The word “contemplation” is nebulous, like the word “love,” but they are linked in ways not often considered. In regards to both, there is always an element of self-doubt. Do I really love? Is this really contemplation? This will always be so because of the flawed channel I am. When You ask me, as You did Peter, “Do you love me?” my answer is his: “Lord, You know I love You.” I do! But I doubt my ability to convince You of it because I know You see through me to all my faults.
I want so much, by contemplation, to lift a tiny corner of the veil that separates us. But I am so taken up with things around me that I doubt my ability to do this.
Then there is the matter of individuality or personality in regards to both love and contemplation. My ability as a human to love and/or contemplate depends on who I am at a particular time. Neither the rules of love nor of contemplation are black and white. Finding, cultivating and sustaining a “me” who is loving and contemplative has constant ups and downs. Yet, again, it is by our desire to seek that we periodically succeed. The more ardently we practice the seeking, the more frequently such periods come. But there always lurks, for me, that elusive “can’t-quite-grasp-it” quality. It’s like the unattainable girl or guy you had a crush on in school – you feel it’s hopeless, so you simply worship from afar. But without seeking, nothing can happen – not success or failure. Things just stay the same.
Evelyn Underwood’s book Mysticism is a brilliant exposition of our quest. In one place she says our natural tendency in contemplation of things transcendent
is toward pantheism, an absorption into the essence of the Absolute but that meditation on the doctrine of Your Incarnation and Your human life is our safeguard against this. Love and contemplation become less nebulous when played against the drama or Your own life.
Nonetheless, the quest has pitfalls. One which resonates for me is beautifully captured in Thomas Merton’s marvelous little essay on “The Renaissance Hermit.” It’s the pitfall of self-complaisance and the seeking of consolation in the solitary life. He says: “…those who succumb to the supreme folly of having nothing in the world but their humility… lose even that by boasting of it.”
The loving contemplative, then, is foremost a perfect forgetter and annihilator of self.