I was sitting by the ocean one late summer afternoon, watching the waves rolling in and feeling the rhythm of my breathing, when I suddenly became aware of my whole environment as being engaged in a gigantic cosmic dance. Being a physicist I knew that the sand, rocks, water and air around me were made of vibrating molecules and atoms, and these consisted of particles which interacted with one another… I know also that the earth’s atmosphere was continually bombarded by showers of ‘cosmic rays,’ particles of high energy undergoing multiple collisions as they penetrated the air. All this was familiar to me from my research on high energy physics, but until that moment I had only experienced it through graphs, diagrams, and mathematical theories. As I sat on the beach my former experiences came to life; I ‘saw’ cascades of energy coming down from outer space, in which particles were created and destroyed in rhythmic pulses; I ‘saw’ the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy; I felt this rhythm and I ‘heard’ its sound.
The task of theology, classically defined as “faith seeking understanding,” calls for theologians to wrestle with mystery.
Contemplation is the direct experience of our participation in the divine life: ‘You in me and I in you’ (Jn 15:4; 7; 17:23); ‘It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me’ (Gal 4:20). Contemplation can open the imagination to new possibilities. It offers us a joyful sense of the unity of all our energies and powers for the Gospel is calling us to breathe new energy, new power into the world so that we become centres of creative energy and power and so that, together, our collective energies will transform our lives, our world. It is difficult to speak about contemplation for it transcends all concepts and because words are inadequate.
The incarnation and mysticism, in their deepest sense, both refer to the union of the divine and the human. The mystic is one who opens up to God’s presence and lets God fill his/her consciousness with God’s personal presence. This entering into the harmonization between God and humans does not imply flight from the mundane world of economics and politics. In the biblical sense contemplation has to do with hearing, feeling, doing. It is never divorced from life or from the world.
Today there is a renewed interest in contemplation and its relation to ministry. But how do we develop a contemplative consciousness that leads to action? In the words of Leonardo Boff, we aim to combine passion for God with passion for the poor for the test of true mysticism is love of neighbour. (The word ‘ecstasy’ has its roots in the word ex‑stasis, going out of one’s standing to the neighbour.) The prophet Jeremiah emphasized that we come to know the Lord in doing justice for the poor (Jer 22:13-17). Mystics must strive to become more prophetic and prophets become more mystical.