Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. (Jn 16)
First, Richard Rohr reminds us that John’s Gospel presents the mystical vision of the Christ. That insight has helped me better understand John. The mystical tradition has long been subjugated in the church. Some people would hold that Julian of Norwich was a great mystical theologian, somewhat lesser status than a dogmatic theologian. The fact is that Julian of Norwich was a great theologian!
Merton has helped us revive the mystical tradition. Contemplative living-living in union with God-drinks deeply from the wellsprings of mysticism which is no longer the mysterious thing we had supposed it to be.
Jesus is our model. As the Christ (not his last name but a title), Jesus grew in wisdom, age and grace. Grace is charis (Do not miss the connection between charis and chara-grace and joy). The point is that Jesus grew in his relationship to Abba God and the Spirit. Jesus so grew in union with Abba God that He could at the end claim to be one with Abba God-the goal of all contemplative living. Jesus rejected the false self when he rejected the temptations in the desert. He showed the tempter that he was beginning to live in his true self-the self where he in nakedness and poverty met Abba God and became one with Abba God.
Joy comes from living in union with Abba God, the Only Begotten, and the Spirit. Too often we confuse pleasure with joy. Pleasure comes from satisfying our wants. A new car gives us pleasure-at least until it breaks down the first time. Winning the lottery give us pleasure until the money runs out or leads us to that gnawing sense of emptiness-poverty amid riches.
Joy is chara. It is related to rejoice. “Rejoice. Again, I say rejoice in God.” Joy is deeper than pleasure. Women do not take much pleasure in the pain associated with childbirth. Yet they rejoice when the child is born. Amen may not relish the painstaking activity of developing a strategic plan but they rejoice when the plan bears fruit. There is keen wisdom in today’s reading from John.
Jesus has come that our joy may be full. Jesus has come to fulfill our deepest need-our need for union with God. Union with God is the foundation of our joy. Union with God is our basic need as Augustine recognized, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” Contemplative union is union with God.
James Finley, a disciple of Merton, speaks of spontaneous contemplative awareness which reminds me of Thich Nhat Hahn’s mindfulness. Living in the present moment we can have contemplative experiences from nature, prayer, human intimacy, suffering, solitude, art and philosophical reflection. What can bring us into the beauty of the present moment? A stunning sunset, a masterpiece of art, a great photograph, the pain of suffering, the silence of solitude, the intimacy of prayer and a philosophical insight. You might want to click on the picture above and be with it. En-JOY!
Jesus often drew apart to seek solitude and to pray. This was the foundation of the joy he experienced in union with Abba God. Merton refused to teach a method. The closest he came was to talk about the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”) His fellows Cistercians, especially Basil Pennington and Thomas Keating, have put feet on Merton’s contemplative prayer. Centering prayer is simply showing up and resting in the presence of Abba God. We show up and God shows up because God always shows up. Resting in God our joy is made complete. Errant thoughts and feelings surface. We simply let them go gently. Often, these thoughts and feelings are evidence that the Divine Physician is healing us, is preparing us for deeper union with God. The important thing-and the difficult thing-is showing up regularly to enter into silence and solitude.