With Great Reverence and Above Reason

The Seven Steps on the Ladder of Spiritual Love

Ruysbroeck's Seven Steps

But now see what it is to adore God: it is, in the Christian faith, with great reverence and above reason, to gaze in the spirit upon God, the Eternal Power, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth and all that in them is.

— John Ruysbroeck, The Seven Steps of the Ladder of Spiritual Love

The Anglican contemplative Maggie Ross is well known for her advocacy of beholding as a core element of contemplative practice, as seen in the title of her most recent book, Writing the Icon of the Heart: In Silence Beholding. The Curé D’Ars famously defined prayer as “I look at God, and God looks at me.” Anyone who’s ever had a lover knows the delirious joy of simply, wordlessly, gazing into the eyes of your beloved. Heaven on earth.

So it’s a delight to find this little quotation from the fourteenth century Flemish mystic, John Ruysbroeck (also spelled “Ruusbroec”), whom Evelyn Underhill called “one of the greatest of Christian contemplatives,” about the humbly central role that simple gazing plays in contemplative practice. “With great reverence” — in other words, such gazing is not lazy or indifferent — “and above reason” — clearly recognizing that contemplative beholding takes us to that metanoia place, that place “beyond the mind” where Divine nonduality may be apprehended intuitively but not “thought about” discursively — we are invited, in love, to simply be present to the already-present presence of God.

In our gazing we do not seek to find God, but rather relax into the fact that God has already found us. And there we may cherish and relish, in a single moment within which all eternity unfolds, the boundless silence of union with Divine Love.

  • Sr.Sheila Patenaude, FMM

    Your blogs on prayer and silence are like a breath of fresh air when I am very busy! Thanks again for this wonderful support, encouragement, and inspiration in our daily lives.

    • Carl McColman

      Thanks, Sr. Sheila.

  • Sue Curwood

    This is delightful Carl! Your words impact and ground my dailiness with an invitation to profess my prayer as God’s presence within…..to let go of all notion of ‘how to’ in praying…..to rise downwards (mindlessly) into prayer, prayer that wants to be prayed as/in/through ‘me’ as an empty pure vessel full of sacred profession. It’s almost as if we travel from ‘me praying’ to ‘being prayed’ to ‘prayer is and is never not’…..? But of course this is just talking about unprayer….your words “invited, in love” are far more ‘un prayered full’. +


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