What is contemplation? Part I

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 8

ontemplation for Carmelites is the summit of the spiritual life on earth. It is (or should be) the goal of all Christians. It is what we prepare our kids for in our homeschool. But there is a lot of misunderstanding about what contemplation is. The word is used in so many senses, both in secular and religious circles. In this post, we’ll look at “natural contemplation”–something all humans can experience on their own. What is Contemplation? Part II will examine what “contemplation” means in various religions, especially the Carmelite understanding of supernatural contemplation.

The most common definition of “contemplate” is  “think about” or “meditate on.” In this sense, we can contemplate virtually anything. We’ll discuss meditation on Sacred Scripture in Part II. It is not what Carmelites generally mean by contemplation.

Pére Marie-Eugene, O.C.D., gives a great explanation of three types of natural contemplation in I want to See God.

First, there is aesthetic contemplation. This is when our senses experience beauty and we respond to it with emotion. The classic example is looking at a sunset. A deep communication goes on between the beautiful thing and our heart. We no longer meditate on the details of the object, but simply gaze with love. We soak it in. We feel we have touched something transcendent.

The second type of natural contemplation is intellectual. A philosopher or scientist who has spent years looking for a key idea or law, suddenly finds it. At that moment, he stops inquiring. His intellect is stilled. He delights in his discovery.

Thirdly, there is theological contemplation. This occurs when you are enraptured by a divine truth or a scene from the Gospels. The truth is so awesome, you just want to drown yourself in it. Again, the details fade. Something beyond them has moved your heart. You might experience this in your prayer time, but it is not yet supernatural.

All three of these types of natural contemplation should have a place in our homeschool.

There is a fourth type of natural contemplation, which we could call personal contemplation. A new mother, holding her infant for the first time, saves the counting of fingers and toes for later, being totally caught up in her love for her child. Or two lovers  gaze at each other in awe, saying nothing, even thinking nothing for that moment. Personal contemplation is especially akin to supernatural contemplation.

Share with us: What do you enjoy contemplating? How do you use natural contemplation in your homeschool?

Connie Rossini

This is linked to Catholic Bloggers Network Monthly Roundup.

8 Responses

  1. Nancy

    Once as I sat on a cabin deck staring into woods, the words flashed through my mind: “I think I’m a natural contemplative.” I’ve thought it again as I’ve sat by the ocean, watching waves for hours on end, not moving a muscle, not reading, just absorbing sounds and scents and sights. The longer I sit, the more I see. Through this, I learned to sit beside my suburban window and absorb the changes of seasons and stirrings in the trees. So: – what do I enjoy contemplating? Nature!!

    I love your clear description of this, and look forward eagerly to part II.

  2. Laurie Santangelo

    At the end of the day, when the chores have been done and the horses, cattle and sheep are softly munching their hay and the chickens are settling down to roost, I love to stand in the barn door and watch the western sky turn red with the sunset. It never ceases to amaze me that God created such wonderous creatures and such a beautiful world and then took the time to create me, all of us, to share it’s beauty with Him. We often debate in our homeschool what God’s favorite color is…blue or green.

    I had imagined a comtemplative life for myself, but God had other plans and blessed me with 5 children instead. I steal quiet moments whenever I can and savor them all the more for the noise and commotion in our home.

  3. Joan Breun-Dwyer

    I have been most enraptured by nature when driving through Montana on vacation and really sensing that it is truly Big Sky Country. I kept my eyes open for pronghorn deer and was always delighted to be granted a glimpse of how beautifully animals in nature move. Such majesty and beauty evident in their every motion. One of my earliest memories is as a young child marveling at the dew on the grass that sparkled like diamonds.

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