Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Contemplation/contemplative is traditionally defined as a specific disposition of attentive receptivity. It causes 'experience' to recede. One can dispose oneself towards attentive receptivity but contemplation is itself gratuitous; its arrival may be gradual or without warning; it is often imperceptible except in retrospect because it elides self-consciousness. The word contemplation entails relinquishing all claims to experience; it opens to what is uncircumscribed and other.

To say 'contemplative text' is nonsensical. In addition, visionary texts do not describe contemplation unless, like Julian's, they move the reader from image to the contemplative event-horizon. The same is true for didactic texts. Devotional texts are not 'contemplative', although they may indirectly foster contemplation if only because the practitioner becomes bored with watching him or her self starring in his or her own religious psycho-drama.

Nor can the word contemplative be used for trance-inducing texts, such as Rolle's canor. Trance is liminal, but self-consciousness is still in control. Abstraction—for example, Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ—is not contemplation; abstraction belongs rather to the realm of self-consciousness, not deep mind. In terms of the Middle English texts with which they are usually grouped, only Julian's Long Text (Sloane) and the Cloud are properly associated with contemplation. To these might be added one contemplative interlocutor: Will, of Piers Plowman.


Blogger Ultra Monk said...

I like that: "...starring in your own religious psych drama..."
"...relinquishing all claims to experience..."
When I was meditating the other day, I realized how outcome based my spirituality is and that I can now give up all spiritual demands.

7:09 pm, January 25, 2012  
Blogger Dan Hoffman said...

Thank you for this statement. I have this question: Is it possible, in your view, for a parish through care in liturgy and teaching and embrace of silence to portray itself as a "contemplative congregation"? A priest has asked a friend for some comments on the marks of a contemplative congregation. Daniel

10:36 pm, January 27, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...


Thanks for the great and difficult questions. I am writing a long reply, which i will post in a day or so.



9:59 pm, January 28, 2012  

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