Saturday, January 27, 2007

Moments of Contemplation

About a week ago I was walking back to my monastic cell after supper, and I paused briefly as a moment of grace and a kind of natural contemplation settled upon me. It was an unseasonably warm January day, though it was still cool and fresh. A beautiful picture formed before my eyes: yellow-orange streaks of clouds mingling with the silhouette of a leafless winter tree and its myriad tiny branches. Above it, a new crescent moon was softly setting over the forested ridge, as a puff of colored mist lightly passed before it. The tops of the firs were gently swaying in a light, clean breeze, and all creation was still, quietly joyful. It was as if the earth were breathing a sigh of contentment at the end of a blessed day, which was silently receding and giving way to the mysteries of the night.

Is this not the world as God had meant it to be?—not crammed with noisy, frenzied (and all too often self-destructive) activity, with the consequent blindness to the omnipresent beauty of a world full of life and wonder. Rather, a peace that passes understanding, a stillness that allows one to hear the sounds of life, to breathe in the serenity of a world turning by the hand of God, and hence turning toward God, lifted up on the heart-praises of his immortal images, so that the whole cosmos can join in the unceasing worship of those who have heard Heaven’s whispers in the evergreens and are longing for the light of Home.

After Compline that night I walked into further wonders. That magnificent night sky! We live about 18 miles from the nearest town, and we refuse to artificially light the pathways of the monastery. God has provided heavenly lights for that, and when the night is clear, we can find our way simply by starlight. The deep dark space, brightly populated with its innumerable glittering citizens, is but a super-sheer veil of the Divinity. It is always breathtaking, always wondrous, always captivating—therefore it must be a reflection of the mystery of God. The night air was almost intoxicating. The silence wrapped around me like the arms of the Heavenly Mother. The wind still whispered in the trees, its effects unseen now, yet felt from time to time as a caress on the cheek. If I were a saint, I think I would have levitated at that moment. The whole experience was like a cup of cool water to a thirsty man, leaving me refreshed but not satiated. Sometimes beauty is so exhilarating, I feel like I could literally drink it in.

There are intimations of God in all this. I’m not too interested in the chemical composition of the universe—though I am fascinated at times by what science discovers about the wonders of creation. Yet I can’t help but regard with a sort of uncomprehending pity those who still assert that it all exploded itself into existence and has no purpose but to gradually burn itself back out of existence. The effect that sunsets and night skies have on immortally-ensouled beings is not that of molecules upon molecules. It is rather the effect of divine grace upon spirits capable of receiving revelations from on high. A sunset is not merely a predictable daily solar occurrence, for the heavens are telling the glory of God.

We may sometimes become frustrated that God does not give verbal answers to our verbal questions, but if we can bring our souls to a stillness similar to that of yellow-orange evenings or infinite black-and-silver nights, we may discover that the Word speaks without words, that He is answering questions that we haven’t yet the sense to ask. Still, we may notice an “amen” rising from some hidden inner depth—for Deep calls upon deep, and our spirit intuitively knows its Creator—even if we are still stumbling over concepts and conundrums, or are caught up in the erratic currents of quotidian events, whose hidden meaning we’ve not yet properly understood.

So be still and know that the Lord is God. Find—at all costs—someplace where you can enter nature’s silence and recover the ancient capacity to hear angels in the wind and to know Him who created stars with the breath of his mouth. Contemplation isn’t a luxury—it is the key to the Gate of Heaven.