It is so good to be back again, worshiping in this lovely place, after our time away of retreat and community discussions. And it is so good to see you all again. I do hope you have had a great summer – a time for rest and refreshment.
We had a wonderful retreat. To spend those days amidst the natural beauty of Emery House was a great gift. Certainly for me, and I know other Brothers, it was an occasion to deepen our contemplative vision. In the Letter to the Hebrews which was read this morning, verse 14 says, “For here we have no abiding city, but we are looking for a city that is to come.” And I think that’s really what the contemplative vision is all about. It is about seeing with the eyes of faith; seeing that this life which we have is not the only reality. When our contemplative vision grows, we see that the apparently ordinary things of life are shot through with the glory of God. Spending time on retreat is a wonderful opportunity to really see again heaven breaking through – or as William Blake put it, “to see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.”
During the retreat it became clear to me, that the whole purpose of this community, and of the monastic life in general, is to bear witness to this contemplate vision, in a world and a society which is always in danger of losing it.
The true contemplative, it seems to me, does not shun the world, does not withdraw from the world, (although that has been the response of some religious traditions.) No, the true contemplative embraces the world, which God has blessed through the Incarnation. The contemplative delights in creation, in seeing and touching and hearing and smelling and tasting this amazing world which God has given to us.
But, the contemplative does not try to possess it, or own it, but delights in it as a sign, as a sacrament pointing to God the creator. A sign that this world of ours, however beautiful and glorious, is not our final home – but it is a foretaste of heaven – that city which is still to come.
As soon as you try to possess, to own, to pin down a thing of beauty, in a curious way, it dies and is no longer “charged with the grandeur of God” – like pinning a dead butterfly to a board. William Blake again, “He who binds to himself a joy does the winged life destroy. But he who kisses the joy as it flies, lives in eternity’s sunrise.”
I think possibly the first religious experience I ever had was when I was about five years old. We lived in Southern England, in Sussex, and our home had a beautiful view – miles and miles of a patchwork quilt of fields – way into the distance. I remember sitting in the window gazing out at the view and I think, being aware of how beautiful it was – but more than that, I felt a deep sadness. I didn’t know why then, but I think it was actually a longing and nostalgia for God. Those beautiful fields were I think an invitation to my soul to come to know the one who created such beauty. By the grace of God, even at the age of five, I think I was in touch with the contemplative vision.
Perhaps the greatest enemy of the contemplative vision is the multi-billion dollar consumer society in which we live, and move and have our being. I recently read these chilling words from the American Academy of Pediatricians, “The average child in this country views more than 3,000 ads per day on TV, the internet, billboards and magazines.” Staggering!
What those children are seeing is the very opposite of the contemplative vision. It’s the same vision which bombards each one of us thousands of times a day – a vision which tells us, again and again, relentlessly, that our restless hearts, deepest longings and desires, can be fulfilled by buying their products – the more the better. And of course they are very effective. Ask yourself, honestly, to consider how often you have acted on that vision – things you have bought when you felt unhappy, or full of longing and desires. “I’ll feel happy if only I can have A or B.” Perhaps hours spent fantasizing about how wonderful it would be to win the lottery, or buying into lifestyles which promise happiness and fulfillment.
Our desires are being continually stimulated, encouraged into disordered attachments, and we are encouraged to feel endlessly dissatisfied with the lives that we have. How many people have moved restlessly from job to job, from relationship to relationship, trying in vain to satisfy their heart’s desire.
But the contemplative vision is radically different. This vision keeps before us the truth that the deepest longings of our heart were placed there by a loving God, to find their fulfillment only in relationship with God. As St. Augustine famously put it, “God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in him.”
In this Monastery we Brothers practice and deepen our contemplative vision by worshipping in this Chapel five times a day, and we love to share our worship with anyone who wants to join us. I know that is not possible for most of you, so how might you, in your life, renew your contemplative vision each day?
If we’re bombarded thousands of times a day with a different vision, we each need to arm ourselves against its power to hook and dupe us. I think something right at the start of the day. It doesn’t have to be long. Lots of people like our daily devotional, “Brother Give Us A Word,” because it’s very short and is something to renew your vision before the day starts.
One thing I sometimes do, and it’s simple but really helpful – it’s really offering to God my desires at the start of the day, and ask that they be sanctified and directed aright. I will generally light a candle, spend a moment getting quiet and centered, and I’ll say two favorite verses from the Psalms:
Psalm 63 v.1 “O God you are my God, eagerly I seek you.
My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints or you.
As in a barren and dry land, where there is no water.”
Psalm 42 v.1 “As the deer longs for the water brooks
So longs my soul for you O God.”
Somehow this reorders and redirects my wandering soul and my restless imagination. It reminds me of what I know to be true, that it is only God who can grant me my heart’s desire.
This is the contemplative vision. I believe God is inviting each one of us to develop and deepen this vision day by day, that we may see more clearly where our attachments are disordered, and pray that God, and only God, may be our first love, our chiefest good and our final joy.
Let us pray:
O God, I know that if I do not love thee with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my soul and with all my strength, I shall love something else with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. Grant that putting thee first in all my lovings I may be liberated from all lesser loves and loyalties, and have thee as my first love, my chiefest good and my final joy.
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