Contemplation, or the Prayer of Simplicity or
Quiet, is the highest interior activity of the spiritual life -
indeed, it aims not at being an activity at all, but at reducing the soul
to a purely passive condition in which it may listen, unimpeded by thoughts
of self or the cares of the world, to the voice of God alone. 'As
rest is the end of motion so contemplation is the end of all other both
internal and external exercises; for to this end, by long discourse and
much practice of affection, the soul inquires and tends to a worthy object
that she may quietly contemplate it and...repose with contentment in it.'
This is not a place to consider the varied experiences which the mystics
have recorded as taking place in the prayer of quiet, nor their consequent
formulation of it diversities. Our purpose is simply to see in what
way it can be commended to the ordinary Christian as a practice necessary
to his spiritual progress. In essence it is simplicity itself.
At the end of a meditation, or of a period of aspiring prayer, the soul
remains perfectly still, its attention fixed upon God and His goodness,
and waits for Him to reveal to it some new beauty in Himself. Often
enough such revelation does not come, often enough it comes merely in the
guise of a formless peace which fills the heart and leaves it ready to
go out again to serve God in all simplicity. This is the Practice
of the Presence of God of which Brother Lawrence wrote. Sometimes
the answer to the prayer of quiet comes in a new inspiration from God which
changes the whole tenour of a life. The soul must still itself without
any special expectation of what is to happen. Union with God through Christ
is the end of the spiritual life; and the prayer of quiet is the attempt
to taste the joy and power of such a union in perfect dependence upon God.
Here is something which He alone can give; our effort, at the moment when
we look for it, will merely obtrude a disturbing element. After we
have given of our best in meditation or aspiration, it remains simply to
be still, and let Him give of His best in return.
Thus contemplation corrects, as it were, the emphasis of the other forms
of prayer. They manifest themselves in human effort; this recurs
to the fundamental truth of religion that we can do nothing of ourselves,
that all comes from Him. If at any given time of contemplation the
soul experiences nothing, it is no reason to be disturbed. We open
our eyes to see the vision of God, we have opened our ears to hear His
words; if for this turn He withholds Himself, it is His will that it should
be so. We have at least witnessed to Him and to ourselves once again
that all things come from Him, and without Him there can be nothing.
This high spiritual expectation, which is content to wait upon God in
absolute quiet, is essential for all who wish to advance in the spiritual
life. It is only in this way that they can have experience not of
God's words, or of His providence, or of His power, but of Himself.
Once again it must be repeated that, to any except those who have objective
faith in spiritual things, such a practice must be an absurdity, the crudest
form of self-suggestion. But to those who have such faith the prayer
of quiet can become not merely a reality, but the greatest reality of all--that
in which God and the soul merge wholly into one.
It need scarcely be pointed out that every one of these forms of prayer
finds its consummation in the Holy Eucharist..."