Means of Contemplation: Purify the Soul

(This post continues exploring Augustine’s view of contemplation and spiritual development. To begin the series, read Toward the Contemplative Soul.)

This third and last element is critical toward a contemplative soul. The cleansing process has already begun during the strategies of prayer and exercising the mind. With a mind well-exercised in the ways of the Lord, these added recommendations can assist the believer in furthering the vital cleansing and healing of the soul.

The contemplative soul needs to be free of anything corrupting the mind. “For the rule of sin is the force of habit, by which the mind is swept along and held fast even against its will, yet deservedly, because it fell into the habit of its own accord.” [1]

Augustine wrote that man must see “stabilization of the soul in the purity which it has already attained and which it must now continue to hold, so that it may advance toward the contemplation of Supreme Truth.” [2]

Only through the laborious journey of cleansing can the mind be healed from the darkness of error. [3] Augustine held that good choices in each of us can be both lessened and increased. [4] “Moral purification has the negative aspect of escape from the material, deliverance from the sway of bodily passions. Positively, purification is intellectual, being the training of the mind to apply itself to spiritual truth.” [5]

The purified soul embraces the true love of God: the impulse of one’s mind to enjoy God on His account. [6]  Contemplation begins with this dwelling on the Supreme Being.

Augustine demanded an ever mindful awareness of God. With a clearer vision of God, man is able to better comprehend His perfect Word. Prayer, the Scripture, and meditation equip man to gaze upon the Holy. The blessing of the spiritual embracing of God with one’s soul will graciously follow.

The result is a heart so single-minded that one will not be deflected from the truth either by eagerness to please men or by the thought of avoiding troubles which beset him in this life. [7]

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; 
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 
Let me hear joy and gladness; 
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 
Hide your face from my sins 
   and blot out all my iniquity.

 Create in me a pure heart, O God, 
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 
Do not cast me from your presence 
   or take your Holy Spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation 
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

(Psalm 51:7-12)

Toward the Contemplative Soul…

In your spiritual journal reflect on your personal history in light of God’s revelations. Our memories are an amazing storehouse of knowledge. Augustine believed that our minds hold false memories that distort our perception of God. Explore these memories.[8]

During all activity throughout the day, occupy your mind with thoughts of God. Brother Lawrence wrote to spiritual seekers … “practice the presence of God.” If necessary, use a physical reminder to re-direct your mind. Set alarms on your phone to ring regularly as reminders. Or, write the hours of the day on an index card (6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.); then, check off each hour as it passes when you have prayed to the Lord.

Our mind is single-minded, purified, when it is fully prepared through prayer and exercise to behold the Lord Almighty.

It is the disciplined mind which is free from the worries of this world…

It is the surrendered mind which can be filled with the wisdom of God…

It is the purified mind which is able to passionately cherish the loving God…

It is the long-suffering mind that develops the perseverance and peace of God at last.[9]

With the healing and the restoration of the soul, Augustinian contemplation — embrace of the Divine — is experienced.

<<Previous post in the Contemplation Series  **  Means to Contemplation: Exercise the Mind

Concluding post in the series: Road to a Contemplative Soul>>

Back to Post 1 Saint Augustine. Confessions, trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin (Oxford: Penguin Books, 1984), 8.5.
Back to Post 2 Vernon J. Bourke, Augustine’s Quest of Wisdom (Wisconsin: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1945), p. 102.
Back to Post 3 Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching, trans. R.P.H. Green (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 1.10.
Back to Post 4 Augustine, Faith, Hope, and Charity, trans. Louis A. Arand, Vol. 3, Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Newman Press.), 4.12.
Back to Post 5 John Burnaby, Amor Dei: A Study of the Religion of St. Augustine, (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938), p. 68.
Back to Post 6 Saint Augustine, On Christian Teaching, 3.10.
Back to Post 7 Ibid., 7.11.
Back to Post 8 Answer such questions as: 1) What is your first memory of God? 2) How and when did you become a Christian, and what has it meant to you since then? 3) What are the times when you felt closest to God, and what meaningful spiritual experiences stand out in your mind? 4) Describe painful experiences in your life (problems, hurts, trials) and what they have taught you. (from Centreville Presbyterian Church’s Discovering My Ministry booklet)>
Back to Post 9 Augustine, Faith, Hope and Charity, 109-110.

Photo credit: Mouin.M►(away) via photopin cc

Posted by Sharon R. Hoover

About Sharon R Hoover

Serving the church for over twenty years in discipleship and mission ministries, I've walked alongside many people travelling and exploring the journey of faith. Add in my own crazy path and I hope my writing will offer glimpses of life worth sharing.
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2 Responses to Means of Contemplation: Purify the Soul

  1. Pingback: Road to a Contemplative Soul | a Journal of Missional Living

  2. Pingback: Means of Contemplation: Exercise the Mind | a Journal of Missional Living

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