But John runs ahead and arrives before Peter – for contemplation, being deeply purified, penetrates more sharply and speedily into the secret power of the divine intent than does action, which still needs purification.
- Eriugena, Homily on John 1.1-14, Irish, 9th century
And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
- Luke 10.41, 42
Eriugena loved the apostle John and his gospel. He saw John as the eagle of divine revelation, soaring high above earth into heights of heaven and mysteries of the divine economy that only so noble a creature can penetrate.
John embodied the life of contemplation for Eriugena. He emphasized the importance of contemplation as a precursor to action. When contemplation “runs ahead” of action, we can avoid the kind of impulsive, knee-jerk responses that we often see in Peter.
Eriugena represents the high-water mark of Celtic Christian scholarship, even though he is at times too arcane and at other times slightly adrift from orthodox tradition. But he understood the value of contemplation, of spending time seeking the Lord in Scripture and creation, and waiting on Him in prayer to make His glory known in sudden and profound ways.
The Christian life is not defined by mere activity – running to this or that program, project, or meeting, serving on some team or committee. These have their place, perhaps; but if we define our Christian lives by such things, rather than by Jesus Himself, we will be missing that good part which will not be taken away from us.
John and Peter raced to verify the report of Jesus’ resurrection, John arriving first. Eriugena saw in this a parable of contemplation’s power to get at the divine meaning of things more quickly than mere action. Our lives are filled with things to do; the pace of modern life would have left our Celtic forebears exasperated and uneasy. Our culture trains us to keep busy, get things done, even to do good works to meet the needs of others. We wonder, like Martha, why the Lord never seems to give us all the resources we need, and we have little time for sitting at the Lord’s feet, gazing up at the glory to be discovered in His face (2 Cor. 4.6).
But this is the needed thing. This quiet gazing, longing, waiting, listening for the voice of the Lord that comes to us from the books of Scripture and creation – this life of contemplation: this is the good portion, the necessary thing, the way of the eagle.
Don’t let your activities define your faith in Jesus. Let your faith in Jesus, and your growing vision of Him, define your life with, in, and by Him. Such a life may or may not feature many activities, although you will work your Personal Mission Field with greater consistency and joy. And your life will be rich in Jesus, steeped in His presence and glory, refracting His truth and love to everyone you meet.
Wait on the Lord, before the Lord, and in the Lord. Focus the eye of the heart on everything you know about Jesus, exalted in glory, and infusing the creation with His powerful Word (Pss. 2, 110; Heb. 1.3). In quiet and prolonged contemplation, by the power of the Spirit, you can encounter transforming glory to shape you increasingly into the very image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
Questions for Reflection
1. What do you think are the most important components of contemplation? Of a contemplative life?
2. What can you do to make contemplation a more consistent part of your spiritual life?
Psalm 8.3, 4 (Aurelia: The Church’s One Foundation)
When I regard Your heavens, Your handiwork above,
Ordained by Your good pleasure, according to Your love,
Then what am I, O Savior, that You take thought of me?
Or I should know Your favor and thus delivered be?
Lord, teach me to delight in meditating on You and Your Kingdom, through the glory revealed in Your Word and works, so that I…
Aids to contemplation
Our website, www.ailbe.org, offers three valuable resources to aid your times of contemplating the Lord. Bruce Van Patter’s occasional colum, 8:18, lead us to slow down and meditate on the beauty of creation, and to discern the Lord’s presence and glory in everyday encounters. My Scriptorium and Mike Slay’s DEEP columns offer daily reading and meditation in God’s Word, to guide you deeper into Kingdom living. Check them out, then add them to your subscriptions by using the pop-up on the page.
And if you’d like a tour de force through the spiritual realm, where Jesus rules in glory, order a copy of our workbook, The Landscape of Unseen Things, and let these 24 lessons lead you more deeply into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. Order your copy by clicking here.
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Bamford, p. 73.