Discover more from Once A Week
The season when I read Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Prayer was a memorable one. The best boss I had ever worked for had been unjustly fired by the same institution that unjustly exonerated a narcissist who harassed and bullied my wife. While trying to figure out what was next, we were temporarily living in a giant 5 bedroom house, just 2 adults, 2 children, and a 10 lb mini labradoodle. My reading desk was in a second story bedroom set in front of a window overlooking a tennis court. It was summer on a college campus, so no one was ever on the court.
At that desk I encountered for the first time the sonorous meditative theology of von Balthasar. That particular book, Prayer, is deeply trinitarian, as is all of his work. What I remember most, though, is a striking statement in the introduction. Balthasar explains this book as a collection of reflections from his own personal contemplation on God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the scriptural account of redemptive history. As the fruit of his own contemplative writing, he says that anyone could do the same:
“From time to time we take up a book of “meditations” which present us, ready-made, with the contemplation we ought to produce for ourselves. We observe someone else eating, but it does nothing to fill our stomachs. We may read his “meditations”, but what we have done is spiritual reading—not contemplation. We have seen how someone else has encountered the word of God, we have even profited by his encounter, but all the same it was his and not ours—and we ourselves have achieved nothing.”1
My first reaction was, come on dude, your a first rate academic theologian, don’t be a fool; don’t set me up with unrealistic expectations of composing similarly rich theological reflections!
But looking back now over 3 years later, I believe he was right. His writing was the fruit of contemplation and meditation. As such, merely reading such meditations is not the same as the original meditation. To imitate his example, one would indeed have to write and produce gems of meditation. Such gems would be, if not as theologically prolix, nevertheless more spiritually rich because they would be cut from stones that were personally mined and hand selected for the jewelers table of written composition.
That is how I am viewing the book I am writing. It is a growing collection of my own personal meditations for the comfort of spiritual abuse survivors on how the Trinity and spiritual abuse intersect in the Gospel of John. I have personally been comforted, strengthened and encouraged in the process of writing them. If they never go farther than my notebook and iPad, I would have no regrets.
Still, my hope is that they will likewise minister to others in reading them. But reading is not the same as writing. It is not nearly as slow, halting, hesitating. It will likely take me over a year to write this book. I know it won’t take others a year to read it, but in general, reading that gets closer to recreating the experience of writing has a greater effect on us. The slower we read, the more we pause, hesitate, search for words to voice our thoughts and feelings, the more opportunity we give for the written words to sink in, settle, and take up room in our hearts.
Quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar
“Often [we avoid contemplation] because we are too comfortable, which is something that can be overcome. And often out of a fearfulness which robs us of the confidence to take steps on our own. At this point the present series aims to be of assistance. It offers, not fully fashioned meditations, but points for meditation, above all in connection with passages from the New Testament. They are designed simply to provide stimuli, perspectives and possible starting points for personal and individual contemplation…Their aim is to become superfluous: whenever the person at prayer feels he can leave this crutch aside, whenever his own wings bear him aloft, he can dispense with these texts without the slightest regret.”2
Have you ever tried writing as a form of meditation?
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), p. 7.
Prayer, p. 7-8.