Friday, July 10, 2009

Infused Contemplation (or God 101)

I am just a regular girl. I'm in my forties like a million other regular girls out there (alright so maybe I don't actually qualify as a 'girl' anymore). I have a house in a regular town, I go to the regular grocery store, I go to the recycling center on Saturdays, I pay the regular bills, I drive a regular car, I make a regular salary at a regular software development job. As I said, regular. I was baptized and raised in the Catholic Church but as soon as I was old enough to have worn my parents out with my disinterest in the whole thing I stopped going to church which happened around the age of 15. And I didn't go back for years, like for 30 years. I have a husband and a child and none of us was getting up early on Sunday to get ready for church. We had better things to do like cut the grass, ride the bikes, wash the cars, watch football. Like all the regular Sunday things that all of the other regular people out there do on a Sunday.

The following is a description of 'Infused Contemplation' as defined by Thomas Merton in his book 'The Inner Experience':

"Contemplation is a supernatural love and knowledge of God, simple and obscure, infused by Him into the summit of the soul, giving it a direct and experimental contact with Him… It is a gift of God that absolutely transcends all the natural capacities of the soul and which no man can acquire by an effort of his own… in other words God is manifesting Himself…"

That is a composite of several paragraphs from The Inner Experience but it essentially gets the point across.

Here's the thing, I know what this means… from a personal point of view. Which is to say I know what it means from experience, because I am currently (clearly it's not a one time and then over thing) in the process of experiencing it for lack of a better way to say it. I know it sounds 'out there' and every day I think to myself at some point "I must be nuts, this cannot be real, this doesn't happen to regular people - monks, nuns, priests, shamans, buddhas maybe but not regular people who have to clean their own toilets and eat hamburgers and drink beer." Although to be fair I suppose monks probably clean their own toilets.

And I can see now that it's been going on for a number of years, in the form of a rather slow, arduous and painful spiritual awakening. I cannot think of another way to say it. I see things now, I know things now that I never knew before and that did not come from some external source e.g. a book, another person but this knowledge, these things which I know now to be true, I can sense that they are true, they come from somewhere within me, a place that I cannot pinpoint it's just there. Again, I know this sounds out there but it's been too long and has happened too frequently and its come to the point where I'd be a fool to deny it. I would also go out on a limb whereby I could even say that God and I speak to each other. Daily. I speak to Him and He speaks back to me. There are a hundred ways in which this happens so I'll not go into details but I know, I know that it's Him and I know that this happens. And I'm just a regular girl who likes to ride my bike and play softball and sit on the beach in the summer.

And here's one of the hardest parts - there is nobody for me to talk to about this. I am ensconced in the 'regular' world, some might call it the 'secular' world. I put these things in quotation marks because I also now know that there is no dividing line between the spiritual and secular world. We have done that ourselves, placed this imaginary line between the two but God doesn't just play in what we would call the 'spiritual' world. I'm here to tell you that He shows up in the secular world also.

And this is just about the loneliest thing that can happen to a regular person. I mean let's face it there's not a lot of God talk happening during a town recreational league softball game. Oh sure there are a lot of great books out there written by the great spiritual masters, St. John of the Cross comes to mind, and I've read some of them but they all seem to have one thing in common: they all seem to be written from the perspective of the previously 'religious' person. So does a 'Dark Night of the Soul' only happen to Trappist monks and Carmelite nuns? Must I be a Ph. D in Christian (insert any religion here) philosophy and mysticism before God will sweep in and do His thing, work His wonders on me? You might be tempted to think so after reading some of these texts. At least that's my impression. Perhaps in my ignorance I have completely missed something and if so believe me I'd love to know.

And the fact is that if I ever tried to bring this up with any of my friends they'd look at me like I had lost my mind, an unfortunate by-product of living a regular life in the regular world. Seriously, they'd think I'd gone over the edge.

Anyway over the past couple of years I've been keeping a journal which has evolved really into my daily prayer, my daily discussions with God, my struggle to understand what's going on and just a place to put all of these new thoughts down on paper and I'll tell you it's been a huge help. So during today's entry I realized something. I think maybe it's harder for us regular people because we have nobody to turn to. We're not steeped in theology, we're not surrounded by people who have either been through this before or at least have read about it and can perhaps provide some cursory guidance. And as a result of this I think we flounder around in even more obscurity because there is nobody to explain to us what's going on and what we might do about it (which essentially amounts to not much but that's not what this post is about).

And so I thought to myself well maybe I could write that text. Maybe I could be that regular person who turns into the one Supreme Spiritual 'Master' out there sitting on the mountaintop in my robe and shaved head who when asked all of the deep and dark questions about the meaning of life by some poor regular girl or guy who is going through this and is groping around in the dark for he or she knows not what, perhaps I can be the one to say "I don't have the first idea what it's all about and I know exactly how you feel and I haven't got any answers for you except to say I know how hard it is and I know how lonely it is and I'm stumbling around in the dark just like the rest of you poor, dumb bastards".

Because that would be the truth.

But maybe that's the help that comes. Maybe the help comes in the form of knowing that there are others like me out there who truly understand because they've been through it also, and they have survived or at least are surviving. Maybe for awhile (or for the rest of this life) that's all some of us ever get, I don't know. But it is an incredibly lonely place and I wish there were people out there close to me who were talking about it.

God asks a lot of us. This I now also know to be true.

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