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Why contemplation?

Posted on October 1, 2023, by Joy Jensen SL

The mystic sits for the universe.

William Johnston

The tenets of democracy are under attack. There are groups running over democracy or trying to hijack it. Fundamental freedoms are under attack. Donald Trump has shown the most worrying evidence of the demise of politics. Even Mike Pence urges Americans to vote against Trump’s populism and his threats to suspend the Constitution. And now we have Ramaswamy. The GOP targets election winners in Wisconsin in new attacks on democracy. Is this an impasse, a dark night of America’s soul?

I have been reading “Desire, Darkness and Hope: Theology in a Time of Impasse,” with articles engaging the thought of Constance FitzGerald, OCD. Her thought strikes me as exactly on point for where we are right now in this country. She focuses on the idea of an impasse, a dark night that we can recognize as the darkness of our American soul. We seem to have forgotten that our democracy is a covenant. Politics is an ethos. What can we do to uphold the culture of democracy, even the saving of our Earth?

Where are we in Loretto? In truth we pride ourselves on our history, our action for justice and our work for peace. We undertake the task of writing letters to our legislators to encourage them to pass legislation aimed at societal justice and disarmament. We demonstrate. What do we do at this juncture? What more can we do?

In answer FitzGerald in her article “Impasse and Dark Night” makes two assumptions: “First, our experience of God and our spirituality must emerge from our concrete historical situation and must return to that situation to feed it. … Second, I find a great number of dark night or impasse experiences, personal and societal, that cry out for meaning. There is not only the so-called dark night of the soul but the dark night of the world.” Social activism is not enough.

Belden Lane stretches it further in his 1981 America Magazine article “Spirituality and Political Commitment,” “The impasse forces us to start all over again, driving us to contemplation … the impasse provides a challenge and a concrete focus for contemplation.” Returning to FitzGerald, she writes that in a genuine impasse situation “the new vision is not given on demand but is beyond conscious, rational control. It is the fruit of unconscious processes in which the situation of impasse itself becomes the focus of contemplative reflection.”

Where are we in this impasse, both personal and societal? The impasse we experience in our country as our democracy is attacked is not going away with the next presidential election. We are at an important juncture in our democracy. Choices face us; how to go on during this impasse? When the disciples could not expel an unclean spirit from an epileptic child, they asked Jesus why they could not cast out the unclean spirit. Jesus answered, “This kind can only come out through prayer” (Mk 9:29). Contemplation is a choice we can make during this societal impasse. Like the father of the epileptic child, do we believe? Do we believe in the Spirit praying in us for democracy’s future? For Earth’s future? There is meaning in this belief. As William Johnston wrote in “Silent Music,” “The mystic sits for the universe.”


Joy Jensen SL

Joy is a vowed member, and she resides in the Motherhouse infirmary. Previously, Joy was a community organizer in St. Louis at St. Alphonsus Liguori “The Rock” Church, a historic Catholic church with a predominately African-American faith community. She also did some teaching at St. Louis University after receiving her doctorate. She enjoys reading American history and spy thrillers. Joy also enjoys knitting.
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