Contemplation and Mysticism

CONTEMPLATION is the central concept of the Christian mystical tradition. It holds the meaning of a mystical, spiritual path that leads to unity with the Ultimate, Divine Reality, with the Absolute, God. It also denotes a type of prayer considered to be the highest form of spiritual practice which prepares a man for the experience of unification with God and is, ultimately, a pure gift from God. Therefore, it represents the stage of the soul, i.e. the spirit, as well as the daily practice of praying on the spiritual path.

Contemplation is a non-discursive form of prayer. It is a practice of resting and immersing into the depths of being beyond words and images, in order to experience God in a deeper way, while sitting peacefully. Will, reason and emotions calm down, while the awaken attentiveness prepares the path for experiencing the Divine Secret.

Although the term MYSTICISM is often taken as a synonym, we use it here in a somewhat broader sense – in the sense of trans-confessional spirituality and sophia perennis – eternal, timeless wisdom, which encompasses and is the foundation of all the great spiritual traditions of the world.

I just want to sit, be silent, and listen to what God tells me.  MEISTER ECKHART

Contemplation (contemplatio) is a Latin translation of a Greek word theoria. It was a term that, among other things, explained the way in which theatrical performances were experienced (with eyes or with the mind), as well as the purpose of watching them. It implied calm, focused and very attentive looking at things, followed by a catharsis, a cleansing that was the result of (good) theatrical performance. In this sense, transferred to the spiritual field, contemplation is the state of calm observation, perception of one’s inner life centred in God's being. We can use also the second translation which is the Latin word con-templare, which can be translated as "being in the Temple" in the sense of observing the Ark of the Covenant between man and God, or visio Dei. In this way, the term was directly related to the practice of observation or, as it was named later, perception.

From the earliest times, the Christian tradition made distinction between different kinds, i.e. levels, of prayer: oratio or prayer with words, meditatio or prayer with thoughts, emotions and will, and contemplatio or prayer free of all contents of consciousness. This division has been retained to the present day in the practice of monastic spirituality called lectio divina that took its final shape with Carthusian Guigo II (12th ct.). It is, in fact, only a continuation of older practices derived from the desert monasticism (in Egypt) in the 4th century like ruminatio, i.e. incessant interior repetition of one word or a sentence, or ceaseless and formless prayer by Evagrius.

In its second meaning, contemplation implied a complete spiritual path, the final stage in which the Divine Truth – gnosis, scientia, came into being with the realization of Divine Love and Compassion – agape, caritas. Early Church Fathers, like Irenaeus of Lyons or Clement of Alexandria (3rd and 4th centuries) used to say: "God became man, so that man might become God." It is important to point out that the term God, in that sense, was completely devoid of any designations or characteristics (ohne warum of Meister Eckhart or nada of St. John of the Cross) according to the apophatic mystical theology that served as it (back)ground. In that tradition, in the history of Western mystical spirituality we can name some of the most prominent mystics and spiritual masters: Bernard of Clairvaux and William of St. Thierry (12th ct.), Hugo and Richard of St. Victor (12th ct.), Bonaventura, Marguerite Porete, Hadewijch of Antwerp and Machtild of Magdeburg (13th ct.), Meister Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, Henry Suso (Heinrich Seuse), Jan van Ruusbroec, Cloud of Unknowing (14th ct.), Nicholas of Cusa (15th ct.), Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross (16th ct.), François de Sales (17th ct.), François Fénelon and Madame Guyon (18th ct.).

Throughout its history, the Catholic Church often expressed misunderstanding of contemplative spirituality. Sometimes, the consequences for mystics were drastic, as was the case with, i. e. Marguerite Porete, Miguel de Molinos and Madame Guyon. More frequently, those convicted for heresy, like Meister Eckhart, and more recently Pierre Theillard de Chardin, Anthony de Mello and Willigis Jäger, were banned from publication of books and public speaking. Under the influence of rationalism, Enlightenment, and general fear of misleading teachings, as well as personal experiences, for the last 300 years contemplative spirituality has been systematically neglected and pushed to the background. The renewal of this tradition began at the beginning of the 20th century with the creation of new space of free and open study, together with living of mystical teachings and practices. Today, it is in full swing and it already yields remarkable results worldwide.

However, such is not the case in these parts of the world. Although the practice of contemplation has existed for more than 20 years in Croatia (and 35 in Bosnia and Herzegovina), thanks to father Mladen Herceg, OFM, it failed to gain space in the wider, public domain because of the Church’s cautious attitude towards it. We can easily compare our situation to that in US and Europe 50 years ago when the pioneers of the contemplative renewal, such as Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating and others in the US, and Hugo Enomiya–Lassalle, John Main, Willigis Jäger, and others in Europe, began its complete revitalization.

It is important to point out why we think the restoration of Christian contemplative tradition is so vital.

  1. Because it is ours, Western spiritual tradition we come from and we are an inseparable part of (regardless of whether we have lived it in our lives or not).
  2. Because it is commonly thought that it does not know the esoteric, contemplative spiritual practice, that in its essence is as valuable as any other known spiritual practice, notably those from the East.
  3. Because more and more people in the West, both Christians and non-Christians, are ready to embark on a true spiritual journey, but have no one to turn to for help, teaching, support and company.
  4. Because of the significance of a complete renewal of the contemplative tradition on a global scale – in regards to the number of Christians in the world, and the pervasiveness of the influence of the Western civilization in every corner of the world at this time, given its purely material, exoteric components.

Mysticism is yet another important term marking our work. Greek word mystikos has two (among many) meanings: "closing, retreating of the senses" and "entering the mysteries". Entering marked the initiation (myesis) into a spiritual practice that led to catharsis, purification and ecstasy (ekstasis), i.e. spiritual awakening, while "closing, retreating of the senses" was related to spiritual practice associated with righteous living (askesis) and the knowledge of the Ultimate Reality (gnosis). In this sense, mysticism is the broader concept of trans-confessional spirituality that does not stop with the traditions of the West and Christianity, but encompasses all the great, spiritual traditions of the world, and is thus associated with the concept of sophia perennis, eternal, timeless wisdom.

The name Centre for Spiritual Journeys was thus given because we believe that the openness and interconnectedness of every-one and every-thing in today's world make up a fundamental paradigm of a complete spiritual journey.

The CENTRE thus encompasses the way of the body through physical and energy exercises such as Aikido, Taijiquan, Qigong and Yoga; the way of the heart, in a passive way through the prayer of the heart, and in an active way by incorporating prayer into everyday life through acts of love and compassion; the way of the spirit, through a mystical, contemplative practice of pure attention. With this integral approach, we wish to bring the possibility of achieving the unity and integrity of the human being in all its potentials closer, both on the individual spiritual journey, and in the society as a whole.