Thursday, 18 April 2013

Why Contemplatives need great confidence

"The floods are risen, O Lord," writes the Psalmist, "the floods have lift up their voice; the floods lift up their waves. The waves of the sea are mighty, and and rage horribly; but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier." (From Psalm 93, one of the psalms for Evening Prayer on the eighteenth day of the month in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

For the ancient Hebrews, who were more an agricultural than a seagoing people, the ever-shifting and restless ocean became an evocative symbol of chaos, of the life-denying powers that strive against all God's good purposes in creation. It's no accident that the Bible opens with a description of God creating the cosmos not ex nihilo, as later theology would picture it, but through a confrontation with the vast watery abyss.

But it's also no accident that creation proceeds without conflict. God simply speaks, expresses the Word that stands at the head of creation, and it is so. The Bible knows of no dualism between evenly matched forces of good and evil. The waves are mighty, but the Lord dwelling on high is inexpressibly mightier.

The contemplative places great confidence in this. How else could we think that an appropriate response to the horrors and pain of this world could be to fix our loving attention on God alone? If God is not supremely able to speak a word of life over these turbulent waters, then our silence and stillness are nothing but empty comfort and an abdication of responsibility. But (while not absolving ourselves of the call to loving action) our prayer is above all an act of trust. His presence brings more healing than ours ever can; hence the actor contemplation, of being present to his presence, is a world changing activity. Contemplation evokes the moment of new creation.

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