June 17, 2008
Julian Meditations

June, 2008

Contemplation and Reason

by William Johnston

WHEN CONTEMPLATION IS BORN, reason does not die. Reason is purified. It would be strange indeed if the gift of contemplation were to annihilate something so humanly beautiful as reason. The fact is that the contemplative must stop reasoning, must bury thinking beneath a cloud of forgetting -- but only for time. When the work of purification is completed, the contemplative reasons again. When the cloud of forgetting has done its work, the contemplative remembers again.

Yes, reasoning and thinking are an important part of human life which must never be abandoned. Just as we must use both sides of the brain, so we must use both intuitive and rational faculties if we wish to lead a balanced life. I have no hesitation in saying that some use of the three powers of the soul is essential in a life devoted to prayer. If your prayer is quiet and contemplative without reasoning and thinking, then outside the time of prayer you must use your intellectual powers. Concretely, outside of the time of prayer you must study the scriptures, read the commentators, study theology. You must keep yourself informed about the suffering of the world: the problems of hunger, oppression, torture, persecution, nuclear war, the arms race, pollution of the environment. Without this your contemplation will make you one-sided and may even withdraw you from life.

Contemplation leads one into silence; but it frequently happens that, as time goes on, the reasoning powers become active again. From the very core of the inner experience words rise up.

So make it your aim to balance reasoning and contemplation in your life. Only remember that the wisdom found in prayer far excels any knowledge found through dialectic. The knowledge of the scholar beside the wisdom of the mystic is like a candle beside the noonday sun.

Taken from Being in Love: The Practice of Contemplative Prayer by William Johnston, SJ (London: Fount Paperbacks, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 1988) pp. 49-50