September, 2006

God-given promptings

God Is In This Moment

      It is not uncommon that every once in awhile people come to our monastery in hopes of learning more about the mysterious activity called contemplation. We find these seekers to be very sincere in their quest. I recall an incident when I, myself, was a new member of the monastery. A Sister, who is now with God, stood in the opening of the kitchen door and kindly shared with me what I might expect in joining a small contemplative group (small by design). Musing to herself and gazing out into the distance, she ended the conversation with a question: “What is prayer?” At the time, I thought to myself that this was a strange question coming from such a veteran. Now, I know differently. Actually, real contemplative prayer is not something we do ourselves. We can only dispose ourselves for its coming and remain open, with a sense of trust, believing that it can happen and that God will be faithful in coming to us.

     Some years ago, I was in conversation with two of my blood sisters, all being teachers at the time. It was evening in northern Iowa. We were occupied in making out lesson plans in preparation for a Religious Education class, the topic being prayer, worship, and the like. Being veterans with the subject, or so we thought, two of us waxed strong on what should be included. With that, our older sister looked up and said, “Do you really think that is prayer? When I take the trash out at night and look up at the stars, I feel that is prayer.” I have never forgotten this incident. Looking up at the stars will always be contemplation for me. At moments like this, our whole self seems to be mysteriously moved by Another. It is much like the lyrics of the song: “You came. You passed by.” Simply put, contemplation is not a prayer form as such, not something we do. It is something that happens to us.

     Although we cannot make contemplation happen, it appears that we can, at least, dispose ourselves for the gift. Many people find that Sacred Reading is helpful. Dom Marmion, O.S.B., tells us to read until the heart is touched by God, to read until God speaks. Then, pause, and let happen what happens. St. Teresa of Avila often prayed with a book. We know, too, that contemplative moments can happen outside the times of formal prayer. Even interruptions can be a contemplative moment. There is another practice I have found helpful. In the midst of high activity, I like to pause just for a moment, and tell myself that God is in this moment. Such a practice has a way of restoring calm and serenity, even to the exterior. Moments, too have their inner life.


      Not long ago, a friend shared with me that a member of her family went every day to a facility to be with her spouse, even though her spouse was at the stage where he was not able to communicate. They were just there together. “We can, at least, be with each other,” she said. Upon hearing this, I realized, again, what contemplative prayer is. It is a “being with” God, as with a friend. No words are really necessary, and no words can really describe such a union of Presence.

Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.

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