Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

Poet and Contemplative

“From the abundance of his spirit [the poet] pours out secrets and mysteries rather than rational explanation” (Prologue, The Spiritual Canticle).

“In contemplation God teaches the soul very quietly and secretly, without its knowing how, without the sound of words” (Chapter 39, The Spiritual Canticle).

In the spirit of St. John of the Cross, this blog reflects on the contemplative experience and the poetic experience, sometimes separately and distinctly, sometimes in common, as mutually enlightening.

I will also post to this blog, from time to time, my own poetry, with a short interpretive note attached.

~ Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD

Prayer and Sabbath Rest - Part 1

        You might think I've been on sabbatical these past few months, and you'd have good reason, given my absence from this blog.  But I haven't.  Nonetheless, I have been learning something in my absence, something valuable.  And here's what I've learned.  It's difficult to keep a blog going when you're on the road for long stretches of time.  And it's equally difficult when responsibilities come at you from all directions and scatter your energies.  And, of course, one must never forget the daily demand that practicing proper "laziness in the Lord"--as I prefer to call it--places upon us friars.
        But I begin this new year with a resolution.  I'll try--and it is a matter of trying-- to do a better and more determined job at mastering the habit of blogging.  I'll try to be more consistent with these posts by writing if not always about some substantial topic, then about this or that topic that fancy, on any given day, might scare up.


        Since I've been on sabbatical from this blog, I'll return with the following four quotes in hand.  They're from the book The Sabbath by one of the major Jewish thinkers of the previous century, namely, Abraham Heschel.  After each quote I'll offer a brief reflection.
        (1)  "For the Sabbath is a day of harmony and peace . . . On the seventh day man has no right to tamper with God’s world, to change the state of physical things."

        Work is perhaps the predominant dimension of our lives.  It defines us in many ways, both personal and social.  There is, of course, a spirituality of work, although for almost all of us work is mostly about having a job or pursuing a career, which may or may not contribute to the common good in any significant measure.  And often that's about all we can say, spiritually speaking, about the work we do.
        A true spirituality of work would somehow view work in relation to that which exists prior to work.  Let us call this something, following the above quote, "God's world"--namely, creation as it exists prior to our having tampered with it.
        We experience "God's world" primarily through our being at rest.  When we are at peace, in life, in ourselves, when we allow ourselves the experience of being, however briefly, at harmony with being, then in that brief moment "God's world" steps forth and embraces us.
        The experience of contemplative prayer, because of the way it requires of us an interior quiet, a letting go, a being present to the here and now--this experience has about it something of the Sabbath.

        (2)  "Labor without dignity is the cause of misery; rest without spirit the source of depravity."

        Of course, contemplative rest, as I'll call it, can be a game, a kind of self-delusion, or even something worse.  It can lead to depravity in the spiritual life.  We can use our work to exalt ourselves and seek to dominate and control others.  We can also use this Sabbath prayer, this contemplative rest, to exalt ourselves religiously and consider ourselves saviors of ourselves and, even worse, of others.
        That is why those who teach about contemplation put such stress on humility.  It's not as if they're asking us to debase ourselves before we can receive the grace of contemplative prayer.  Self-debasement not true humility.  But if contemplative rest is to be a resting in "God's world," then that rest, that peace of heart, that interior stillness, does require of us a measure of self-forgetfulness so that we can try to be present to what lies around us prior to our awareness of it.  It is this world, the world that can do very well without us, that then receives us and, in prayer, becomes "God's world."

To be continued...

Written by Fr. Bonaventure Sauer, OCD
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