Ignatius speaks of the Three Divine Persons looking down at (contemplating) the face of the earth. We do the same with God, alongside God. Contemplating: looking at, appreciating and gazing at prayerfully.
Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetry finds and speaks of a God who dwells and labours in all created reality. The world is charged with the grandeur of God. St Beuno’s gardens in summer sparkle in sunlight; in autumn they are resplendent in greens and browns; even golden. Contemplating goodness and beauty, faith moves me from the goodness and beauty of the leaves and colours to God whose goodness and beauty surely exceed what I can see. For the varied and wonderful shades of green that creation displays, God would certainly have won many prizes! Ignatius suggests I ask for interior knowledge of all the good I have received. The good I have received = the leaves and their colours, green, brown and golden, but also stamped with the divine. Interior knowledge = moving to a deeper level through faith, to recognise God’s part in created reality. This leads me not just to find God but to love God.
Appreciating the goodness and beauty I can see leads me to reflect with appreciation on the goodness and beauty of the God I cannot see. Contemplation needs space, time, and sensitivity to appreciate goodness and beauty. Goodness and beauty descend from above, leaving our hearts and minds to turn in the direction of God. Ignatius avoids being too specific. However, as we begin to make a connection between the goodness and beauty of creation and God the creator, this may be the moment to converse one-to-one with God. Or simply to rest in a moment of intimacy with God. When Ignatius discovered this connection for himself, he spoke of a “cry of wonder,” as he reflected on the whole range of created beings.
In the Contemplatio, Ignatius reminds us of the value of the human person. God “makes a temple of me, as I have been created in the likeness and image of his Divine Majesty.” We often use human beings for purely selfish ends. Using human beings as objects of lust or selfishness, we will not find the likeness and image of the Divine Majesty. “I thank you for the wonder of my being”, sang the psalmist, “for the wonder of all your creation” (Psalm 138/139). We might not see ourselves as Velasquez’s Venus or Michelangelo’s Adam, nor the people we meet as blessed with outstanding virtues but we need to contemplate human beings in such a way, without lust, fear, hatred or self-interest, that we begin to recognise the God who dwells within them (body and soul); to recognise the goodness and beauty that shines forth; to recognise the God who is labouring to help this or that person fulfil his or her potentiality; to recognise that goodness, beauty and all good gifts descend silently, as the morning dew, from above. “Through the grandeur and beauty of creatures, we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author” (Wisdom 13: 1-9). Too often, though we are people of faith, we contemplate the beauty of creatures, without also contemplating their author.
We are good; we are beautiful. We are made by God and are precious in God’s sight. In the goodness and beauty of ourselves we are drawn into the goodness and beauty of God. Is it beauty that entrances us? Or could it be the One who made the beauty tugging at our hearts in the loveliness we see?
Contemplating what is beautiful, letting it fill the senses, enhance the mind, gives life to one’s whole being. Contemplating something good moves my heart, my feelings. The movement is towards God. It must be! God is the source of goodness and beauty. One can never be the same after goodness or beauty that is of God has touched one. Goodness and beauty give one a sense of the God who creates, of goodness that pours itself out; in meeting goodness one senses why God creates: to share with us; to share what God is. God loves us in creation, in deeds not just in words. To find this God in all things, in all the circumstances of our lives, is our calling.