Arts and Culture

Take a Contemplative Approach to Life

Third in a series

RECENTLY I WAS reflecting on several courses that I teach at St. John’s University. It became obvious that in just about all of the courses, certain topics are emphasized: The mystery of God, the mystery of the human person and the mystery of human freedom and love are dealt with in some way. Also, the mystery of truth enters into every course in some fashion.

The recurrence of these topics is probably due to several causes, such as the philosophy curriculum at the university, but especially my interests and what I try to encourage the students to think about and explore deeply. In the country’s second-largest Catholic university, I think that not just in theology courses, but also in philosophy courses, students should reflect on the meaning and mystery of God. In my opinion, anyone who attends a university and does not reflect deeply on the mysteries of God, the human person and truth is not educated.

I hear about students who attend prestigious universities, but who never explore deeply such topics as the meaning of truth, how you reach the truth, whether there is any objective truth and whether there are any absolute truths. I don’t know how such people can be considered educated no matter how prestigious the university from which they obtain their degree.

Re-reading Michael Downey’s “Altogether Gift: A Trinitarian Spirituality”  (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2000, pp. 143, $12), has reminded me of the view of philosopher Gabriel Marcel that all God-talk should be not about God, but rather directed toward God. Downey writes the following:

“Our attempts to speak of the mystery of God can commence in earnest only after we accept that our stumbling does not cease, but is ongoing. We are never quite successful in our effort to seek or speak of God in terms that are clearly intelligible, by way of definitions that are watertight and hermeneutically sealed. What is to be known of God is to be known in prayer, that is, in a disposition of contemplative receptivity, of poised spiritual liberty, in which the gift of love and light is given. God will not be seized by rational analysis, or by techniques of any sort, no matter how religious or pious they might be.” (p. 42)

‘God Is Pursuing Us’

I find Downey’s approach very sound. We do not control God, but rather we are called to surrender to God. In these reflections using Downey’s book, I do not wish to give the impression that God is difficult to contact or that it is difficult to relate to God. My motive is to give the opposite impression. What I want to emphasize is that we do not first contact God, but rather God first contacts us. If we keep in mind that God is unlimited Love, then we can be confident that we are in God’s hands and that God is eager to envelop us in His love so that we can relate and surrender. The truth is not that we are pursuing God, but rather that God is pursuing us.

What makes many Catholic novels so exciting and inspiring is the image of God as the Hound of Heaven, lovingly and constantly reaching out to us. It is good to remind ourselves that God loves us and our loved ones more than we do. Whenever we pray for anyone, I don’t believe we should think that we are getting God to pay attention to someone whom God would not care about except for our prayer. Our prayers are important because they are joined with God’s love, reaching out to someone.

Perhaps the most profound truth about human beings is that we long to love and to be loved. If those longings are fulfilled, at least to some extent, then our lives are successful. They can only be fulfilled completely in relationship with God. St. Augustine penned a very profound insight when he confessed that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

I have been wondering why I am so excited and enthusiastic about this book. The reason, I suspect, is that he presents an image of God that is so beautiful and attractive that it is almost overwhelming. Looking back on my life, I wonder if I ever allowed that image to slip from the center of my Christian consciousness and conscience. If so, how careless and foolish of me.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).