I wonder if you’re feeling somewhat discombobulated these days. One dictionary definition of this delightful word is: confused and disconcerted. That might be a fairly accurate description not only for many experiencing and witnessing the goings-on in the world today, but perhaps also for our global collective state of mind. I’m not just talking about the events experienced and witnessed over the past few months, but more about our reaction to them. Events seem to move at such a rapid pace and with such immediate consequences that we’re unable to process them with the clarity of mind and serenity of spirit needed. Hence the confusion. And being denied the time and disposition to reflect with calmness and discernment on all that’s happening in our world, causes many to lapse into a default reaction of fear and anger. Hence being disconcerted.
Another definition of discombobulate is, to make uncomfortable. And perhaps this definition sums it all up for us. We are uncomfortable because we seem no longer able to rely on our old certainties and trusted convictions to interpret global events for us and to help us find meaning in their local impact. We are tempted to negative thinking, imagine extreme scenarios, and because we are unclear about where it’s all going or how it will turn out; and in the midst of what seems chaos, we long for stability and order. We look for a fixed anchor in the swirl of a seemingly unstable reality and an uncertain future which leaves us feeling powerless and overwhelmed.
However you may be thinking, feeling, and reacting to these events of our time, it’s important that you don’t succumb to extreme responses, such as despair, cynicism, taking up a fixed ideological position, or seeking a simplistic answer to the questions raised by your thoughts and feelings. Maintaining a prudent and balanced perspective on these events and their meaning for us entails returning to the narratives of our faith, and finding therein the resources and inspiration to direct our thoughts and guide our response. Our faith history is a rich resource for us to meditate upon at this time, seeing in them the unbroken pattern of God’s faithful presence strengthening and guiding men and women of every age to be voices of hope and wisdom in the midst of social and political upheaval.
This is a time for change, a ‘kairos’ moment in which we are called to a critical and honest discernment of our response to current events, and how the Lord is calling us to a deeper faith and love. A faith that sees beyond surface phenomena to the grace present in all things and situations. A love that is magnanimous and embraces even that which threatens me and causes me discomfort. Such a discernment requires that we pray contemplatively and foster a contemplative attitude in all things. Perhaps the words of the German theologian Karl Rahner are being realised through the discombobulation we are now experiencing: “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or will not exist at all”. Mysticism is born of a contemplative spirit, and is a faith that is nourished by experiences of God’s holy presence within us and within all reality. It is the grace to spiritually intuit the hidden depths within myself, others, and all creation through a constant habit of sacred awareness.
We celebrated the feast of St. Anthony of Padua just recently, and while reflecting on some of his writings on that day I came across some words that helped me to come to an important insight into what it means to be contemplative. In a simple way he points directly to what we need to be alert to if we wish to be alive to God’s presence within us. A contemplative disposition, in silent prayer and in being in the world, is one that gazes steadily at reality until we see beyond the surface phenomena and in our spirits begin to intuit the deeper reality of God’s loving presence at the heart of all things. And then being moved by this encounter, responds in love and awe to all that is a manifestation of God’s self-communication in created reality; and then reciprocally and immediately we are given the capacity for an even greater openness to being touched and transformed by God’s loving presence in all that is. St. Anthony speaks of this same intentional movement of the will and the spirit, where his focus is God and his point of reference is the self. The secret is that in being faithful to our true selves, we begin to carry God in our hearts. Our true identity is in Christ and to be found in the mystery of God’s presence dwelling within us.
“Do you want to carry God in your heart every day? Look constantly at yourself. Where your eye is, there is your heart. Keep your eyes fixed constantly on yourself. I mention three items: your heart, your eye, yourself. God is in your heart, your heart is in your eye, your eye is in you. So, if you are looking at yourself, you are looking at God in you. Do you want to have God in heart every day? Then, be what God has created you to be. Do not look for another I in yourself. Do not try to be anything other than what God created you to be, and you will constantly have God in your heart.”
“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.
“Do you want to have God in heart every day? Then, be what God has created you to be. Do not look for another I in yourself”. 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”!
Fr. Terence Bateman OFM Conv