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CONTEMPLATION AND DIALOGUE OF ENCOUNTER
By Rev. Fr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua
 

In dialogue of life, people of different tribes, religion, professions and ideologies meet in various places and occasions on a daily basis. This form of dialogue brings people together without formal invitation. This is why people meet in the market, school, office and other places. Sometimes, this contacts could bring people together as friends. This contact has led some young men and women into marriage relationships. Whereas, dialogue of life is not deliberate, dialogue of encounter is deliberate. In dialogue of encounter, you decide to visit the other for a reason. The courage to encounter somebody to clarify issues falls into this form of dialogue. A good example of dialogue of encounter is the meeting of Jesus, Mary and Martha. “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the LORD's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "LORD, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the LORD answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:38-42).

This encounter brings out two forms of mission, namely, active and contemplative. We can encounter God through works of charity or through a life of silence and solitude. This is why in the Church there are Secular priests and Religious who are either men or women. There are Religious who are either Priests, Sisters or Brothers. Those in the monastery encounter God more in silence. In Islam, the Sufis practice contemplation. Muslims generally observe moment of silence in their prayers. Contemplation is praised in Buddhism, Hinduism and many oriental religions. Generally, every human being is called to a personal encounter with God in silence. Sometimes those in love admire each other in contemplation to appreciate the divine love in the heart that is manifested in exterior beauty.

Jesus did not condemn the effort of Martha to provide for his physical needs. Jesus wanted her to also appreciate the value of presence through deep listening. Dialogue generally produces more fruit if both partners are willing and ready to listen to each other. A responsible wife appreciates the presence of a husband who listens. In deep contemplation, human beings come to a deep awareness of the vanity of wealth, fame and power. Those who cherish interior life are convinced daily that no condition is permanent just as no position is permanent. Once humans recognize that life is transient like a flowing water, the need to prepare for immortal and eternal life becomes a priority. Earthly wealth passes aware while spiritual wealth endures forever. In dialogue of encounter, human beings gradually come to self-awareness and a deeper knowledge of the other. Listening and silence are the true language of the heart. In a conversation where both parties talk at the same time with no one listening, the result is a cacophony of sounds.

Silence is golden! A bird that makes too much noise cannot make a durable nest. The empty drum makes the loudest noise. Silence can be golden in this era of noise pollution. When a person makes so much noise with laudable promises, the contents very often are self-referential and pride. This is why noise makers fill their conversations with, “me, I, myself and mine.”  These phrases and sentences destroy dialogue that is meant to resolve contending issues. Dialogue ushers in a new dawn with a little sacrifice, caution and passion for peace. The desert of the heart is where God waits for those who make themselves available for a divine encounter. The perpetual sound with loud microphones from the houses of worship can only change the world when the content comes from a contemplative heart. Elijah encountered God through a gentle breeze and a still small voice.

The power of God did not manifest through the noise of the prophets of Baal. We can change the society with a reformed heart of silence just like the Desert Monks reacted to the materialism of the secular world of their time. Saints like Anthony, Pachomius, Benedict, Basil of Caesarea, Martin of Tours, Benedict of Nursia, and some Egyptian monks withdrew into the desert to do penance and pray for the healing and salvation of the world. Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio endured pains in union with the sufferings of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world. Many great political and religious leaders who preferred the comfort and dignity of the people to their personal interest believed that when pain, hunger and all forms of suffering are endured for the sake of the people, the result could be very rewarding. Silence and penance can generate more love, more generosity and more desire to live in peace and harmony. Without silence, our worship can become mere rituals. Jesus calls us to " be perfect like the heavenly Father who is perfect (Matthew 5, 48). Contemplation is a cream of perfection that enables a person mean what he or she says. It creates the opportunity to consider whether a word can be translated into action. A person who cannot match words with action often looks irresponsible. Sincere dialogue of encounter goes with action and ascetic discipline.

Encounter through contemplative disposition opens the way to God. Dialogue of encounter and contemplation provides a sacred space for politeness and the courage to demonstrate true love in a heroic way that includes the capacity to die for the other (John 15:13). True men and women of honour know the meaning of renunciation of the ego, conversion and a stability of purpose. Calmness of Spirit marks the character of great people who without loud voice and anger can change the heart of an enemy to stop a fight. Gentle people are credible because they master the art of conversation that can change the aggressive person to a gentle lamb. Dialogue of encounter through contemplation could transform your word into a healing antidote. This is another dynamic way of turning enemies to friends who would later appreciate the fact that they have been fighting a humble and harmless person.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) deduced from the political anarchy of his time that “man is a wolf to man” (L’homme est un loup pour l’homme). He believed that from anarchy people would be driven by self-preservation and the fear of death to band together to form a state. He believed that without government, we would end in a conflict of “war of all against all” (Hobbes, De Cive, 9). Dialogue of encounter promotes peaceful co-existence in a government that believes in justice and peace. Good governance is marked with civilized and lawful people who strive to attain a desired vision by listening to the demands of the people. The domestic government of any nation is the family where children are nurtured for the future generation. Good home training is a result of the prudence of the parents to talk and listen to the children. Democracy should actually begin from the home and this would enable the democratic government of a nation to lead the citizens to a promised land that flows with “milk and honey”. Dialogue of encounter demands that the parents should be willing to do anything to ensure that the children are well formed to contribute to nation building. If every family is healthy physically and morally, there would be guarantee of safety and security in the nation. A secure environment is the fruit of healthy living. May we learn to speak our minds and listen to reach the heart to the people around us.      

Rev. Fr. Cornelius Omonokhua is the Executive Secretary of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) (nirec.ng@gmail.com)

 

 


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