Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Contemplative Living and Corporate Liturgy

I have mentioned before Martin Laird's, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation. I re-read this portion the other day and it seemed to fit in with some significant thoughts and discussions I have had recently:

"With so much focus on contemplative practice and interior stillness, what about other forms of prayer? Do they simply disappear? This does happen. But it is simply because a deeper discovery has been made. By the sheer grace of God our very being itself is prayer. . . Community prayer remains important, but how you participate in it changes. Liturgical prayer has a way of becoming a fountain of grace. The flow of this sourceless source is nothing other than the visible form of the great self-emptying sacramental flow of the ground of being. In former times it was common to speak of the liturgy on earth as a reflection of the liturgy in heaven. We don't speak of liturgy this way anymore, but this point of view makes more and more sense. For when we enter these doorways of silence the simplest truths of the liturgy are unveiled: liturgy, like creation itself, is the shimmering of eternity in time. Even in the most dismal of liturgies (and these are in no short supply) Christ is and has always been the only presider.

"However, just because we come to intuit this as the simplest truth about liturgical prayer, this does not necessarily mean that it is easy to cope with large doses of liturgy. The Benedictine monk John Chapman, has something rather sobering to say about this. In his classic Spiritual Letters he says, 'It is common enough for those who have any touch "mysticism" . . . to be absolutely unable to find any meaning in vocal prayers.' Chapman is not devaluing prayers we say privately or in common. He is putting his finger on a problem many contemplatives face. We find it difficult to pray with words. Communal prayer itself is not the issue. Contemplative prayer is the prayer of just being. Sadly much liturgical prayer is often hopelessly cerebral, self-conscious, verbose, and distracted (to say nothing of all those bits of paper waved in your face). This is no environment in which simplicity can easily flower. Each will have to negotiate these tensions for oneself."

As one who has always desired to grow ever more into a deeper contemplative space in the heart, but one who was called to a life-time as a liturgical leader, I have lived with and have sought to negotiate these tensions over the years. Increasingly, however, I find I am more and more desirous of the wordless silence and solitude of contemplative prayer. All the while, I remain convinced of the importance of liturgy (and the hope that it is "done" well) as the manner in which the community of faith can touch into the power, grace, and reality of the presence of the Holy One in the midst of our corporate life -- that sacred place where heaven and earth (the sacred and the secular) touch and we are placed in joyous harmony with God and one another.

I am convinced that it is in this way that the shell of this body, whether my body or the body of the church, is filled with the inner substance of that which is Holy and this inner substance is the very stuff of life that makes any sense out of our lives and the life of this strange and mysterious beast we call the institutional church.

NOTE: There is a new work by Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation which I have purchased and I am looking forward to reading.

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