You might be sitting on your screened-in porch, watching the snowfall from your kitchen table, or listening to the waves crash from the beach. One thing is for sure, many people need this to start their day. For some, the best part of waking up is Folger’s in their cup, but for those who want to go to Heaven, it is prayer. Prayer is the spiritual heartbeat of our lives. We need prayer as much as we need air. For without prayer, we will spiritually die, and without air, we will physically die. Many would argue that they need coffee to survive, especially many priests who celebrate an early Mass, or a parent trying to function after their child was sick all night.
The idea for Contemplative Heart Press was inspired by my parents’ breakfast nook. This cozy little room located off their kitchen has a gas-powered fireplace and a round table directly in front of a large window, where my mother keeps her Bible and some spiritual books. She likes to sit there each morning and pray while sipping coffee. Since my parents reside in the Midwest, their view changes frequently, from barren trees to snow-covered ones to budding trees to colorful leaves and once again to barren branches. Though the seasons change, God remains. And as my mother holds her coffee, the delicious aroma coupled with the sight of the steam elevates her heart and mind to something that is beyond words. And as she sips this most delicious drink, her taste buds encounter something so rich. The warm drink slowly moves down her throat, causing a warm sensation inside her. Any avid coffee drinker knows that it is best enjoyed when sipping and setting down between drinks. If you drink too much at once you risk burnng your tongue and perhaps never enjoying it.
The coffee represents something deeper than meets the eye. In the monastic tradition, the monks helped spread the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, or sacred reading, which consists of slowly reading and memorizing the Word of God. Lectio Divina has been likened to an animal gradually chewing on food. In a similar way, sipping coffee can provide a similar analogy to our prayer lives. While we begin by using our senses, Our Lord wants us to move beyond the material to the immaterial, that is, to deep prayer. Or in the words of St. John of the Cross, a sixteenth-century Doctor of Church and one of the greatest teachers on prayer, “Since God is inaccessible, be careful not to concern yourself with all that your faculties can comprehend and your senses feel, so that you do not become satisfied with less and lose the lightness of soul suitable for going to him.”
In the early 1990s, the Chicken Soup for the Soul books became very popular with their soul-soothing stories. Although having a similar appeal, Contemplative Heart Press, seeks to go deeper than offering only warm and inspiring stories. Our goal is to inspire, transform, and above all, leader the reader to contemplation in their everyday life.
The theological virtue of hope lies at the crux of the series. The beautiful stories presented point to God’s faithfulness and eternal life as our supreme happiness. In our sorrows and sufferings, it is hoped that they might lift us from despair and discouragement. Perhaps you have experienced similar trials and can take solace in the wisdom presented by the authors. After reading the lives of the saints or watching an amazing movie like Braveheart, we are often inspired to greatness, that is, to get out of the way and to allow God to work through us. The books produced by Contemplative Heart Press will cover various topics, each one in a unique way beckoning us to a deeper trust in God, for He is faithful.
Besides instilling hope, the stories are meant to make us reflect on our many blessings. One of the greatest tragedies of any nonbeliever is that when they see a splendid, snowcapped mountain, a crystal-clear waterfall, a multicolored sunset, read a life-changing book, or taste a savory cup of coffee, they have no one to thank for such beauty. On the other hand, the believer responds with thanksgiving for they recognize the true author, God Himself, who is endless beauty. At the same time, we must realize that all the beauty on earth is but a foretaste of Heaven.
It is important to spell out just what that entails. The word “contemplation” derives from the Latin words meaning “act of looking at.” Many secular dictionaries describe contemplation as “looking at something for a long time or deep reflective thought.” Yet, the saints believed that contemplation entails so much more than looking at something; rather, it involves looking at someone. And that someone is the greatest sight the eyes of our soul can behold, who is the Most Blessed Trinity.
The late spiritual author and retreat master, Father Thomas Dubay, SM, defined contemplation this way:
Christic contemplation is nothing less than a deep love communion with the triune God. By depth here we mean a knowing loving that we cannot produce but only receive. It is not merely a mentally expressed, “I love you.” It is a wordless awareness and love that we of ourselves cannot initiate or prolong. The beginnings of this contemplation are brief and frequently interrupted by distractions. The reality is so unimposing that one who lacks instruction can fail to appreciate what exactly is taking place. Initial infused prayer is so ordinary and unspectacular in the early stages that many fail to recognize it for what it is. Yet with generous people, that is, with those who try to live the whole Gospel wholeheartedly and who engage in an earnest prayer life, it is common.
What the saints do for all eternity, and God willing, what we will do is contemplate God—gaze upon endless beauty in a wordless look of love. On earth, contemplation is the foreshadowing of that gaze; it is a gift God wants to share with us, which was initiated at our Baptism when God came to dwell in our souls. God seeks us in contemplation more than we seek Him; He wants us to receive this gift, to rest in His gaze, often without words. Or as Father Dubay further stated, “The experience of the divine presence involves nothing extraordinary. It is not a vision; nothing is seen or heard.” No one can achieve contemplation by their own efforts, though surely renouncing all sin, especially willed mortal and venial sins, predisposes us to receive this great gift. And we need not fly to the cloister, a mountaintop, or forest to experience this “deep love communion,” though many of the saints did; rather, we must look into the recesses of our souls to find the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
On earth, many of us have experienced a glimmer of contemplation or at least what it is to behold something so beautiful that it takes our breath away. Take for instance a new priest consecrating the host for the first time, a groom gazing at his bride as she walks down the aisle, being lost in a star-studded sky, seeing a stunning sunset on the horizon, experiencing an ocean wave caress our feet, or even tasting the most delicious cup of coffee. These moments can leave us speechless as we look with great delight on what is before our eyes. Yet, these experiences do not fully capture what contemplation is, which is a “spiritual reality, not a tangible one.” For a deeper explanation of contemplation, one ought to take up the writings of Sts. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila. The stories in this series, like anything in the material world, are not ends in itself, but a springboard to a richer prayer life, to a deep a love affair with the God who loves us. Hence St. John of the Cross could say, “Seek in reading and you will find in meditation; knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation.”
Like that soul-warming, heavenly scented cup of coffee, which must be sipped to be fully appreciated, I pray these stories, read slowly and reflected on, will dispose your soul for greater intimacy with our triune God. Make no mistake, God invites every person to the heights of contemplative prayer, not just the cloistered nun or monk. And the questions presented at the end of each book are the kindling to the fire within our souls, which is the Holy Trinity dwelling in us.