Contemplation and Truth

From the Bottom of the Pond jacket.jpg

I’ve been reading Simon Small’s brief but rich book, From the Bottom of the Pond: The forgotten art of experiencing God in the depths of the present moment.

I was tempted, reading the Prologue, to post it in its entirety here, but that would contravene the publisher’s rights. Simon’s first sentence in the Prologue is:

“I rest at the centre of space. Unimaginably vast space everywhere I look, disappearing into the distance, seemingly without end.”

The final paragraph concludes:

“Two thousand years ago a man came to awaken us to the Mystery of Existence. In some he nurtured the seed of contemplation that it might grow and fill their minds. He has continued to teach this down the centuries and continues to teach it today. In our age, many are ready to listen.”

Simon’s wisdom attracts me deeply. That’s because his wisdom describes what my being already knows – I am one of those curious people who are ready to listen to the man who came two thousand years ago. I also gaze into unimaginably vast space. I have come to know, through learning to trust that I am a contemplative for nearly forty years, that I rest at the centre of space. In the depths of the moment I encounter God.

I know I am not alone in having difficulty relating this profound experience of truth and reality with the teaching and practice of the Church in the twenty-first century. My experience is authentically Christian, integral to the teaching of Jesus the Christ and to the many who have lived a contemplative life through the centuries. They have often been liminal people and it is at the edges of the Church that I meet people today who have been awakened by the man to the Mystery of Existence.

There is a huge disconnect in the practice and discipline of the Church on so many levels. It proclaims that God is love. It confirms that God calls people to ministry in the Church who happen to be gay and are called to live faithfully with their partner. The Church then punishes them because they contract to live in marriage. It punishes them because they are free to have sex and sex is not allowed in such a relationship. Love cannot be expressed physically. It’s insane. I think I’m mad from time to time. I’m outraged at the inconsistency and the failure to understand the man and his teachings.

There’s no logical explanation for this, though there are many reasons. The Church, for example, takes a long time to change its official mind and teaching. My practice of contemplation keeps me grounded and sane and deeply connected with truth. Pilate asked, “what is truth?” This is what Simon Small writes about truth:

“When we are not aware of being alive we confuse words with truth. We confuse a description with reality.

“Words cannot ultimately be true. This means that thoughts can never be true, for words are just thoughts out-pictured into the world of form. Reality is what it is. Life can only be experienced. Thoughts and words are merely descriptions of reality.

“Thoughts and words, at best, can only be alarm clocks that wake us up to what was always present. They can be helpful or unhelpful, but never true.

“On the contemplative path, slowly but surely, our anchor in the world becomes not our relationship with a set of ideas, but the nurturing of inner stillness and good fruit in the world. The Spirit is not limited by our theologies and philosophies. It blows where it will and cannot be systematized. On the contemplative path we seek to be right, not consistent.

“The truth is never a teaching; it is always an experience – the experience of God.”

Reading the wisdom of mystics also keeps me grounded and sane. Simon’s book helped to maintain my sanity last weekend.

Small, S., 2007. From the Bottom of the Pond: The forgotten art of experiencing God in the depths of the present moment. Ropley, Hants, UK. O Books.