March 1, 2011

Theological Contemplation and the Lord's Gaze of Love

There are many ways to enter into silence.  Teresa of Avila was told to think about scenes of the Lord's passion.  St. Augustine in the first nine books of his Confessions reflects on the patient presence of the Lord in his life, even throughout the time he rejected his faith.  St. John of the Cross also mentions a contemplation on the doctrines of our faith - a kind of mental prayer he describes in Spiritual Canticle, stanza twelve.  Because it is a way of prayer which involves reflecting on sacred doctrine, I like to call this theological contemplation.

St. John of the Cross uses a beautiful image to illustrate what happens when we prayerful ponder sacred doctrine in deep silence. He describes this prayerful reflection on the content of our faith as peering into the reflective surface of a spring of water.  When our faith is pure, when we faithfully receive the teachings passed on to us through the Church, he suggests this opens up a deep loving knowledge of the Lord which matures us and raises our friendship with Him onto a whole new level.

The basis for this description is the fact that the propositions of our faith, the articles we believe, are "truth-bearing."  These doctrines (like the Incarnation, or the Trinity, or Christ's work of redemption) bear First Truth, the ineffable mystery of God Himself.  Another way to consider this is that the articles of the faith are like veils which disclose the substance of our faith.  They are like silver plated gold jewelry explains St. John of the Cross.  The golden substance under the shining silver of the propositions we believe is the Living God.  Like all veils, the content of what we believe serves to both protect and disclose something unspeakably beautiful.   The veil of our faith protects God from being misunderstood.  It also discloses Him to us, as we learn to see Him in it.

In this life, limited and frail human intelligence lacks the capacity to behold the incomprehensible love radiating from the face of God.  So the Lord has adapted Himself to our capacity, permitting himself to be reflected in truths we can understand.  In other words, we believe what we believe because this faith helps us find the Lord.  He has chosen to reveal himself, to allow Himself to be reflected, through sacred doctrine.

Now St. John of the Cross's description of a reflection on a watery surface comes in.  A prayerful reflection on sacred doctrine is like looking into a pool of water that your friend is looking into.  If you are patient for the water to smooth out, if you allow your grasp of the faith to be pacified by prayer, you will see the eyes you search for.  What a wonderful description of the truths of our faith!  As we assent to them, they make a enchanting spring in the soul where a beautiful encounter is meant to take place, where friends find a mirror into each others heart.

St. John of the Cross describes this reflection in terms of a remarkable presence of God.  While God is reflected in all creation, this special reflection of the Lord in sacred doctrine pierces the heart.  It is a look of love that binds us to the Lord in a new way.  John of the Cross describes seeing the eyes of the Lord gazing on us in love.   Our gaze meets His gaze.  Something of God is impressed deep into the soul.  We realize He has been searching for us, waiting for our friendship.  This loving gaze of God captures the heart.  For those who glimpse this presence, catch a glimpse of the Lord in the truths we believe, this experience of the substance of our faith is sketched into their hearts.

Anyone who has experienced this theological contemplation can never live the same way again.  It not only changes the way one thinks, but it goes deeper, transforming even the affections of one's own heart.  Everything that once seemed so important in life takes second place to a new priority of the heart, a new hunger and thirst for God.  The heart turns to the Lord with love enflamed.