Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Most often the door is closed … sometimes even locked. Matthew Henry notes that “the heart of man is by nature shut up against Christ by ignorance, unbelief, sinful prejudices.”
It appears obvious, but the obvious must be stated: to embrace God we need faith in God. We need to open the door.
Indeed, God also does reveals Himself to those who are not yet believers. God continues to knock at the door, seeking to draw hearts to Himself. This revelation, however, may not be recognized or welcomed.
When we do open the door, though, we become part of the broad and deep family of faith. Many have gone before us and many are still to come … each seeking to live out faith even amidst difficult circumstances. The writer of Hebrews explains, Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2) More than an emotion, faith is a humble choice.
Role of Faith
One’s decision of faith is critical in this path of contemplation. It plays a powerful purifying role. It is through faith in Jesus Christ that one can attain the divine purity that will allow healing of one’s broken self. Philosopher and Christian theologian, Augustine, wrote: “As a matter of fact, all are unclean who are not made clean by the faith of Christ, the faith referred to in the words: purifying your hearts by faith.” Unless God is loved by faith, it is not possible for the heart to be cleansed. Augustine further penned…
“I began to search for a means of gaining the strength I needed to enjoy You, but I could not find this means until I embraced the mediator between God and Man, Jesus Christ.”
Cleansing leads to healing. A healed soul, then, is purified. The power to behold and perceive God is permitted only to the pure in heart. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5.8) Indeed, purification of the heart is the goal. Its pure condition, however, is not one that can be maintained for any length of time; hence, man can only glimpse eternity during his earthly contemplation of his heavenly Father.
Our role in the process of purification can be taught and encouraged. It is the path of discipleship. The necessary preparation of humility and proper order of love can be learned by the rational mind. Man maintains the choice to depart from the improper act of things temporal toward the proper act of contemplation of the eternal. “The effective and burning fire of charity” leads to this essential purifying. The cleansing comes with “the collection of oneself from the variety of images which occupy and structure the soul.” The discipline required is monumentous.
The primary role of faith, however, must never be overlooked. Man alone can never attain the necessary comprehensive and healing knowledge of Christ. Augustine maintained that such knowledge is beyond man’s limited cognitive abilities unless divine illumination is graciously granted.
With faith and love as the framework, Augustine’s teaching for a contemplative life included passionate prayer, exercise of the mind, and purification of the soul.
Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Teaching of Contemplation
How might a strategy employ the tangible world to lead us to spiritual apprehension of God?
Augustine had considered writing about the teaching of contemplation. In Retractiones he noted that he wanted to “use corporeal (human, carnal) things as definite steps in order to arrive at incorporeal things, or to lead others there.” But, alas, such a work was never completed.
Today’s culture tends toward indifference to the contemplation of this life or the Divine. Our sense of hopelessness permeates much of our lives including relationships, education and morality. Our agendas overflow and we often live our lives as a mere response to external stimuli.
Paradoxically, many have begun seeking spiritual answers. Quick-fix solutions are available from the various Eastern religions and New Age enterprises: “You are god, therefore, you alone can make yourself good”; “God is all around you; therefore, be one with nature and then you will find peace.” A mindset change is needed.
Faith in Jesus Christ offers solid and true answers. A commitment to the long haul, however, is essential. Augustine often described a man’s life as a pilgrimage — far from the beam-me-up-Scotty instantaneous journey requested by many.
Love is All You Need
Following the decision of faith, the primary ingredient in contemplation is a passionate love for the Lord…not a methodology or mantra. Its cultivation is the crown of all virtues. “When the question is asked whether a man is good, one is not interested in what he believes or what are his hopes, but only what he loves. For beyond any doubt, a man with a right love also has the right faith and hope.”  Augustine concluded his handbook on Christian doctrine with, The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (I Timothy 1:5) Love is the beginning and the end of all that is in this world and in the world to come.
As previously discussed, Augustinian contemplation suggests a three-prong approach: prayer, exercising the mind, and purification. An umbrella over this strategy is love through faith. The strategies listed in subsequent posts are meaningless without them.
Faith is the decision to believe. Love emerges out of this devotion and attention to the living God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:37-38) This is the first and the greatest mandate in the pursuit of God.
Toward a Contemplative Soul…
First…where are you in your faith journey? Do you call on Jesus as your Savior and Lord of our life?
If not, well, there is no time like the present! Our next breath is not guaranteed…
Recognizing your own struggles and sinfulness, call out to Jesus to bridge the gap to God. Ask Him to be present in your life and to be your mediator. Scripture affirms that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) In a manner difficult to comprehend, the Spirit then comes to dwell within … and counsels, encourages, comforts, inspires, convicts, and teaches. Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow!!
Commit a chunk of time daily for your spiritual quest. An hour would be great but no guilt here… rearrange your schedule to get as much as you can. Time alone is needed. No external stimuli should distract your mind. Turn off the tv, phones, iToys, and internet.
Choose to contemplate spiritual things of eternal value rather than to react to finite demands of this world. Pursue God with an unparalleled passion. Read about Jesus in the book by his best friend, John. Learn more about His life, teachings, death, and miraculous resurrection.
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Back to Post 1 Augustine, Faith, Hope and Charity, trans. Louis A. Arand, Vol. 3, Ancient Christian Writers (NY: Newman Press), 20.75.
Back to Post 2 Saint Augustine. Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (Oxford: Penguin Books, 1984), 7.18.
Back to Post 3 Carol Harrison, Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 45.
Back to Post 4 Margaret Miles, “Vision: The Eye of the Body and the Eye of the Mind in Saint Augustine’s De trinitrate and Confessions,” Journal of Religion 63 (1983):p. 133.
Back to Post 5 Carol Harrison, Beauty and Revelation in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), p. 25.
Back to Post 6 Augustine, Faith, Hope and Charity, trans. Louis A. Arand, Vol. 3, Ancient Christian Writers (NY: Newman Press), 31.117.