A Visit with a Contemplative
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A Visit with a Contemplative

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As attempts get underway today to renew the Christian mystical tradition, it is important to listen to modern accounts of the experience of infused contemplation that have traditionally been at its heart.

Here we visit a married working woman, who has received contemplative graces, and ask her to share with us what they are like.

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This video was filmed in 1996. Here is a 2006 update:

A Decade (More or Less) Later

By a Contemplative


Almost ten years have passed since Jim and Tyra Arraj of Inner Explorations interviewed me regarding my experience of infused contemplation. At their request, I am providing a brief update on my spiritual journey as I understand it and experience it now.

I am blessed to know that God loves me, and I am blessed to know that I can return this gracious love. I know through direct experience that I have nothing to give except the love that God has given me, but this is enough. I have also received a deep faith in the providence of God, a profound belief that God will uphold me and provide for me in this life and in the life to come. I expect I will have to suffer again in the future, as we all do, but I am confident that God will be with me in whatever I experience.

I continue to be a committed, practicing Roman Catholic. The primary focus of my striving is to help build up the Kingdom of God for the Beloved, Our Lord. My thoughts, prayers, and activities are directed towards this end.

It is difficult to describe how I experience infused contemplation now. The graces I received have filled me to the point that they overflow into apostolic work. I do not know whether different phases of infused contemplation await me in the future. The extraordinary “touches” are rare now. They seem to come only when I need strengthening, and they leave me with the sense that I have been touched directly by the Holy Spirit. They also generally leave me with a specific insight that strengthens my faith and increases my understanding of the love of God.

In the course of my daily life, God continues to provide opportunities for my growth. These opportunities help me recognize my weaknesses and overcome them. I have not reached a state of perfection. However, I no longer suffer over my failings as I once did, since God has given me a deep sense of peace and security in his love. I know that God loves me as I am, as I was in the past, and as I will be in the future.

If anyone reads this and longs to have a deeper, closer relationship with God, I have only a few words of advice. Love as often and as well as you can and open yourself to the unfathomable mystery of God. I am adamantly convinced that God is always waiting to shower us with graces if only we trust him to provide for our deepest needs, which lie beyond the realm of our understanding.



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Online Transcript:

Jim: Serious efforts are being made today to rediscover the Christian mystical tradition, and the heart of that tradition revolves around the experience of infused contemplation. In this interview we asked a friend who has received graces of infused contemplation to share with us what it is like. She told us that what she experienced as infused contemplation is an awareness of something from God coming down into her.

Contemplative: And it’s tangible. It’s not physical, but it’s just as tangible as touching something that’s physical. And I also experienced that a part of me is drawn up in God and held in God, and it feels like my attention is held in God. The amount of my attention that is held in God varies. There are times when my attention is held in God, and my mind can in a way wander at the same time, but this sense of being held remains. That’s kind of hard to describe, but that’s a part of it – that there are degrees of how much I feel absorbed into it.

There were a lot of experiences that I think led up to the infused contemplation, but the time where I really mark it where I start calling it that in my mind is an experience where I felt a definite "this is the presence of God," and what happened was I started experiencing intense bliss, and it happened in different ways, but the first time I felt this all-consuming bliss was in the spring of 1990 or 1991. I was working at the time, and the bliss grew over a period of about 4 or 5 days, and it became so intense that I really became a little bit overwhelmed by it, and I prayed to have it reduced a little bit. I really liked it, but it was overwhelming and a little frightening, I think. Not that there was anything in it that felt bad, but it was such an intense experience that it was a little frightening. But after I prayed, it went away entirely, and that made me very sad.

I had a dream a few weeks after that that I think was very important, and of course, the elements of the dream have a lot to do with my own psychology and how that manifested, but I had a dream I was in a hallway, and there were a couple of different congregations, and I couldn’t decide which one to go into, and I just kept hesitating in the hallway. As I was somehow stuck in this hallway, the Lord came to me and talked to me. I can’t say what He looked like. I just knew He was there and was talking to me, and He had this greeting card. I opened the card and the words were written in beautiful colors – pink and yellow and purple – and it was the story of my heart, the story of my life, but it was a story that I had never seen before, or didn’t realize. It was like this was the way God saw me, saw myself, and it was so beautiful. I can’t describe the feeling I had in that dream. In the dream, after I read it the Lord told me we would be united the next fall, and I just begged Him to make it happen right then. It was just such a wonderful dream, and He said I wasn’t ready yet, and that was the end of the dream.

I woke up, and it was such an incredible dream. I knew it was just a dream, but it seemed to be more than that. So that whole summer I remembered the dream, and I kept trying to keep perspective and not to hope too much for something really special to happen the next fall, but I just couldn’t help but hope it would happen. Even now the memory of what that felt like was so wonderful. September came, and I waited day after day, and nothing happened. Then it was early in October that the bliss came back. I felt it day and night, and was going on while I was going to work and relating to people, and going to lunch, doing the normal things that I did, but it kept getting stronger and stronger. I was a little disconcerted again, but remembering what had happened the last time, I made a conscious choice that I wasn’t going to allow myself to close the door to it because of how much I had regretted when it went away the time before. I let it happen, and there came a point where in the course of my job I became aware that the Lord was inside me, looking out of my eyes. It wasn’t like I became the Lord. It wasn’t like that at all. It was like the Lord was at the center of this blissful experience, and was at that moment inside me looking out to the world through my eyes, and the way that I became aware of that was that I was reading a letter (I answered correspondence from consumers in those days), and the name of the person who had written was "Finchpaw" or something like that. Of course, this bliss had been building for days, and I read that name, and for some reason was delighted by that name, but at the same moment became just emphatically aware of how the Lord was utterly delighted with that name. But it was more than just a name. It was like the Lord was delighted in our ability to name, and that we had made up this wonderful name that was so delightful. It was just like the Lord was in love with us for being able to come up with a name. In that moment what was communicated to me about God, or what I felt or sensed in this experience of God within me was that God was like the beginning of time, before all the generations and utterly brand new an eternally like that, just as much like that now – not a sense of looking back – that that was how God was at the beginning – but that God was always the beginning of the generations, and that that reality was eternal – always the beginning. If I could put it into an image, it would be like a point of waves of generations spreading out from God at the center, or the beginning of the generations, but that was current – not just past – past, present, future. It was very shortly after that that it was my lunch time. I went out into the city and still had this sense of union with God looking out at the world through my eyes, and everything that I saw was different than I had ever seen it. The physical reality looked exactly the same, but things that to me had been ugly before, or incongruent together, were absolutely gorgeous, and the reason that they were gorgeous was because the Lord was absolutely in love with us for being able to make things, and to have ideas, and to put things places, so whereas before I might have looked at – oh, here’s a Spanish-style building, Why did they put that modern atrocity next to it? – but the way the Lord looked at everything was – This is what they have made, and I love them, and I love this because they made it. It was such a sense of the Lord being just absolutely, utterly, emphatically in love with us, and in love with what we make and do. It completely changed the way that I looked at things.

I definitely feel infused contemplation is a gift, a total gift of grace. I think I used to spend more time trying to understand why this gift had come to me, and went through various stages of thinking about it, but I really can’t say that it came from anything that I did – I don’t believe it did. I had a prayer life. It was basically intercessory prayer before that. I had done meditation earlier in my life, but during the years that preceded the onslaught of infused contemplation, more of a practice for me was trying to live my life for Christ and committing everything that I did for Christ, but also knowing so many people who did that and do that really whole-heartedly, I just don’t believe the small effort on my part really brought about the infused contemplation. And the other thing I wanted to say was when it happened to me, in no way had I reached any form of perfection. That’s not an effort to be modest or humble to say that. It’s just the honest truth. I would say I had worked on a lot of things, and really had a lot of misconceptions about what really were faults and what weren’t, but in the years that followed, a whole lot more imperfections were revealed, and some just in response to having such incredible experiences – struggling with feelings of grandiosity, etc. Those things surfaced that I thought had been long dead. I only thing I kind of wonder about but don’t have a clear sense of this being true or not, but I have heard it said that some very, very deep experiences of prayer may be related to very, very deep experiences of suffering, and not knowing enough people who have these experiences, I know that in my own life – though many people suffer a lot in life, I think – in my own life just from what other people have told me and relating it to my own experience, the level of suffering and the amount and duration, the intensity of that is in a way equal to the intensity of these beautiful experiences. I sometime speculate that there may be a relationship between the depth of suffering and depth of – and I don’t mean necessarily reward for or compensation for, because I don’t think in those terms – but more in the sense of being torn at such a deep level that such experiences are possible. If you can suffer at such a deep level and maintain the integrity of your consciousness, it may have something to do with experiencing God in that way. But that’s just speculation. It’s not based on a sense of knowing.

Comparing it to centering prayer, I would say I did not do anything to try to quiet my thoughts, or get rid of thoughts. I have probably never done that in any of the different practices I have done just because I haven’t been drawn to that, or find it too frustrating. I think I was disposed to being receptive to God in general from the time I was a little girl. It was something my mother had taught me, to give up my own will to God. So that was a big part of my prayer. Not my will but thine be done. But there wasn’t an effort to quiet my mind. I did do a visualization-type meditation where I would visualize Christ, and I would visualize qualities from Christ streaming into my soul which filled my heart in like a stream of light. I can’t remember all the details of it, but I would name the qualities that I associated with Christ like compassion, kindness, patience – I had a list I memorized, and I’d say that. I was doing that meditation, which was more of an active positive meditation – than a self-emptying kind of meditation.

It’s almost like having another sense. I don’t want to use the word 6th sense because that has connotations I don’t mean here, but it is actually like you had a completely different sense other than seeing and touching and hearing, but just as concrete. Another way to describe it would be like if someone was inside a house and there were no windows, and they couldn’t see outside at all, and they were on the phone. Say you were interviewing me, and I’m having this experience. You are in this house with no windows or door, and I’m outside, and I’m trying to describe to you that the sun is shining, and I feel it. I say it’s warm. What is "warm," you might say? Well, it’s bright. Well, what’s "bright," you might say? It’s like that. It’s very much like, "How do you know the sun is shining?" You just know the sun is shining.

As I started to say, this was an experience also in this feeling of being lifted up and feeling of something from God coming down into me that was a peak experience, and this happened to me twice. I periodically long to have it happen again, but it hasn’t happened since. In this experience when the presence of God came down, and I felt myself drawn up, it was like a veil dropping away. It was also tangible. I’m not talking about a vision of a veil, or any kind of a perception of a veil I can see like eyes. It wasn’t like that, but it was still tangible. It’s like you would never know there was a veil there until it came down. That’s a good way to describe it. You can understand from that that there is no way to see the veil, but suddenly when it is taken down, you know it’s not there anymore. Then there was a definite experience of looking at God face-to-face. This is also something I am very hesitant to talk about for obvious reasons. It was not a vision. There was no form. There was no sound. There was no physical representation in any way. It was pure spirit, and it was pure love. No words were spoken. But it was still just a sense of looking at God in spirit face-to-face, and God looking at me in love – both of us looking at each other in love, pure spirit, in me. And then that experience gradually faded, but if I could say it was somewhere, it’s like look up here, and that happened a couple of times. Sometimes when I have that experience, and I’ll still have that experience a lot of times of like this magnetism of being pulled up, and this sweetness and peace coming down into me, but the veil is there. And sometimes I’ll say, "I know You’re there." I wish the veil would come down again, but it doesn’t.

It troubled me to think about that, not in the sense of doubting it, but in the context of the Bible verse, "No one can see God." I can’t explain the experience in the context of that except to understand it, well there really wasn’t a sense of seeing God in a tangible way, but it was still a direct experience that was real to me.

You were asking about external practices, and how that relates to infused contemplation, and if external practices are necessary to infused contemplation. I don’t know if I can really answer those questions, but I can tell you what my own experience is. My own experience is in the Catholic faith, and by the way, my conversion came in conjunction with this onslaught of infused contemplation, but I go to daily Mass and have a definite sense that that enhances the contemplation. I wouldn’t say it is necessary. However, without that there is definitely something missing in me. As far as external forms of prayer, I really love praying from the hours. I pray from the Breviary. I don’t always have time to read all the hours, but always manage to get in morning prayer and evening prayer. I just have the sense of praying with the entire Church, and I especially love praying the Psalms. Praying the Psalms frequently triggers experiences of renewed contemplation for me. Many of the Psalms remind me of the experience of infused contemplation, such as "Look toward Him and be radiant." The couple of Psalms that deal with the longing for God: "My soul is thirsting for God" so much reminds me of the tangible dry periods. There is a lot in the Psalms that seem to be written by people who have experienced infused contemplation. I think I have a firm belief about that from reading the Psalms over and over again.

As far as for the rest of my external life, I’m married and I have a career, and I have friends, and I very much value and need community, and I am still working on detaching myself from having too much need for community. I can tell when I have too much need because I can still have painful experiences because if the community doesn’t meet my expectations, it hurts. From that I can tell I haven’t reached a state of complete detachment.

To me there is a real difference between saying you want contemplation, than there is saying, "I long for God." I think the latter is something that whenever anybody ever expresses that as a heart-felt longing, and generally I think people who experience that, it’s a painful longing – that I consider to be always part of genuine contemplation. That may be the dark contemplation that St. John of the Cross talks about. If there never is a feeling of consummation and union, but to have that longing which I believe would be implanted by God, that is a form of contemplation because it is something that you can’t get away from when it’s there. So in that sense of longing, your attention is focused always on God. I would consider that to be definitely contemplation. But saying I "want" contemplation seems to be to be a different thing because that’s more looking for an experience, but wanting God is wanting God.


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