The practice of contemplative thinking is being able to move ideas from the head into the heart. One way to do this is Cistercian (Trappist) spirituality which stresses: silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community. I have used seven habits that allow me to focus consistently and purposefully on moving from my false self to my true self. It is not as easy as it seems. Here is what St. Bernard of Clairvaux had to say about having in you the mind of Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5)
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote of twelfth-century Cistercian life: This is what being a Lay Cistercian means, the fulfillment of our desires to rest in the heart of Christ. I want to have this Cistercian Way as part of my reality.
“Our way of life is abjection. It is humility, it is voluntary poverty, obedience, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit.Our way of life means being under a master, under an abbot, under a rule, under discipline. Our way of life means applying ourselves in silence, being trained in fasts, vigils, prayers, manual labor, and above all it means clinging to the most excellent way, which is Charity, and furthermore advancing day by day in these things and preservering in them until the last day.” (The Cistercian Way, Cover)
Habits are those repetitive behaviors that we repeatedly repeat until we have reached a level of skill that enables us to move to the next habit. Here are seven habits I use in my search for God each day.
I. THE HABIT OF PATIENCE– No question, but this is a flaw in most human endeavors that involve the Sacred. Sacred time is not the same as temporal time. My patience with God is sometimes relegated to making God in my image and likeness. This awareness of allowing God to be and realizing that patience in my expectations must not be immediate gratification is a habit in prayer. Patientia attingit omnia. Patience achieves everything.
II. THE HABIT OF WAITING — As with patience, my human anxiety fills up holes in my life immediately with busy work. Waiting to sit next to Christ on a park bench in the middle of winter requires silence and internal solitude to focus on emptying the false self (wanting to get in, get on, get over, and get out) and be present to whatever happens.
III. THE HABIT OF WONDERING — Although it might seem a bit of a stretch, wondering is a wonderful habit that I try to cultivate. Several sessions ago at our Gathering Days at the Monastery, Father Cassian brought up the concept of living out in front of oneself. It brought to mind Dr. Bernard Boland, one of my instructors at the Institue for Pastoral Studies at Loyola University in Chicago. His class was on the existential-phenomenological approach to spirituality, where we are open to the ontic possibility of the manifest ability of all being encountered. He described that to exist means we must live just a bit beyond what we see and experience (ex-istere or to live a step outside of ourselves). This is direction, momentum, and the ability to allow the wonder in my mind and heart to propel me forward. Wonder is the essence of all scientific inquiry about what and how it is. Wonder in my contemplative spirituality is a cultivated awareness of the physical and mental universes in which I exist and the spiritual universe where I can construct the conditions of meeting Christ because my reason and free will don’t control outcomes. Patience, waiting and wondering all help me anchor myself in my resolve to be present to the Real Presence.
IV. THE HABIT OF CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER — Contemplative prayer, unlike praying in a prayer group or small faith community, is going into that inner room Christ speaks of in Matthew 6:6, locking the door, and praying in the silence of your heart. It is a scary place to be when you think about it. All there is: just you and Jesus with the Holy Spirit helping out with wonder. My urge is to blurt out everything from the Holy Spirit to share with others so that others know what the Holy Spirit said to me. If I am not careful, I fall into the trap of having my sharing be the end result of prayer rather than redirecting my ideas to share with Christ in the silence of the inner room. Even monks and nuns and Lay Cistercians pray in common during Eucharist and other community praying opportunities. Lection Divina is suited to being alone in that inner room of the soul and just patiently waiting with the wonder of anticipation that Christ is there. To draw an unlikely parallel, The Little Prince by Saint Exupery has a scene when the fox talks to the Little Prince about taming as a way to approach each other so they can be friends. Christ tames us. Watch a YouTube on this interaction. (Use the closed captioning edit)
V. THE HABIT OF SILENCE AND SOLITUDE — It would be a mistake to think of contemplative practices of silence and solitude as external conditions that must be present BEFORE you begin Lectio Divina or contemplative meditation on Scripture. If I had to wait until there were no people around me or be in a place with no noise, I would never do Lectio. What I can do is to go to that inner room (Matthew 6.6) and wait. This is inner silence and inner solitude.
VI. THE HABIT OF ADORATION BEFORE THE BLESSED SACRAMENT- This is a habit that comes from wanting to be with Jesus. Waiting before the Blessed Sacrament in vigil is a habit with unexpected consequences. This is a habit that, if I have to explain it, you won’t get it, but it doesn’t need any explanation if you get it.
VII. THE HABIT OF LOOKING TO GROW DEEPER — One of the remarkable consequences of making all these habits real is the realization that I am never stuck with the same old routines each time I pray. I have the ability to grow deeper in my spirituality each time I pray. This is vertical prayer or delving into the depths of your thoughts right now. With God, there is no limit to your growth.