Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Taste of Contemplation

One of the things that has struck me from our "lectio so far" is the image of layered lasagna. That, in turn, has drawn me to think about something totally unexpected:  a dish I used to make when the children were small.  It is something my mother served when I was young.  It's called escalloped cabbage. 

In the bottom of a baking dish, I put a layer of crumbled crackers.  On top of that, a layer of cooked cabbage.  I  redo that a few times, just as one does when layering lasagna.   On top is a final layer of crackers, coated with butter - but it doesn't end there.  To make this casserole soft and tasty, I must drench it in milk, digging a fork into the layers in a few spots so the milk can penetrate and soak down through.  Then it is baked.

For lectio to BE lectio, I must begin with a solid base of scripture.  Then comes the layer of prayer.  It can become a back and forth conversation, as we have seen.

We can read, we can pray, we can meditate on God's Word.  But when it comes to contemplation... well, that must be given.  It must be "infused."  Like the milk that softens escalloped cabbage and brings it all together so the dish can be served, contemplation is (in effect) "poured in."  It is something poured into us by God.

Yet pouring milk into an empty dish leaves us with just...  milk.   In order to have a firm, delicious casserole, the layering needs to first be put into place.

"Even though contemplation is utterly divinely given and humanly received, God gives only to the extent that we efficaciously desire, that is, not merely wish something to happen but take concrete means to fit ourselves to receive it."  In his wonderful book Fire Within, Father Thomas Dubay uses the Gospels plus writings from saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross to teach about prayer.  He says that for St. Teresa, "contemplation is an experienced, mutual presence, an intimate sharing between friends, a being alone with the God Who loves us.  Hence, this prayer is a mutual presence of two in love, and in this case the Beloved dwells within." 

"This experience of the divine presence involves nothing extraordinary.  It is not a vision, nothing is seen or heard... a deep experience of God can overflow into our emotions, but in its essence it is literally non-sensed.  The new knowing and loving of God are a spiritual reality, not a tangible one.   Repeatedly, Teresa insists that contemplative prayer is divinely produced.  She calls this prayer even in its delicate beginnings 'supernatural,' meaning by this term what we now intend with the word infused.  That is, poured in by God..."

...like milk....?

"In all types of infused prayer there are degrees of intensity, more and less, ebb and flow.  There are dry, dark yearnings; slow and gentle enkindlings of love; ecstatic absorptions and delights; experiences of refreshment, peace, pain, light and insights.  Being in love with God is never boring."


(above quotes from Fire Within by Thomas Dubay S.M., Ignatius Press, 1989, pages 58-60.  Click this line to read more about this title)