A Word From Our Bishops

In response to the shootings in Virginia on Wednesday, Bishop Alan Gates, Bishop Gayle Harris, and Bishop William Fisher, of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts have commended to us a statement by the bishops of both Washington DC and the Diocese of Virginia. Please click here to read their statement.

175 Year Mugs

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Merton on Contemplation


To print this page, use the normal print command on your computer

(I took the scanned image of these pages and translated them into text for ease of reading. The problem with this method is that errors in spelling unavoidably creep in. I have gone over this to correct the more egregious of these errors, but I am sure you will find more! — Jake Sterling)

1 — What Is Contemplation?

CONTEMPLATION is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire, by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is not vision because it sees “without seeing” and knows “without knowing.” It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words or even in dear’ concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows the contemplative mind takes back what it has said, and denies what it has affirmed. For in contemplation we know by “unknowing.” Or, better, we know beyond all knowing or “unknowing.”

Poetry, music and art have something in common with the contemplative experience. But contemplation is beyond aesthetic intuition, beyond art, beyond poetry. Indeed, it is also beyond philosophy, beyond speculative theology. It resumes, transcends and fulfills them all , and yet at the same time it seems, in a certain way, to supersede and to deny them all. Contemplation is always beyond our own knowledge, beyond our own light, beyond systems, beyond explanations, beyond discourse, beyond dialogue, beyond our own self. To enter into the realm of contemplation one must in a certain sense die: but this death is in fact the entrance into a higher life. It is a death for the sake of life, which leaves behind all that we can know or treasure as life, as thought, as experience, as joy, as being.

And so contemplation seems to supersede and to discard every other form of intuition and experience, whether in art, in philosophy, in theology, in liturgy or in ordinary levels of love and of belief. This rejection is of course only apparent. Contemplation is and must be compatible with all these things, for it is their highest fulfillment. But in the actual experience of contemplation all other experiences are momentarily lost. They “die” to be born again on a higher level of life.

In other words, then, contemplation reaches out to the knowledge and even to the experience of the transcendent and inexpressible God. It knows God by seem. It knows God by seeming to touch Him. Or rather it knows Him as if it had been invisibly touched by Him…. Touched by Him Who has no hands, but Who is pure Reality and the source of all that is real! Hence contemplation is a sudden gift of awareness, an awakening to the Real within all that is real. A vivid awareness of infinite Being at the roots of our own limited being. An awareness of our contingent reality as received, as a present from God, as a free gift of love. ‘J?is is the existential contact of which we speak when we use the metaphor of being “touched by God.”

Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo. It is a deep resonance in the inmost center of our spirit in which our very life loses its separate voice and re-sounds with the majesty and the mercy of the Hidden and Living One. He answers Himself in us and this answer is divine life, divine creativity, making all things new. We ourselves become His echo and His answer. It is as if in creating us God asked a question, and in awakening us to contemplation He answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.

THE life of contemplation implies two levels of awareness: first, awareness of the question, and second, awareness of the answer. Though these are two distinct and enormously different levels, yet they are in fact an awareness of the same thing. The question is, itself, the answer. And we ourselves are both . But we cannot know this until we have moved into the second kind of awareness. We awaken, not to find an answer absolutely distinct from the question, but to realize that the question is its own answer. And all is summed up in one awareness-not a proposition, but an experience: “I AM.”

The contemplation of which I speak here is not philosophical. It is not the static awareness of metaphysical essences apprehended as spiritual objects, unchanging and eternal. It is not the contemplation of abstract ideas. It is the religious apprehension of God, through my life in God, or through “sonship” as the New Testament says. “For whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God …. The Spirit Himself gives testimony to our own spirit that we are the sons of God.” “To as many as received Him He gave the power to become the sons of God ….” And so the contemplation of which I speak is a religious and transcendent gift. It is not something to which we can attain alone, by intellectual effort, by perfecting our natural powers. It is not a kind of self-hypnosis, resulting from concentration on our own inner spiritual being. It is not the fruit of our own efforts. It is the gift of God Who, in His mercy, completes the hidden and mysterious work of creation in us by enlightening our minds and hearts, by awakening in us the awareness that we are words spoken in His One Word, and that Creating Spirit (Creator Spiritus) dwells in us, and we in Him. That we are “in Christ” and that Christ lives in us . That the natural life in us has been completed, elevated, transformed and fulfilled in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Contemplation is the awareness and realization, even in some sense experience, of what each Christian obscurely believes: “It is now no longer I that live but Christ lives in me.”

Hence contemplation is more than a consideration of abstract truths about God, more even than affective meditation on the things we believe. It is awakening, enlightenment and the amazing intuitive grasp by which love gains certitude of God’s creative and dynamic intervention in our daily life. Hence contemplation does not simply “find” a clear idea of God and confine Him within the limits of that idea, and hold Him there as a prisoner to Whom it can always return. On the contrary, contemplation is carried away by Him into His own realm, His own mystery and His own freedom. It is a pure and a virginal knowledge, poor in concepts, poorer still in reasoning, but able, by its very poverty and purity, to follow the Word “wherever He may go.”

What Contemplation Is Not

THE only way to get rid of misconceptions about contemplation is to experience it. One who does not actually know, in his own life, the nature of this breakthrough and this awakening to a new level of reality cannot help being misled by most of the things that are said about it. For contemplation cannot be taught. It cannot even be clearly explained. It can only be hinted at, suggested, pointed to, symbolized. The more objectively and scientifically one tries to analyze it, the more he empties it of its real content, for this experience is beyond the reach of verbalization and of rationalization . Nothing is more repellent than a pseudo-scientific definition of the contemplative experience. One reason for this is that he who attempts such a definition is tempted to proceed psychologically, and there is really no adequate psychology of contemplation. To describe “reactions” and “feelings” is to situate contemplation where it is not to be found, in the superficial consciousness where it can be observed by reflection. But this reflection and this consciousness are precisely part of that external self which “dies” and is cast aside like a soiled garment in the genuine awakening of the contemplative.

Contemplation is not and cannot be a function of this external self. There is an irreducible opposition between the deep transcendent self that awakens only in contemplation, and the superficial, external self which we commonly identify with the first person singular. We must remember that this superficial “I” is not our real self. It is our “individuality” and our “empirical self” but it is not truly the hidden and mysterious person in whom we subsist before the eyes of God. The “I” that works in the world, thinks about itself, observes its own reactions and talks about itself is not the true “I” that has been united to God in Christ. It is at best the vesture, the mask, the disguise of that mysterious and unknown “self” whom most of us never discover until we are dead.1 Our external, superficial self is not eternal, not spiritual. Far from it. This self is doomed to disappear as completely as smoke from a chimney. It is utterly frail and evanescent. Contemplation is precisely the awareness that this “I” is really “not I” and the awakening of the unknown “I” that is beyond observation and reflection and is incapable of commenting upon itself. It cannot even say “I” with the assurance and the impertinence of the other one, for its very nature is to be hidden, unnamed, unidentified in the society where men talk about themselves and about one another. In such a world the true “I” remains both inarticulate and invisible, because it has altogether too much to say-not one word of which is about itself.

Nothing could be more alien to contemplation than the cogito ergo sum of Descartes. “I think, therefore I am.” This is the declaration of an alienated being, in exile from his own spiritual depths, compelled to seek some comfort in a proof for his own existence(!) based on the observation that he ‘”thinks.” If his thought is necessary as a medium through which he arrives at the concept of his existence, then he is in fact only moving further away from his true being. He is reducing himself to a concept. He is making it impossible for himself to experience, directly and immediately, the mystery of his own being. At the same time, by also reducing God to a concept, he makes it impossible for himself to have any intuition of the divine reality which is inexpressible. He arrives at his own being as if it were an objective reality, that is to say he strives to become aware of himself as he would of some “thing” alien to himself. And he proves that the “thing” exists. He convinces himself: “I am therefore some thing.” And then he goes on to convince himself that God, the infinite, the transcendent, is also a “thing,” an “object,” like other finite and limited objects of our thought!

Contemplation, on the contrary, is the experiential grasp of reality as subjective, not so much “mine” (which would signify “belonging to the external self”) but “myself” in existential mystery. Contemplation does not arrive at reality after a process of deduction, but by an intuitive awakening in which our free and personal reality becomes fully alive to its own existential depths, which open out into the mystery of God. For the contemplative there is no cogito (“I think”) and no ergo (“therefore”) but only SUM, I AM. Not in the sense of a futile assertion of our individuality as ultimately real, but in the humble realization of our mysterious being as persons in whom God dwells, with infinite sweetness and inalienable power.

Obviously contemplation is not just the affair of a passive and quiet temperament. It is not mere inertia, a tendency to inactivity, to psychic peace. The contemplative is not merely a man who likes to sit and think, still less one who sits around with a vacant stare. Contemplation is much more than thoughtfulness or a taste for reflection. Certainly, a thoughtful and reflective dis.position is nothing to be despised in our world of inanity and automatism-and it can very well dispose a man for contemplation.

Contemplation is not prayerfulness, or a tendency to find peace and satisfaction in liturgical rites. These, too, are a great good, and they are almost necessary preparations for contemplative experience. They can never, of themselves, constitute that experience. Contemplative intuition has nothing to do with temperament. Though it sometimes happens that a man of quiet temperament becomes a contemplative, it may also happen that the very passivity of his character keeps him from suffering the inner struggle and the crisis through which one generally comes to a deeper spiritual awakening.

On the other hand, it can happen that an active and passionate man awakens to contemplation, and perhaps suddenly, without too much struggle. But it must be said, as a rule, that certain active types are not disposed to contemplation and never come to it except with great difficulty. Indeed, they ought perhaps not even to think about it or seek it, because in doing so they will tend to strain themselves and injure themselves by absurd efforts that cannot possibly make any sense or have any useful purpose. Such people, being given to imagination, pas.sion and active conquest, exhaust themselves in trying to attain contemplation as if it were some kind of an object, like a material fortune, or a political office, or a professor.ship, or a prelacy. But contemplation can never be the object of calculated ambition. It is not something we plan to obtain with our practical reason, but the living water of the spirit that we thirst for, like a hunted deer thirsting after a river in the wilderness.

IT is not we who choose to awaken ourselves, but God who chooses to awaken us.

CONTEMPLATION is not trance or ecstasy, nor the hear.ing of sudden unutterable words, nor the imagination of lights. It is not the emotional fire and sweetness that come with religious exaltation. It is not enthusiasm, the sense of being “seized” by an elemental force and swept into liberation by mystical frenzy. These things may seem to be in some way like a contemplative awakening in so far as they suspend the ordinary awareness and control exercised by our empirical self. But they are not the work of the “deep self,” only of the emotions, of the somatic unconscious. They are a Hooding up of the dionysian forces of the “id.” Such manifestations can of course accompany a deep and genuine religious experience, but they are not what I am talking about here as contemplation.

NOR is contemplation the gift of prophecy, nor does it imply the ability to read the secrets of mens’ hearts. These things can sometimes go along with contemplation but they are not essential to it, and it would be erroneous to confuse them with it.

There are many other escapes from the empirical, external self, which might seem to be, but are not, contemplation. For instance, the experience of being seized and taken out of oneself by collective enthusiasm, in a totalitarian parade: the self-righteous upsurge of party loyalty that blots out conscience and absolves every criminal tendency in the name of Class, Nation, Party, Race or Sect. The danger and the attraction of these false mystiques of Nation and of Class is precisely that they seduce and pretend to satisfy those who are no longer aware of any deep or genuine spiritual need. The false mysticism of the Mass Society captivates men who are so alienated from themselves and from God that they are no longer capable of genuine spiritual experience. Yet it is precisely these ersatz forms of enthusiasm that are “opium” for the people, deadening their awareness of their deepest and most personal needs, alienating them from their true selves, putting conscience and personality to sleep and turning free, reasonable men in to passive instruments of the power politician.

Let no one hope to find in contemplation an escape from conflict, from anguish or from doubt. On the contrary, the deep, inexpressible certitude of the contemplative experience awakens a tragic anguish and opens many questions in the depths of the heart like wounds that cannot stop bleeding. For every gain in deep certitude there is a corresponding growth of superficial “doubt.” This doubt is by no means opposed to genuine faith, but it mercilessly examines and questions the spurious “faith” of everyday life, the human faith which is nothing but the passive acceptance of conventional opinion. This false “faith” which is what we often live by and which we even come to confuse with our “religion” is subjected to inexorable questioning. This torment is a kind of trial by fire in which we are compelled, by the very light of invisible truth which has reached us in the dark ray of contemplation, to examine, to doubt and finally to reject all the prejudices and conventions that we have hitherto accepted as if they were dogmas. Hence is it clear that genuine contemplation is incompatible with complacency and with smug acceptance of prejudiced opinions. It is not mere passive acquiescence in the status quo, as some would like to believe-for this would reduce it to the level of spiritual anesthesia. Contemplation is no pain-killer. What a holocaust takes place in this steady burning to ashes of old worn-out words, cliches, slogans, rationalizations! The worst of it is that even apparently holy conceptions are consumed along with all the rest. It is a terrible break.ing and burning of idols, a purification of the sanctuary, so that no graven thing may occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty: the center, the existential altar which simply “is.” In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is. He may or may not mercifully realize that, after all, this is a great gain, because “God is not a what,” not a “thing.” That is precisely one of the essential characteristics of contemplative experience. It sees that there is no “what” that can be called God. There is “no such thing” as God because God is neither a “what” nor a “thing” but a pure “Who. ”* He is the “Thou” before whom our inmost “I” springs into awareness. He is the I Am before whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo “I am. ”.. This should not be taken to mean that man has no valid concept of the divine nature. Yet in contemplation abstract notions of the divine essence no longer play an important part since they are replaced by a concrete intuition, based on love, of God as a Person, an object of love, not a “nature” or a “thing” which would be the object of study or of possessive desire.

Seeds of Contemplation

EVERY moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love. This is no new idea. Christ in the parable of the sower long ago told us that “The seed is the word of God.” We often think this applies only to the word of the Gospel as formally preached in churches on Sundays (if indeed it is preached in churches any more!). But every expression of the will of God is in some sense a “word” of God and therefore a “seed” of new life. The ever-changing reality in the midst of which we live should awaken us to the possibility of an uninterrupted dialogue with God. By this I do not mean continuous “talk,” or a frivolously conversational form of affective prayer which is sometimes cultivated in convents, but a dialogue of love and of choice. A dialogue of deep wills. In all the situations of life the “will of God” comes to us not merely as an external dictate of impersonal law but above all as an interior invitation of personal love. Too often the conventional conception of “God’s will” as a sphinx-like and arbitrary force bearing down upon us with implacable hostility, leads men to lose faith in a God they cannot find it possible to love . Such a view of the divine will drives human weakness to despair and one wonders if it is not, itself, often the expression of a despair too intolerable to be admitted to conscious consideration. These arbitrary “dictates” of a domineer.ing and insensible Father are more often seeds of hatred than of love. If that is our concept of the will of God, we cannot possibly seek the obscure and intimate mystery of the encounter that takes place in contemplation. We will desire only to fly as far as possible from Him and hide from His Face forever. So much depends on our idea of God! Yet no idea of Him, however pure and perfect, is adequate to express Him as He really is. Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.

We must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good. His inscrutable love seeks our awakening. True, since this awakening implies a kind of death to our exterior self, we will dread His coming in proportion as we are identified with this exterior self and attached to it. But when we understand the dialectic of life and death we will learn to take the risks implied by faith, to make the choices that deliver us from our routine self and open to us the door of a new being, a new reality .

The mind that is the prisoner of conventional ideas, and the will that is the captive of its own desire cannot accept the seeds of an unfamiliar truth and a super.natural desire. For how can I receive the seeds of freedom if I am in love with slavery and how can I cherish the desire of God if I am filled with another and an opposite desire? God cannot plant His liberty in me because I am a prisoner and I do not even desire to be free . I love my captivity and I imprison myself in the desire for the things that I hate, and I have hardened my heart against true love. I must learn therefore to let go of the familiar and the usual and consent to what is new and unknown to me. I must learn to “leave myself” in order to find myself by yielding to the love of God. If I were looking for God, every event and every moment would sow, in my will, grains of His life that would spring up one day in a tremendous harvest. For it is God’s love that warms me in the sun and God’s love that sends the cold rain. It is God’s love that feeds me in the bread I eat and God that feeds me also by hunger and fasting. It is the love of God that sends the winter days when I am cold and sick, and the hot summer when I labor and my clothes are full of sweat: but it is God Who breathes on me with light winds off the river and in the breezes out of the wood. His love spreads the shade of the sycamore over my head and sends the water-boy along the edge of the wheat field with a bucket from the spring, while the laborers are resting and the mules stand under the tree. It is God’s love that speaks to me in the birds and streams; but also behind the clamor of the city God speaks to me in His judgments, and all these things are seeds sent to me from His will. If these seeds would take root in my liberty, and if His will would grow from my freedom, I would become the love that He is, and my harvest would be His glory and my own joy. And I would grow together with thousands and mil.lions of other freedoms into the gold of one huge field praising God, loaded with increase, loaded with wheat. If in all things I consider only the heat and the cold, the food or the hunger, the sickness or labor, the beauty or pleasure, the success and failure or the material good or evil my works have won for my own will, I will find only emptiness and not happiness. I shall not be fed, I shall not be full. For my food is the will of Him Who made me and Who made all things in order to give Himself to me through them.

My chief care should not be to find pleasure or success, health or life or money or rest or even things like virtue and wisdom-still less their opposites, pain, failure, sickness, death. But in all that happens, my one desire and my one joy should be to know : “Here is the thing that God has willed for me. In this His love is found, and in accepting this I can give back His love to Him and give myself with it to Him. For in giving myself I shall find Him and He is life everlasting.”

By consenting to His will with joy and doing it with gladness I have His love in my heart, because my will is now the same as His love and I am on the way to becoming what He is, Who is Love. And by accepting all things from Him I receive His joy into my soul, not because things are what they are but because God is Who He is, and His love has willed my joy in them all.

How am I to know the will of God? Even where there is no other more explicit claim on my obedience, such as a legitimate command, the very nature of each situation usually bears written into itself some indication of God’s will. For whatever is demanded by truth, by justice, by mercy, or by love must surely be taken to be willed by God. To consent to His will is, then, to consent to be true, or to speak truth, or at least to seek it. To obey Him is to respond to His will expressed in the need of another person, or at least to respect the rights of others. For the right of another man is the expression of God’s love and God’s will. In demanding that I respect the rights of another God is not merely asking me to conform to some abstract, arbitrary law : He is enabling me to share, as His son, in His own care for my brother. No man who ignores the rights and needs of others can hope to walk in the light of contemplation, because his way has turned aside from truth, from compassion and therefore from God.

The requirements of a work to be done can be under.stood as the will of God. IfI am supposed to hoe a garden or make a table, then I will be obeying God if I am true to the task I am performing. To do the work carefully and well, with love and respect for the nature of my task and with due attention to its purpose, is to unite myself to God’s will in my work. In this way I become His instrument. He works through me. When I act as His instrument my labor cannot become an obstacle to contemplation, even though it may temporarily so occupy my mind that I cannot engage in it while I am actually doing my job. Yet my work itself will purify and pacify my mind and dispose me for contemplation.

Unnatural, frantic, anxious work, work done under pressure of greed or fear or any other inordinate passion, cannot properly speaking be dedicated to God, because God never wills such work directly. He may permit that through no fault of our own we may have to work madly and distractedly, due to our sins, and to the sins of the society in which we live. In that case we must tolerate it and make the best of what we cannot avoid. But let us not be blind to the distinction between sound, healthy work and unnatural toil.

In any case, we should always seek to conform to the logos or truth of the duty before us, the work to be done, or our own God-given nature. Contemplative obedience and abandonment to the will of God can never mean a cultivated indifference to the natural values implanted by Him in human life and work. Insensitivity must not be confused with detachment. The contemplative must certainly be detached, but he can never allow himself to become insensible to true human values, whether in society, in other men or in himself. If he does so, then his contemplation stands condemned as vitiated in its very root.

Everything That Is, Is Holy

DETACHMENT from things does not mean setting up a contradiction between “things” and “God” as if God were another “thing” and as if His creatures were His rivals. We do not detach ourselves from things in order to attach ourselves to God, but rather we become detached from ourselves in order to see and use all things in and for God. This is an entirely new perspective which many sincerely moral and ascetic minds fail utterly to see . There is no evil in anything created by God, nor can anything of His become an obstacle to our union with Him. The obstacle is in our “self,” that is to say in the tenacious need to maintain our separate, external, egotistic will. It is when we refer all things to this outward and false “self” that we alienate ourselves from reality and from God. It is then the false self that is our god, and we love everything for the sake of this self. We use all things, so to speak, for the worship of this idol which is our imaginary self. In so doing we pervert and corrupt things, or rather we turn our relationship to them into a corrupt and sinful relationship. We do not thereby make them evil , but we use them to increase our attachment to our illusory self.

Those who try to escape from this situation by treating the good things of God as if they were evils are only confirming themselves in a terrible illusion. They are like Adam blaming Eve and Eve blaming the serpent in Eden. “Woman has tempted me . Wine has tempted me. Food has tempted me. Woman is pernicious, wine is poison , food is death. I must hate and revile them. By hating them I will please God . . ..” These are the thoughts and attitudes of a baby, of a savage and of an idolater who seeks by magic incantations and spells to protect his egotistic self and placate the insatiable little god in his own heart. To take such an idol for God is the worst kind of self-deception. It turns a man into a fanatic, no longer capable of sustained contact with the truth, no longer capable of genuine love .

In trying to believe in their ego as something “holy” these fanatics look upon everything else as unholy. It is not true that the saints and the great contemplatives never loved created things, and had no understanding or appreciation of the world, with its sights and sounds and the people living in it. They loved everything and everyone.

Do you think that their love of God was compatible with a hatred for things that reflected Him and spoke of Him on every side?

You will say that they were supposed to be absorbed in God and they had no eyes to see anything but Him. Do you think they walked around with faces like stones and did not listen to the voices of men speaking to them or understand the joys and sorrows of those who were around them?

It was because the saints were absorbed in God that they were truly capable of seeing and appreciating created things and it was because they loved Him alone that they alone loved everybody.

SOME men seem to think that a saint cannot possibly take a natural interest in anything created. They imagine that any form of spontaneity or enjoyment is a sinful gratification of “fallen nature.” That to be “supernatural” means to be obstructing all spontaneity with clichés and arbitrary references to God. The purpose of these cliches is, so to speak, to hold everything at arms length, to frustrate spontaneous reactions, to exorcise feelings of guilt. Or perhaps to cultivate such feelings! One wonders some.times if such morality is not after all a love of guilt! They suppose that the life of a saint can never be anything but a perpetual duel with guilt, and that a saint cannot even drink a glass of cold water without making an act of contrition for slaking his thirst, as if that were a mortal sin. As if for the saints every response to beauty, to good.ness, to the pleasant, were an offense. As if the saint could never allow himself to be pleased with anything but his prayers and his interior acts of piety.

A saint is capable of loving created things and enjoy.ing the use of them and dealing with them in a perfectly simple, natural manner, making no formal references to God, drawing no attention to his own piety, and acting without any artificial rigidity at all. His gentleness and his sweetness are not pressed through his pores by the crushing restraint of a spiritual strait-jacket. They come from his direct docility to the light of truth and to the will of God. Hence a saint is capable of talking about the world without any explicit reference to God, in such a way that his statement gives greater glory to God and arouses a greater love of God than the observations of someone less holy, who has to strain himself to make an arbitrary connection between creatures and God through the medium of hackneyed analogies and metaphors that are so feeble that they make you think there is some.thing the matter with religion.

The saint knows that the world and everything made by God is good , while those who are not saints either think that created things are unholy, or else they don’t bother about the question one way or another because they are only interested in themselves.

The eyes of the saint make all beauty holy and the hands of the saint consecrate everything they touch to the glory of God, and the saint is never offended by any.thing and judges no man’s sin because he does not know sin. He knows the mercy of God. He knows that his own mission on earth is to bring that mercy to all men.

WHEN we are one with God’s love, we own all things in Him. They are ours to offer Him in Christ His Son. For all things belong to the sons of God and we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. Resting in His glory above all pleasure and pain, joy or sorrow, and every other good or evil, we love in all things His will rather than the things themselves, and that is the way we make creation a sacrifice in praise of God.

This is the end for which all things were made by God.

THE only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own false self, and enter by love into union with the Life Who dwells and sings within the essence of every creature and in the core of our own souls. In His love we possess all things and enjoy fruition of them, finding Him in them all. And thus as we go about the world, everything we meet and everything we see and hear and touch, far from defiling, purifies us and plants in us something more of contemplation and of heaven.

Short of this perfection, created things do not bring us joy but pain. Until we love God perfectly, everything in the world will be able to hurt us. And the greatest misfortune is to be dead to the pain they inflict on us, and not to realize what it is.

For until we love God perfectly His world is full of contradiction. The things He has created attract us to Him and yet keep us away from Him. They draw us on and they stop us dead. We find Him in them to some extent and then we don’t find Him in them at all.

Just when we think we have discovered some joy in them, the joy turns into sorrow; and just when they are beginning to please us the pleasure turns into pain.

In all created things we, who do not yet perfectly love God, can find something that reSects the fulfillment of heaven and something that reSects the anguish of hell. We find something of the joy of blessedness and something of the pain of loss, which is damnation.

The fulfillment we find in creatures belongs to the reality of the created being, a reality that is from God and belongs to God and reflects God. The anguish we find in them belongs to the disorder of our desire which looks for a greater reality in the object of our desire than is actually there: a greater fulfillment than any created thing is capable of giving. Instead of worshipping God through His creation we are always trying to worship ourselves by means of creatures.

But to worship our false selves is to worship nothing. And the worship of nothing is hell.

THE “false self” must not be identified with the body. The body is neither evil nor unreal. It has a reality that is given it by God, and this reality is therefore holy. Hence we say rightly, though symbolically, that the body is the “temple of God,” meaning that His truth, His perfect reality, is enshrined there in the mystery of our own being. Let no one, then, dare to hate or to despise the body that has been entrusted to him by God, and let no one dare to misuse this body. Let him not desecrate his own natural unity by dividing himself, soul against body, as if the soul were good and the body evil. Soul and body together subsist in the reality of the hidden, inner person . If the two are separated from one another, there is no longer a person, there is no longer a living , subsisting reality made in the image and likeness of God. The “marriage” of body and soul in one person is one of the things that makes man the image of God; and what God has joined no man can separate without danger tohis sanity.

It is equally false to treat the soul as if it were the “whole self” and the body as if it were the “whole self .” Those who make the first mistake fall into the sin of angelism. Those who make the second live below the level assigned by God to human nature. (It would be an easy cliche to say they live like beasts: but this is not always true, by any means.) There are many respectable and even conventionally moral people for whom there is no other reality in life than their body and its relation.ship with “things.” They have reduced themselves to a life lived within the limits of their five senses. Their self is consequently an illusion based on sense experience and nothing else. For these the body becomes a source of falsity and deception : but that is not the body’s fault. It is the fault of the person himself, who consents to the illusion, who finds security in self-deception and will not answer the secret voice of God calling him to take a risk and venture by faith outside the reassuring and protective limits of his five senses .

5 — Things in Their Identity

A TREE gives glory to God by being a tree . For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It “consents,” so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.

The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give Him less glory.

No two created beings are exactly alike. And their individuality is no imperfection. On the contrary, the perfection of each created thing is not merely in its conformity to an abstract type but in its own individual identity with itself. This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or will do.

Do you imagine that the individual created things in the world are imperfect attempts at reproducing an ideal type which the Creator never quite succeeded in actualizing on earth? If that is so they do not give Him glory but proclaim that He is not a perfect Creator.


Dear Friends,

St. John's baptismal FontThis Sunday, November 2, we celebrate one of the great feast days of the church, All Saints.’ All Saints’ Day is actually November 1, and November 2 is All Souls’ Day on the church calendar. The first day emerged as a time to remember saints and those within the faith community who had died in the previous year. All Souls’ Day developed as a day to remember all of those departed whom we knew and loved. Our celebration on the 2nd will combine both these traditions, as we will see before us the names of so may of our friends and family who have died, and heard read the names of those who have died in the past year.

All Saints’ is also one of the four days recommended by the Prayer Book for baptisms, and we will joyfully welcome new persons into the Body of Christ this Sunday as well.

Often, baptisms occur in the beginning stages of life, and as we recall the saints we remember the endings of life.  Some might describe baptisms and funerals as bookends to a life. But rather than bookends, might we look at them as gateways?

Baptism, once thought of as a necessary sacrament for salvation, is instead a beginning, the welcoming of a person into the Body of Christ, with the promises made to nourish and support that person, and to teach the way of Christ. It is a gateway. And at funerals, even as we grieve our loss, we celebrate the Good News of the resurrection: that even in death there is a beginning, a gateway to union with God that we who remain anticipate with both wonder and hope. There too, a gateway.

God embraces the whole of our lives; our beginnings and our endings. That is reason enough to come gladly to church to offer our praise and thanksgiving for all the portals through which we will pass, in this life and in the life to come.




From Your Godly Play Teacher

From your Godly Play Teacher:

On May 4th, I’ll be walking in Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger! I’ll be walking with the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Harvard, where I’m Kellogg Fellow. We’re raising money to help feed the 700,000 children and adults who face food insecurity in Massachusetts. We’re also raising money in honor of Bishop Tom Shaw, part of his Season of Celebration and Service. It’s the most vulnerable around us who are most affected by food insecurity. When we give money to Project Bread, we’re helping feed children, the elderly, the disabled, and the unemployed. I’m doing this because I believe it’s one way to follow God’s will in my life. If you’d like to donate, visit this link (http://support.projectbread.org/goto/ejg) and click the “DONATE” button above the picture! Some extra incentive: If you donate $50 or more, we’ll give you a free ECH Walk t-shirt … see below!hunger walk tshirt.2014

Thankful for 20 years of Service


On Sunday January 26th, the parish gave thanks to Dougals Witte for his 20 years of service as Director of Music at St. John’s. Initially hired as a substitute in December of 1993, Douglas became the  permanent director in January of 1994.

During Coffee Hour, the Choir sang a toast to Douglas with words by Maureen Lavely to the tune of “My Favorite Things,” and Jake Sterling led the choir in a spirited rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Pack Up Your Sins.” Senior Warden Louis Tompros and the rector offered thanks, including the reading of several emails from clergy who worked with Douglas in the past. Among the presentations made was a plaque that will go on the organ after its restoration in 2014, commemorating Douglas’ years of service.

Stratton McCrady, a longtime choir member now in Maine, sent greetings as well. His letter was not read at the Coffee Hour, and we want to make sure everyone reads his thoughtful words of thanks:
My favorite Douglas story comes from when we in leadership were all asked to do safe church training. Douglas and I, Alice and some others complied. Early in the day we were asked to form two lines in a personal space exercise. These lines were to face each other with each person looking across some short distance at another from the opposite line. I looked across at Douglas. The group leader explained that we were to, on her count, take a slow series of steps toward each other and gauge how our personal feelings of discomfort might increase as we got continually closer. She said when we found the closeness unbearable, we were to speak up, stop, and note our relative positions. On her count we each took the first  step toward each other….. Douglas said, “STOP.” “That’s enough.”
The point of embarrassing him with this story is to make clear how much he hates praise…. any steps too close. My personal truth is Douglas welcomed me back into a life I thought was lost to me forever, when his the little choir took me in. In those 15 years he has given me riches greater that gold or fine jewels. Virtually every Thursday and Sunday for those 15 years revolved around strains of music that saturated my soul, stirred my imagination and drove me into endless flights of research and musical discovery. This gift of music was for him, a passion, but also his day job. I’ve wanted him to understand that, for me it has been prayer, as essential as breathing, and it has been love and true worship. Douglas gave me that.
Bless him.

Carol Sing

St. John's Community Carol Sing Flyer

St. John’s Community Carol Sing

St. John’s welcomes the community to our Carol Sing on Saturday, December 21 at 5 pm. This year, rather than a formal Lessons and Carols Service, we are having a gathering for all ages to sing the beloved carols of Advent and Christmas. There will be an opportunity to choose your favorite carols to sing, and afterwards all are invited to a reception in the Parish Hall. Parishioners are invited to bring a dessert to share for the reception. Nursery care will be available during the Sing.