Being Here, Now: A Contemplative Approach to Life

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. Gerard Manley Hopkins

If we create space in which God can act and speak, something surprising will happen. Henri Nouwen

Sister Catherine Cleary was stirring gravy at the stove before Thanksgiving dinner with her extended family when she noticed a tiny reflection of her activity nearby. Matthew Ryan, her 17-month-old nephew, had picked up his small spoon to stir the contents of his bowl, too. As they smiled at each other, stirring, Sr. Catherine felt a moment of profound joy and peace. It’s what can happen, she says, when you seek to be present to the moment; to live in awareness, with your eyes open.

To reach the state of seeing the world through the eyes of God is what the ancients called contemplation. At its essence, contemplation is union with the divine. It is characterized by presence, silence, selflessness, and God-centeredness. Pure contemplation, though a gift, requires great discipline. Fortunately, for those of us who are less advanced on the spiritual spectrum, there are degrees of contemplation.

“We are all blessed with the opportunity for contemplative moments,” Sr. Catherine says. “Listening to Mozart, watching a sunrise or gazing at a baby might produce a contemplative moment if we are ready for it.”

Preparing for Grace

How to receive a contemplative moment from a sunrise or a baby’s smile is largely a matter of being open, quiet and willing. Slowing down the pace of your life, turning off the TV and sitting in simple silence help prepare you for grace-filled moments that leave you with a sense of peace.

“Living contemplatively means seeking to live in the presence of God at all times,” Sr. Marilyn Ring says. “We must actively consent to – and seek to remain aware of – God’s presence. We are all called to this awareness, but we are so into ourselves that we are often unresponsive to what might be wonderful contemplative experiences.”

To be responsive, the Sisters suggest we focus on the beauty around us, breathe deeply, reduce our interior chatter, and consent to the invitation God offers to us to know.

Experiencing Harmony

“Contemplative moments draw us into relationship with God,” Sr. Marilyn says. “How should we respond to the invitation to know God? Reading Scripture helps us put on the mind and heart of Christ. It helps grow our desire to embrace the union.”

Sr. Marilyn says reflecting on Scripture deepens our relationship with God.

“Try reflecting on a parable,” she suggests. “If you want to consider the story of the Good Samaritan, for example, you’ll think about the people who passed by. You’ll wonder why each one chose not to help. You’ll ponder whether you would have. It helps you understand God’s heart.

“Being drawn into union with God can happen while praying, listening to music, viewing art, being in nature. They all teach about God. It’s our choice whether to respond, whether to experience the deep harmony with all that is.”