St. Anthony and Contemplation in a Changing World
“God is in your heart, your heart is in your eye, your eye is in you.” As St. Paul says: In Him we live and move and have our being. And as St. John says: Through love, God lives in us and we live in God. God is never absent, what is absent is our awareness of His abiding presence.
And this is what St. Anthony is saying when he tells us that God is in your heart; your heart is in your attentive gaze, and your attentive gaze is in your awareness. So, in your silent prayer, maintain an attentive gaze, which is a gentle but alert awareness of and presence to God within your depths. When your attention wanders, bring your ‘eye’ back toward an inward gaze, and steadily keep a watchful awareness in your spirit.
With regard to a watchful awareness of yourself at other times, pay attention to your thoughts and moods. Be attentive to your feelings, longings, fears and hopes – be vigilant to your tendencies to allowing thoughts, attitudes, words and behaviour to be influenced by your fear and resentment, and to be conditioned by your need for the acceptance and validation of other people.
Watch yourself – gently but critically aware of when you are being moved by a spirit of anxiety and self-centredness, or when you are acting from your deepest self; a deeper self that tends toward the true and the good, that is inclined to the well-being of others and to their full flourishing as children of God. Open your eyes and heart to the beauty around you, to the joy to be found in little things, and to the wonders of God’s creation. Learn to let go and surrender rather than to control and dominate. Learn to share yourself with others, giving generously to them of your attention and your listening. Be open to mystery, learn to live with the unanswered questions in your heart, and be patient while awaiting to be embraced in your spirit by the sacred presence within.
If we grow in this contemplative way then we slowly discover that we begin to move beyond the duality of the divided self, in which our ego, our false self, is at constant war with our true self. The ego, with its constant need to assert identity and uphold difference, its need to find security in opposition to the other, and its need to claim truth and grace for only a select few, no longer dominates our responses to the challenges of a changing reality.
It is only here at the intersection of apparent contradictions that we have the opportunity to let go of our own imaginings and projections that are a distortion of our deeper longings and the purer desires of our real self. It is here where we need to have the courage to let go of our old securities and step into the insecurity of regaining our true selves in the mystery of God’s love for us. In this space we are able to let go of the self-absorption that locks us into a life of fear and resentment, and become free to love with the love of Jesus. As Pope Francis has said, “Love is the measure of our faith.”
And soon you will find yourself less discombobulated as your contemplative attitude leads you to a serene acceptance of the complexities of life. You will discover that difference and plurality are no longer a cause of insecurity, and that you no longer feel threatened by the ‘otherness’ of others. Our pre-conscious desire for others to think and believe as we think and believe begins to dissolve, and we are able to recognise not only the necessary complexity of reality, but to embrace it as a reflection of the abundant and multifarious manifestation of God’s generous outpouring of Himself into His creation.
Rather than desiring a surface uniformity in things and events and people, we begin to delight in the complex differences in our world and to intuit the underlying harmony beneath everything, knowing that all is one in the unity of God’s love. The restless division in our minds begins to give way to a capacity to go beyond the binary polarities of the mind which constrict our thinking and generate a negative energy within us. We slowly begin to accept the reality of a changing world, perhaps even welcoming it as necessary growth, knowing that the unchanging love and wisdom of God are at work in all things.
And in place of our discombobulation, we begin to experience a joyful and creative energy arising from within, and with Gerard Manley Hopkins we proclaim “Glory be to God for dappled things,” for “all things counter, original, spare, strange!” For in their varied and complex multiplicity all these come from God and give glory to Him by their very existence. And our lives give glory to God by our joyful acceptance and embrace of this richly diverse and beautifully patterned reality.
– friar Terence Bateman OFM Conv.