The Fruits of Contemplation
Friday, Mar. 22, 2019
“The rays of the Word are ready to shine wherever the windows of the soul are opened.”
Last week I learned the truth of these words by St. Hilary, and my teachers were non-Catholic students in a class at a local university.
A couple of weeks ago the instructor asked if I knew anyone who would be willing to speak to her class about Ignatian contemplation. I volunteered with excitement but also trepidation: excitement, because it would be a chance to put into practice some of what I have learned while studying for my master’s degree; trepidation, because I planned to lead the students in a session of Ignatian contemplation and I wasn’t sure how well it would be received. This type of contemplation can be difficult even for Catholics, and my audience would be people who don’t share my faith.
Nevertheless, I put the outcome in the hands of the Holy Spirit, who responded with grace beyond measure.
After giving the students a brief explanation of how contemplation fits into the prayer life of the Catholic Church, I described the process of Ignatian contemplation. For the exercise, I suggested the students use either the Gospel story of the Woman at the Well, or the Calling of Matthew. I chose those two stories because they are familiar to most Christians and they have action and dialogue – all of which helps with contemplation. Also, in each story Jesus reaches out to the other person, and my prayer whenever I do contemplation is that the Creator will reach out to me, and I will be open to the message.
The contemplation exercise lasted only about 10 minutes, but it bore much fruit. One student pointed out that after calling Matthew, Jesus had dinner at the tax collector’s house, essentially taking his new apostle to a place where, after the dramatic change he had just made, he was comfortable. This is a truth I had never considered, and it will be the source of future contemplation to consider ways Jesus might do this in today’s world.
Another student gave me the answer to a question that arose when I myself contemplated the story of the woman at the well: why the Samaritan woman, seeing Jesus sitting at the well, didn’t just turn around and head back home. Going to draw water, she must have seen Jesus as she approached. In that culture men and women didn’t speak to each other in public. Not only that, but she was a Samaritan and he was a Jew, and as the story tells us, Jews didn’t associate with Samaritans. Then there’s the fact that, as the Scripture makes it clear, they were alone together. Even in today’s society, many women would think twice about being alone in an isolated spot with a man they didn’t know. Nevertheless, the Samaritan woman continued on to the well. I’ve always wondered why.
One explanation came during the class, when a student said she thought the woman talked to Jesus because she realized he could give her answers. This interpretation also acts as the reason she approached him sitting at the well: somewhere in her heart she knew that drawing near to him would lead her to the living water.
I am humbled that the students were willing to trust me as their guide in a spiritual practice with which they were unfamiliar. I am even more humbled that they were willing to share the fruits of their contemplation. I went in thinking I would be the teacher, and came out having been taught. In the end, it didn’t matter that we were of different faiths – the results were truths that bridge any doctrinal differences. As it says in Deuteronomy, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.