I spent the week of mid-semester break in Spencer, Massachusetts with the Trappist monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey. It was good to ‘come away and rest awhile’(Mk. 6:31) in an atmosphere of silence and contemplation. While looking out into the rolling hills and meadows of the Abbey the Sunday I left, this thought occurred to me:
The sun shines differently on Sundays
I don’t know what it is
but it has been this way since I was a child
maybe even since the beginning…
it casts a graced light on things
as if to see
with the eyes of God
the inner glow of all the things
(no greater meaning than simple presence)
to see as on that first day
that all is indeed very good’.
The Sabbath is a gift for our own good. God gave this grace for us to partake of the rest which only he gives. It is a time to remember that we are more valuable than what we do and we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves. In this rest we find our meaning, our freedom and our place in giving thanks. St. Bernard of Clairvaux likened contemplation to the Sabbath, when all creation sighs an ‘alleluia’ and moves into the life of God to rest and enjoy the good things of his Creation.
One of the monks told me that what is ‘neat’ about the life of contemplation is that you get to notice things, all the things we often overlook and take for granted in our carelessness. He was telling me about one of the hermits in the community who has been a monk for over fifty years who loves to watch the squirrels. He finds great joy in this. As we were walking he noticed a small shy drape of ivy sneaking up the stone wall. Delighted, he pointed to it and said softly ‘look! a little poem!’
Christ said that we had to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. These ‘noticings’ are part of the simple awareness of contemplation that recognizes in the world around us the traces of heaven. It is a eucharistic awareness that the world of which we are a part overflows with the life of God. It is a deep and intimate knowledge that the Incarnation isn’t just something that happened two-thousand years ago but something that continues. Once Christ took on flesh and his blood was spilled on the earth he transformed it just as he transforms the bread and wine into himself every day.
This awareness can make all that we do prayer, it can make all things acts of worship, and this is what it means to ‘pray unceasingly’ as St. Paul says(1 Thess. 5:17). With this awareness we can read the ‘Book of Nature’ and find in everything the subtle secrets of our Savior, the quiet theology and testimony of critters, trees, wind and leaves. One of my favorite spiritual practices is to watch leaves fall from trees in autumn to which I wrote:
A leaf lets go
of its home in the tree
and is carried like a butterfly
in the arms of the breeze
that lays it down gently
like a grain of wheat
as the sun smiles warmly
in the October heat
These observations are often too simple and poor to make it into books of theology but that is often the nature of contemplation. It is a different kind of knowing, a poetic insight into the depth of things. It is these small ‘noticings” that draw us closer to Christ in a very personal and intimate way. Through the eye of faith and the light of grace we can see the mysteries of Incarnation and redemption, Passion and Resurrection played out before us in very simple ways. All creation has his fingerprint on it and thus speak about him in their own way, about his goodness and beauty, passion and suffering, gentleness, playfulness, patience and good-humor. These little things like flowers, birds, leaves, trees, bugs and critters, these too are the poor of the earth that he cared for so much. Thus, contemplation doesn’t make us see different things but helps us to see things differently. This happens through a different relationship, a eucharistic relationship of communion, not of ‘subject’ with ‘object’ but as Thomas Berry says of ‘subject with subject’. It is the communion of all things ‘through him, with him and in him.’
‘To gather up all things in him’(Eph. 1:10), through our own awareness, appreciation and delight is a participation in God’s own awareness and delight. It is an experience of the Trinity when we experience God through the beauty and goodness of Creation; to see all things in the Spirit through the window of Christ who is the image of the invisible God and thus reveals all the mysteries of the Father through his flesh, all the ‘mysteries hidden from ages and from generations past’(Col.1:26), waiting to be noticed by you! Noticing these things in the goodness that God has bestowed upon them helps us to live a life in harmony with the rhythm of the respiration of Creation which is alive with the intimate breath of God! It is a very down-to-earth and Incarnational holiness.
This mystery and child-like joy reveals itself in the simplicity and silence of contemplation and is articulated gracefully by the poet e.e. cummings when he says:
I thank you God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is ‘yes’
(I who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; and this is the birth
day of life and love and wings; and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the ‘no’
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginably You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
Matthew Riddle, Graduate Student in Theology
 The firm ground of Christian life is humility which comes from the word humus which means ‘of the earth’.