Abba Jacob said:
Contemplation is both the highest act
of being human, and humanity’s highest language.
If the language of things reaches beyond things
to designate the Absolute,
the silent interior mantra
bespeaks a profound communion
with that Someone further than ourselves—
and communion within
ourselves, for the two go together.
When we meditate, we enter
paschal mystery, the frontier between death and life.
Egyptian mythology has a wonderful image
of the pass from life to death: a great ship
which bears us to eternity. Charon
is the great passer of Greek mythology,
helping souls cross the River Styx from life to death.
Christianity turns it around: Christ
is the greatest passer, helping us pass
from death to life.
Contemplative life is always making the passage
from death to life, from humanity to divinity.
It is always taking the risk of being human.
There is an extraordinary message from the grave
as to what it takes to be human: a letter
from a Cistercian monk, one of seven
who had their throats cut
by Muslim fundamentalist terrorists
in their monastery in the mountains of Algeria
about ten years ago. Their prior
left a letter, just in case:
they knew it was probably coming,
they knew they were at great risk.
The letter was found and published.
Here is how it ends:
To the one who will have killed me:
and also you, Friend of my final moment,
who would not be aware
of what you are doing,
yet, this: Thank you.
And adieu to you.
For in you, too,
I see the face of God.
Abba Jacob wiped his eyes.
Interval of birdsong from the veranda.
He’s seeing not an abstract God,
but a God who has assumed a face,
a God who shows him this face
in every one of those Muslim brothers and sisters,
including the one who kills him.
Contemplative life has no frontiers.
And it is the heritage of all humanity.
Through contemplation we enter
into communion with everybody.
And this leads to service.
But that’s a subject
for another day.
This poem was selected for The Best Spiritual Writing 2009.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.