This is the fourth week of our efforts to make a special Advent through the practice of eremitical prayer, the prayer of the hermit. I promised you a surprise and here it is. On the day this blog is published, December 21, our universe will experience what is called the Great Conjunction, the meeting of the two biggest worlds in our solar system, the mighty Jupiter and the glorious ringed planet, Saturn. This is happening as we reflect on the prayer of contemplation and its importance in our lives.
I first heard the Great Conjunction was going to occur when the announcement was made by a radio journalist who said last month, “get ready for a beautiful moment of reflection or contemplation when…” and he proceeded to describe the coming of the Great Conjunction on the Day of the Solstice. He referred to seeing this momentous event as a “reflection,” a “contemplation!” That’s because even though it is calculable or predictable, it is never seen in one’s lifetime as it will be seen on December 21. Just in time for our consideration of contemplation as a profound form of prayer!
There is ample scientific claims from extant research of Arabic and Eastern scholars, that such a conjunction occurred at the time of Christ’s birth and possibly created the Star of Bethlehem which the Wise Men followed. Johannes Kepler, the seventeenth century scientist and arguably the greatest astronomer in history, believed this to be true. The last time a Great Conjunction was visible to the naked eye was in 1226. Wow! The event begs your attention as a moment of contemplation, like the reporter said.
Contemplation is a form of prayer that you invite to take over your concerns, stresses, tensions, so that you are enveloped in a moment of silence and awe. You are speechless, struck dumb by a power beyond yourself. You sit with hands open, waiting and listening for God. Neurologists tell us that if you quiet this noisy part of the brain your heart will take on a different configuration as well. You will love more, you will be more open to others, you will find peace. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about? Isn’t that what the quest was for the Wise Men and for all Christian believers?
How do I practice contemplation as a form of prayer? It is a simple process requiring no words, no formulae, no reading, etc. Select a place of quiet. Sit comfortably with hands open. Pray for an open heart. Do not get wordy. If you find it helpful, you can use a mantra or one syllable utterance which effectively tunes your body to the moment, like the notes of the first violinist before the concert begins. And then just listen. (In the future, we will discuss distractions, etc. in prayer but for now try this.) Some people use art or music or, as we can now, the vision of the Great Conjunction. Yes, this event can inspire contemplation.
So, venture out tonight and scan the Southwestern sky immediately after sunset. Let yourself be swept away by the magnificence of the universe, the magnificence of God. The great American contemplative monk, Thomas Merton wrote, “Contemplation is the highest expression of our intellect and spiritual life. It is spiritual wonder.” Albert Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious…He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead.”
So, absorb this remarkable sight in contemplation. Once inside, sit silently to recall the beauty you just beheld. Paraphrasing St. Paul, Merton wrote that contemplating like this “…transcends all other forms of prayer. It is no longer that ‘I live in Christ, but that Christ lives in me.’”
Go out tonight to witness the Great Conjunction. Let it become your contemplative prayer for Christmas.
The Wise Men followed a star that led to Christ. I’m sure their remaining lives were never the same for Christ then lived in them.
Make time for contemplation every day so you might encounter Christ in all that is awesome and beautiful, mysterious and surprising.
To all my readers and my Anonymous Angels, I hope and pray you have a peaceful and joy filled Christmas despite the challenges we are facing and the loneliness we may be experiencing. Let us follow a star that lights our way!