Issue 40.3 of the Review for Religious, May/June 1981.
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Ann Arbor, MI 48106. The Feel of Apostolic Contemplation-in- Action David J. Hassel, S.J. Father Hassel’s earlier article, "The Fourth Level of Prayer: Mystery," appeared in the November, 1980 issue. The present article is also a chapter from his projected book on prayer. Father’s address is: Jesuit Community
Loyola University
6525 N. Sheridan Rd.
Chicago, IL 60626. To contemplate is to see a thing or an event or a person as a whole. It is to grasp the totality of a situation and then to let wonder rise, deep fears and hopes surface, the fire of ambition be kindled, and the still-point of one’s being touched. Thus contemplation not only views wholeness but also begins to instill it in the contemplator, an experience much needed in our fragmenting times. Persons lacking commitment to focus their energies, families lacking the love to heal their wounds, and nations lacking noble purpose to render them united--all need contemplation as much as the thirsty and starving need drink and food.’ Now the power of contemplation appears in theaction which it structures and directs. Thus contemplation-in-action not only carries appreciation for the whole of a situation and thus renders the contemplator more wholesome but also enters into the very situation contemplated to make it more wholesome. For this reason, the more active a person is and the more deeply he or she interacts with others, the more important becomes contemplation for this person’s every action. Indeed, the more explicitly tThis thirst and hunger for the meaning and wholeness of life is eloquently and poignantly record-ed in Studs Terkel’s interviews with people from all walks of life. His contemplative book, Work-ing (Avon, New York, 1975, pp. xiii-xv) discovers "the happy few who find a savor in their daily job," and the many whose discontent is hardly concealed: 321 322 / Review for Religious, Volume 40, 1981/3 aware we become of contemplation-in-action within our experience, the better we can promote it in ourselves and in others for the healing of our wounded world. But, as always, difficulties arise which keep us from recognizing contem-plation- in-action and from living it more deeply within our experience. First of all, one can observe with envy the high intensity of secular contemplation in the action of artist or business person and can then expect this same intensity to occur within one’s own religious contemplation-in-action. False expecta-tions always result in discouragement. Secondly, because monastic people do much of the writing about contemplation, one can mistake monastic contemplation for the apostolic type more characteristic of lay people, diocesan clergy, and active religious orders. Again, confusion here can dissipate religious energies. A third problem connected with recognizing contemplation-in-action is that the latter is an awareness permeating all one’s activities. Therefore, it cannot be exposed by merely lifting off one or other layer of experience, nor be isolated by tracing its roots in one particular activity. Consequently--and this is the fourth difficulty--contemplation-in-action will express itself in a great variety of modes as it appears at diverse levels of experience and in different activities, even though it may be a single pervasive attitude. As a result, a person may be lamenting his or her failure at contemplation-in-action while unknowingly practicing it with some success. Perhaps the following exploration2 of these four problems may yield some inkling of what contemplation-in-action is and some recognition of how the contemplative-in-action feels. This, in turn, could be the source of new satisfaction in one’s life, perhaps even the beginning of a certain settled happiness. Religious Contemplation-in-Action Out of the Secular The first problem facing us is the confusion of secular with religious contemplation-in-action--an understandable mistake since the first naturally leads into the second. Like all forms of contemplation-in-action, the secular variety discovers and promotes remarkable wholeness in the contemplator and in the object contemplated. For example, the portrait-artist, while center-ing her consciousness intensely upon the child to be painted, tends to fall in love with the latter as feeling and insight blend gradually into the beautiful whole of the portrait and of the person portrayed. The craftsman, too, is fascinated as the pitcher, shaping under his hands at the potter’s wheel, is lifted out of the clay in a blend of graceful shape with smooth pouring. The 2I am greatly indebted to Vincent Towers, S.J., James Maguire, S.J. and Donald Abel, S.J. for their detailed comments on the rough drafts of this article, to Mrs. Mary Ellen Hayes for advice and technical assistance, to Dr. Julia Lane for expert encouragement, to the Warrenville (!11.) Cenacle community for their helpful.suggestions. Contemplation-in-Action / ~2~ novelist also shares in this disciplined joy of secular contemplation-in-action. Saul Bellow could not have given us Herzog, nor J. D. Salinger presented us with Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye, unless each had gone through a period of ’possessed aloofness’ while in his imagination he watched and chronicled the full-bodied development of Herzog or Holden out of a vast variety of detailed activities. In the artist or craftsman or novelist, then, one witnesses the power of secular contemplation-in-action for producing that beautiful whole which delights the artist’s own heart and the hearts of all beholders. But such contemplation-in-action is not limited to the sphere of the arts. Watch parents playing with their firstborn child and note their total concen-tration on eliciting new responses from it. As the child slowly unfolds before their eyes during its first twenty-four months, they become ever more dedicated to educating it to beautiful soundness of body, mind, and emotions. If this is not contemplation-in-action, what is? In a similar way, the neurosurgeon, carefully and even exultantly applying his previous week’s study of X rays, medical research, and techniques to a brain operation, also experiences this contemplation-in-action as he restores wholesome life to his patient. So, too, the lawyer contemplates-in-action when she manages to see her way through the myriad details of a personal injury suit towards those underlying legal principles which will structure for her a forceful, tight case on behalf of her client, Nor is the business person without contemplation-in-action when intense ambition is painting a new vision and directing precise lines of energy to effect this vision. The resultant business organization is a daring orchestration of people and processes brought to total life for the wholesome delight of the business person’s mind and heart and for the good of the community. Evidently, then, secular contemplation-in-action operates within any work, artistic or scientific, speculative or practical, to produce wholesomeness in both the contemplator and the action-situation. Explicitly, each of us has, in some way, experienced these types of secular contemplation-in-action and implicitly we compare their qualities with those of our own religious contemplation-in-action--to the depreciation of the lat-ter. Each of us asks in guilt: "Where in my religious contemplation-in-action is the intense centering, the fascinated.vision, the possessed aloofness, the total concentration and dedication, the exultant application to life, the deep satisfaction in wholeness, and the intense ambition of secular contemplatives-in- action?" Why should not the religious contemplative-in-action be \ discouraged--especially if he equates secular and religious contemplation-in-action and does not know that they are meant to nourish each other reciprocally and precisely out of their difference. To understand their respec-tive differences, let us consider how they cooperate. Religious contemplation-in-action completes the secular. For the wholes of self and of object discovered by secular contemplation-in-action take on fuller meaning and larger value witfiinthe more comprehensive wholes of the 324 / Review for Religious, Volume 40, 1981/3 everyday world and of God as these are found by religious contemplation-in-action. A dynamic reciprocity operates here between the two types of contemplation-in-action. As the secular contemplative-in-action (artist, business person, parent, neurosurgeon, or lawyer) enters more deeply into the object to find its wholeness, he becomes more aware of his personal wholeness since the intense concentration on the object demands full awareness of his powers. But such total awareness of object and of self eventually leads into fuller awareness of the everyday world since the secular contemplative must fit himself and the object contemplated into the larger world of, e.g., serving a client, supporting a family, relaxing socially with friends
wondering about the worth of the object produced by the secular contemplation-in-action. Eventually every secular contemplative-in-action has to ask those terrible questions: "How do I and my work fit into the ongoing world? Why should I continue to ply my art, trade, profession, parenthood? Where am I, my family, and my work heading finally?" Such questioning usually leads to the more religious questions: "Is there anything more than this total world? Is there someone or something permeating this world and leading it to a higher destiny, a fuller life? Can I contact this mysterious one or am I already doing so?" When such questions finally lead into the experience of a meaningful world and of a transcendent God, then religious contemplation-in-action has evolved out of the secular and now redounds to the enrichment of the latter. To see how this is possible, note what happens when a family friend at-tempts to heal a family quarrel. He listens intently as the various family members describe the events leading up to the quarrel. The friend tries to piece together (to do a secular contemplation of) this setting and the quarrel. Once he feels that he knows the whole scene, he endeavors to help each family member see this whole so that each can experience some healing-into-wholeness as each admits his or her own faults, the good points of other fami-ly members, the need to forgive each other, and the necessity of planning together for a better family future. This secular contemplation starts to become contemplation-in-action when each family member begins to act out of this vision. Such secular contemplation-in-action begins to move into its religious counterpart when each family member finds a reason to act beyond himself or herself for unified family action, e.g., the preservation of the fami-ly tradition or the hope for future family members. Later, this religious contemplation-in-action attains fullness when individually the family members think of themselves and act as Christians carrying Christ’s presence within the family, and when socially this same family as a group does healing actions which image the future Great Community of the Great Tomorrow beyond the grave. But factually, this neat cooperation between secular and religious contemplation-in-action often breaks down. There is a tendency in each human to abort secular contemplation-in-action before it can rise into the religious. St. Augustine describes vividly how this happens when a person at- Contemplation-in-Action / 325 tempts .to control the world, his fellow human beings and himself apart from or in conflict with God’s law and providence. In this case the secular con-templative so concentrates on another person or a business project or a grand scheme as to lose sight of the more comprehensive wholes of community-justice and of God’s people. Here secular contemplation becomes divorced from religious. The result is that the secular contemplative becomes hypnotiz-ed by the object of contemplation (nothing else is of equal value), then abject-ly slavish to the latter (the object becomes the only hope), then frantically con-servative of this object (e.g., a beloved, a job, an ambition or fond hope, a favorite pastime like gambling or fishing, a power over others). Because all the person’s efforts are so fiercely focused on saving his project, he tends to dissipate mind, heart, and imagination. Thus, in an ironic way, the con-templating person literally fragments himself in efforts to mold his private world into a lasting wholesomeness which fits his own self-image and peculiar needs, but which fails to fit the true wholeness of the world and the Transcen-dent One. As a result, even a person’s secular contemplation-in-action tends to disintegrate when its religious completion is aborted. To put this positively, religious contemplation-in-action is a contempla-tion whose resultant activities aim to render man more wholesome within the wholing of the world as the latter develops within the dynamic whole of the Transcendent God. The vision of Teilhard de Chardin which sees the universe converging towards the transcendent Omega Point is one illustration of religious contemplation-in-action. The exuberance of such religious contemplation-in-action once achieved can then redound upon its secular counterpart to render the latter passionate for truth and eager for beautiful action within its peculiar sphere of influence. F~’om all this it should be clear that secular and religious contemplation-in- action are distinct and mutually modifying phases in the contemplative person’s wholesome life.3 To confuse one with the other is, then, to neglect one for the other and even to risk diminishing both since they are so naturally interdependent. But even within.religious contemplation-in-action, there is a further clarification to be made. Its monastic variety is different from the apostolic, even though, again, both types are needed to stimulate and to enrich the life of God’s people. Here, too, confusion of one with the other debilitates life. Within Religious Contemplation-in-Action, the Monastic and the Apostolic Differ Discouragement is just as apt to arise from confusing the apostolic and the 3Karl Rahner shows the intimate connection between secular and religious contemplation when he demonstrates that supernaturally elevated transcendentality (i.e., God’s self-communication in grace) is mediated by any and every categorical reality, (i.e., by the world). For the Christian, there is no separate sacral realm where alone God is to be found (Foundations of Christian Faith, translated by William V. Dych, Seabury Press, New. York, 1978, pp. 151-152). 326 / Review for Religious, Volume 40, 1981/3 monastic within religious c0ntemplation-in-action as it is from equating secular and religious contemplation-in-action. For, to seek continually the qualities of one in the other is to be permanently misled and disappointed. Although all forms of secular contemplation seek for wholesomeness in con-templator and in object contemplated, nevertheless as many types of secular contemplation occur as there are types of contemplators, e.g., artist, lawyer, neurosurgeon, philosopher, business person, parent, novelist and so on. It should be no great surprise, then, that the monastic religious contemplation-in- action of the Poor Clare or the Carthusian will be different from its apostolic counterpart in the life of lay person or diocesan priest or apostolic religious. In monastic contemplation the monk or nun searches deeply, within the roots of his or her innermost being, for personal wholeness and for the mysterious wholesomeness of God’s life within this being. Now such a demand-ing search becomes possible only if the person withdraws from the more active concerns of life in the everyday world of the apostle. In his Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton makes it clear that the monk must devote himself in a special way to renunciation, repentance, and prayer if he is to sound the depths of his being for God.’ In monastic religious contemplation-in-action, the quiet sinking into self to find God requires a strict control of attention as one undergoes the rigors of hard manual labor, very close community living, sometimes deafening silence, and occasionally piercing loneliness. Thus the relief from cultural pressures which enables monastic religious contemplation-in-action to occur is hardly an escape from suffering the harsh demands of love and of the daily labor for survival. But it is a religious contemplation-in-action diverse from that of the apostle in the world of art, business, medicine, education, and family. Unfortunately, much less is writteri about apostolic religious contemplation-in-action than about the monastic varietywespecially from the view of the layperson.~ Because the apostolic contemplative is ordinarily working in a professional position or a ,trade or a skill-job (secretary, housewife, telephone linesman, and so on) and is frequently involved in team-work, he or she must give much attention to the daily concerns of the world--the very concerns from which the monastic contemplative explicitly withdraws. Ttfis apostolic religious contemplation-in-action is more depend-ent on secular contemplation-in-action for its dynamism because apostolic contemplatives are intently pursuing professional jobs, trades, and skills through eight to ten hours per day. As a result, the apostolic contemplative is more concerned with outer wholeness of self and world, whereas the monastic ’Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer (Doubleday-Image, Garden City, N.Y., 1971 pp. 19-20). ~Thomas Vernor Moore’s Life of Man with God, (Harcourt Brace~ New York, 1956), though quaint, contains case histories of ordinary people enjoying strong contemplation in action. Contemplation-in-Action / 397 contemplative concentrates more on the inner wholeness. Evidently both types of concern are needed by the civic and ecclesial communities since they complement each other. The outer beauty of technological, scientific, and cultural wholeness must be appreciated and promoted if the inner beauty of man’s ultimate meaning and destiny is to exist and to be known in depth. On the other hand, the inner beauty of such wholeness makes possible all the outer beauty since the loss of ultimate meaning and destiny in human activities renders technology, science and culture vacuous: if not vicious. Nor is the withdrawal of the mohastic contemplative to be considered unique to this type of contemplation. The apostolic contemplative must prac-tice a somewhat similar asceticism if he or she is to be a first-rank artist, lawyer, neurosurgeon, teacher, sports star, philosopher, business person, or parent. In order to focus intensely upon the contemplated object, such contemplators must withdraw steadily from distractions, occasionally from family life, often from comforts, not rarely from the spotlight of flattering attention. Though the person dedicated to apostolic religious contemplation-in-action may be immersed in the concerns of the world, still he or she must learn to live hidden within the teamwork of the institution and to withdraw from disruptive self-seeking of fame, fortune, and fun. Such withdrawal is essential if the contemplator is to discover better the wholeness of object, self, world, and God. For the aim of every contemplative is to become more whole in order better to see, in all their wholesomeness, other people, the tasks at hand, professional teamwork, family health, national purpose, ecclesial community and God himself. For this reason, the withdrawal should make one more attentive and appreciative of other people, of one’s business, of art and music, of wholesome sanctity (a redundant phrase), of professional skill, of science and technology, and of oneself. Such wholesomeness, when appreciated, gives deep intellectual joy and is the fullest reward for disciplined suffering. Consequently, the various types of contemplation-in-action must be carefully distinguished so that each can be pursued with finesse. But since contemplation-in-action has so many ways of expressing itself according to each one’s peculiar gifts, situations, aims, and tradition, it is no easy task to discover one’s own way of contemplating-in-action. Since each type of con-templation aims at wholeness of object contemplated and of person con-templating, a major error here could fragment the contemplator’s personality and induce shoddy activity within his or her specialized secular contemplation-in-action. With this caution in mind, one delves hesitantly within his experience for the feel of apostolic contemplation-in-action, especially since this experience runs so deeply and so uniquely. Towards the Feel of Apostolic Contemplation-in-Action Because apostolic contemplation-in-action is present deep within many actions of the secular contemplative, it can be approached only gradually 328 / Review for Religious, Volume 40, 1981/3 through four steps. The first step consists in answering a series of questions constructed to bring into better focus the secret unity of one’s everyday ex-perience. Later, in a second step, reflection on the various levels of this every-day experience helps us to recognize at what level apostolic contemplation-in-action originates. The third step is to work out an explicit definition of such contemplation according to these levels. Here, in a fourth step, one can finally note the feel of contemplation-in-action as it happens within various levels and modes of experience. But let us now take the first of these four steps by leisurely answering for ourselves the following questions: I. Why do I usually get up on time in the morning and not let people wait? 2. Why do I bother to cook breakfast for others and not just for myself? 3. Why do I share my car with others and, on occasional rainy mornings, leave early to get them to work on time? 4. Why, at the job, do I help out on someone else’s project when mine is not finished yet? 5. Why should I avoid the second beer at lunch because it makes me loggy at work? Who really cares about my efficiency? 6. Why scrimp and save for others--esp~ecially if they are likely to squander the savings? 7. Why take work and worries home from the~ job? Why bother studying at night to complete degree work or to be more competent in my next day’s work? 8. Why keep up correspondence with friends or answer the third telephone call when I’m so tired at night? 9. Why be the one who usually corrects the children and who gets their resentment? 10. Why sometimes spend money meant for entertainment on the needs of others? 11. Why squeeze into the already packed day the Eucharist and another fifteen or more minutes of prayer? In other words, all these why’s add up to a single last question: Why do we stretch ourselves out for others hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after year? Could the answer be that, amid all our sneaky ways, our clever vanities, our downright sins, and our cute manipulation of others to our own desires, we nevertheless do have a strong practical concern for peo-ple, for their welfare and happiness? Could it even be that, deep within, we each feel God quietly encouraging us to stretch our lives out to others? Could it be that, deep within, we want to delight the heart of God? If so, then this is what is called "the stretch," the almost constant doing.of the more difficult out of respect for others and for God. It is, in other words, the willingness to bleed slowly for loved ones and even, at times, for mere acquaintances. This "stretch," then, turns out to be a dynamic unity running through all the day’s events to give them meaning and direction. Could it be that this is our seeking Contemplation-in-Action / 329 for God, our God-hunger? Is this our restlessness with anything less than God--a restlessness which renders us mystified at the self-serving actions of the trifler, the super-ambitious, and the bun vivant? Indeed, is this "stretch" or God-hunger the apostolic contemplation-in-action for which we are searching? It would seem not. For such contemplation lies underneath "the stretch" to make it happen. We must yet distinguish various levels of experience and then move underneath each to find the deepest level from where apostolic contemplation-in-action originates. And we find that there are four levels of experience to distinguish. The first or sur-face level is where minor irritations, like the sound of loud rock-and-roll music or the itch of eczema or the sudden hiccup occurs and where minor joys like a satisfying meal or a long sleep or a relaxed laugh, happen. Underneath this surface level, lies the second or physical level where the pains of ulcers or neuralgia lurk and the joys of exuberant good health or of strong sexual pleasure energize one. Underneath these two levels is the third or psychological level where one trembles with fear of failure in one’s work or shrinks at seeing the beloved suffer, and where one also is Warmed with the security of being .loved deeply and faithfully by an admired person, or experiences the deep satisfaction of witnessing one’s children growing up well. Underneath these three explicitly conscious levels which we all can recognize lies a more hidden fourth level known only implicitly, i.e., by con-trast with the top three levels. Thus a person can feel great joy and serenity at this fourth level, while at the upper three levels he feels terrible suffering and apparent fragmentation. Or the reverse may be the case. "Everything is going my way in health, job-~atisfaction, family life
I’ve got everything--except that I feel uneasy and deeply restless underneath all of this." In both in-stances, the person feels almost schizophrenic--so clear is the distinction be-tween the top three levels and the deepest fourth level of experience, so direct-ly reverse is the flow of events between the top-three and the fourth levels. Puzzling as this experience is, it is also a revelation of the fourth level where the root of contemplation-in-action lies and it will eventually lead us to the "feel" of apostolic contemplation-in action.6 Apostolic Contemplation-in-Action Is a Heart-Awareness of God and His People To state matters bluntly, apostolic contemplation-in-action is not "the stretch," the disciplined reaching out to others and to God from the third level of experience. It is not the constant calling to mind of God’s presence, nor 61 have given a fuller description of these four levels of experience in "The Fourth Level of Prayer: Mystery," (REVIEW FOR RELIGIOUS, VOI. 39, 1980/6. pp. 808-810, 817-819). Confer also "Phenomenology, Psychiatry, and Ignatian Discernment" (The Way, Supplement #6, May, 1968, pp. 27-34) by Felix Letemendia and George Croft for a similar description of four levels of experience. 330 / Review for Religious, Volume 40, 1981/3 constant explicit aspirations, not the "Jesus prayer," nor one’s favorite scrip-tural mantra on the second level of experience. It is not constant conversation with God on the second and first levels.7 Apostolic contemplation-in-action may cause these behaviors, but it is not any one or all of them. Rather, it is more like a heart-awareness of God, an affectionate and deep alertness to God in all events, a strong and warm conviction of God’s loving presence at the fourth level underlying and yet permeating all life’s experiences and hap-penings. 8 This heart-awareness seems to be always operative, like the buoyancy of a cork under water, always unobtrusive, like quiet background music in office or dining room, always implicit, like a mother’s awareness of noisy children in the backyard while she is concentrating on a new cake recipe
always pulsing, like the tennis player’s awareness of the beloved watching his match from the grandstands
always underlying, like the companionship between two friends whose attention is riveted on an engrossing motion picture
always growing osmotically, like the friendship between two people sitting in the front seat of a car and silently viewing the. countryside during a long trip. This heart-awareness appears not in the least to interfere with conversation or with algebra-solving or with. business-planning or with party-laughing or with landscape-painting or with surgical operating. Indeed, it can be said that this heart-awareness is actually a person’s awareness of God’s awareness of him while he works through the events of the day--much as when the lover tennis-star is implicitly aware of his beloved’s awareness of him as she sits in the grandstand watching his play.9 This heart-awareness is like the alertness of the saints to God’s providence in small happenings. God, like the air, is embracing the saints, enabling them to breathe, acting as the medium for all the surrounding events. In such an at-mosphere, nothing is insignificant. There is a second way in which this heart-awareness of God, called apostolic contemplation-in-action, can be described. It seems to be also a per- ’In reading Henri J. M. Nouwen’s books and articles on spirituality, I have rarely felt anything but strong agreement--except for one article: "Unceasing Prayer" (America, Vol. 139/3, July 29--August 5, 1978, pp. 46-51), where Nouwen declares: "We convert our unceasing thinking in-to unceasing prayer when we move from a self-centered monologue to a God-centered di
~logue (p. 48)." Though he characterizes this prayer as contemplation, as attentive looking at God, and as presence to God, still the heavy emphasis on thinking and imagining in the article could lead the reader to a false mentalistic perception of praying always. 8In Love Alone (Herder and Herder, New York, 1969, p. 89), Hans Urs Von Balthasar compares the unceasing prayer of heart-awareness to the "the way a man is always and everywhere influenc-ed by the image of the woman he loves." 9 John S. Dunne (The Reasons of the Heart, Macmillan, New York, 1978, pp. 46-54) gives an acute description of this heart-awareness of God wherein one feels known and loved deeply by God. He puts it in Meister Eckhart’s terms: this is a laughing between God and man which images the Trinitarian life of mutual joy between and in the three persons. Contemplation-in-Action / 331 son’s awareness of God present within him and working out through him into the lives of others. It would explain somewhat Paul the Apostle’s remark: "I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me." In this implicit heart-awareness there is even a sense of acting beyond one’s capacities, or of being borne along to meet events for which one feels strangely prepared beforehand. This does not imply that such experience is without suffering. On the contrary, the heart-awareness has the tendency to make one more sensitive to the suffering of others and of one’s self and even more ready to assume sorrow. For, remarkably, this heart-awareness opens one up not only to God but also simultaneously to God’s people and his world. It would seem to contain a readiness for friendship, and for the obligations consequent upon friendship. It is not a state achieved by spiritual gymnast



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