A Source of Reflection
July 25, 2011
Could we come out of our fog
into the blazing light and delight
of being here at all?
Could we be awestruck by the love
that made us,
by the sheer radiance offered us
in the gift of being?
~ Gunilla Norris,
spend much of our lives in anticipation of the extraordinary,
yearning for something that will alter our circumstances and
result in greater happiness, wealth, fame or success.
What we expected our life to be may be very different
from the existence we find ourselves struggling to accept from
day to day. We may
wonder what happened:
Did my true life direction get mysteriously derailed at
some point? Can I
really claim the
current state of affairs as “my life”?
What should I be doing – what can I do? – to transform my
life to make it correspond more faithfully to my deepest
Curiously enough, while the ordinariness of everyday life
is something from which we often seek escape and relief,
spirituality depends on it.
Prayer and spiritual practice in general thrive on a
habitus, a way of life and being in the world that is regular,
evenly apportioned and unexceptional.
Great mystics and spiritual teachers – St. Teresa of
Avila, to name one – noticed, for example, that their spiritual
life and prayer suffered when they were for too long taken out
of their ordinary circumstances.
Special events and out-of-the-ordinary occurrences may be
a boon to our spiritual life in the short term.
But the highs do not and cannot last.
Inevitably, we must return to our everyday “common” life,
where we are called to integrate and make fruitful each new
experience, insight or learning we have received.
The ordinary is the setting of our ongoing formation and
In reality, the extraordinary resides within the
spirit reveals itself and is authentically encountered in what
appears to be commonplace and unspectacular.
“Truly,” said Jacob, “God is in this place and I knew it
When we pray as we were taught – ”Give us this day our
daily bread” – we do not seek
escape from or avoidance of our given reality but rather
to live wholly and with integrity in the life that is presently
ours. We hope to
receive what will be required of us to live up to the demands of
this day. The
prayer is meant to activate trust that there is a Plentiful
Source upon which we can rely, that it does not all depend on
us, and that indeed there is “more” than meets the eye in
Meditation may go further still in opening our eyes to the
mysterious source at the heart of reality.
When we meditate we begin a process of uniting our spirit
with that source. In the
quiet of meditation, we “leave” the world on one level.
But in opening ourselves up to the beyond, we are deepening
our relationship not to only to the transcendent source of all life.
The spiritual activity of relating that is the essence of
meditation also restores us to our concrete life.
The spiritual unity we seek is therefore to be attained
within the ordinary situations of life.
The following lines from the
Upanishads testify to the
power of meditation to effect this union:
May we harness body and mind to see
The Lord of Life who dwells in everyone....
May our senses through meditation be
Trained to serve the Lord of Life.
Hear, O children of immortal bliss,
You are born to be united with the Lord.
Ignite spiritual energy in the depths of
Bring your breathing and mind
Drink deep of divine love,
And you will attain the unitive state.
Prayer and meditation are the primary means of transforming
ordinary human experience, of helping us to see the
extraordinary within the ordinary.
Another important tool at our disposal is reflection.
Our mode of thinking affects our presence in the world.
Abstract, detached and unrelieved analytical thinking can
distance us from lived experience.
We may become isolated in a world of introspective or
problem-solving and calculative thinking.
The philosopher Martin Heidegger described the dangers of
this style of thinking in his 1966 Memorial Address essay:
Calculative thinking never stops, never
Calculative thinking is not meditative
thinking which contemplates the meaning which
reigns in everything that is.
Heidegger believed, along with the great spiritual
traditions of humanity, that we are
in essence meditative
beings. This means
that our thinking is capable of being more reflective and
Heidegger was advocating that alongside our ability to think
abstractly, technically and calculatively that we also develop
our innate capacity to give our thought to our experience of
being alive and present.
He actually believed that this style of reflection was
the more demanding and challenging.
It is enough if we dwell on what lies close and
on what is closest, upon that which concerns
and now; here, on this patch of home ground;
the present hour of history.
Meditative thinking is challenging.
It calls us to “bloom where we are planted”, to gaze on
the ordinary life that is our life, and to flourish in our home