2. Contemplation – discovering the presence of the kingdom of God - Contemplation - the heart of the Carmelite charism
In my own spiritual journey I learn more and more to see contemplation as a means God has opened up to us so that we may become able to discover the presence of his kingdom, which Jesus proclaimed to be already among and even within us, the salvation already carried out and made available for us (cf. Lk 17:20-21).
Precisely this is so difficult for us to perceive and therefore so hard to believe. Holy Scripture often confronts us with the fact that our eyes are blind and therefore cannot see the true reality as it is from God’s perspective (cf. above all Dtn 29:3, Ps 115:5, Ps 135:16, Is 44:18, Jer 5:21, Ez 12:2, Mt 13:15, Mc 8:18, Lk 10:23, Jo 12:40, Acts 28:27).
a) Original Sin - the dualistic and divided world of the false self and its false gods
First of all, we have to realise very consciously that all our suffering is rooted in our wrong perception of reality caused by what already the first pages of the Bible describe as the fall of humankind and what theologians later called “original sin”2. Choosing to become like God, we have eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and thereby lost the ability to perceive the unity and wholeness of God and his creation (cf. Gen 3). The price humanity - and in consequence each human person - has to pay for knowledge is the burden of a split and a judgmental mind. We cannot see and understand any longer reality as it is in itself but only in terms of opposites so that we are constantly judging between good and bad, right and wrong, this should be and that should not be. By doing this we are continually dividing, separating and cutting off - ourselves, others and the whole of creation.
We have to recognise that the way we perceive reality is in fact an illusion, not reality in itself or from the perspective of God. Our knowledge and therefore the world we believe to see is a reflection of our split mind, holding on to the illusion of separation and alienation - the source of all our constant dualistic thinking and therefore also of our false self. The inner division that we have inherited and then also acquired from our childhood makes us believe that we are seperated from God, from others and even from ourselves, that we are not we “should be”. This makes us become alien to our true self, building up a false self which makes us feel wrong, anxious, guilty, ashamed and inferior because of our human nakedness (cf. Gen 3, 10). We cannot bear to be just created, naked human beings for we have opted to be like God and projected on him our dualistic judgements, so that we constantly mix up the true God with our self-made enslaving idols. Since our humanness falls short of our impossible goal to be as perfect as our wrong and idolatrous images of God demand of us in order to be accepted, worthy and loved, an existential guilt and anxiety is our constant companion - the cause of all our actual sins which are nothing else than the desperate endeavours to compensate and satisfy our apparent needs and to fill up our imaginary lacks. Another attempt to escape and lighten our inner conflict is to project onto others our interior split. The pictures that we take of other people and situations are merely the view we have of ourselves. What we do not like and accept in us we fight in others. Since we are internally divided and separated we naturally see a divided and separated world.
b) Metanoia – Transformation of our divided heart and mind through contemplation
We got so used to our dualistic mode of perception that it makes us even feel secure to a certain extent for it allows us to understand, control and manage the world according to our thought-patterns even if they are only true in our split mind. Although we suffer from our inner division and the anxieties caused by it we have more or less successfully learnt to cope with our false self and our false gods. It is much more threatening for us to follow Jesus’ call for metanoia: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news” (Mk 1:15). Jesus calls us to change our mindset, to give up our dualistic judgements and perceptions and to accept in faith – a faith so often dark and naked for our divided perception - the good news of the unconditional love of the true God who invites us to enter his kingdom which is already among us, here and now. Contemplation can open our eyes for the reality of this kingdom which is in fact the only true reality - by transforming our divided heart and our split mind, uniting it with God through faith: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (Jn 3:36). In God there is only life and love without any division. Therefore also the paradise tree of life is without any divisions or opposites – it is not a dualistic tree of life and death but a simple tree of life, in contrast to the tree of knowledge of good and evil that we chose (cf. Gen 2:9).
By proclaiming the presence of God’s kingdom through so many parables and miracles, Jesus pointed out very clearly that it is up to us to stick to the human dualistic mode of perception and to strive for fulfilling the claims of our self-made idols or to enter the process of metanoia in order to learn to see the world from the perspective of the true God who only knows love and unity. Jesus challenges us to choose either the perfection of the false gods or the wholeness of the true God, either division or unity, either performance or love, either self-righteousness or pure grace - either death or life.
Contemplation, if understood as an attitude and a life-style (RIVC, n. 38), initiates and leads us through a process of transformation, in which we learn to accept the kingdom Jesus has introduced to us and “to see the world with God’s eyes” (RIVC, n. 24; Const., n. 15). If we practise contemplation by continuously bringing all our experiences in touch with the only true God described in the First Testament as always faithful to his chosen people and finally revealed in Jesus unambiguously as the tender, merciful and loving Abba - if we bring constantly all our reality before him, then we are drawn into a process which gives God the opportunity to transform and heal the many layers of doubt and mistrust deeply rooted in the false self of our split mind and wounded heart so that eventually, little by little, our true self can grow stronger, our true identity as the always and forever beloved son or daughter of a God who is nothing else than love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8).
By faithfully exercising our contemplative charism we will be more and more able to see God’s kingdom and his loving presence in ourselves and in our world so that we can also help others to discover it and to grow into it. As Carmelites this must be our main occupation - in a world and a Church mixed up with idolatry, division and dualism.
* For further reading I recommend fervently the book of an American Trappist which inspired me very much and from which I got some of the following ideas regarding an existential and spiritual understanding of original sin: John Jacob Raub, Who told you that you are naked? Freedom from Judgement, Guilt and Fear of Punishment, (St. Paul’s Publishing, London 2000).