A contemplative posture orients one’s disposition toward reality more than it offers propositions about reality. It more so norms “how” we see and less so describes “what” we see.
Contemplation effects metanoia, which includes intellectual, affective, moral, social and religious conversions. While these conversion dynamics are distinct from developmental growth mechanisms (for example, as described by Piaget, Maslow , Kohlberg, Erikson and Fowler, et al), they are not unrelated as they do foster those processes.
The conversions gift us horizon-situated dispositions, which
1) open our minds via an awareness that there’s more to any given reality than our own thoughts can suggest;
2) open our souls by expanding what’s reasonable to expect regarding any given reality beyond what our own feelings might suggest;
3) open our hands by enlarging our sense of responsibility toward any given reality beyond our own moral and practical concerns;
4) open our perceptions to recognize the intelligence on display in other interpretations of any given reality outside of our own social and political circles; and
5) open our hearts to being in love and beloved by God, others, the cosmos and even one’s self.
These conversions gift us with what Lonergan described as human authenticity, when he articulated his transcendental imperatives: be aware, be reasonable, be responsible and be intelligent.
Still, what theorists like Lonergan, Maslow, Gerald May, Viktor Frankl and others all eventually came to understand was that self-actualization was in fact a by-product of self-transcendence (not the end-product of self-interested strivings). Any pursuits of self-actualization, authenticity, Enlightenment and such for their own sakes, i.e. as sought after end-products, would be self-defeating, frustrating their own realizations. Any who would aspire to be aware, reasonable, responsible and intelligent — would best realize those values by, first, being in love!
Without following the imperative to be in love, one could not realize sustained authenticity. Without seeking Enlightenment out of solidarity and compassion, rather than for one’s own sake, Enlightenment would forever elude one.
The contemplative stance, then, while mostly dispositional, does entail one universal, even if vague, propositional posit, which is that reality’s origin and end, being and essence, value and appeal, meaning and purpose, is love.
Thus contemplation, as entailed in the spiritual practices, asceticisms and disciplines across traditions, expresses a singular, orthodoxic, soteriological trajectory. This orientation goes beyond the norms of authenticity or of a suitable epistemic humility, dis-positionally, to also include, pro-positionally, a belief that reality is robustly relational. It warrants an existentially actionable interpretation that, wholly and thoroughly beloved, we simply must be loving. (As the children sing why they love Jesus … because He first loved me).
In many cases, through interreligious dialogue, we are discovering that, beyond this singular, shared, orthodoxic, soteriological trajectory, the great traditions and indigenous religions will otherwise diverge with pluralist, diverse, polydoxic, sophiological trajectories, which, more simply put, correspond to different ways of being in love with different aspects of reality, including God, others, self and cosmos. This is to recognize that, in many ways, as we move beyond the vaguely spiritual to embrace more specific religious paths, it will not necessarily entail competing interpretations of reality but only complementary approaches to reality, which can be variously more inchoate or developed, more or less inclusive, variously emphasizing our unitary being or our unitive strivings, more or less suited to foster conversions and to sustain authenticity, more or less perfectly articulating truth, celebrating beauty, preserving goodness, enjoying comm-unity and growing freedom.
When institutionalized religions fail in fostering conversions and in sustaining authenticity, many followers will, understandably, retreat into a spiritual but not religious stance. When religions are at their best, though, well, we “see how they love one another” as they foster open minds, open hearts and open hands!
And we see where the quest, itself, becomes our grail; the risks of faith, hope and love, themselves, become our rewards; the journey, itself, becomes our destination; the spiritual process, itself, becomes our transformational product; the next good step becomes the entire recovery program; the commitment, itself, becomes our outcome; the prayer and sitting, themselves, become our consolation.
Life’s highest goods, alone, can thus be enjoyed without moderation, as the pursuits of truth, beauty, goodness, unity and freedom are, intrinsically, their own rewards. The contemplative stance embodies that real-ization. Good religion enhances it.