The Meaning of Blue: Recovering a Contemplative Spirit
By Father Luke Bell, OSB
Angelico Press, 2014
Not many books use a potato to explain spiritual wholeness but Father Luke Bell manages to do this and more in The Meaning of Blue: Recovering a Contemplative Spirit. As a monk-priest at Quarr Abbey on the UK’s Isle of Wight, Bell is well placed to teach us about contemplation and potatoes.
At first, a guide to contemplation seems unnecessary. After all, the church calendar offers ample opportunity to hone our contemplative practice: Advent and Christmas provides 40 days to direct our thoughts toward others; Epiphany’s 12 days allow us to reflect on the light of Christ’s birth; Lent gives us 40 days and nights for spiritual self-flagellation and improvement. With all that contemplation, do we really need more? The problem, according to Bell, is that our contemplation is superficial.
The fundamental cause for this is our pathetic observation skills. Too many of us have grown accustomed to seeing merely the temporal without seeing and understanding the intrinsic link between objects and the divine, and between people and the divine. We have gained knowledge from the periphery at the expense of knowledge at and of the heart. As our perception of the world becomes increasingly myopic we teeter on the edge of divine anaesthetization. To possess a truly contemplative spirit means having the ability to think with the heart and not always with the head, which is in direct opposition to the way society teaches (or wants us) to observe.
Bell believes that reclaiming a contemplative spirit starts not with God or Scripture but with understanding the symbols that bring us to God-nature, language, numbers, scripture, and sacraments. Guiding us through the process he attempts to wrestle us away from our acquired tunnel vision in order to ponder the world with wide-eyes and soulful thinking.
Hence the potato: A potato not eaten eventually sprouts growths, and if that potato is planted those growths will yield new potatoes. Through Bell’s extrapolation we see that all the potatoes you find in the stores are actually grown from one potato. Within this observance of nature we can appreciate our relation to God and to one another. Spiritual wholeness enables us to make that link at a deep level.
Disclosure: I met Father Luke several years ago at Quarr Abbey. He’s soft-spoken and his posture seems permanently inclined to contemplation. He also has a dry sense of humour, which comes out in his writing. With a poet’s heart and a philosopher’s brain he infuses his thesis with philosophical musings, physics, Scripture, poetry, and every-day references. As a former teacher of poetry, it is not surprising that Bell recommends the ambiguity inherent in poetry as an effective tool in allowing our minds to both transcend the obvious and ruminate the deeper meaning.
Just as St. Benedict exhorted his monks in the 6th century to “listen with the ear of your heart” so Bell in the 21st century encourages present generations to “see with the eye of your soul”.
Jane Christmas is the author of And Then There Were Nuns (Greystone Books)