Christianity 201

August 12, 2013

Contemplation and Wisdom

Because these are shorter pieces, today we’re offering a double feature from Canadian academic John Stackhouse. First, a quotation from a prayer by a writer he admits to having theological differences with on other matters. There is great spiritual maturity in being able to see the good and the value in something written by someone who may sit on the opposite side of the table as us in other matters. Some people simply look at the name of the author and then dismiss anything they write categorically. That’s not good. The second piece is a teaser from a piece about wisdom. Click the link for each title to read at source, which you definitely need to do for the second one.

A Good, Daily Prayer from Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton has fans. Lots of them. I’m not one of them. His spirituality is neither to my taste nor lined up with my theology in many respects.

Still, his classic book New Seeds of Contemplation has played a crucial role in my spiritual and psychological life, for which I am grateful. And in re-reading it these days, I again came across a powerful prayer, structured lightly by elements of the Lord’s Prayer and the Seven Deadly Sins. I could pray this one every day for quite a while:

Justify my soul, O God, but also from your fountains fill my will with fire. Shine in my mind, although perhaps this means “be darkness to my experience,” but occupy my heart with your tremendous life. Let my eyes see nothing in the world but your glory, and let my hands touch nothing that is not for your service. Let my tongue taste no bread that does not strengthen me to praise your great mercy. I will hear your voice and I will hear all harmonies you have created, singing your hymns. Sheep’s wool and cotton from the field shall warm me enough that I may live in your service; I will give the rest to your poor. Let me use all things for one sole reason: to find my joy in giving you glory.

Therefore keep me, above all things, from sin. Keep me from the death of deadly sin which puts hell in my soul. Keep me from the murder of lust that blinds and poisons my heart. Keep me from the sins that eat a man’s flesh with irresistible fire until he is devoured. Keep me from loving money in which is hatred, from avarice and ambition that suffocate my life. Keep me from the dead works of vanity and the thankless labor in which artists destroy themselves for pride and money and reputation, and saints are smothered under the avalanche of their own importunate zeal. Stanch in me the rank wound of covetousness and the hunger that exhaust my nature with their bleeding. Stamp out the serpent envy that stings love with poison and kills all joy.

Untie my hands and deliver my heart from sloth. Set me free from the laziness that goes about disguised as activity when activity is not required of me, and from the cowardice that does what is not demanded, in order to escape sacrifice.

But give me the strength that waits upon you in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for you alone.

For there is only one thing that can satisfy love and rewarded, and that is you alone. (pp. 44-45)

Give Wisdom Time to Work: S-P-I-R

Proverbs 16:23: “The mind of the wise makes their speech judicious, and adds persuasiveness to their lips.”

When I get into trouble, it’s usually because my speech has been injudicious and unpersuasive. In the technical language of psycholinguistics, that is to say, it’s been stupid or mean. And that depressingly frequent occurrence is almost always a function of speaking out of reflex rather than out of reflection.

If one has an utterly innocent heart, one can speak truly and lovingly. But judicious and persuasive speech requires more than a pure heart: it requires a wise mind.

As the Proverbs cumulatively teach, wisdom is knowledge applied according to sound values felt in properly cultivated affections and informed by the particulars of a given situation.

Wisdom applied faithfully to a frequently recurring situation can act automatically in each iteration. In every other instance, however, we must give wisdom time to operate.

So whenever I see a warning light blink on my mental dashboard, whenever an alarm chimes that something unusual is going on, whenever a sensor reports something in the current situation that is anything other than routine, I simply must slow down.

In fact, I must stop. I must refuse to react immediately, but instead insist on stopping in order to give wisdom time to deliberate like a judge so that my response will be judicious.

I have developed a short… [continue reading here]


Previous piece by John Stackhouse here at C201: Desiring to be Known.

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