The Non-Contemplative Person


 The great idea of individual freedom can so easily collapse into a pernicious sentiment. 

 Thus instead of a focus upon the freedom of the individual to really become something noble and good, what substitutes is the insidious sentiment that one has the freedom, or rather, the license, to be what one wants to be, without any constraints.

 My question is therefore whether the freedom you’re trumpeting has to do with becoming more, or less? Is your sense of freedom about becoming a saint or an idiot?

 There is, it seems to me, such a huge contrast between the exercise of the freedom to become a person in full - a good and holy person - or the license to disgrace yourself.

 So often the ruling sentiment is the license to be any old something or other. An effort that results, as I said, in becoming less, not more. 

 For example, I cringed the other day as I heard someone talk enthusiastically about what he called his progressive agenda - whatever that means.

 And then, to my horror, the person droned on to emphasize that we all needed to be more passionate in our progressiveness. 

 I had trouble keeping my eyes open. 

 I had no idea what the passionate progressive was talking about. It all sounded so vague, general and sentimental - characteristics incidentally that,  family therapist, Virginia Satir, states are the chief features of dysfunctional or troubled families.

 Satir’s point is to suggest that where there’s disorder, the talk will be vague and dreamy. The happy talk is a cover for the unresolved issues the family is trying to keep under wraps.

 For me, I sense the inner chaos beneath the happy, hopeful talk, so that when the passionate progressive sings his pathetic tune, something sinks inside of me.

 It’s my soul being suffocated.

 And my fear always is that the loopy progressive is next going to insist that it’s time for us all to join hands to form a circle: 'Let’s form a circle to sing: "We are the world. We are the children,” or some such drivel. 

 I can hardly take it. But there may be more. 

 The next step I dread is that the circle of addle-heads will move outside to begin hugging trees while uttering vague, empty sentiments about various global enterprises. 

 My response, whenever I’ve had the misfortune to be in such contexts, is to go into panic mode. Desperate, I search for a table to hide under.

 For there’s something missing in the hopeful talk about changing the world. In fact, the more hopeful the talk, the more hopeless I feel. 

 My question is: Where’s the beef?

 Well, the missing beef, or substance, is the absence of a certain radical inner action, which is what I would call a prayerful pause of humility before reality.

 The missing beef, specifically, is the need to pause and bow before the wisdom of the ages.

 The act of prayerful humility is to respect and to revere the sages, seers, and scriptures that have come before us. 

 It is to bow before wisdom, instead of foolishly to march forward, guided only by one's uneducated and undisciplined impulses.

 Now, it is just this action of a prayerful pause before reality that is always bypassed by the dreamy, loopy, sentimentally driven progressives. 

 For theirs is a habit of mind that tends to skip past the pause of prayerful reverence into some kind of sentimental la la land.

 The passionate progressive is not into wisdom, but into ‘wishin and hopin.’ 

 And this predilection to be always wishin and hopin can become poisonous, as C.S. Lewis warned in his writings.

 The wisdom-bearing C.S. Lewis warned of a spirit of subjectivism that, if it ever took over in our schools, would destroy them. Such a state of affairs would be, according to Lewis, not only the end of education, but The Abolition of Man

 And thus a conflict rages in every age and in every heart between the way of wisdom and the way of mere sentiment.

 The way of wisdom - the high way - leads to the the joy of the spirit. Its adversary is the low way of giving in to that which seems pleasant to the senses.

 And so before us always is the need to choose between the two ways. The development of our character and destiny depends upon which direction we take.

 "Both these,” states the Upanishad, "differing in their purpose, prompt us".

 "All is well,” says the Upanishad, "for those who choose the joy of the spirit, but they miss the goal of life who prefer the pleasant.” 

 The choice is between “perennial joy or passing pleasure." The wise recognize this; the ignorant do not.

 The Bible, too, is full of warnings about taking a way that seems right, but which is actually the way of self-delusion.

 And yet what we witness today are educators everywhere passionately promoting their various causes while failing to listen to wisdom.

 They have either ignored or forgotten that wisdom teaches that the goal of education is to create human beings who are able to perceive the beatific vision - the vision of the beautiful - of God.

 Which is exactly what young Johnny is not naturally and spontaneously going to learn in his collaborative learning circle. 

 And since this is so, my sense is that Johnny needs to be saved from the socializing circle lest he become yet another non-contemplative progressive, bent on following his own impulses, instead of wisdom.

 My sense is to get the kid out of the deadly socializing circle so that he can learn that there are dimensions of mystery beyond the empirical.

  To get the kid out of the circle so that he can be taught that "there is an infinite background to any reality or event."

   To get the kid out of the circle so that a premium can be placed on being "virginal, cautious and chaste." 

     To get the kid out of the circle so that he might learn that there is "a certain authority within the very countours of reality that is not to be violated."

       To get the kid out of the circle so that he can be taught that "there are dimensions of reality that carry a mystique and which are not to be rendered familiar by indiscriminate experience."

         To get the kid out of the circle so that he might learn 'the innocence of the contemplative instead of the sophistication of the cynic.' (Adapted from Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern, Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God, p. 54)

 The main point is to get Johnny out of the venomous circle so that he can learn that we are most truly free and human when we are kneeling in submission. 

 As G.K. Chesterton says: "We not only feel freer when we bend, we actually feel taller when we bow.

 Chesterton also warned that ‘the refusal to bow prayerfully before wisdom actually stunts our growth and maims us forever.’ 

 And further that “if we cannot pray we are gagged; If we cannot kneel we are in iron.” (G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, p. 112 - 114)

 The deepest sense of freedom therefore is to be in a relationship of accord with the Highest, with the Ultimate, with God. 

 We are free to the degree that we become contemplatives of That Reality more and more continuously. 


 O Magnum Mysterium, Jonn Serrie