In his book of prayers, Mark Yaconelli brings us today to the act of contemplation. I’ve been working with this book, Wonder, Fear, and Longing since the middle of November as part of a class at Lancaster Theological Seminary. When the semester was finished, I decided to go back to the beginning of this book of prayers to consider the entries more fully, and this time, without a class assignment.
In addition to this book, I’ve been reading The Satisfied Life, Medieval Women Mystics on Atonement by Jane Ellen McAvoy. McAvoy brings us a brief survey of several familiar and a couple not so familiar women mystics: 14-5th century Julian of Norwich, 11th c. Hildegard of Bingen, 16th c. Teresa of Avila, and others. The manner in which these early monastics examined their lives in contemplation is impressive not only for the rigor and sometimes physical trauma – a tool within that period of the ascetic life – but for the outcome of the contemplation. Seeing an alternative way of considering how God loves humans and delivering to the reader a new definition of a “satisfied life”.
As I interpret it, the point being that satisfaction of the rift between humans and God is not to repay God for harm done to God (as Archbishop of Canterbury Anselm posed in the 11th c), but rather; to see that our turning from God (sinning) is like turning our backs on God’s love as if we don’t deserve it. We create that rift by not seeing God’s love and not living into it. Therefore, what we need to do is live a ‘satisfied’ life, knowing that God loves us and living in ways that keep us in related awareness of that Divine love (atoned).
So, getting back to Yaconelli, contemplating our lives, as in a daily examen or some other schedule of looking at our lives and actions, is to ask what God sees in our current lives; to ask where God sees us going and doing what in our future (near and distant); and finally, to identify what is keeping us from attending to that which will draw us into a closer relationship with the Creator. Yaconelli suggests that this prayerful self-examination invites repentance, a turning from the ways in which we misdirect or misuse our lives, allowing God to heal and inspire us toward the person God created us to be. What am I called to do? Where am I called to serve? What do I need to get out of the way in order to do that? After this kind of introspection, Jesus asks in Luke 18:41: What do you want me to do for you?
“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.” Julian of Norwich
“With my mouth,” God says, “I kiss my own chosen creation. I uniquely, lovingly, embrace every image I have made out of the earth’s clay. With a fiery spirit I transform it into a body to serve all the world.” Hildegard of Bingen
The embrace of the beloved
is a fusion of the fullness
of all the elements of love at once
in the ultimate tenderness
of the human heart,
the divinity of the soul,
suddenly flooding the mind
and the senses in a beauty
so profound it frees the spirit.
This sacred moment
gathers all the longing of a life
in a glorious sweetness felt only
in the arms of the beloved.
This is a moment from
which all life will draw its power,
for it is an eternal moment.
There is a sacred innocence
within the soul
that love surrounds,
honors, and protects,
and it is love
that chooses the moment
when the heart
touches the shores of eternity,
opening the eyes
of the heart
and awakening the soul
in the radiance of pure joy.
Painting by Rassouli
“Therefore this is His thirst and love-longing, to have us altogether whole in Him, to His bliss,” Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love