Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Theological Contemplation

What is theological contemplation?  In paragraph 58 of the Rule of St. Benedict, a section which treats on how to admit new brethren, St. Benedict refers to the practice of lectio divina within the context of quaerere Deum, conversatio morum and habitare secum.  The study of theology, as a form of lectio divina, ought to be considered in the same context.   Lectio divina is a devotion imbued study of the Word of God which leads to ongoing personal conversion and the capacity to be reconciled with God, one's neighbor and one's own self.

Devotion is referred to here in its strict sense as it applies to the search for God, quaerere Deum.  It is not sentimental or non-scientific.   Devotion refers to commitment and passion to seek and find the One whose truth remains ineffable to the light of natural reason and yet transforms the mind in divine splendor.   Such devotion is the fruit of quaerere Deum, the effort to seek God with the whole will, intelligence, desire and strength of one's soul.   This rationally ordered devotion and devout rationality is integral to both advancing the scientific investigation of sacred doctrine and the deeper reception of the mystical wisdom given by God to those who engage in theological contemplation.

Lectio divina or sacred reading was not originally distinguished from contemplation or prayerful reflection or scientific study or mental prayer.   The practices organically flowed together for the Desert Fathers and the early Benedictines.  Theirs was a kneeling theology out of which not only great intellectuals arose but also scholarly saints.  Their reflections rose to the level of scientific consciousness even to the point that they produced rationally ordered discourses about their mystical insights.   At the same time, their insights were born deep in the holy affections the Lord stirred in them as they beheld the wonders of His Love echoing in the liturgical readings of the Bible their way of life amply provided.

They did not oppose rationality or affectivity or spirituality but sought a living integration of their whole being and life activities in their pursuit of God.  Any study requires curiosity, but the study of God and all things in relation to God also requires the rightist) is properly ordered to its object.   It is a disciplined pursuit of the truth where what we study and how we study it must be commensurate.  God discloses Himself as the One who desires humanity to be in right relation to Him.   Scientific contemplation of God ought to break out in affection for the One who produces holy affection in the heart and created the desire to find Him.

Any study requires curiosity, but the study of God and all things in relation to God also requires the right desire for God Himself.  The only proper response to the Triune mystery disclosed in revelation is total devotion of the heart.  Accordingly, a relational knowledge informs the investigation even as insights are raised to a scientific level of consciousness.

Thus, lectio divina properly informed by quaerere Deum leads to conversatio morum.  Conversatio morum could be referred to as conversion of life, but the Latin conveys a deeper meaning than the English suggests at first sight.  Morum refers to one's whole manner and all of one's mannerisms, the mode by which one relates to oneself, the world and to God.  In the Gospels, disciples either followed the Way of Christ or returned to their former way of life, the traditions of their fathers.   Similarly, those who encounter the Word made Flesh in lectio divina also must die to their old way of life and allow themselves to be animated by new life in Christ.

The conversion lectio divina makes us vulnerable to is much more like a ongoing conversation than it is a simple modification of one's way of life.  Everything, all of one's actions, feelings, fantasies, thoughts, and judgments; all of this is to be submitted to the Risen Lord.  Lectio divina is less about scrutinizing passages of the Scriptures and more about by scrutinized by the Word revealed in the words of Holy Writ.  Lectio divina which searches for God is constantly confronted by divine judgment.  Devotion imbued contemplation of Sacred Doctrine ponders the demands of divine justice and is pierced to the heart by the limitlessness of divine mercy.

Those willing to submit the limits of their misery to the limitlessness of divine mercy in this kind of contemplation discover the secret of being at peace with themselves, with their neighbor and with God.  They enjoy this secret even if they are rejected and hated by those entrusted to them.  They enjoy this secret even if they are afflicted by insecurity over their own sinful brokenness.

This is a secret rooted in confidence in God, a confidence only He can give, a confidence which is the fruit of his exceeding love.  It is a secret in which God imparts a great purpose to a soul, a personal mission.  From the womb of theological contemplation ecclesial mission is conceived and born into the world.

1 comment:

Patti Day said...

Looking forward to Avila Institute. God bless you.