Brief Contemplative Lessons from Meister Eckhart

Series: 
Voices of Community

 

Meister Eckhart was a Dominican friar who lived in fourteenth-century Germany. He was a contemplative engaged in preaching and teaching.  When he preached, his sermons were subtle and sublime.  But he ran afoul of suspicious church authorities and had to submit to the Inquisition.  The Inquisition never condemned Eckhart as a heretic, though it called some of his statements into question.  Current scholars have worked to restore the Meister’s reputation.  Thankfully, Meister Eckhart’s teachings are more available today than ever before.  He has much to teach those who practice Centering Prayer and anyone seeking to live contemplatively.  Here are but three brief lessons.

First, Meister Eckhart gives a simple directive for contemplative living: “Now God wants no more from you than that you should in creaturely fashion go out of yourself, and let God be God in you.”[1]  Eckhart seeks to free us from self so we can be one with God. Meister Eckhart calls this the practice of detachment.  But, it is more than maintaining serenity in the middle of agitation. It is, more fundamentally, the letting go of self to let God be God.  It is one movement: away from self to be consumed by God as God.  This is the whole of the contemplative life for Eckhart, whether in prayer or in action.  One lets God be who God is - mystery, gratuitous mercy - without projecting onto God our needs, our wants, our ideas and images.  Instead of relying on the mind to get us to God, Eckhart preaches that we accept God as God is by letting go of ourselves in everything.  He invites us to be empty within to allow the mystery of God become real for us.  This means we let go of thinking, of all the contents of consciousness, to know the mystery beyond the mind.

Now for the second brief lesson.  Meister Eckhart preaches, “What is life?  God’s being is my life.  If my life is God’s being, then God’s existence must be my existence and God’s is-ness is my is-nesss.”[2]  Life – my life and your life – is divine.  The reality of God is our life.  The reality of God is the center of all life.  This gets to the heart of a mature practice of Centering Prayer.  One merely sits, just being in the divine is-ness.  It’s just being without doing anything.  We are but consenting to That Which Is in this present now.  By just being, all our experience can connect us to God, whether we are having dinner with family, taking out the garbage, talking to a friend, surfing the internet, or watching television.  To be in any circumstance is to pray because my life – whatever it is in the moment – is the very reality of God.  Thomas Keating, in his later years, called God by the affectionate name, “Izzy,” after, I believe, “is-ness.”  God just is.  Our contemplative practice deepens significantly as we abide in the same is-ness.

Now for the third and final brief lesson.  The Meister names a significant attachment: multiplicity, which means we are scattered in a thousand different concerns.  It is the psychological experience of egoic thinking.  We live in a world that distracts us on many fronts: worrying about money, excessive entertainment, gossiping, seeking attention, fretting over what others think of us, complaining. This wide-ranging multiplicity of complex ego games fragments our spirits as it captures our attention. Lost in the particulars of life, we cannot connect with God.  Still, multiplicity is a pattern of thinking.  The way out, then, is to transcend thinking.  Here, then, enters our practice of Centering Prayer.  The silence of God grounds and centers us amidst the many shifting, changing, and bewildering experiences we go through in life.

Meister Eckhart has much to offer the community of Centering Prayer practitioners.  Behind all his teachings lies his absolute focus on God and God alone.  He settles for nothing less.  Letting go of self, just being, and wading through multiplicity meet in his singular desire for the mystery of God beyond thinking, experience, and existence itself.

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L.J. Milone serves as the Director of Faith Formation for a Catholic Church in SilverSpring, MD. He writes weekly articles for the bulletin on Scripture and mysticism. He is the author of a book about Meister Eckhart called Nothing but God: The Everyday Mysticism of Meister Eckhart, which is available on amazon. He also teaches Centering Prayer and leads contemplative retreats in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. He lives in Columbia, Maryland with his wife and four children.

 

[1] Meister Eckhart: Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises, and Defense. Translated by Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn. NY: Paulist, 1981, p. 184.

[2] Ibid., p. 187.

Category: 
Contemplative Spirituality
Centering Prayer