– Luke Coppen, The Pillar, August 2022
Bishop, what is Christianity?
Christianity fundamentally is faith in – and an existential attachment to – the revelation of Jesus Christ. By which I mean fundamentally his manifestation of our call to share in the very life of God, in his victory over death. Fundamentally, Christianity is the certainty that in Christ death has lost its sting. “Christ is risen” and everything else flows from that. There are enormous consequences, more or less simple or complex, that embrace all of existence.
What is prayer?
It’s the lifting up of the heart. It is an opening of my being to the reality of God and an engagement of my being with God’s being in a dialogue, which is sometimes an explicit dialogue and sometimes very implicit and mysterious.
There’s a marvelous story of Metropolitan Anthony Bloom. When he goes to an old people’s home, he encounters this old lady, who is in a great spiritual crisis, because she says she recites the Jesus Prayer day and night, and yet she is in this state of spiritual desert. The Metropolitan advises her: “From now on, I ask you to spend half an hour a day not saying any prayers, but simply sitting in your chair and knitting in the face of God.”
It totally revolutionized this woman’s spiritual life.
Sometimes, if we could learn just to shut up and open ourselves attentively to God.
Is that what you’d call contemplative prayer?
I’ve been helped by a phrase from a Florentine Renaissance humanist, Pico della Mirandola, who speaks of our fundamental vocation as being “universi contemplator”, as one who contemplates the universe, who contemplates the whole. I’m convinced that we, by nature, are contemplative. To live contemplatively is fundamentally a matter of standing still and paying attention.
There’s a contemplative hidden in everyone?
And not necessarily all that hidden. In our cultural context, there’s a lot that militates against the contemplative life because we’re addicted to disturbance. We love to be disturbed. And if we haven’t been disturbed for the last 20 seconds, we find something to disturb us. Part of the soul pain, frustration that experience can release in us is an indication that, fundamentally, we’re constructed for a different mode of interacting with the world.
Blaise Pascal said that ‘all of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’ There’s such wisdom in that.
Does the Church still have a need for contemplatives?
An urgent need, because the heart of the Church is a contemplative heart. We need that constant refocusing of our sight, of our mind, of our heart upon the mystery of God.