The contemplative journey can be appreciated through many different images and ways of understanding. Here we present it as a process of growth through five phases as one journeys in the land of unfamiliarity. The descriptions of the five phases were adapted from one of the many articles by Marie Beha OSC from the Review For Religious.  Most of this content was assembled by Sr. Helen Banyai SJC on my suggestion. The last third of this content ( most of phase 5) was assembled by Vicky Chen, M.D.**.  Several people including Ruth McLean **  helped me bring this to you. 

           Since all calls to deeper relationship with God embrace a common core of values and attitudes, we offer this meditative material as a possible support. Individuals can use this meditation resource to understand, accept and respond to the struggles going on in their own prayer experience.

-- John Veltri 

Lord, Jesus,
Be with me as I  journey 
into a land that is unknown to me.
I know not where I am going,
where I may wander,
or what I may experience.

I am afraid, Lord,
but I will trust in you
to stay close to my heart.
I feel the stirrings of your call within me,
and I know I am asked to go forward
in faith.

Love me, Lord.
I will try to love you
and follow you 
in my weakness ...

The First Three Phases

Phase One
The  Light That One Had Before 
Appears As Darkness

Phase Two
The Call To Leave Behind The Past
And Experience God In A New Way

Phase Three
Response To The Call

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  Phase Four
  Life Review
  • Re-experience of one's sinfulness
  • A sense of quiet and peace in between
  • A fresh insight into God's mercy and goodness
  • A new awareness of one's giftedness
  • Acceptance of oneself as a sinner and as one being forgiven
  • Being drawn into a union of love
  • Solitude, silence: inner necessities

    Phase Five
  Deepening Of Intimacy

  • Awareness of one's ignorance of God
  • True knowledge of God is complete trust
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  • One's concern: let Jesus live his lfe in oneself; oneness and intimacy with God 
  • Experiencing divine adoption as being realized in oneself 
  • Call to the prayer of faith 
  • An increase in hope: God's promise transforms everything 

  • Love is perceived as a unitive gift: communion with God and with all creation

    Phase One
    The Light That One Had Before 
    Appears As Darkness

              For a long time I experience nothing but distaste, dislike, aridity in my prayer, yet such a great desire to meet you, Lord. The very presence of you that once flooded my being in deep affective prayer and in contact with the world, now seems to be utterly absent. It is as if I had lost you. Dryness is now the outcome of fixing my senses upon subjects which formerly provided satisfaction. The light I had before appears as darkness itself.

              God divests the faculties, affections and senses, both spiritual and sensory, interior and exterior. He leaves the intellect in darkness, the will in aridity, the memory in emptiness and the affections in supreme afflictions, bitterness and anguish, by depriving the soul of the feeling and satisfaction it previously obtained from spiritual blessings.(2)

              The night seems very dense and dark. I feel that I will never find you again. Yet, I do not experience true panic or disquietude. I experience only a deep abiding trust that you will come, that in a way you are present in your absence.

    Sg 3:1-3 Upon my bed by night I seek you whom my heart loves but find you not
    Ps 88  I suffer your terrors; I am helpless, in complete darkness and loneliness
    Ps 13 How long will you hide your face from me?
    Ps 119:73-88 I hope in you. When will you comfort me? How long must your servant endure
    Jb 7:1-6 I am allotted months of emptiness and nights of misery are apportioned me
    Ps 77:1-10 It is my grief that your right hand has changed
    Ps 102:3-11 You have taken me up and thrown me away
    Jb 10:1-15  I feel like Job. Obviously, I have offended you in some way. Let me know, Lord, why you contend against me

    Where Once ...

           Where once you breathed your loving breath
             upon my cheek, my neck, my ear ...
               now, you are gone.

            Where once you stroked my waiting palm
                       laid open to your flaming touch ...
               now, you are gone.

                      an empty womb
                      the stillness hangs   upon
                      your absence aches
                      its shadow sears      my mind
                                        my heart
                                       my soul.

             Where once you filled my vacant stares,
                      my empty rooms ...
               now darkness pounds.

             Where once you tamed my rampant storms,
                      unleashed with fury in the night ...
               now darkness pounds.

                      i am the babe
                      abandoned to      the emptiness
                                     the thick, dark black
                                    the hollow arms.
                      i am the babe
                      set free amidst    the tunnels of aridity
                                     the spirals of unending
                                    the waves of incongruity.

             Where once you danced before my eyes
                      in raptured strains of liturgy ...
               now, sorrow reigns.

             Where once you dressed my soul in love
                      in orbs of fragile reverence ...
               now, sorrow reigns.

                      Lost keys   Lost doors   Lost light
                       Lost me      Lost You

                          Standing on the trail at sunset
                              i await your next caress.(3)


    Phase Two
    The Call To Leave Behind The Past
    And Experience God In A New Way

              It seems to me that God calls me to leave behind the past the ways I hold dear in relating to him, and meet him, experience him in new ways. It is like being called to a foreign country where I must learn all over again.

              The privation of the senses is one of the conditions required, that the spiritual form, which is the union of love, may be introduced in the spirit and united with it. The Holy One works all of this in the soul by means of a pure and dark contemplation.(4)

    Gn 12:1-9 to go from what I know and love to the land that God will show me
    Is 42:5-16 I am declaring new things; I want to guide you in paths you have not known
    Is 43:14-21 I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth
    Ex 3:7-12 to go to a land flowing with milk and honey
    Ho 2:14-17 I will lead you into the wilderness and speak to your heart


                i awoke, one morning,
                        from shades of sleep,
                        to find my world had changed ...

                the ground on which i had always placed my feet,
                        had subtly shifted with the darkness.

                the firm beliefs and solid suppositions
                        that ordered my daily decisions
                had evaporated before my eyes ...
                the images of God
                        which sketched my thoughts
                        and traced my days
                now seemed anachronistic to my mind ...

                comfortable pillows
                        that held my head
                          and spoke of warm security
                     in familiar ways
                were slipping silently from my bed ...

                the props i  used
                        to keep me strong
                     now seemed obsolete
                and strangely out of synchronization.

                          submerged in pools of doubt
                         lay the buoys i'd worn
                     to hold me up in times of trial.

                     caught and helpless,
                         uprooted and airborne,
                             i existed ...

                     dangling in space
                         between the old
                             and the new ...

                one eye was fixed with longing to the past,
                   the other,
                   with an urgent expectancy,
                       to what might lay ahead ...

                one hand was clutching
                        at what had been so easy and certain,
                        the other
                            grasped at what might fill
                            the freshly-opened void.

                          i had a new space within myself
                              which i had not discerned before ...
                     it begged designs to form its cast.

                a voice emerged      deep in my heart
                        which called me to an alien land.
               it tugged and pulled
                        and bade me come
                        to risk and grow
                           in tune with it.

                i felt the promise
                        of a more profound love
                        and communion with      divinity ...
                if i could only
                        shirk my fear
                        and put my trust
                           in what beckoned me ...(5)


    Phase Three
    Response To The  Call

    Fear And Resistance
              New beginning involves a wrench, a break, perhaps a repudiation. The total, final break with all I hold dear is not achieved without tears. Your call, my God, is both fascinating and terrifying. I relate to it with mixed feelings. I sense fear and resistance.

              The attempt to flee from reality, to deny your call, puts me in a kind of vacuum. It is like being nowhere, having no place to stand. Your call, my God, to pure and dark contemplation has already made a difference, and that difference is irreversible. I realize that the return to former ways is no longer a possibility, much less an option. Yet, I am afraid. I must choose to break through the fear and come to new life or try to escape from your disturbing call. To escape would be a way of self-defeat. I acknowledge that I am afraid and fear begins to retreat. I am freer now to go into surrender.

    Is 6:1-5 Like Isaiah I am terrified by the experience of your holiness and my sinfulness
    Dt 30:15-20 Life and death are set before me, today. I am to choose life
    Lk 22:39-46 Death is the road to new life. In my agony I ask you to remove this cup from me
    Ps 139 There is nowhere that I can flee or hide from you. You know my heart and my thoughts
    Ps 143:1-10 I am confused, my spirit fails. Teach me the way I am to walk
    Lk 9:57-62 I am not ready yet. Delay your call, Lord
    Ga 4:8-11 The return to my former ways is no longer a comfortable option
    Is 43:1-7 You tell me not to fear, Lord, for you will be with me
    Ex 19:1-6 You bore me on eagles' wings and brought me to yourself and now you are promising something even greater
    Ps 29 You, Lord, are powerful, full of majesty. You shake the wilderness, strip the forest bare. I am afraid to fall into the hand of the living God
    Ex 16:1-8 If I could go back to my former ways!
    Jn 12:23-28 If I try to escape it will be a way of self-defeat
    Is 44:1-8 I am afraid but your promises strengthen me

    i plod the land

                                   i plod the land of ancient time
                                    where faceless days and voiceless nights
                                       rest anaesthetized
                                    beneath the hand
                                       of willed and bland oblivion.

                                   descending burrowed abysses
                                    where memory plays its instant frames,
                                   i step into the tangled mesh
                                    of mortal patterns etched in ice;
                                   i crouch surrounded
                                       by   my   self
                                    and feel the web encircle me.

                                   peering into mirrored pools
                                    i see the past disrobe and speak
                                    of crusted blood and careless tears
                                   that filtered through my roaring streams;
                                    i see my thoughts undress and hide
                                      along the empty paths i ran.

                                   i try to wash the pain away
                                    slice the ropes that keep me bound,
                                   but razor edges of my sin
                                       slide deep into the fleshy part,
                                       wedge firm within my fleshy part.....
                                      i taste the cutting with my tongue
                                      and bite the harshness as they sink.

                                   i throw myself against the wall
                                    and dash my head with jagged stones,
                                    in efforts to escape this purge
                                       of looking at my nakedness,
                                       of sewing on my barren limbs,
                                    accepting them as part of me.

                                   i lie awake upon the floor
                                    amidst the crumbs of who i am,
                                    and dig the lava from my eyes
                                   that blinded me to sacred light,
                                    and tear the blanket from my heart
                                   that let me sleep contentedly.

                                   i plod the land of present time
                                    with fearless days and voiceless nights
                                   and raise my arms
                                   in anguished call.....
                                   i stand and bellow
                                      ....           to my God.(6)

              Out of my fear comes the acceptance of surrender. It will be a gradual and progressive revelation in me and it will be total. I am called to let go of what has been familiar to me, of that "very self" by which I have identified myself. I am resolved to seek nothing and do nothing but what is willed by my God. I know it is all love.

    I Surrender

    I pray alone
    on the mountain tops of night.
    It is so calm, so still.
    All is dark;
    yet coming closer and closer
    to me is a robe
    of great brilliance.

    I close my eyes in fear.
    As the full-sun,
    He stops before me,
    dazzling, dancing.

    His presence pierces
    through my whole being
    yet consuming me not.

    I kiss the earth before Brilliance.
    I let go and fly to ecstasy.
    Oh, God, before such beauty
    I surrender!(7)

    Lk 23:44-46  Father, I surrender myself to you. Into your hands I commit my spirit
    Ac 9:3-19  I surrender before your power. You cause me to be filled with your spirit and to recover my sight
    Mt 1:18-25  I will do as you direct me, Lord. I will listen to and obey your voice
    Lk 1:26-38 With Mary I say, "I am the servant of the Lord. Be it done unto me as you say."
    Lk 22:39-46  Let your will be done, Lord, not mine
    Ph 3:7-14  All I want is to know Christ. I forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead
    Gn 22:9-14 I trust you, Lord, that you will provide for all my needs
    Ps 40:1-8  I delight to do your will, O my God


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    1. Ruth McLean (Guelph, Ont., 1990)

    2. The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Kieran Kavanagh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D., trans. (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1973) Vol. 2, p.333

    3. Ruth McLean

    4. St. John of the Cross, p.333

    5. Ruth McLean

    6. Ruth McLean

    7. George A. Maloney, S.J., Invaded God (Denville, N.J.: Dimension Books, 1979) p.176

    a. Ruth Mclean's Website can be found at:

    b. Vicky Chen's Website can be found at:

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