Recently I read the following in the news: “The Queen has urged Britain’s political leaders to calm down in the wake of the chaos triggered by the Brexit vote and allow ‘room for quiet thinking and contemplation‘ before they decide their next move.”
I have to say that I like this royal piece of advice. But what is “quiet thinking” and, moreover, what is “contemplation”? Can we take the practice of these spiritual exercises for granted? How can this royal recommendation be implemented?
In what the Queen is saying two factors are indicated: 1- “quiet thinking” and 2- “contemplation”. The first generally involves the natural light of reason and the mere exercise of the mind.
There’s no doubt that today, we live in a world very much influenced by many ‘techniques of meditation’ (Yoga Meditation, Transcendental Meditation,…). Here ‘meditation’ is not to be understood in its Christian sense, but in more of a Far Eastern tradition as found in local religions (Hinduism, Buddhism,…) which have been imported by the West. Contemplation in contrast involves the supernatural Light of God and is specific to Christianity.
The “quiet thinking” mentioned by Her Majesty would involve the above different ways of thinking/meditating.
The Christian Perspective
The Christian approach to ‘meditation’ involves the direct action of the Holy Spirit in us. However, we do not ‘use’ God like a fortune-telling machine that will foretell our fate, instead we submit our entire life to Him and as a consequence, we understand that our personal relationship with Him involves seeking Him, knowing Him, and being led by Him. This attitude of following his lead is should be our constant guide: “behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your Word” (Luke 1:38).
Contemplation in the Christian spiritual tradition involves the direct and personal intervention of the Holy Spirit in us, either in our Mind (and Heart) or purely in our Heart. These two types of food or “bread” for the soul and spirit/heart are offered by Christ in the example of his life (his Words and his Passion) and these ‘meals’ are divided up and rationed out on a daily basis and given at the daily Mass: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Body and Blood of Jesus. Evidence of this is indicated in the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily Bread”, and by “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).
a- Contemplation According to Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina is the digestive process that allows us to digest Jesus’ Word which we receive during the Mass. Lectio Divina encourages the slow descent of the light of God, into our mind/brain, until it reaches our will and triggers a synergetic action. What does that mean?
The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God (in the daily readings) in order to penetrate our mind and brain in a new way each day, to make them fruitful with its light and love. (Read more on Lectio Divina)
b- Contemplation According to the Prayer of the Heart
The Prayer of the Heart is the digestive process that we undergo after receiving Holy Communion. It is the quiet time we take to be immersed in Jesus’ Being… as a prolongation of Communion. During this silent time our heart is immersed in the Lord, like a tree that needs to have its roots watered.
This prayer allows a decanting effect on the mind, clarifying it, allowing all “noise” and foggy thoughts to disappear and allows our mind to acquire therefore a greater clarity, unifying it under the action of the Holy Spirit.
Political Life and Leadership
Politics is about making practical decisions. Paradoxically, however, the life of a politician should involve more Contemplative Prayer than any other job or mission.
The temptation of the politician is to decide to rely essentially on advice, opportunistic decisions and orientations, and lose his soul and purity of heart. It is true that in dealing with political issues compromise is often necessary, but it should not entail a lack of purity of intent or acceptance of darker decisions. A good compromise is led rather by patience and an inclusive attitude, in other words, by the virtues of God himself.
Is it possible to keep a pure heart and the heart of a child in the midst of such ferocious wolves? The answer of the Lord to that question is definitely “yes”: “Be pure like a dove and prudent like a snake”, (Matthew 10:16) says the Lord. Moreover one has to allow the work of the Holy Spirit to invade all levels of our mind, and this essentially happens through contemplating God’s Word.
As the Scriptures say: “the tip of the sword of the Holy Spirit is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). So if somebody wants God’s light, he or she not only needs to put himself totally and repetitively in God’s Hands (“Behold the handmaid of the Lord”), but he or she also has to practise Lectio Divina, in order to allow the Word of God to take possession of all the potentialities of their Minds.
The temptation, otherwise, is to act according to our own views and use our own means and ways.
The Prayer of the Heart gives us a deeper capacity to bear difficulties and trials and helps us be patient and resilient; politicians and leaders need these virtues as well.
The Real Challenge: “allowing room”
Now the challenge is how to “allow room” for these exercises of thinking and of contemplation. Some politicians can spend hours in meetings, on negotiations, deals,… Experience shows that the more we give time (“allow room”) for Contemplation, the less time we lose in other occupations (meetings, deals, negotiations,..). Why is this so? The answer lies in God’s action, for it is God who is building the House, who guides us, imparts His Light to us, helps us understand what is at stake in each decision. He helps us have a “policy”, a direction, a clear vision, helps us maintain it and, moreover, implement it, showing us the different opportunities, persons to involve and steps to take.
To “allow room” is to put God above everything else, to choose Him as the first Person in our life, to consecrate ourselves to Him. Seeking God’s will above all else is a very rewarding experience in life and prepares us to face an amazing eternity. What we want is to achieve things that would remain for eternity, not just shortsighted decisions, in order to realise a short-term plan. To lead a country requires a high, wise and deep vision. Who can give us this vision? Nothing less than the choice we make everyday of dedicating time to God, before and above anything else, keeps this purity of vision that allows us to See Him in everything during the day: “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God”. (Matthew 5)).
Here now is the Golden piece of advice : “seek first the Kingdom of God and all the rest will be given to you” (Mt 6:33). There is no need to have a long list of things to do. You have only this one thing to put all your money on, to which to devote all your energy, desire and trust.This is a matter of widely tested experience and not just talk talk. Whoever tries this Golden Rule, will see his life totally transformed.
In the final analysis, the real Leader, the strong Leader, is a Leader with a pure heart, one who “allows room” for a daily encounter with Jesus’ Word and Jesus’ Heart. He will then be directly led by Jesus . Jesus does not always guarantee human success, but certainly guarantees real and eternal fruits. Jesus does not guarantee to offer us a false worldly peace, but true achievement, for all eternity.