, should once more be for all of us goals that we recognise as being among our priorities.

Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, Truth and Tolerance
Too easily, perhaps, we consider the life of contemplative prayer to be restricted to a special vocation in itself. In this limited view, anyone who remains in the world cannot possibly aspire to a deeper contemplative encounter with God. But this is clearly a wrong notion. A discipline and a commitment to prayer are required, an effort of much self-giving, more than we may have lived yet, but certainly a deeper life of prayer is open to every soul. God surely wants this inasmuch as he desire love from us and union with us. It is not necessary to examine our qualifications or suitability.

Fr. Donald Haggerty, The Contemplative Hunger
I sometimes dislike using the term "mystic" or "mystical" to describe the life of inner prayer. Quite apart from any woo-woo connotations, it seems to imply someone special, a guru of sorts, set apart from ordinary people and their lives. Contemplative prayer, with due respect to those who worry about its influence on the Christian life, is none of those things. If it is a hidden path, it is one hidden in plain sight, and those who follow it are - they are, they don't just appear to be - profoundly ordinary people, with ordinary lives apart from their inescapable calling to the interior life.

This, perhaps, is why I find myself drawn to the Jesus Prayer - Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner - before other kinds of contemplative disciple. It is so simple, made up as it is from two Gospel passages (Luke 18.13 and Mark 10.47). Twelve words are not too many to remember, and the prayer requires no particular location nor special equipment. Ordinary words, easy to repeat, whether in 20 minutes alone with the Bible, a cat and a cup of coffee, or in a few moments waiting at the traffic lights.

Henri Nouwen wrote,
Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks, being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing ... all of that without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us to live. It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase "in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and with people" (Luke 2:51). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true intimacy with God and a true love for people.
This ordinary hiddenness is the natural home of the contemplative: not the mountain top, not the university (unless she happens to be an academic) nor the monastery (unless he happens to be a monk) but the ordinary occasions of life among ordinary people, the ones for love of whom Jesus died.

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