Let me preface my words with a quote from Thomas Merton. “Our real journey is interior; it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action f love and grace in our hearts.”
There are two major themes that today's parable of The Rich Fool touches upon, if indirectly.
The first is that there is there is another dimension to reality than the one we see, taste, touch, hear, and smell. The other dimension is one we do not see, that is beyond our normal experience. It is, as Marcus Borg beautifully writes, "charged with power and whose ultimate quality is compassion." Most of us are not aware of this other dimension. It is called in scripture “the kingdom.”
The Rich Fool is unaware of this spiritual dimension trapped as he is in his futile search for security. His prime motivation is fear and fear does not exist in the spiritual dimension. He knows only one dimension – that of this fallen world - and thus is a man without faith which is why he puts all his hopes in his earthly possessions.
The second theme is that we are not alone in this world. The whole of creation is shot through with a Presence both Personal and beyond Person. We call the Presence “God.” And we are connected intrinsically with everything God has made. This means that we are not meant to care only for ourselves. Those who live by the Spirit value this connection and never forget that to truly live is to live for others. The Rich Fool is not interested in the welfare of others, only his own. One wonders if, in a very real sense, he was not already dead, at least spiritually.
Christians do not live one-dimensionally. By faith we live in both dimensions at once – in this sensual world and with the quality of the spiritual world. Perhaps that is the meaning of the Lord's pronouncement that "we are in the world but not of the world."
We need to nurture our relationship with the invisible dimension by allowing ourselves to touch it, even to enter it. And we do this through meditation and prayer. At the same time we make this worldly dimension sacred through sacrament and charity - the sacrament of the community and the sacrament of the poor. This is how we live in this visible dimension with the quality of the invisible one. Christian spirituality touches both worlds at the same time.
Now, what is the root of Christian contemplative practice? Scripture tells us that the Lord spent long hours in prayer, although it doesn't tell us exactly what kind of prayer he practiced. The verbal kind of prayer is what most people know. Yet in the Jewish tradition of his time there were also many holy people who practiced contemplative prayer.
They often began their prayers starting with an hour spent in silence and stillness. This is contemplation. It is not a grand leap to see Jesus doing the same. After all it beggars the imagination to think Jesus spent hours in verbal prayer endlessly talking. Of course, we all know the verse, “Be still and know that I am God.” Unsurprisingly, the theme reappears at the beginning of the Divine Litany with the words, “In peace, let us pray to the Lord.”
The more time we spend nurturing our acquaintance with the spiritual dimension through contemplative prayer and meditation, the more infused with the Spirit our lives in this visible world will be.
Here is a practical example of how the wedding of the two dimensions can work. Let’s use the common experience of fear. Suppose you are living in some kind of fear. Most of us are from time to time. It haunts us, and torments us. We lose sleep, we can’t eat. If nothing else, we fear that the past will someday overwhelm us or that the future may come and crush us. How can we approach this worldly fear with the powerful compassion of the kingdom?
We can choose to face what frightens us. This is also a contemplative practice. We can go inside into that invisible dimension, of which we and everything is a part, and get to know the parts of us that are frightened. We know where they dwell. We can feel them. It takes courage, but courage is something already deeply embedded in us. Fear is not who we are. The divine image is and this image is courageous and compassionate; it is our center. Contemplation awakens the potential of our God-given gifts so that we can grow in grace and love.
Camus writes this, “no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” That something “stronger”, the image of God in us, rises and brings the light of the spiritual dimension to bear on our interior darkness. Was it Thomas Merton who quipped, “How do you tell people that they are walking around shining like the sun?” Contemplative prayer awakens us to God’s ever-presence. Perhaps when we are shining bright we can help others see the light in themselves!
Because all of this is true, we can enter the interior world, observe our fearful thoughts, “step aside” as Jack Kornfield writes “and witness” them “as though they were anxious children.” The more we practice shining God’s light on our fearful parts with courage and compassion, the more calm they will feel and the more freedom from fear we will know.
Interior growth is the point of the beatitudes of Christ, especially this one, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” Peacemaker on the inside are peacemakers on the outside.