Contemplative Life

Preface by Fr. Bede Jarrett, OP to “Dominican Contemplatives” by a Dominican of Carisbrooke (Burns & Oates, 1919).

Contemplation is for all, but the contemplative life is only for a few.  Contemplation is in itself only one method of prayer, one way of getting into communication with God.  Instead of talking volubly or agitating our souls, we turn simply to some truth about God, some fact in His divine or human life, some manifestation of Him in created or uncreated nature, and gaze steadily at it.  It is a prayer of quiet in the sense that in our souls there is stillness, but not in the sense that in our souls there is idleness.  In contemplation we are active with the finest principles of action, the head and heart: Faith and experience of God produce in us love, and love is no idle thing but the full and perfect thrill of life. 

A contemplative life is, therefore, such a life as will give amplest opportunity for contemplation.  All can contemplate: but to a few it is given to leave all else for it.  For these the whole day must be so arranged, the whole manner of life, that those tasks only (except what is essential to human existence) will be incumbent which conduce contemplation.  But it is obvious that, even so, such a life can be set out in many fashions, according as each soul feels drawn to this view or that of the Truth and Beauty of God.  To all it is God who gives the purpose to human life, but the roads toward Him are as innumerable as are human hearts.  Hence the leaders of the Church have created religious orders which lead souls severally Godwards.  Great figures loom out from history’s pageant, figures so great that the height up the hill-side they have scaled does not diminish their greatness.  In the line of material vision, to mount upwards means to grow smaller to those watching.  In the line of spiritual vision, to mount upwards means to be transfigured beyond human proportions against the skies of God.  Of these leaders, not the greatest perhaps, but to us the most dear, is St. Dominic.  With his orderly scheme of Truth, achieved through freedom of mind and heart, he makes his appeal to certain souls.  His way is not the popular way, for it implies much daring and many risks, since, if truth be the most fortifying of virtues, it is in many lives the most full of danger.  To seek Truth is to court Calvary and its utter desolation of spirit.  But the way set by St. Dominic, the particular fashion of contemplative life  that he instituted for women, is herein described by one of his followers.  To contemplate Truth and to expound it by prayer, by the mystic vision, by a subtle, living influence vitalising the whole membership of Christ is, in the pages that follow, declared after the model of St. Dominic.  To this generation whose soul has been bruised by the turmoil of war and over-much talk, this contemplative way of his will find one here and one there upon whom it will react by affinity.  For these, as already for us, here will be found “the dear city of God,” small, compact, not overcrowded, but gay with the blessed familiarity of home.

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