From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light
Abba Zacharias had a vision. He told his spiritual father, Carion the ascetic, about it. Exasperated, Carion beat him and told him the vision came from demons. Zacharias went to Abba Poemen to tell him about it. Seeing his sincerity, Abba Poemen sent him on to a monk who was a mystic. This monk knew all about the vision before Zacharias even told him and said it was indeed from God. Then the mystic instructed him, “Now go back and submit yourself to your father.”
he desert monastics are very clear: Vision is one thing; visions are another. Visions are psychological phenomena that, in the end, may have nothing whatsoever to do with the way a person lives life or how a person develops. Some visions are surely spiritual gifts, but many of them are just as surely products of heightened emotional systems. Some of the most contemplative figures in history, for instance, never had a “vision.” Hildegard did not. Meister Eckhart did not. Teresa of Ávila did not. They knew the presence of God, but they never claimed to have had a single physical demonstration of it. Instead of visions, they had vision.
Vision is not physical. It is a quality of the soul. People with vision hone in, laser-like, to the presence of God in life. They see the holy, bleeding, suffering, feuding world as God sees the world: as one and as sacred. In love with a loving God, they are impelled to love God’s world as God does. They set out to love it as God loves it. They see God everywhere and in everything. They stretch beyond the demands of the personal, the chauvinistic, the nationalistic, the sectarian, even the doctrinal, to the will of God for the entire world. They are not trapped by the pitiful little agendas of color or gender or hierarchy or place. They live possessed by the will of God for the world and spend themselves for its coming. They do not slide into spiritual complacency or affect spiritual elitism. They work at the spiritual life, expecting no gifts from it and seeding no mystical signs to mark their spiritual growth. They simply do what must be done: They immerse themselves in the presence of God until everything becomes for them the presence of God.
Contemplation is not the stuff of charlatans, telepathists, and magicians. Contemplation is about very basic, very real things. It is about seeing God in everyone, finding God everywhere, and responding to all of life as a message from God. Contemplation is not a road show of visions. It is not spiritual snake oil. It is not an exalted state of being. It is simply consciousness of the Ultimate in the immediate.
Genuine spirituality is not spent escaping from life to live in a mental state of unconcern or otherworldliness. Contemplatives do not seek “visions.” They simply seek to know God, the God present in them and around them, in others and in everything, in Goodness and Truth, in universal love and universal peace. To contemplatives God is not a magic trick. God is the very breath they breathe.
To be contemplatives, we must have the vision to do every day whatever must be done to make God present in this place, at this time, whatever the cost.