The Seventh Thursday after Pascha. Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation
Stand diligently at the gate of the heart. —St. Philotheos
The practice of stillness is full of joy and beauty. —Evagrius
By the grace of creation and redemption, there is a grounding union between God and the human person. In the depths of this ground, the “between” cannot be perceived, for it is completely porous to the Divine Presence. Indeed, there is more Presence than preposition.
While this is the simplest and most fundamental fact of our spiritual lives, it takes a lifetime to realize it. Though this grounding union “in which we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17—28) is unshakable, one of the characteristics of the human condition is that we spend many decades of our lives in sheer ignorance of this. The reason for our ignorance of the most obvious and simplest of facts about our spiritual life is the constant inner noise and chatter that creates and sustains the illusion of being separate from God, who, as St. Augustine reminds us, is already, “closer to me than I am to myself.”
If inner noise sustains this perceived alienation from our inmost selves, we shall feel perforce alienated from God. But this sense of alienation or separation is generated by blind and noisy ignorance that insinuates itself in the surface regions of our awareness. Our culture for the most part trains us to keep our attention riveted to this surface noise, which in turn maintains the illusion of God as a distant object for which we must seek as for something we are convinced we lack.
One of the great mysteries of the contemplative path is the discovery that, when the veils of separation drop, we see that the God we have been seeking has already found us, knows us, and sustains us in being from all eternity. Indeed, “God is your being,” as the author of the Cloud of Unknowing says (though we are not God’s being).
We should not underestimate just how persuasive the noise in our heads can be.
Evagrius says, “Be like an astute business man: make stillness be your criterion for testing the value of everything, and choose always what contributes to it.” As we struggle to sit still in prayer today or any day, we become part of a living tradition that stretches back centuries, witnessing to the fact that the God we seek has already sought and found us from all eternity: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5).
Contemplation is the soul’s Copernican revolution. Copernicus did not invent a heliocentric universe. He simply discovered what had always been the case. The sun never did revolve around the earth. The revolution was the integrating glimpse of the truth of things that marked a change in how we see the world.
To realize that we do not search for God the way we search for fame, fortune, and fulfillment—or for anything else that we are convinced we lack—is the “pearl of great price” (Mt 13:45-46), the realization that “the Kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:21). It signals the beginning of this spiritual revolution.
~Adapted from Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation