Contemplative Prayer

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Contemplative Prayer Class




We read Merton's section 4, which is called, is titled, The Kinds or Phases of Contemplation,
which are kinds and phases at once, but notice that in that section 4, first of all the kind
of ladder of contemplation is laid out for you, the whole scale, and then he treats half
of the scale, which is the active part, active contemplation or masked contemplation or natural
contemplation, all those different expressions.
Now that's, and Merton has greatly simplified the whole thing there.
If you look at the Carmelite tradition, for instance, you'll find an enormous differentiation
there with all these levels of prayer.
St. Teresa has her seven, what she called, mansions of the interior castle, and sometimes
there are even more.
I just gave you a handout from a Carmelite book, Royo Alamant, sort of standard treatise
on the contemplative life or spiritual life, and he goes in considerable detail into the
different levels.
I think you've got nine of them there, so we'll briefly touch on that.
It wouldn't be fair to skip it.
So Merton is really trying to simplify it to a great deal.
He's no doubt just come out of a battle between what you might call the psychological tradition
of contemplative theology in the West, represented mostly by Carmelites and Dominican Carmelite
sort of synthesis.
And on the other hand, the monastic Benedictine and patristic tradition, which tends to broaden
the scope, and you might almost think to lower it at the same time.
We had a kind of diagram, you remember that thing last time, I should say something corrective
about that.
We were talking about, remember, Stoltz and the Carmelites, and then Stoltz and then Merton.
Now this is not intended to represent reality.
This is three perspectives.
This is three ways of looking at reality.
The sort of elitist contemplative one, the one which focuses on Christian experience
and a Christian kind of context, and the one which universalizes even beyond that, so that
all of the spiritual traditions of the world are considered as having the same kind of
And then you can narrow down within that.
So Merton, Stoltz, and say, one of the Carmelite people, Royal Almond for instance, or the writings
of St. John of the Cross, St. Theresia, which, as in most Christian writings up to our time,
you don't find any consideration of non-Christian mysticism at all, it's simply not in the world.
And then within Christian life, you start separating mystics from non-mystics, and so on, and
levels of mystics, and so on, this terrific verticality.
But these are three perspectives, this is not reality.
We might, we'd have to make our own, who's to say what reality is, but these are very
difficult points to settle, the relationship between, let us say, Christian mystical experience,
the ordinary Christian experience, and then universal spiritual experience.
It's no, you can't draw a diagram of it, it really represents those three levels, or dimensions
of experience.
Levels would be better.
So that was meant to be a bit of a caricature, but I found it, actually, when I came on it,
I found that it represented pretty well those three points of view.
Okay, we gave short shrift to those alternative schemes of grades and phases last time.
Let me just mention a few.
There's the old three-stage scheme that goes back, they usually say, to Pseudo-Dionysius,
of the purgative way, the illuminative way, and the unitive way, all right?
It's interesting that they're called three ways, but they're usually understood as three
phases, three grades of spiritual life.
Now actually, that's a very good pattern, and it's held up for, what, a thousand years
or something, or more now, and with good reason, because it's not simply interior, it's not
simply psychological, it's not simply experiential, but it represents experience, and it really
is in some way descriptive, it's almost universally accepted, I think, in Christian tradition.
It's nicely, simply descriptive of the progression of our relationship with God, would be the
You'll find it in John of the Cross, and Merton himself uses it here.
He doesn't talk about it, he doesn't criticize it, he just picks it up and uses it.
Remember where he talks at the end of the section five about the paradox of the illuminative
You see, he's accepting that tacitly, without saying that he is.
Then there's the other one from Evagrius Pronticus, of practicae, which is the ascetical life,
theoria physicae, which is natural contemplation, as Merton has it, and then theologiae, which
is mystical contemplation, or unitive experience.
You find that right away in Evagrius' Practicas, you know, that edition of Bamberger, which
is very handy, you should read that sooner or later, the introduction is very helpful,
Practicas and Chapters on Prayer by Evagrius Pronticus.
In the first chapter, the very first chapter of Practicas, Evagrius is very orderly, this
is what he says, Christianity is the dogma of Christ our Saviour, now dogma, he doesn't
mean exactly what we mean by dogma, it is composed of practicae, of the contemplation
of the physical world, and of the contemplation of God, those are the three levels.
Practicae is what you do, it is your ascetical life, it is your active and largely exterior
monastic life, theoria physicae is the transparency of nature and of the scripture that begins
to happen in you as you progress, as you become more spiritual and more detached, less passionate,
and then theologiae is the pure unitive mystical contemplation of God at the top of the ladder.
Now that too is a very nice scheme, because it is so simple, and it is not merely experiential,
yet it is experiential, but it relates your experience to the exterior world, to God and
to what is happening to you, it is really quite beautiful. And this of course goes back to the
whole Greek tradition, dealing with that kind of thing. You have got some other ones, like
in Merton sometimes you will find something that comes from Augustine and Gregory the Great,
where first you pull back from the world to yourself, or up to yourself from below,
and then you go through the self to God. You will find this in various formulations,
you will find it in Merton's The New Man and so on. In other words, it is inside a
theology of fall and redemption, or fall and reintegration, by which you separate yourself
from God and then you fall out of yourself. And the typical New Testament text they use
for that is the parable of the prodigal son, remember, who when he was feeding the swine,
woke up and said, oh, I will return to my father. But first he comes back to himself,
see, and realizes, becomes conscious of his misery and what he has lost, and then he returns to his
father. So that two-step movement, back into self and back to God, which of course can't
really be separated completely into two steps, but it has got a nice kind of, what do you call it,
ontological truth to it. And then you've got, of course, Guigo the Carthusian's ladder,
with which we're very familiar. Lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio.
I've been saving this for Hamlet, but there are two more steps that have to be included,
which are priticatio and disparatio. That will be explained later.
They're very much connected with one another. That comes in between meditatio
and oratio. And from the disparatio comes the oratio.
That's a communal, in the communal setting. Okay, the Carmelite tradition, let's give some
attention to that, because that's been dominant for our modern period. And I've tried to get it
on one page there, and it comes from the big green book of Goyo Auman. We've had a bunch of
these handbooks of ascetical-mystical theology, as they used to call it, based on the Carmelite
tradition, and of course on the scholastic tradition, okay, because you're talking about
St. Thomas Aquinas and then St. John of Cross, basically, with some of St. Teresa's experience
and divisions also put in. Okay, on that handbook, which is H11, the numbering is out of order.
It starts at the top, obviously, and it's divided into two great categories here.
First of all, ascetical stages, because they're talking about, they used to have, the definition
of the course would be ascetical-mystical theology, you see, so they would divide it
into the ascetical level and the mystical level. And this was, when I was going to San Anselmo,
this was the kind of current thing. And on the other side you had the monastic picture,
which was sort of opposing it, was uncomfortable with it and beginning to debate with it.
And wanting to integrate things. And especially to integrate this with, what, with moral theology
and then with systematic theology and the whole thing, to look at it all in one rather than
separating sectors off like this. Now, I've put, underlined in capital letters, the equivalents in
Guigo's letter there, Lectio Meditatio Horatio and Contemplatio, as you'll see, but that's very
approximate. You'll notice that the Carmelite tradition developed some stages much more fully
than our tradition does. And this is valuable. I think that Carmelite understanding and vision
of the life of prayer is something that you should learn, okay, and you'll find that it
corresponds with some of your experience. And it can be very valuable. We shouldn't ignore it.
I think Benedictines tend to be too disdainful of what they would call a psychological
introspection, all those intro words, you know, and self-reflection and all that. We can put that
down a little bit too much. Maybe that we don't have enough of it. So first of all, and quite
obviously, up at the top you've got vocal prayer. Now notice, I've put Lectio there because that's
parallel with it, because this is verbal. And, but notice that the Carmelite thing remains within the
sector of prayer all the time, whereas this is broadened to include Lectio, the something which
reaches more into your exterior life, your liturgical life, and so on. And then Meditatio,
now, and meditation. Now notice what they mean by meditation, I think, is the same thing that
Guigo means by meditation, except by the time of the Carmelites it's probably gotten more systematic
and more scientific in some way, because there's been also Jesuit input, see, the input of the
spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius, where you do this very deliberate program of kind of
directing your mind, your reflection onto various things. But notice how different this is from what
we usually mean by meditation today. What do we mean by meditation today? And we mean, basically,
I think, the same thing that a Zen Buddhist would mean, or a Hindu, or a transcendental meditation
person would. Entering into the quiet, the emptiness, the silence, the depth, without words
and without thought. But this is thought, this is thinking, okay? So this is Meditatio from a
particular sector of the Christian tradition. And what we mean by meditation today, I think,
they'd be more inclined to call Hezekiah, or something like that, or quiet. So you find a lot
of, what would you call it, diagonal lines, if you try to put things side by side,
and a lot of fuzzy connections, but a rough parallel between them. So this is really reflection.
And sometimes it can be highly, what would you call it, highly systematic, highly scientific,
and very alien, actually, to both the spirit and the word, I think, if it gets too programmatic,
too scientific. Because the natural way of reflecting on scripture, for instance,
is to let yourself be drawn into the orbit of the word, rather than putting the word into some kind
of machine in which you stamp out reflections and resolutions, and that kind of thing.
Okay, then you move to affective prayer from meditation, which I've related to arazzio,
because arazzio, usually in our tradition, doesn't mean the external verbal prayer,
of course, in Guigo's letter. It means an interior movement, a movement which has come
from your reflection on the word. And here you've moved over from one faculty to the other. In this
Carmelite scheme, there's a lot of analysis of faculties, of the different, your will,
and your mind, and your affections, and your imagination, and so on, are all differentiated.
And that's something we don't do, usually, in the monastic tradition. We don't have that analysis,
that differentiation. It's useful at a certain point, but it can really be overdone. It can be
overdone to such an extent that the unitive aspect of what we're talking about disappears completely,
and then you're in trouble. And that's the trouble with these big books. There's so much analysis in
them that you get lost in the machinery, and you start trying to correlate one detail with something
you experience, and so on. You just get lost in the whole works, and you lose the total vision.
So this really needs to be digested into a unitive vision.
Merton helps us to do that. You see the way he simplifies these things.
Okay, affective prayer. Then there's a somewhat more subtle movement from affective prayer to
the prayer of simplicity, where this dynamic aspect has, it's almost like the flames coming up
from the wood. The wood is somewhat consumed. It's almost as if now you have just a glow,
or a low fire, not leaping flames, but a kind of low, steady fire.
And there's a differentiation between this and the next kind of infused recollection,
as they call it. Now, these are subtleties and can easily be ignored without losing much,
and especially exactly where the contemplative prayer takes over.
Now, notice that if you compare what we've been looking at up to this point, or down to this
point, it's different from what Merton did with his active contemplation, isn't it? Because you
had a sense of more, that active contemplation is moving more out into life. There was more
creativity about it, more of a sense of creativity. Now, this has something to do with his personality,
and his particular interior way of operating. But I think it's also valid, that this is too
compressed into a narrow channel of prayer, of spiritual life, of mystical life,
and other aspects are ignored too much. And the creative aspect is very important.
Now, we move into what they call the contemplative or mystical stages. Infused
recollection, we don't have to stay long there, but this is noticed, it's set on one of the
faculties, on the intellect and the mind. So this is something like your meditation, but it's a
contemplative level of that. Another prayer of quiet, this is important, okay, and this is a
big threshold of experience in the contemplative life. People who find themselves suddenly drawn
into their interior and into a deep quiet. Hezekiah, as the Greeks would call it. The
word Hezekiah, by the way, has a lot of meanings. They're all related, but this
experiential meaning is only one of them. It also meant a way of life, a whole kind of vocation.
Hauser is one who's written a lot and very well about Hezekiah, by the way. We've got a book of
Hezekiah, as well as Hezekiasm, which is a particular school of contemplative monasticism.
Captivates the will and fills the soul and body. Notice this differentiation. You're
continually doing a kind of anatomy here. Fills the soul and body with ineffable sweetness and light.
Okay, this is something which a person, what would you call it, will experience and then have no
trouble in understanding what this is and what this means. There may be a little trouble in
putting it into words, but there's hardly a better word than simply quiet. Hardly a better word than
quiet, quies, Hezekiah, something like that. But this is quite, it's a leap from one level to
another, a giant leap to the next stage, which is called by St. Teresa, Prayer of Union. Notice that
it's Teresa who makes these categories more than John of the Cross. John of the Cross really has
a different system, in which is a case of purification. He's more of a, what would you
call it, St. Teresa is much more experiential in this sense than he is. She makes an experiential
ladder of levels of prayer, and John of the Cross makes a ladder of what? Of stages of purification
and stages of not a happy experience, but stages of aridity and darkness, the nights. Okay, so it's
a different framework moving in the same direction, moving through the same territory, with two
different perspectives, which together become a very powerful spirituality. That's why it's held
up for these centuries. Do these correspond with the St. Teresa's legends? No, not quite. You'd
have no trouble in making the correlation between them, but they've made extra categories here,
extra distinctions, which you'd have to push aside. For instance, the Prayer of Union
is St. Teresa's fifth mansion, okay? That's number seven here. Prayer of Union is her fifth
mansion, and the Prayer of Transforming Union would be her seventh mansion, okay?
Whereas the Prayer of Ecstatic Union doesn't quite correspond to her sixth mansion.
And then she'd skip the bottom couple there, okay? Because remember, she's not just talking
about the prayer life, she's talking about moral life too, and people who are outside the castle,
remember, and who are subject to various kinds of sin and so on. So this is more narrow than her,
more narrow and more differentiated.
Now, this Prayer of Union is, I believe, quite sure, the really, what would you call it,
completely unitive experience, which corresponds to the mystical contemplation that we've been
talking about so much, and that we're finding in Merton in this part five of his interior
experience, okay? So this is, you've crossed the threshold now. It's like quiet, the Prayer of
Quiet is a threshold, and this is across the threshold into the completely unitive kingdom.
The only thing is that you're not there all the time, okay? This is an intermittent experience,
let us say. Or maybe it only happens to you once, a kind of peak experience. Whereas the
transforming union, in number nine, has become a state, okay? You're established in a state. It's
the spiritual marriage, the equivalent of that. Therefore the person has been transformed,
or is in the grip of God to such an extent that they don't fall back into the other stages,
even if the unitive experience is, what would you call it, the full unitive experience is
intermittent, that they're always on a unitive plane. And it always seems to be, and somehow,
just I think just across the partition or something, the partition is very thin,
so that even though they can't have it at will, perhaps, they know it's there. There's a kind of
unitive consciousness, I think, all the time in that final stage. Yes? Between six and seven,
in that giant step area, is there a tendency to get stuck sometimes? Or to experience a lot
of extravaganza and darkness before going from one to the other? Yes, I think so. I think the
prayer of quiet can happen early on. And you could spend like 20 years experiencing an intermittent
prayer of quiet before having an experience of full union. The whole night of senses may be
taking place while you're experiencing intermittently the prayer of quiet and never the prayer of union,
of full union. And then all of a sudden, after that night of senses is over, you might
have a burst of this full experience of union. Well, that's the business of John Cross and
Therese Alato. Would you say it's fair to say that there's a balance out between a masculine
and a feminine approach? Yes, very much. But both of them are in another kind of, what would you call
container, enclosure, another context which also needs to be brought in. They've both accepted
certain presuppositions which are too confining for us now. But they are very complementary.
They also represent, to some extent, the apophatic and cataphatic ways, but not completely.
John is much more apophatic. The other thing, the way in which they really contrast, is mind and
heart, which is largely masculine and feminine. Because John of the Cross is an intellectual
mysticism. And for him, it's this delectable knowledge of God. But of course, when they talk
about the higher stages of that knowledge of God, they're talking about union. And so at one moment
they call it union, another moment they call it knowledge, one moment they might say it's not
knowledge, like Martin, another moment it's the ultimate, absolute knowledge, beyond knowing,
and that kind of thing. So when somebody thinks and has to speak or write, they move back into
the world of knowledge. And the world of knowledge somehow moves all the way into that,
and yet it's not. It's not just knowledge, it's union. So it's really the absolute limit of language.
John of the Cross distinguishes between the night of the senses and the night of the soul, right?
Night of the spirit, yeah. I think both of those would be included in the night of the soul.
But the exterior night of the soul is the night of the senses. It may depend a little bit on
translation of this passage. Okay, so I thought the night of the senses would be between
the pergative and the illuminative, and then the night of the spirit, the night of the soul would
be between the illuminative and the unitive. I think that's roughly valid, but not entirely. And
you can have, let's say, touches of the illuminative, and even of the unitive, way
in the beginning, which makes things very confusing. But I think it frequently happens.
Somebody may have a unitive experience, and then they have to start at the bottom of the ladder.
So, let's say, individual experiences are very different from the stage on which one is standing,
at a particular point. But again, in general, I think, wouldn't the night of the senses be
much earlier than after the prayer of quiet, if you lay down there and
put on the meditative meditative effect?
It should be, but I'd say it should be, but it's not, in the sense that people really experience
quiet in very early stages, like in monastic life, okay, like in the novitiate, I think.
Most people probably experience the prayer of quiet in the novitiate. They're only beginning
the night of the senses. The night of the senses lasts a lot longer than we think it does.
And it can overlap the night of the spirit quite a bit, too.
But most of the night that we know, actually, is the night of the senses, and the night of the
spirit is really something equivalent to John's prayer. You're really thrown into the furnace,
you know. So most of the night that we know is the night of the senses.
It's always funny when people talk about going through the dark end of the soul,
it's quite a compliment to yourself.
When you read in the first chapter of a book that,
I'm going to begin where St. John on the cross leaves off,
you know, after the dark night of the spirit, I'd advise you to give the book to somebody else.
Or, because, you know, it's unreal. There's a kind of inflation, there's a kind of a super
spiritual inflation nowadays, by which these people who are really, you know, they're Himalayas
of the spirit, are thought of as something we can easily, you know, like, a little like compete.
Could you give a few descriptions of the night of the senses?
Okay, Merton does some of that in here, you'll notice, okay, and maybe we should,
maybe we should take it from Merton and have a basis to do it on. It's right at the end of his
larger. It's on page, my page 72, his page 78. He gives you a nice, clear and concise exposition.
St. John on the cross explains, okay, got it.
Two levels of purification. Purification of the exterior and interior senses.
Notice exterior and interior senses. What would be the interior senses? Imagination and feeling,
things like that. Things on the psychic level. Although, actually, it's pretty difficult to
correlate this whole thing with psychic and level of psyche and spirit, because it all seems to fall
within the level of the, all the purification seems to fall within the level of the psyche,
the way we usually speak of it, because we speak of the spirit very often as a question of
and a purely unitive central level of our being. So, I don't have that clear.
But his scheme here is pretty clear. Night of sense, the exterior self is purified,
and to a great extent, though not completely destroyed. That's all.
Now, notice, what does he mean by exterior self? That's the self of
the psychological self, the self that relates to the world through feeling, emotion, imagination,
and thought. Okay, now that goes pretty deep. If you call that the exterior self,
it goes pretty deep, but it's connected with the ego and connected with our ordinary
self-image, that kind of thing. And in the dark night of the spirit, even the interior man is
purified. He doesn't go far with that, and maybe he's wise not to, because he hasn't been through
it. That is, he hasn't been through enough of it to be able to talk about it, which very few people
have. It's as if there's a level of self by which we relate to the world and we're determined by
the world. And that is deeply purified in the night of sense. And then we are left with, let us say,
the spiritual man, who himself, somehow, is still contaminated by ego, still contaminated by what we
call selfishness, or even exterior self in some way. It's very difficult to keep these things
distinct. They tend to pop back together. And so that inner person has to be purified so that
it can be filled completely with God, made completely one with God.
And that's the night of the spirit.
Night of the spirit, yes. And the night of the soul embraces both of them, I believe.
But it depends on how you work with the Spanish words.
I guess that most recent, when he said spirit there, I just thought,
I thought he was using spirit to mean soul. Because like the translation I have of Jonathan
Krauss' work, he distinguishes the night of the senses and the night of the soul.
Okay. Well, in that case, that's what I mean to say is spirit here. But we have to be careful
with that, because soul is such an ambiguous word. As you might have heard in my talk.
Yes, indeed. Yeah, it's better for us not to use soul here. Because even, like,
see, if we're talking about the purification of the sense, in our ordinary way of thinking,
that's purification of the soul. Because these senses are part of the soul. They're not part
of the spirit, we might say, but they're part of the soul. So the terminology is really tricky here.
And Merton is not always consistent and perfect with his terminology. And when he says something
like destroying the exterior self, well, what are we to understand by that? At another moment,
he would use much gentler and more carefully honed language to talk about that purification.
If it's a real self, how can you destroy it, you know? And don't we need, don't we need an ego,
for instance? Don't we need an exterior self? So there's danger of kind of going through this
territory with a shotgun, as Merton does occasionally. But see, I thought that's not the
present point here. But I thought that's why it's associated with the purgative way. Like, at the
end of the purgative way, then comes the dark night of the senses, which is more like, like,
ascetics. Well, the only trouble is that the whole purification is purgative, okay?
So even the night of the spirit is purgation. So they overlap to such an extent, you know?
And I don't remember how St. John of the Cross correlates his system, his structure,
with the three-stage system of purgative, illuminative, and unitive. I'm not sure that
he's consistent. And then somebody like Ruth Burroughs just makes it like a dynamic thing.
Yeah, and she redraws the whole thing in some way. She exerts a lot of pressure on it,
at least on St. Teresa's scheme. I don't know what she does with John of the Cross.
But he talks here about the exterior self to be destroyed. How is that destroyed?
Yeah, I have trouble with that language. I think you might say that the exterior self-image is
destroyed, and all that goes with it, all right? Or that the obsessions, and compulsions,
and attachments of the exterior self are destroyed. But to say that a self is destroyed is very risky
language. And he'll be more careful in other places. I hate to throw in another name,
but Evelyn Underhill's second half of the mysticism book might be helpful too.
She's got five stages, but she draws on that original three-stage thing. She uses John of the
Cross and Teresa of Avila, and that keeps highlighting and complementing it with Eckhart
and Reisberg, and some of the other Rhineland mystics, and gives it a nice filling out.
Even though that's almost a hundred... Well, it's not close to a hundred years old.
She's saying stuff like, careful saying when you get to the end of the purgative way,
because you're fooling yourself that there is an end, or there will be an end.
Purgation goes the whole of this life. What is death if not a final purgation, in some sense?
And we have to recognize also that this is human language. All this stuff is artifacts, okay?
And we have to... It doesn't go as deep as it should. To go really deep, we probably have
to go to the Bible. And then we lose our boundary lines again. We're in a new world, but we're
relating to ultimate truth, in a way which these distinctions and categories don't.
I have a great love for John of the Cross. I guess that's why I'm commenting on this so much.
But I tend to think of it in terms of this dynamic process, because there comes a purgation,
an illumination, and a unit of it, just like this ascending spiral. Like, you have to go through
all those three stages at every stage of the way. There's a purgation and an illumination.
It's probably true. And also...
Yeah, I think that's true. You could say that every experience, if you like, has three cones,
but I'd rather say three spheres. One would be unitive at its center, one would be illuminative,
and then one would be purgative, the exterior one, okay? That every sort of divine spark that hits
has these three concentric spheres to it, and it does all three in some way, okay? So that we really
have unitive experiences of God at a very early level. But most of their energy has to go into
the purgative level, probably, okay? And is lost, therefore. And therefore the unitive experience
can't unfold itself, can't blossom. And then later on, when there's more purgation done,
more of that energy can go into illumination, and finally it can all be experienced as union,
something like that. That too is only a model, it's only an image. Yeah, I agree with you.
Part of the external self and the inner self. I think William Johnston, referring to Jung,
talks about the third birth, or the passing away of the first self, and the
birth of the second self. Yes. I think that's interesting too. Jung talks about the third
birth of the middle age. Third birth. What's the second one? The first is the impact. Okay.
The second is the puberty. Oh, all right. So the third is the middle age. Okay, and that would be
the... And the fourth is the last, the final. The third would be the birth to interiority,
would it not? Yeah. So William Johnston, referring to Jung, talks about this dying,
or passing away of the first self. That's the self we appear in front of the world,
the first part of our life. But there's always a deeper self within which wants to emerge.
So during our mid-life, usually after a crisis, a strong experience, a conversion experience,
so we let go of the first self in order to let the deeper self, the true self, to emerge,
to be born. Yes. So he uses that dimension. I think Jung has a lot of wisdom of that kind,
and the Jungian pattern is very good in the sense of basically the first half of life being the
life of the exterior self. When it has to function, has to expand itself, sort of build its
kingdom, and then that dies. And the second half of life is the growth of the interior self.
Now, of course, he doesn't say what happens after that.
And then he talks about the conversion experience during that half.
And Jung's kingdom is the second half of life, of course. And yet,
we can't say much about how psyche and spirit relate to one another.
In his vision, that's a very complex question.
Okay, any other questions before we leave the Carmelite scheme behind? We could spend
a year on that, because it's complex and also relates deeply to experience.
You have another handout about which I need to make more reservations, and that is from Ken
Wilber. This is from a book called No Boundary. Ken Wilber is sort of the Einstein of the
transpersonal psychology movement, and what he's done is to sort of make a unified field theory
of human growth. And what he does is to take psychology, psychotherapy, spirituality,
and put them together on a single ladder. Now, the ladder is a ladder of downward movement,
in which you move, you might say, from small consciousness to big consciousness.
So, if you want references, I've got plenty of references. There's also one fairly concise
article of his in which you can get an idea of what he's doing. I can't expect you really to
get it from this diagram. The diagram obviously is here twice, once at the top, where you have
the simple spectrum of consciousness, as he calls it. It's a wonderful expression and a wonderful
vision. And down at the bottom, where he's correlated the spectrum of consciousness with
different, as he calls them, therapies. But notice that the ones at the top, first you've got the
$25 therapies and the $35 therapies. Then you're getting down into the $75 and the
Esalen therapies. And then we're getting down to the $125 an hour therapies.
It's only one video.
It's only 50 minutes. It's not even a full hour.
And esoteric Christianity is free.
If you can find it.
Can they actually achieve? Can people go up to that level?
Only whales, I think.
That's right. Only large mammals.
In fact, the thing is simply marvelous. I've gotten a lot of enjoyment out of this, and yet
you've really got to sort of pulverize it and criticize it and hammer it and break it apart
and put it back together again. Otherwise, it will kind of over-impress.
There's a terrific synthetic power here. Like one intuition, you know, in which the
whole thing's been pulled together. But how much reality is there in it?
I won't point out all the problems.
The basic problem for me is that he's coming from, what would you call it, an Eastern
metaphysic, in which there's only one absolute reality, and that's absolute consciousness.
There's no such thing as the created and the uncreated.
And there are no personal stops on this spectrum.
You slide, you shoot all the way from the top to the bottom, without stopping at a uniquely
human person with its own consciousness and center of volition, and without stopping at
a personal creating, loving, acting, interacting, relational, speaking God.
So, it's that smooth shoot. It's got this terrific power of the Asian non-dual metaphysical
perspective, which tends to swallow everything.
But we have to do an awful lot of reconstructing, actually, to bring it back to something that
would be an acceptable vision for us. I give it to you just because it is valuable,
and because I do believe that the unitive reality is the ultimate reality, which contains
all others and towards which we move. But it needs an awful lot of subtleties and distinctions
and things like that.
I don't think he intends, on the bottom diagram there, I don't think he intends there to be
a meaningful border between the different things together on the left, you notice?
In other words, Vendanta Hinduism is not intended to be the shallowest of those,
and esoteric Judaism the deepest, anything like that. That's fairly obvious, isn't it?
I think that, I'm thinking of something like Stephen Vandek or Shell, who talk so much
now about the psychology of spiritual development, is that maybe especially in this day and age,
when things have gotten so complex in your personal relations, that you really can't
get into, or can't begin to understand the spiritual life until you've worked through
so much of the psychological baggage. I think there's some truth to that,
because otherwise you mistake your psychological struggle for a spiritual struggle.
Even though the spirit is working through the psychological, just as in modern AA or
Twelve Steps or anything like that, the spiritual is right there, working through all the psychological
stuff. And yet, really, they're different levels, and then later on one would confront
the spiritual head-on, with the psychological more or less aside at that point.
Okay, we haven't gotten very much still to today's specific material.
Last time we talked a lot about, somewhat at least, about those two levels of contemplation,
or two levels of what would you call it, spirituality that Merton talks about. Two
levels of contemplation, active and unitive, or active and mystical. And I wanted to point
out at least that they relate, they're parallel to cataphatic and apophatic, okay, and that those
are two dimensions of our life, and we can't go just for one and leave out the other. But they
have to be brought into a kind of balance. If you just read St. John of the Cross, you'd probably
go too far on the apophatic side, and you might unduly starve, say, your imagination, your heart,
your psyche, all of those things without which we simply can't proceed. We are what we are.
I've heard it, but I've never heard it. Don't do it.
Don't do it, all right. Here's a report from the apophatic kingdom.
Well, I think that's pretty classical, like even the Buddha, in a sense, did, you know,
when he went too ascetical and so on. Too much denial. I mean, there's an apophatic,
what would you call it, experience, apophatic prayer, and there's a mysticism. There's an
apophatic life, which is a monastic life. But monastic and life. And if the word monastic
is printed in bold type, and the word life is printed in, say, draft or light print, you can
be in trouble. Because basically it's got to be affirmative. Basically it's got to be a life.
If the no, the negative, takes predominance, the essential negative
dominates over the essential affirmative, you're in trouble. What's Matthew Fox doing if it's not
to reassert the essential affirmative, the essential yes, that underlies all the no's,
all the relative no's of ascetical tradition, monastic tradition.
Okay, let's take a look at this section of Merton. We're duty-bound to do that. We've
already looked at the end of it before we quit today. And then for next time,
I'd ask you to read the next section, okay, section six.
You notice we've got a systematic lag in our treatment here.
Now, Merton's already talked about active contemplation, and now he's going to talk
about mystical contemplation, or what he calls passive contemplation. And according to him,
the distinctive dividing line there is about passivity, and also about transcendence. But the
passivity and the transcendence go together, because what's characteristic of this experience
is that it transcends our activities, okay? So that it becomes a passive, as he says, experience of
God. Now that word is a dangerous word, that word passive, isn't it? Because passivity has a very
negative connotation for us. But it comes from, of course, from the Latin, comes from the classical
tradition, patitur divina. To suffer means to experience, or to be passive. What is it? Patior,
I guess, is the Latin word. Patior is to experience, to suffer. And only the passivity,
the notion of passivity in our language, has gotten narrowed down to something else,
which is like inertness, okay? Rather than being an interactive thing. Rather than being a receiving.
So here it means receiving. It's a receptive experience, rather than an active experience.
He's got a wonderful quote from Dionysius, the Areopagus.
And you notice the expression cloud of unknowing there, which presumably is where the author of
the cloud of unknowing got his idea. And the ray of divine darkness is marvelous.
There are several expressions in there which has become absolutely classical to our tradition.
And knowing and unknowing. And this experience is a question of union before it's a question
of knowledge. And so the union is the core of it somehow, and the knowledge is like
its mediation to us, our experience of it.
Okay, now he sets out to summarize the essential elements of mystical contemplation. And then,
I don't know what hit him at that point. Whether he was called out to milk the cows, or to
chuck hay into the barn, or what, but he's...
Cheese, cheese. He was called, and the cheese factory is coming out at the end,
where he talks about the institution suppressing and crushing the tender spirit,
tender sensitive soul of the contemplative. That's the cheese factory.
Because he sort of goes into a world here, and he's going to make a list,
and we're happily looking forward to 1, 2, 3, 4, and the thing starts drifting and looping,
and coming around back and returning on itself, digressing and so on.
So, anyway, he's got it all in there. I tried to summarize the 11 points.
First of all, one, transcends sense and intellect, okay?
Two, it's a knowing and unknowing, light and darkness, and then it,
once again, transcends feeling and concepts. Three, love and detachment.
But he'll come back all the time, say something he said in the paragraph just before.
Four, it's passive, that is, God's initiative is decisive.
Five, it's a knowledge which is not of one faculty, for instance, of the,
even the deep intellect, but it's unitive. So, now the paradox there of a knowledge which
is unitive, which means that basically it's a union of the whole person,
and a union in God which unites the person in itself, pulling the faculties together.
Essentially, a transaction of love in some way, a matter of love.
Seven, love is sufficient to itself. So, he gives a paragraph to Saint Bernadette.
Eight, contemplation is passive. He already said that.
And, reflection on oneself is useless and obstructive at this point.
We have to get out of the way and let it happen.
Nine, contemplation is often a painful experience,
because the light of God seems contradictory to our very being, in some way, to our exterior self.
Ten, which just carries this further, it brings about what he calls a terrible interior revolution.
That expression will come up here and there in Martin's writing, a crisis.
And then finally, he's come back sweating from the cheese factory,
and he's at Santa Rosa number 11,
that the testing of the individual may be intensified by institutional circumstance.
Now, this is not just Abbott Fox, but this is to liturgy and everything else.
That is, the tendency to prefer the common and the communal and the collective and the institutional
and the common sense things over the delicate inspiration of the spirit
and the attraction and orientation of the interior life.
Now, this is sort of the number four Martin talking,
and in other places you'll see the kind of tough Martin, the number one Martin, I suppose,
talking and saying, cut out the nonsense, you know, and let's get down to work,
and that it's all good for you.
So we've rushed through that.
I leave it to your own reading.
It's very difficult, actually, to try to straighten it out in a systematic way.
That's not important.
And then he ends up on page 62 with this awful assertion,
and that is why in so many contemplative monasteries,
there are few or no real contemplatives.
Now, I colored that with my orange felt pen,
because of the amount of truth that there is in it.
However we explain that,
we have to start at that point by realizing that.
And it depends on what you mean by contemplative.
And we don't want to stand in the position of the Pharisee
and draw a circle, an elitist circle around that word.
And if we do, then we should put ourselves outside of the circle, not inside.
But the fact is, we do not have a strong contemplative tradition at all,
hardly anywhere in our Christian tradition at present.
So, that's where we start from, and that's where we embark from.
Then he's got five texts about contemplative prayer,
from John of the Cross, from Blissett Ricebrook,
from The Cloud of Unknowing, from Esther Eckhart,
and finally he goes back to St. Bernard with a debt of loyalty there.
Before he sets out on the text, he asks,
well, how can you be sure about mystical contemplation?
Isn't it very hard to identify?
We've gotten into subtleties here, and that kind of seemingly difficult criteria.
No, he says, you don't have any doubt about it when it happens.
And it's very simple and very obvious, he says, even though it's very interior.
And somehow it fills you.
Somehow it's like seeing your mother or something like that.
It's a completely spontaneous and obvious experience, in a sense.
It's not at all subtle in that sense, even though it's interior.
Almost like a recognition.
You know, in the old days they might have talked about it as a recognition.
And then he talks about the three signs,
and I think he gets these from St. John of the Cross, I'm pretty sure he does,
but I haven't checked it out in John of the Cross.
I believe those three signs in John of the Cross were in the Ascent of Mount Carmel.
And then finally about the paradox of the Illuminated Void,
which is the fact that the interior man is set at war with the exterior man.
And that you're wrestling not only with God,
but God is wrestling with you, but you're wrestling with yourself.
You seem to be...
And the other side of the paradox is, at a certain point you feel
when you're going most forward, you seem to be going backwards.
That is, all of the signs and assurances of progress seem to drain away from you,
and you seem to have lost everything.
And that's simply the further test of faith to keep going.
Okay, now, I've rushed through that in order to be able to put on time,
but we can return on some of this material next time,
if anybody would like to discuss it further, okay?
But please do read the next section, and we'll try to get partway through it.
Thank you.