Contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form, without filters, judgments, and commentaries. Now you see why it is so rare and, in fact, “the narrow road that few walk on” (Matthew 7:14). The only way you can contemplate is by recognizing and relativizing your own compulsive mental grids—your practiced ways of judging, critiquing, blocking, and computing everything.

This is what we are trying to do by practicing contemplative prayer, and people addicted to their own mind will find contemplation most difficult, if not impossible. Much that is called thinking is simply the ego’s stating of what it prefers and likes—and resistances to what it does not like. Narcissistic reactions to the moment are not worthy of being called thinking. Yet that is much of our public and private discourse.

When your mental judgmental grid and all its commentaries are placed aside, God finally has a chance to get through to you, because your pettiness is at last out of the way. Then Truth stands revealed! You will begin to recognize that we all carry the Divine Indwelling within us and we all carry it equally. That will change your theology, your politics, and your entire worldview. In fact, it is the very birth of the soul. 


Our practice of contemplation is not the avoiding of “distractions,” as was foolishly taught, but instead we use them “to look over their shoulder” for God! This was the brilliant insight of the author of the fourteenth-century book, The Cloud of Unknowing (Chapter 32). The persistence of the distraction can actually have the effect of steadying your gaze, deepening your decision, increasing your freedom, your choice, and your desire for God and for grace—over this or that passing phenomenon. The same can be true with any persistent temptation.

The “shoulders” of the distraction almost become your necessary vantage point and they create the crosshairs of your seeing. Who would have thought? It is an ideal example of how God uses everything to bring us to God. I wasted years on trying to deny, repress, or avoid distractions and “dirty” thoughts—which never worked very well. Many gave up on prayer and the spiritual life because of it.

It is not the avoidance of problems that makes you a contemplative, but a daily holding of the problem, straight on (while not letting it hold onto you)—and finding a resolution in the much deeper and more spacious “peace of Christ, which will guard your heart and your mind” (Philippians 4:7). I never knew it would take such hourly vigilance to guard my heart and my mind from anger, judgment, fear, jealousy, and negativity of any kind. Only the vast peace of Christ can do it.

Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.