Receiving from God
An Introduction to Christian Contemplation
Although the word contemplation is used to describe the final stages of the prayer, which grows out of prayerfully poring over the sacred texts, it can give the wrong impression. It is for this reason that many spiritual writers have called it acquired contemplation, for truth to tell it has been acquired by genuine human endeavour. However true mystical contemplation, which I want to deal with now, is a pure gift of God. This is the continuous teaching of the great mystical writers from the earliest times. In this prayer we become more and more passive and God becomes more and more active.
Now although it is a pure gift of God, experience confirms, that it is invariably given to the person who has persevered in prayer in such a way that they come to acquired contemplation. They may arrive at this point by praying over the scriptures or by persevering in other methods of prayer that lead them to this point of spiritual stillness before God, where they are more open and receptive to him than ever before.
Now God acts in his time not in ours and when he acts his action is disconcerting to say the least, for far from intensifying the spiritual pleasure to which we had become accustomed in acquired contemplation, it is all taken away at a moments notice. Read the extract from The Prophet to find a typical example of how the transition from what used to be called ‘ordinary prayer’ to mystical prayer takes place.
“All of a sudden the prayer time that used to be full of sweetness and light is full of dryness and aridity. Although the desire for God remains and even intensifies, the prayer that was so easy and such a pleasurable experience before becomes, not only difficult, but also impossible. Prayerful meditation on the scripture bears no fruit nor does any other form of prayer that bore fruit before. The reason for this is because you are now being called to contemplation.
“This means giving exactly the same time to prayer as before, but now a different form of prayer should be employed. I will explain what this form of prayer is shortly, but firstly let me explain why you find yourself drawn to contemplation.
“For several years, you’ve been trying to raise your heart and mind to God by using your mind, your imagination and your memory to meditate on the scriptures or some other form of meditation. This enabled you to come to know Christ more deeply so that prayer became progressively easier. At the same time you found both spiritual and secular poetry moved you deeply, and prayers, hymns and some of the psalms filled you with a spiritual satisfaction that you’d not experienced before. Digesting and assimilating them gradually led you on and into acquired contemplation when all you wanted to do was to be still before and simply gaze upon the God, who seemed to fill your whole being in a way you’d never experienced before.
“Then after several months of this intoxicating prayer everything suddenly changed overnight leaving you in a strange and unintelligible world that was not of your choosing, or at least that’s how it felt. However this ‘Strange New World’ is actually of your choosing though it didn’t seem so at the time. You see you have been choosing to raise your heart to God and you’ve been doing it for long enough for God to take you seriously. All he has done is to accept what you have been offering and drawn your heart, or your will, towards himself as powerfully as you allow him.
“Another way of putting it would be to say that ‘though God has been loving all the time, for that is his very nature, you have only just chosen to open yourself to receive his love. In hippie language you have only just decided to “drop out, turn on and tune in” to a supernatural wavelength that continuously communicates not sound, but love. When this happens what is traditionally called ligature begins to take place. In other words your will, with which you desire, is so drawn to God that it is bound to him in such a way that it no longer desires anything else. When this happens, your will, that was free to marshal the mind the memory and the imagination before and direct them to meditation on the scriptures or to perform other forms of prayer, can do so no longer. It has already begun to sense the love that radiates from God and is so drawn towards it that it is powerless to do anything else. Just like any young man or woman the moment they fall in love all that interested them before interests them no more. The result of this is that, although an ever-deepening desire or yearning for God begins to grow you feel unable to pray as you did before. All you experience is this strange sense of longing that pursues you inside and outside of prayer that you cannot explain to yourself or anyone else for that matter. The reason for this is, that though you long for a more tangible experience of the love that draws you, to begin with you experience little more than the longing itself. That’s why at the beginning it’s called obscure contemplation. Others have called it the prayer of faith because you now have to journey on in prayer with only the light of faith to guide you ’til the profound feeling of being loved by God gradually begins to make itself felt.
“Instead of helping you to pray now, your mind, your memory and your imagination generate a thousand and one distractions. You may run away if you choose, but you cannot return to the prayer that helped you so much before, nor to the fervour that enabled you to revel in the religious rites and ceremonies that now leave you flat. So it’s ‘make your mind up time’, and it’s the most important ‘make your mind up time’ in the whole of your spiritual life.”
St John of the Cross said that ninety percent give up prayer at this point – because they don’t understand what’s happening and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else who does. What is needed now is a good spiritual director who knows by personal experience how to guide you forward, but it seems that there are precious few of them about. There are many that are able to help beginners, mainly because they are beginners themselves, but most of them have little idea of how to help people who are led by God into the contemplative way. It is for this reason that I will endeavour to summarize the traditional teaching on how to journey on in what St John of the Cross calls “The Dark Night of the Senses”. I would like to do this by first introducing you to the teaching contained in the “Cloud ofUnknowing” written especially for those travelling at the outset of the mystic way. The anonymous author of this work says that, “It is as if God has disappeared behind a cloud”, which he calls a “Cloud of Unknowing”, because it prevents you from knowing God not just with the mind, but with your heart too.
How to Pray in “The Dark Night of the Senses”
The way forward is to take a single word and to repeat it over and over again. It is a device used by the Desert Fathers. However I must insist, it has nothing in common with either transcendental meditation or mantra techniques except a superficial resemblance that deceives those unversed in the Christian tradition into believing that the two are all but identical. Those who think otherwise usually do so, not because they have studied the western mystical tradition for themselves, but because they trust the word of a guru who assures them. Their word seems to be confirmed by a superficial feeling of peace that anyone can experience from repeatedly repeating some word or sound to still the operations of the mind. This practice is not without merit, but the point I’m trying to make is it is not mystical contemplation, which cannot be attained by instant man-made techniques. However I will deal with this matter more extensively in the addendum below.
The words suggested in the Christian tradition are not prayers, but merely a devise to do two things at the same time, namely to help keep the hearts attention fixed on God, whilst at the same time silencing the distractions, that try to draw its attention elsewhere. The words suggested by the author of the “Cloud of Unknowing” are God or Love,because that’s what you desire more than anything else in this strange new world, or the word Sin, because this is what you want to flee from more than anything else.
May I suggest however that you begin with a slight variation on this theme, taken from the Christian mystical tradition that I have personally found helpful? Instead of choosing a single word to begin with start off using a single sentence, one that somehow sums up how you feel at the time, how you are relating to the God, who seemed to have taken his leave of you. Sentences from the scriptures for instance could be used like “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”- or “Father that this chalice might be taken away from me,” or “Out of the depth I cried to you O Lord, Lord hear my prayer.” Sometimes a sentence from the hymnal would seem appropriate like “Lead kindly light amidst the encircling gloom” or turn to the Jesus Prayer, designed specifically for this particular moment in the mystic way, – “Jesus son of God have mercy on me a sinner”.
What’s important to remember is that these phrases are to keep helping you to turn back to God, from the distractions that would turn you away from him. Don’t try to dwell on them or intellectually inspect them, they are not used to help you meditate, but to contemplate or to gaze upon God with a simple uncluttered heart and mind. When you chose a sentence, choose one that seems to sum up exactly how you feel, not how you think you ought to feel. Then repeat it over and over again to help keep your attention remain fixed on God although he seems to have disappeared behind a cloud of unknowing. In time you’ll find the full sentence too long and you’ll feel the need to reduce it to – “My God my God” or “Out of the depth” or “Lead kindly light” or “Have mercy on me a sinner”. Then the time will come when a single word is all you feel inclined to use like “God” or “Jesus”, or some other word like “mercy” or “help” that you feel best represents your needs in this strange dark night. Finally no words are necessary, they have only been a device to help a person keep turning to gaze upon God. Then, under the magnetic pull of his love, words become less and less necessary. Words travel between the separate parts, but when two become as one they are no longer needed to say what is said more profoundly in silence. When this happens in mystical prayer the presence of God progressively fills the silence drawing the believer up into ever more awesome experiences of love to the point of ecstasy.
Nevertheless at the outset of contemplation the action of God is so subtle that little is experienced, but the desire for God that never seems to be fulfilled and the more the believer perseveres the darker the night seems to become. The reason for this is that before we can be united with God we have first to be purified of the selfishness that separates us from him. You see unlike things cannot unite. The selfish cannot be united to the selfless. The traditional teaching of original sin underlines the fact that we are all flawed, that we are selfish through and through. Nevertheless we are all destined to be united with God, who is the perfect ‘Selfless One’. That’s why we have to be purified so that we can be united with him and come to experience the fullness of Love that we desire more than anything else.
Once the prayer of the beginner manifests the desire for God for long enough to prove sincerity, he begins to direct and draw this desire towards himself. This enables his love to enter more deeply to transform us into the image and likeness of the most selfless man ever to have lived. The immediate effect of this action is not to experience his presence, but rather the selfishness that prevents it. That’s why it’s often been called a ray of darkness. The beginning of the mystic way then is not full of sweetness and light, but of bitterness and darkness, because we are not yet purified enough to experience his presence, but only the presence of the sinfulness and selfishness that keeps him at bay. That’s why so many people pack up prayer at this stage, wrongly believing that they are on the wrong path.
Now at this particular point in the journey a person not only sees their sinfulness as never before, but also their utter helplessness to do anything about it. The experience is not meant to turn a person away from God, but to turn them to him as the only One who can help them. However this purification takes some time, months or even years, depending on your commitment to prayer, before you begin to have a positive experience of the Holy Spirit preparing you for union with God.
When these experiences first come they not only fill you with awe at the power of God, but leave you in no doubt that the experience of his love comes and goes as he chooses not as you do. At one moment he seems to be totally absent at another he is present, so if you were never in doubt before, you are left in no doubt now, that he does everything and you nothing, but persevere as best you can. He, not you, is the architect of the sanctity for which you are destined. This is why the more the Saints experienced the action of God the humbler they became, because no matter what others may say, they know by their own experience that he does everything they do next to nothing. In order to understand more precisely what it feels like to experience the loving presence of God that brings the requisite purification to completion read the extract from The Mystic. This will also explain how, after the purification is completed, the mystic way reaches its climax on earth in the Transforming Union.
The Theology Behind this New Form of Prayer
On the first Pentecost St Peter told the crowds that Jesus had not only risen from the dead, but was overflowing with the same life that had raised him, so that others could be animated by that self-same life. When asked what they must do to receive it he said, “repent” or keep turning back to God. The regularity with which the believer does this manifests the seriousness of their intention to forsake all for the love of the One to whom they turn. Although repentance is exercised in every form of prayer, where a believer repeatedly tries to turn away from distractions in order to turn back to God, it is practised more intensively than ever before at the beginning of the “dark night”. This is because the feelings that support a person in “first enthusiasm” support them no more and the strength of the distractions are more powerful than ever before so the quality of a person’s endeavour is quadrupled. That is why those who are courageous enough to persevere in the “dark night” travel faster in the spiritual journey than ever before ‘though they don’t feel they are travelling at all. The aids to prayer in the “dark night” that I have described above then, are but the man-made means that facilitate the practice of repentance inside of prayer. Each time they help a person turn away from distractions and back to God they practise the repentance that was repeatedly preached by Jesus throughout the Gospels and by St Peter on the first Pentecost. As promised this repentance enables the believer to receive the Holy Spirit and the gifts that are given simultaneously. In short the “dark night” offers the opportunity for a person to practise the essential teaching of the Gospels more intensively than at any previous time in their spiritual journey. In the same way it enables them to receive it’s promises more speedily than would otherwise be possible. It is for this reason that Pere Lallemont a famous French Jesuit and mystic used to say that you could do more in a month with contemplation than in a lifetime without it.
Addendum 1: Varieties of Transcendental Meditation and how they differ from authentic Christian Contemplation.
In transcendental meditation the continual repetition of a given mantra is essential to induce and maintain a calming of the inner mind. The practice has merit, as a means of reducing anxiety and tension. It further allows the mind to rest and recharge its energy, stimulating it to new forms of creativity, ‘though these benefits are often exaggerated by those who promote TM. Its appeal is its utter simplicity. It is easy to understand and easy to practise and its benefits can be experienced immediately, hence it popularity. However its Christian promoters mistakenly identify it with the mystical contemplation taught by the Desert Fathers and their spiritual followers in subsequent centuries. The overwhelming majority of spiritual theologians however beg to differ for the following reasons:
- The Christian mystical tradition continually asserts that any man-made means or techniques cannot attain true contemplation, which is a pure gift of God.
- The gift of contemplation is only given after years of practising prayer in the context of an ascetical life-style. There is no such thing as instant mysticism in the Christian tradition. Techniques that purport to lead to the same are bogus.
- Authentic Christian prayer never begins by introducing mantras to teach people how to pray, but by introducing them to a loving person to teach them how to love. It is only when first love leads them on, that words or phrases are taught, not to generate or maintain states of inner peace but to maintain the heart’s attention on the love that radiates from God. They should not be repeated, come what may, but should be discarded the moment this love begins to make itself felt, so that it can be savoured in silent contemplation.
- The experience of contemplation then, is not due to the recitation of mantras calming the mind, but to the tangible experience of the love of God drawing the heart to ever more absorbing degrees of intensity. The use of words or phrases is merely a means to this end.
- The ultimate aim of Christian contemplation is not to search for an experience of inner peace, but to search for God whose love eventually leads them into experiences that infinitely transcend any form of man-made mysticism, gradually transforming them into Christ.
- It is beyond question that God can lead non-Christians to him in different ways to Christians and that the use of mantras, for certain eastern religions, can be one of those ways. However a Christian is a person who believes that God is primarily to be sought and loved in the human flesh and blood of the most loveable person to have walked on this earth, Jesus Christ. Prayer then for them must always begin by seeking out and experiencing God’s love, as it is embodied in him, not by turning to methods employed by alien religions in the belief that they promise a short cut to mystical experience.
NB1: In the same way that music or Yoga or some other form of relaxation may help a person prepare for prayer, forms of mental Yoga similar to transcendental meditation can be helpful. However they do not constitute prayer, nor do they lead to contemplation as understood in the Christian tradition.
NB2: In recent years many believers, who have taken prayer seriously enough to be led on and into the mystic way have turned to gurus who teach the use of mantras, because they cannot find help elsewhere. Understandably they initially find the use of mantras helpful. However when, for the reasons I have already explained, their use does not initially lead to the inner peace of mind that the guru expects, but to a mystical purification, problems arise. Although they usually think otherwise, the guru’s lack of knowledge about the Christian mystical tradition can lead to serious spiritual harm to those who trust them. When all their expertise in eastern mystical technique fail, and as they are convinced that their methods cannot be wrong, they begin to think that there must be something psychologically or spiritually wrong with their clients. A rift between guru and client is only a matter of time.
NB3: The reason why many lay-people are misled is because the promoters of “Christian” forms of transcendental meditation are monks, friars, priests and religious of one sort or another. This gives credibility to their teaching that might not otherwise be accepted. It is difficult for lay-people to imagine that they could be ignorant of the Christian mystical tradition in such a way that they misrepresent it, not knowingly of course. Sadly this is all too often the case, for reasons that I have detailed in my book Dear Susanna, reasons that are unfortunately too lengthy for me to go into here in detail. However for a brief explanation read addendum 2. below. It should be pointed out to those susceptible to accepting forms of “Christian transcendental meditation” because of the religious status of those who promote them, that the vast majority of their ‘peers’ are highly sceptical, if not positively opposed to their methods.
Addendum 2: A relevant Quote from Dear Susanna Ch 16.
“Perhaps the two most influential orders after the Council of Trent were the Carmelites and the Jesuits. Under the influence of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, the Dominican School of Spirituality that stressed the action of God reasserted itself. Once again the Carmelites emphasized how God acts in the spiritual life and most importantly in the deep contemplative prayer without which apostolic action soon falters. Under the influence of the Jesuits the emphasis on the need for man to co-operate with God was emphasized in a new form of ‘apostolic spirituality’, that had more influence than any other single order down to the present day.
“In harness these two religious orders would have been complementary and could have brought about the renewal that the Church needed with perfect balance, but it was not to be. Sadly many would-be mystics misinterpreted the writings of St Teresa and St John falling into the heresy of Quietism. They so over-emphasized what God does, that they did virtually nothing for themselves, not even fighting against temptations. This led to gross immorality. The most infamous Quietist was a priest called Molino (b 1628), who was charged and convicted of many acts of serious sexual indecency arising from his bogus mystical teaching. Naturally the Church came down heavily on any form of Quietism. The reaction against this heresy gave way to the ‘anti-mystical witch hunts’ that suspected any form of prayer that emphasized stillness, recollection or quiet. In this climate the great Carmelite reformers became suspect and their teaching was either misunderstood or considered highly dangerous. The only safe way was the way of intensive activity both in prayer and in the apostolate. In this climate the spirituality of the new Jesuit congregation was ideally suited to take the lead. Over the subsequent centuries it did sterling work bringing about renewal in the Church. However without the emphasis that the Carmelites had once given to contemplative prayer an imbalance crept into virtually all other religious orders.
“To the present day seminaries, student houses and houses of formation still place all the practical emphasis on academic knowledge and the skills necessary for intensive apostolic endeavour, whilst preparation for prayer to contemplation is rarely if ever to be found anywhere in the official programme. This is why so few priests feel confident enough to give spiritual direction, whilst others are deceived into accepting and promoting counterfeit forms of contemplation that lead people away from the authentic tradition which should be their spiritual birthright. What we need in the church above all else is the leadership of priests and religious who are firstly taught how to receive and experience the wisdom that comes through deep contemplative prayer, and secondly the knowledge that comes through books. Then the renewal we are still waiting for will have begun in earnest and not before time!”
Addendum 3: Another relevant Quote from Dear Susanna Ch 46.
NB. Before reading the extract below it might be helpful to note that when the Christian tradition uses the word meditation it means some form of prayerful reflection on the life of Christ. As love is generated words are used less and less when this practice leads to what is called contemplation that has been defined as ‘a simple loving gaze upon God accompanied by awe’. When promoters of eastern mysticism use the word meditation however, they refer to the technique of repeating ‘mantras’ that they believe quickly lead to an experience of God that is identical with that which is experienced in what is called contemplation in the Christian tradition.
Dear Susanna Ch 46. Pelagian Prayer
“Some priests and religious, who have been struck by the similarity between eastern mysticism and Christian mysticism, have imported an eastern concept of mysticism into our Western tradition. They claim that they are virtually the same and try to prove it by quoting the ‘Desert Fathers’, the ‘Eastern Hesychasts’, the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ and other Christian mystical writers to make their point. Sadly they do not seem to understand that in the western tradition the use of what they call a ‘mantra’ is only suggested after it is evident to a competent spiritual director that a person has been drawn into ‘obscure contemplation’ and not before. After a short time it has an effect, which is exactly the opposite to that which they had promised.
“We are Christians not Buddhists, because we believe in the Incarnation. Authentic Christian prayer begins therefore by coming to know and then to love the person of Jesus Christ in whom we find the perfect flesh and blood embodiment of the All Holy God. That’s why it begins with meditation. In Christian meditation a person learns to love him for what he is and what he has done. However, when this love reaches its climax God takes the initiative by leading a person into a profound purification, through ‘obscure contemplation’.
“Now it’s only when this happens that in the Christian tradition, a person is taught to use a short sentence like the Jesus prayer, or a brief phrase as Macarius suggests, or a single word as suggested by the author of the ‘Cloud of Unknowing’. The purpose of this is, in the words of the ‘Cloud’ to keep our ‘naked intent’ on God at all times, so that he can enter into us more deeply to bring about the union for which the Holy Spirit has been sent.
“Now those who I call the ‘mantra men’, hand out ‘mantras’ to all and sundry without determining whether they are ready for them or not. This not only manifests their ignorance of the Christian mystical tradition, but should give a warning to all who are tempted to trust them, that they will ultimately lead them astray, not knowingly of course, but through ignorance.
“When they teach people who have never prayed before, or who are beginners how to use ‘mantras’ they are generally highly successful to begin with. Both the method and the theory are so simple that anyone can follow them and they begin to practise what they call ‘contemplative prayer’ or ‘contemplative meditation’ immediately. They have not in effect taught them how to experience true contemplation, which is a gift from God, but a certain peace of mind obtained by the repetition of a mantra.
“It is a form of mental yoga or self-hypnosis hardly dissimilar to the methods used in transcendental meditation except that a Christian mantra is used. Similar methods are actually employed in the National Health Service to help a person suffering from anxiety or tension by helping to induce a peaceful state of mind. ‘Contemplative meditation’, or whatever else it’s called can certainly be very helpful to enable a person to acquire a certain inner peace, but it is not mystical contemplation. The peace that Jesus promised at the Last Supper is far deeper far more profound, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit and can never be obtained by man-made methods or techniques.
“Now having said that I don’t mean that their methods are valueless. They can be useful and help a person to acquire an inner state of tranquility in preparation for prayer, but they are not essentially prayer let alone contemplation in the Christian sense of the word. However those who promote it deceive themselves into believing that it leads to instant contemplation and then they deceive others, albeit with the best will in the world. I have no doubt that they find it helpful to inject a certain peaceful tranquility and order into their lives, but it will never enable them to lead ‘perfect’ Christ-like lives. Only the experience of the Holy Spirit working in them through genuine Christian contemplation can do that.”
However, real harm is done if it leads beginners away from the Incarnation, which is central to our Christian faith. It does this when it leads them away from meditating on the life of Jesus that will, under the influence of the Holy Spirit lead to true Christian contemplation. It can also cause terrible harm to those who, after persevering for long enough in meditation, are led into ‘obscure contemplation’ at the beginning of the mystic way. Finding themselves helpless and utterly unable to control their hearts and minds that endlessly plunge them into distractions the ‘mantra men’ seem to offer them the salvation they need. They immediately find that the use of a mantra helps and the assurance that this is the way the ‘Desert Fathers’ used to pray reassures them.
Now precisely because the use of a mantra does in fact help, it leads them on more quickly to keep their hearts and minds together and open to the action of the Holy Spirit. The result is not however the peace of mind that the ‘mantra men’ promised, at least in the first instance, but inner turmoil. You see success means that the Holy Spirit is given free reign to begin the purification that must always precede the union for which they crave. Faced with a disciple for whom the recitation of the mantra has led to the opposite of what had been promised the guru does not know what has happened or what to do. They begin to think and even suggest that there might be something psychologically wrong with them, or perhaps some past or present sins are preventing the tranquility that their mantras usually lead them to. This can have a devastating effect on a person experiencing ‘obscure contemplation’ it can set them back for years on the journey that could be facilitated with understanding, compassion and genuine guidance by a competent spiritual director. At this point a person realises that the guru who first helped them can help them no more and they inevitably part company. However someone, who though they may well be wise in the ways of the East, is in effect ignorant of their own tradition, and often does serious damage.
The form of prayer that they encouraged and the peace that they promised is in effect the prayer of the humanist, and the peace of mind that they promised is the ‘apatheia’ promised by the Stoics to the person who becomes the architect of their own sanctity. In short, ‘though it has a therapeutic application that can be valuable, from a spiritual point of view it is no more than ‘Pelagian prayer’ that will not only confuse and mislead a Christian, but can do them serious harm.
I have never come across Christians drawn into ‘The World Community for Christian Meditation Movement’ for instance who have not been thoroughly good people. They don’t just take the external practice of their faith seriously, but also put aside regular time for daily going into ‘the inner room’. I identified so closely with their personal sincerity and the sincerity of their search that I have until now found it difficult to make any criticism of them. Sadly they have been misled into thinking that methods of eastern mysticism involving the continual repetition of mantras is not only in conformity with the Christian mystical tradition, but the high point at which Eastern and Western religion meet. However contemplative prayer is so important for the future reform in the Church as it has been in the past that it must be protected from its counterfeit.
John Cassian is usually the person quoted to prove that Eastern and Western mysticism are ultimately one and the same. He was a priest born in the fourth century who spent 12 years mainly in Egypt studying the teachings of the Desert Fathers. His copious writings had a profound influence particularly on Irish and Benedictine monasticism. Now because a tiny fraction of what he wrote about prayer and the spiritual life could be misinterpreted to make him seem to have used mantras, as used in the East, his status has been raised to enhance his authority. He is often referred to as ‘St John Cassian’, a title never given to him by the Church. He was explicitly cited for falling into the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. This is a heresy that leads people to believe that they can become the architects of their own perfection, and that contemplation for instance can be obtained by man-made means like mantras and other techniques. This is explicitly denied by the authentic Christian mystical tradition. If anyone wants to be guided by this tradition rather than by its counterfeit then they must look in the first instance to Jesus himself who never taught the use of mantras.
He not only knew that he was filled by the love of God but continually experienced it. It was this experience that was the source of his inner strength that transformed all he said and did. Later mystical writers used the word ‘contemplation’ in order to describe the psychological experience of feeling the divine life that he felt continually throbbing within him. They taught that all Christians, who embraced a prayer life similar to Jesus, could eventually come to experience what he experienced.
St Thomas Aquinas explains this profound teaching in detail. Read what he has to say on prayer, read his clear definition and description of contemplation and his explanations of the ascetical preparations necessary to prepare to receive what finally comes as a gratuitous gift of God. No other theologian has been accepted so whole-heartedly by the Church as the voice of orthodoxy. Then read the writings of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, who was made a doctor of the Church for his unsurpassed exposition of contemplative prayer. Why look elsewhere and spend so much time looking for a sentence here or a sentence there in minor or questionable spiritual writers to endorse an alien form of mysticism that has no more than a thin veneer of orthodoxy.
If you find the great spiritual Masters too daunting, read the works of the great Dominican theologian Garragou-Lagrange. He has written a unique theological synthesis of the teaching of St Thomas, Saint Teresa, and St John of the Cross on prayer and the spiritual life. If you want to understand the tradition from a psychological point of view read the classic work ‘The Graces of Interior Prayer’ by the Jesuit master Pere Poulain.
I consider it my life’s work to re-state this profound tradition time and time again, because it is desperately needed in the Church today. The saints and spiritual leaders that the Church desperately need for the spiritual renewal that is still well overdue, will not be formed by man-made techniques, but by the purifying love that operates through genuine Christian contemplation.