The words of divine inspiration are a spirit that is materialised into expressions. And it is not the body (that is, the expression) that will benefit you but it is the spirit which is in it that gives life. (2 Cor 3:6). Therefore the Lord said: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (Jn 6:63).
The words are just a covering which encloses meanings within; like a shell that contains a pearl. The pearl is the spirit of the words. Do not be satisfied with the shell. Uncover it and take the pearl that is inside. This happens through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, through prayer, as you say with the Psalmist: “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Ps 119:18). Or as Elisha prayed for his disciple, Gehazi, that the Lord may open his eyes that he may see (2 Kings 6:17).
Contemplation, then, is the enlightenment of the mind by the Holy Spirit.
So that we may understand the meaning of the books within the Holy Bible, delve into them and remove the shell so as to reveal the core. This is what is meant by contemplating on the Bible, trying to discover the divine mysteries that are present in the divine inspiration. Or as it was said about the work of the Lord Jesus Christ with His Disciples after the Resurrection: “And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Lk 24:45).
Truly, Lord, through Your light we see the light.
We then need light from Your Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds, our hearts and our thoughts, to understand what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2).
As for the effort done by our thoughts, our hearts and our souls, we consider it just as a request, asking the grace to open our minds to receive what the Spirit pours in them.. Our job is to offer our minds to God, to fill them up with depth and understanding from above... We open the door for Him to come in and dine with us (Rev 3:20)... Yes, we dine with the Bread of Life that comes down from heaven (Jn 6:33,35). We live by this bread and by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt 4:4).
So, in contemplation, the step taken by the mind is opening the door to the Spirit.
That is why some of the fathers consider contemplation, in its depth, something outside the human effort; considering it a gift from the Holy Spirit. Or as the Psalmist says: “I opened my mouth and panted, for I longed for Your commandments” (Ps 119:131).
Or contemplation is a period of study by the Holy Spirit. A training on how to take from the Spirit what He wants to give you.
It is not a matter of an effort by the mind to understand, or just a matter of depending on our intelligence and ability, as the Bible said, “And lean not on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5).
The purely intellectual thinking that is void of the work of the Spirit does not produce contemplation... It might produce knowledge or philosophy, but not contemplation.
There is a difference between a scholar and a worshipper, between the one who studies and the one who contemplates, between the one who searches the books and the one who receives from the Spirit.
Contemplation is not just a thought, as we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other sections. It is mixing the thought with the heart, then leaving the heart as a tool in the hand of the spirit. Then the spirit prays to take from the Spirit of God. And what the spirit takes is given to the mind through the heart.
At that time, we realize the strength of the word because it takes strength from the Spirit.. Then do not stop, my brother, at the level of the mind but use the mind as means to reach the spirit. And the spirit will lead you to God who has all treasures of knowledge, and He will give unto you..
The one who reads on the surface may read much with no contemplation.
As for the spiritual reader, the little he reads becomes a spring of contemplation that does not dry up.
He does not concentrate on how much he reads, but rather he contemplates on what he reads... A word or an expression might attract him, so he plunges into its depth and remains there. He says with the Psalmist: “I have seen the consummation of all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Ps 119:96)... God may open his heart and in one word, he may see a great treasure that will never end, no matter how much he takes from it. As David the Prophet said in his prayers: “ I rejoice at your word as one who finds great treasure” (Ps 119:162).
Would that you take one verse per day for contemplation, as a spiritual exercise.
Consider a verse from the Bible that may have left an effect on you during your reading. But do not stop at the limit of this effect. Memorize this verse and take it as a field for your thinking and contemplation, giving the Spirit of God a chance to grant you something through it.. Or take a specific story from the Bible as a field for your contemplation.
God’s dealings with people is a very wide field for contemplation..
Consider God’s dealings with His saints, those whom He loved and those who dearly loved Him and had an intimate relationship with Him, or even God’s dealings with sinners who benefited from His long suffering and the abundance of His gentleness and so they repented, or those whose hearts were hardened...
Personalities in the Bible could also be used as a field for contemplation... And many are the books written on this topic...
What would also help you to contemplate is having memorized many verses from the Bible.
Whenever you start contemplating, you will find these verses coming back to you, each completing and complementing one another. Each verse presenting you with a specific meaning. They all present to you a beautiful bouquet of contemplations. In its co-ordination, we remember the saying of the Apostle:
“Comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor 2:13).
And so you occupy yourself during the day with spiritual thoughts...
These thoughts will penetrate deep within you. And these pure thoughts bring forth other pure thoughts. They also bring forth many feelings, emotions and contemplations. Your heart becomes pure and the word of God works in it, spreading within it spiritual contemplations.. These contemplations will also accompany you during prayer and will even cross your mind while conversing with others. The listeners will notice depth that is not superficial.
And so you will benefit from contemplation by deepening your spiritual life.
It will not be limited to the mere thought or spiritual feeling, or inner satisfaction, or the pleasure of knowledge.. But it will develop to have its effect on your practical life..
Therefore when you read, whether it be the Bible, or lives of the church fathers, do not stop at the level of reading and contemplating only, but mingle what you read with your thoughts and your heart... Apply your contemplations to your life and develop accordingly a program to follow that will become a part of your relationship with God and with people...
Let your reading be accompanied by prayer..
As said by David the Prophet in the long Psalm: “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Ps 119:18).. We see here that contemplation needs divine uncovering.. Many a time one stands in a state of amazement before what God uncovers for him.. He may read a chapter from the Bible that he had read before, but new meanings are revealed that may never have crossed his mind before in his previous readings...
The same thing could happen while reading or praying the Psalms. And even perhaps when he prays the same Psalm a few days later, then he will discover new meanings that he never discovered before...
And so God opens for him windows of light that will shine into his mind.
This enlightenment is not due to his intelligence or knowledge. But it is a gift from God that He pours on him while praying, reading or contemplating. Prayer becomes a source of contemplation and is accompanied by contemplation. Also contemplation becomes accompanied by prayer... The meaning of verses becomes wider and unlimited and one experiences its depth all the time..
If you don’t have the gift of contemplation, read the contemplations of the saintly fathers.
A great saint like St John Chrysostom has a commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew, another commentary on the Gospel of St John and many other commentaries on the Acts of the Apostles and the fourteen Epistles of St Paul... These books are full of explanations and contemplations. Follow him in the way he explains and contemplates and learn..
Another great saint is St Augustine, who is very deep in his contemplation and the delicacy of his style. He has written a book of contemplations on the First Epistle of St John the Apostle, another book of contemplations on the Psalms as well as various sermons on many chapters of the Gospels. Read his works and learn...
Likewise with the rest of the works of the saints, especially those who are known for their contemplations and not only for the depth of their teachings.. such as Mar Ephram the Syrian, St Jacob El Sorougy, St Didymos the Blind and others. Read their works, benefit from them and consider them as a school in contemplation.
Train yourself also to read the fathers who became famous in their symbolic contemplations on the Bible..
You will find great depth in their writings, as they do not restrict themselves to the literary meaning of the verses of the Bible, but they go into the depth of the verses’ meaning...
Appreciating symbolism would also help us in understanding the books of prophecies such as the Song of Solomon.. and understanding such things about the sacrifices, offerings and feasts; the laws concerning uncleanliness and purification and other laws about which St Paul the Apostle said: “... Are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col 2:17).
Practise contemplation because it occupies your mind with something good and beneficial, instead of leaving the thoughts to wander in wrong or trivial matters that are void of any benefit..
Be certain that your mind can be active in contemplating, but it depends on what you offer it for contemplation, whether it be good or bad, whether it is offered from your heart and thoughts, or something from the world...
So it is better to contemplate on what is beneficial.
You should know that the gift of contemplation is for all and not only for the saints, but even for the sinners...
There are many who have an amazing ability to contemplate, but on sin; one who loves a specific sin, how easy it is for him to wonder and contemplate on it deeply. It dominates his thoughts, his heart and his feelings to the extent that it could influence his imagination. This is what some authors, poets and novelists used to do. It is one type of contemplation, but they used it on sin..
As for the saints, their contemplations are on spiritual matters. Therefore, those who contemplate on sinful things, if they repent and direct this gift of contemplation to a spiritual path, the good effect will then show. We mention here, as an example, St Augustine who after his conversion lived a life of repentance and spiritual growth, to the extent that he recorded all his sins in his book entitled “The Confessions”.
Reading is one of the tools that produce contemplation...
We have spoken about reading the Holy Bible... We also add to this the reading of spiritual books and the lives of the saints which needs from us more explanation.
But remember always that contemplation makes you perceive and enjoy the depth of the subject.
It keeps you from shallowness, offers you spiritual food that is good for your inner being, grants you wisdom and makes you feel God’s work in you...
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