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