WISDOM: Interiority by Joan Chittister

Interiority by Joan Chittister

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light

Abba Isidore of Pelusia said: “Living without speaking is better than speaking without living.  For a person who lives rightly helps us by silence, while one who talks too much annoys us.  If, however, words and life go hand in hand, it is the perfection of all philosophy.”



t is a hurried and a noisy world in which we live.  It is not an Egyptian desert of the third century.  It is not a hermitage on a mountaintop.  We are surrounded, most of us, at all times by the schedules and deadlines, the crowds, and the distractions of a dense and demanding society.

We are an increasingly extroverted society, called away from our private selves on every level of life.  Institutions even plan family events for us.  They organize civic celebrations for us.  They design financial plans for us.  We spend the greater part of our lives meeting and satisfying the social requirements of institutions which, ironically, are supposedly designed to make personal expression possible and end up consuming us instead.

Even the spiritual responses people make to the God who created us are determined in large part by religious bodies that carry within themselves the traditions of the denomination from which they spring.  But the contemplative knows that ritual and rite are not enough to nourish the divine life within.  They are, at best, the appurtenances of religion.  Spirituality is not the system we follow; it is the personal search for the divine within us all.

Interiority, the making of interior space for the cultivation of the God-life, is of the essence of contemplation.  Interiority is the entering into the self to be with God.  My interior life is a walk through darkness with the God within who leads us beyond and out of ourselves to become a vessel of divine life let loose upon the world.

Going into the self, finding the motives that drive us, the feelings that block us, the desires that divert us, and the poisons that infect our souls brings us to the clarity that is God.  We find the layers of the self.  We face the fear, the self-centeredness, the ambitions, the addictions that stand between us and commitment to the presence of God.  We confront the parts of the self that are too tired, too disinterested, too distracted, to make the effort to nurture the spiritual life.  We make space for reflection.  We remind ourselves of what life is really all about.  We tend to the substance of our souls.

No life can afford to be too busy to close the doors on chaos regularly: twenty minutes a day, two hours a week, a morning a month.  Otherwise, we find in the middle of some long, lonely night when all of life seems unraveled and disoriented that somewhere along the line we lost sight of the self, became fodder in the social whirl and never even noticed until psychic darkness descended that it had happened to us.

The contemplative examines the self as well as God so that God can invade every part of life.  We are an insulated society.  We are surrounded by noise and awash in talk.  We are smothered by a sense of powerlessness.  And frustrated by it all, we suffer temper tantrums of the soul.  The contemplative refuses to allow the noise that engulfs us to deafen us to our own smallness or blind us to our own glory.

Interiority is the practice of dialogue with the God who inhabits our hearts.  It is also the practice of quiet waiting for the fullness of God to take up our emptiness.  God lies in wait for us to seek the Life that gives meaning to all the little deaths that consume us day by day.  Interiority brings us the awareness of the Life that sustains our life.

The cultivation of the interior life makes religion real.  Contemplation is not about going to church, though going to church ought certainly to nourish the contemplative life.  Contemplation is about finding the God within, about making sacred space in a heart saturated with advertisements and promotions and jealousies and ambitions, so that the God whose spirit we breathe can come fully to life in us.

To be a contemplative it is necessary to spend time every day stilling the raging inner voice that drowns out the voice of God in us.  When the heart is free to give volume to the call of God that fills every minute of time, the chains snap and the soul is at home everywhere in the universe.  Then the psyche comes to health and life comes to wholeness.

The fact is that God is not beyond us.  God is within us and we must go inside ourselves to nourish the Breath that sustains our spirits.


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