I wonder sometimes how to write about experiences that seem personal to me, and yet may somehow touch another reader. Sitting in worship this morning I found myself in a still place resonant with remembering. Unbidden, the memory arose of sitting on the stairs at a party, in my late teens probably, perfectly aware of the music and bustle in the rooms across the hall, and the coming and going on the stairs, and sinking into stillness within. Years before any formal religious practice or understanding, before my spiritual hunger and curiosity had led me towards any others who might share it, I had found a place of unassailable peace, a centre of unquestionable truth and actuality among the noise and smoke and confusion, the drinking and the hunger and the dancing…
I had had nothing to anchor this discovery, and no means of finding my way back there. Over the years, despite endless reading, despite various attempts at meditation, despite at long last being led into coherent contemplative practice, I stumbled across this place of light and peace only rarely, and then by chance.
I don’t know that I have any answer for this, except to accept it as a gift. I have (when I have thought of it at all – for it is very hard to think about) thought of this stillness, real beyond fact and experience, as perhaps some fruit of persistent practice, or maybe to be secured through learning. And yet it was not by practice or learning that I found it on the stairs all those years ago, nor has it come as a predictable result of any particular discipline in the years since. It is gift, a grace, and nothing else. It is gentle, and open, and always there, but it is not I who open the inward door. It is opened to me, and I suppose that all I must do is receive it, though there is no awareness of any decision to accept.
Oddly, the nearest I have found to this strange gift is in the literature of classical Christian contemplation, where one reads of something called “infused contemplation“. And yet certainly when I first encountered the reality, I was far from living “the whole Gospel wholeheartedly and… engag[ing] in an earnest prayer life” as Thomas Dubay puts it in a citation in the linked article. For me it has been pure gift, unsought, quite undeserved, unasked-for except in the deepest unspoken longings of the wordless heart. I can only wonder at it, and be grateful.