|Questions to encourage you to
share your insights and experiences
1. What kind of prayer or meditation do you practice?
2. What got you started in your life of prayer or meditation?
3. How has your prayer or meditation changed over time?
4. What expectations do you have for the future? What would you like to see happen?
5. Do you belong to a particular religious tradition?
6. What effectively taught you about the life of prayer or
7. How has your spiritual teacher helped or hindered you?
8. How does your life of prayer or meditation effect your emotions?
9. Have you ever had out of the ordinary experiences
connected with your prayer or meditation?
10. What lifestyle issues effect your life of prayer or
A Response from Harvey Tessier, (949) 493-1964
1. What is Christian mystical experience or contemplation?
Christian mystical experience is the sometime delightfully tangible and sometime arid and painful experience of the loving presence the Trinity. The tangible phase in its beginning is barely perceptible according to God's design increases in intensity and may eventually involve all of the senses and the faculties of the mind. The arid and painful phase may include only dryness during prayer time or later, besides the dryness, involve physical and mental torments to assist the person to achieve "purity of heart" and intense love of God.
2. How does it relate to the life of prayer?
Contemplation in the mystical sense is the level of prayer in which God takes a perceptible part. In contemplation's beginning the person corresponds to his perceptible action by simply being aware of it. Or following St. Teresa's advice may say short aspirations or repeat a single word. Notably as the divine presence intensifies one does less. One arrives at the point of striving to maintain awareness, and even later of simply maintaining a willingness to experience God's action.
3. How does it relate to faith?
Contemplation in its tangible phase requires little faith since one easily is convinced of God's action. In the arid phase faith is essential and, with love, a supporting virtue to persevere during trying and sometimes very difficult periods.
4 In what way is it a personal perceptible experience so that you know that you are receiving it?
As indicated above in the tangible phase of contemplation there is an awareness of the divine presence noted in the sense of touch. This varies in intensity. As one progresses in contemplation the areas of the body in which God's actions are perceived increase until the entire body feels flooded. Other perceptible experiences include locutions and visions generally received when one least expects them.
5. What is the relation between contemplation, and belief in the central mysteries of the Christian faith like the Trinity, and the divinity, death and resurrection of Jesus?
Faith in the Incarnation, Trinity and phases in Christ's life normally precede any practice of contemplation. Faith in God's presence in contemplation is in a measure changed to knowledge according to the degree of tangible evidence. Knowledge is increased with more manifest demonstrations of his existence and his attributes as in locutions, visions and infused love.
6. How does contemplation relate to spiritual experiences like visions, voices, prophecies and other extraordinary events?
Generally visions, voices, and extraordinary events occur when one arrives near, at or after the prayer of union. One needs much care to avoid deception. (One danger with which I had to tussle was thinking a flow of words in my mind was from the Holy Spirit and not from myself.) One does well to heed the advice of St. John of the Cross, namely, not desire them and if they come make little of them. If one has a competent spiritual director, then one tells the spiritual director of them. To investigate their coming from God one should ask oneself questions as these: Have their occurrence made me proud? Is my life any better, ...any worse? Are they a distraction to me? Am I inclined to tell others of them?
7. How does contemplation relate to Eastern forms of enlightenment?
I have made two Zen styled retreats. Satori or enlightenment experiences are highly prized. As explained to me, they appear similar to imaginative and intellectual visions. I was told that Zen meditation is distinct from the Buddhist religion. The Zen practitioner is free to apply the Satori experience as one sees fit. Notably the Zen practitioner that I observed were disciplined (spending up to eight hours a day sitting in meditation), goal driven and appearing to have a high degree of "purity of heart", qualities helpful in a contemplative life. One priest director told me he was aware of Zen practitioners experiencing the prayers of quiet and union. Everything is possible, as they say.
8. Do modern attempts to renew Christian contemplative life like centering prayer and John Main's Christian meditation aim at Christian mystical experience as you understand it?
I have never been taught centering prayer. In name it appears similar to Zen meditation that concentrates on a particular area of the body. Would it be like Bossuet's prayer of simplicity at which one arrives after a period of discursive meditation, mortification and striving for "purity of heart"? (I know nothing of John Main.) The emphasis on centering prayer may assist its practitioners to arrive at contemplative prayer. Hopefully those who attempt it are not prematurely striving for the contemplative life. From my reading normally holiness of life is a prerequisite.
9. How do you think the experience of no-self, expressed by someone like Bernadette Roberts, relates to Christian contemplative life?
I do not know who Bernadette Roberts is. The term no-self suggests one is absorbed in others. This is not the experience of the Christian mystic. One may speak of absorption in God, but in the end there are two natures even though they are joined in one love.
10. What do you think of the current state of spiritual direction when it comes to contemplatives?
For me, terrible. All of my personal quests have been unsatisfactory. A couple of priests ignored my telling of contemplative experiences. Most treat me as a beginner.
11. What other questions would you like to see considered?
How to obtain adequate spiritual direction, and the possibility of a forum of four or five contemplatives that would serve as a stimulus for advancing in the spiritual life.
Note: The phrase, "purity of heart", is in quotes because the heart is a muscle, not a seat of emotions. The word, detachment, can be substituted for "purity of heart".
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