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Lenten Contemplation


This season of Lent is, for many Christians, a time of spiritual preparation through various forms of self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving. 


When we deny ourselves we sort of “pull the plug” on some earthly pleasure such as our regular pattern of eating, or perhaps too much watching of TV or use of the internet or some other pleasure.  If we do this it leaves us feeling unstable, not knowing quite what to do with ourselves, maybe even a little anxious, because we are used to having these earthly consolations as part of our happiness. 


But if we deny ourselves for spiritual reasons, we don’t just run to some other earthly consolation for a quick fix of our anxiety.  Instead, we turn that longing for satisfaction into a seeking out of some spiritual consolation, even God – giving a little more time to prayer, to reading God’s Word, perhaps to some act of charity, but we should not forget the gift of contemplation.


What is contemplation?  The Christian tradition has held that contemplation is the highest form of prayer.  When we think of prayer, often we think of the speaking of the thoughts of our heart – articulating our desires, our hopes – to God, and this is certainly a kind of prayer.  Another kind of prayer is meditation on God, such as thinking upon some aspect of the life of Jesus and how it might relate to our life.  But this still involves discursive thought and so is not contemplation.  Contemplation could be described as the loving beholding of God, an adoring seeing of all things in God.  It is, in a way, to be like God.


How is it that we are like God when we contemplate?  The very life of God the Holy Trinity is a kind of contemplation.  The Father looks upon the Son, who is a perfect image of the Father, in Love, the Holy Spirit.  The Son beholds the Father, in Love, the Holy Spirit.  [John 14-17]


When we, God’s creatures, who are in the mind of God, instead of being totally immersed in the business of creaturely things, stop and look back upon the One who made all things, lovingly beholding all things as from God and in God, we have entered into or been caught up in that divine contemplation.


But when we try this we discover our vision is not so clear: now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face [1 Cor 13].  It is the pure in heart, says Jesus, who shall see God [Matt 5:8].  When we turn to look, there are obstacles to our vision, but they are obstacles that our Lord is most pleased to remove, if we confess them and believe in him, hope in him, and love him.


David Phillips



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