Infused and Active Contemplation
Infused Contemplation, is a supernatural gift by which both mind and will become totally centered in God. Under this influence the intellect receives special insights into spiritual truths, and the will is alive with Divine Love. Those who receive the gift of Infused Contemplation should cultivate the interior life, practice the virtues, and break with fetters that may still keep them in bondage.
Active Contemplation or Contemplation in Action, happens when Mary and Martha join together to bring God's Presence and Action into the world. Active Contemplatives are as recollected and prayerful as are those who enjoy the supernatural gift of Infused Contemplation but are, at the same time, actively involved in the world around them.
No one gets to choose one or the other, because sometimes the gift of Infused Contemplation is given regardless of the circumstances. For example, parents who have received the gift of Infused Contemplation, have no choice but to be both Mary and Martha, for the sake of their family, hence they are Contemplatives in Action. Still, when we are in an intimate relationship with God, we are able to approach reality from a Contemplative's perspective, no matter how many things we have to do during the day.
Contemplative prayer requires sitting quietly in the Presence of God and it can be delightful, painful, or both, depending on what God is working in the soul. This sitting in God's Presence, despite the pressures of time constraints and ever changing moods, is the Contemplative's way of letting God know that he places his trust in Him. To trust in God means to let go, and let God.
Twelve Signs of Infused Contemplation
Fr. Aumann, Author of "Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition," lists twelve characteristics of Infused Contemplation, as follows:
1. It is an unmistakable experience of God's presence, experimentally and intellectually.
2. This is also an invasion of the soul by the supernatural as God inundates the soul with supernatural life.
3. The experience will not last a second longer than is desired by the Holy Spirit who causes it with the operation of His gifts.
4. The soul cannot contemplate whenever it wants, but only when God desires and in the measure and degree He so wishes.
5. The experimental knowledge of God enjoyed is not clear and distinct but obscure and baffled.
6. During this mystical prayer it is impossible for the soul to doubt about God's very presence and activity within, although the soul may doubt about it afterwards.
7. The soul also enjoys a certain moral certitude of being in the state of grace. Yet this certitude is far superior to that possessed by ordinary Christians in the ascetical state.
8. This mystical experience is indescribable as such, beyond the expression of human languages.
9. Although this mystical union with God may last for a long time, sometimes it is so brief as if it is nothing more than a divine touch. It also admits of variations and fluctuations in intensity.
10. When mystical contemplation is very intense, the body may react visibly. "The eyes become clouded and dull, the organism is weak and intermittent, with an occasional deep breathing as if trying to absorb the necessary quantity of air; the limbs are partly paralyzed; the heat of the body decreases, especially in the extremities…" [Please take note that there are countless types of spiritual experiences.]
11. This prayer may be so intense that it results in an ecstatic trance. Because of the absorption in God, it is often difficult and even impossible for a mystic to give attention to any other prayers or activities during this prayer.
12. A surest sign of true Contemplation is that the soul often leaves this prayer with a great impulse toward a virtuous life. Sometimes the soul may be given a degree of progress in a certain virtue, which has been impossible to attain despite great efforts. However, this prayer does not instantaneously bring us to perfection..
The Realm of Unknowing
The desire for God a Contemplative feels is a call originating from the deepest recesses of his heart, beckoning him to discover Love, Truth and Beauty within himself. He no longer seeks to learn "about" God. He now seeks to go to God directly.
This is the first stirring of a Contemplative's response to God's invitation to a life of greater intimacy with Him. At this point, if a person dedicated some time every day to sitting quietly and alone with that deep naked intent of the soul to God, he would be engaging in Contemplative prayer.
Contemplation is primarily a silence that is pregnant with the fullness of Love. It's a mute longing, a quiet stretching of the heart to God, a calm channeling of the Contemplative's energy to Him in love and trust.
Through the practice of Contemplative prayer and with the help of Grace, the Contemplative will eventually come to love God as the Bride in the Canticles loved her Beloved: passionately and single-heartedly.
Although the gift of Contemplation is offered to all, it's not all who receive it, because many people at best only give God a passing thought. The best preparation for the gift of Contemplation is to desire to receive it, either knowingly or unknowingly. It's possible to desire God's gift unknowingly, that is without the awareness of being on the path. This usually happens to Truth and Wisdom seekers.
However, it's not appropriate to approach Contemplative prayer from the standpoint of curiosity or for the sake of religious experiences. When the Contemplative is engaged in prayer, he is opening himself to God alone. However, if one just opens oneself without being wholly present to God, there is no telling what could happen. I wouldn't recommend it.
Besides, if one has not fallen in love with God to some degree, one will not be able to endure upon this path. In fact, the gift of Contemplation in prayer unfolds gradually, through years of dedication to the daily pondering of the truths and values of the Gospel. These will awaken in a contemplative person an appreciation for the mysteries of our Faith that elude his power of understanding.
Outside our mind's limited grasp there is the darkness of unknowing. The Contemplative moves into the realm of unknowing in Faith, Hope and Love as he approaches the unseen and unfelt Presence of God.
Although Contemplation may come naturally to those who have made God their priority in life, it's also a discipline that requires commitment, much like marriage.
Basic commitment to prayer is like the foundation upon which a house is to be built. Without it, the house will not withstand the winds of purification and adversity. This means there is work to do, therefore prayer will often be dry and full of distractions and the Contemplative will be unable to direct his heart to God, however much he may wish to do so. This labor is meant to strengthen and humble him, so that his Faith may rest on a solid foundation.
If at such a time the Contemplative decides to give up prayer, he will forego the opportunity to grow in strength and humility, and he will also lose the joy of discovering the delightful and comforting Lordship of Jesus in his life.
To teach the Contemplative to trust in Him, God will often push him to the limits of his endurance and will not relent until He has solicited the desired response.
The whole process of learning to trust in God at ever deeper levels of our being can only mean death to the false self. Such death engenders a kind of a rebirth to a new way to experience Jesus, who said: "I am the Resurrection, and the Life: he that believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." (John 11:25). Death has many aspects to it. In this case I'm referring to the death of the false self, which will engender the birth of the true self. To die to self is to rise with God to a new plane of existence.
Trust and Surrender
Completely surrendering to God is not an easy task. It may be a long time before a Contemplative is ready and willing to completely surrender to God. However, if God is after someone, He will be in relentless pursuit, much as described in Francis Thompson's poem entitled "Hound of Heaven:
" 'I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped... from those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy, they beat - and a Voice beat more instant than the Feet - "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."'
Some Contemplatives have a hard time learning to trust and let go, so they oppose resistance to God, even though they don't really want to. They do so by refusing to give up those things that they know are holding them back, whatever they may be. Endless is the agony of a Contemplative who opposes resistance to God! Neither God nor the false self will give up, and this individual is caught in the jaws of unending suffering.
Here I'm reminded of a story by the great Hindu holy man, Sri Ramakrishna. One day, he said, a big frog fell prey to a non poisonous snake. So now the snake had the frog in its jaws, but because the frog was too big, the snake could neither swallow it nor let it go. The frog suffered so much pain that it croaked continuously. Had the frog been caught by a cobra, who has venom in its bite, it would have quieted down after a single croak.
The moral of the story is to avoid resisting God, because the opposition of the false self to God will only prolong your sufferings. You might as well surrender whatever vestiges of your ego are left in you. The sooner you do that, the sooner you will find peace, therefore the Contemplative ought to make up his mind at an early stage to hold nothing back. Those who are beset by fears and doubts will have great difficulty grasping the reality of a Love that is so utterly exclusive and demanding that will tolerate nothing to stand in its way.
To these half-hearted, fearful individuals the darkness and the rigors of purifying Grace will seem especially intolerable. They will think to have given God a lot, when in reality they have only given a little, and so their sufferings continue until they realize that with God there are no half measures: it's all or nothing. St. John of the Cross wrote that regardless of whether a bird is held by a chain or by a hair string, it will be unable to soar. Death of self must be total, and the sooner is occurs, the sooner the torments will cease.
The Contemplative, like Job, is one who sits on the dunghill waiting for God's saving mercy and, while waiting, he grows in patience, humility, love and trust. While waiting for God, the Contemplative will also learn to let God be God, rather than whom he thinks God is, or should be. Letting go of one's preconceived ideas is a must, if you aspire to know God as He truly is.
The Contemplative is someone who knows that he has been chosen and anointed by God's Holy Spirit. It's God's Spirit that sanctifies him, not his merits or virtues. It's God's Spirit that mandates him, not his own initiatives. For that reason, the Contemplative is wary of embracing indiscriminate activity, regardless of how virtuous or religious in nature it might be. Like Mary of Bethany, the Contemplative waits for the call of the Master, before setting into motion. The kind of activity he is entrusted with by God doesn't cause any distraction from God, rather it enables the Contemplative to love God more perfectly.
The Contemplative loves Truth passionately and knows that God's Truth sets him free from the many delusions from which he suffers. God allows many hidden fears to float to the surface of his consciousness to enable him to acknowledge his brokenness, and thus be healed.
Confession and Conversion are ongoing realities in the life of a Contemplative, therefore he is constantly changing. Nothing is final, nothing is absolute except the unknown, unfelt Presence of God in whom he places all his trust.
The Contemplative is like the tax collector in the Gospel story, who knelt in the Presence of God, humbly beating his chest and asking for mercy. Unlike the pharisee, who felt the need to justify himself before God, the sinner is not afraid, because he knows that God's love embraces his brokenness in order to heal him. God's Love is noble and kind, it's a Love that has the power to destroy sin.
Contemplatives suffer many trials both interior and exterior. One of the greatest trials, I think, a Contemplative might suffer is not knowing how he stands before God.
He longs to be transformed into the Image of Jesus, he begs for a change of heart, still he looks and looks within himself only to see nothing whatsoever that will give him an inkling of an idea of what God might think of him. Is he good? Is he bad? He doesn't know! How is it possible? He knows he is a sinner, but he can't see how he can remedy the situation by his own efforts. He wouldn't know where to look, and what to begin to tackle! This can be an incredibly painful experience.
He can only attribute his inability to see his failings to his spiritual blindness, and yet he longs to uncover his sins so that he might be able to seek forgiveness and conversion of heart. Of course it's understood that such a person is not in the habit of committing mortal sins, and would never willingly offend God in any way. Such an experience could be a great trial if trust in God didn't trump the fear a contemplative might experience when he doesn't know whether he is good or bad in the eyes of God.
Not all contemplatives experience the same things. It depends on the individual and what God is working in each soul. Sometimes, when the True self and the false self fight against each other for predominance, the contemplative can't see clearly what's going on within himself. As a result, the contemplative will be unable to judge himself, because the dust hasn't settled yet, so to speak.
What Should I Do, and Not Do?
In conclusion, if you have been given the gift of Infused Contemplation, Prof. Aumann counsels you below:
1. We should not cease discursive meditation until we clearly perceive the call to a higher grade of prayer. As St. Teresa warned us, when the soul is not sure, it should not try to remain passive and inactive. Such self-direction or pride would produce only empty aridity and restlessness, which goes nowhere.
2. We should immediately terminate all discursive prayer as soon as we feel the impulse of grace toward infused contemplation. "Since this is God's activity, it would be most imprudent for a spiritual director to command a particular soul to discontinue mystical prayer in order to return to ordinary prayer."
3. People so graced should give themselves completely to the interior life and the practice of virtues. They should also break with all attachments that still keep them in unholy or ungodly bondage.