Cultivating the Interior Life

In continuation of my previous post, Cityscape, I realized that making a silent retreat in a city proved challenging. One has to endure the noise that is at the heart of every city, especially Chicago. I could not help but recall this song from one of my favorite childhood shows, The Animaniacs. Here Dot is at extremes to find that quiet place:




So it got me thinking: Can one have an interior life in the midst of a busy environment? It is natural for us to be overwhelmed with preoccupations and want to withdraw to a secluded environment. But not everyone has the luxury to make a retreat, nor have the time to travel to find remote places. Furthermore, we see numerous times in Scripture where Christ withdraws to pray: into the desert for forty days before beginning his public ministry (Mark 1: 12-13), into the mountains after the multiplication of the loaves (Mark 6: 45-46), and in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14-32-34).



We see this also in our beloved Dominican saint, Catherine of Siena, in her Mystical Marriage to Christ. Catherine once said "Build a cell inside your mind from which you can never flee," which also served as advise for her confessor, Raymond of Capua. Yet during her espousal, Christ challenged her to leave the confines of her cell to go out into the world. This came as surprise for Catherine, whom longed to be cloistered, to be in the constant presence of Christ. However, this new calling led to a fulfillment of Catherine's desire by finding Christ even in the midst of people, a calling to integrate her life in a new way.



Cultivating the interior life is about integrationIntegration is learning to surrender certain aspects of our life for a moment and letting other aspects in. This integration is what leads to a balanced way of life. Therefore, cultivating the interior life is a means of finding that balance. Thomas Merton contextualizes this more richly in his book, New Seeds of Contemplation:


This then is what it means to seek God perfectly: to withdraw from illusion and pleasure, from worldly anxieties and desires, from the works that God does not want, from a glory that is only human display; to keep my mind free from confusion in order that my liberty may be always at the disposal of His will; to entertain silence in my heart and listen for the voice of God; to cultivate an intellectual freedom from the images of created things in order to receive the secret contact of God in obscure love; to love all men as myself.1


But, how much of my time does the Lord want? What should I pray about? We cannot concern ourselves primarily with the quantity of time or content of the prayer. For instance when a friend calls, does one immediately think to themselves: How long is this conversation going to take? Will this conversation be any good? No! But we learn from experience to set aside time when a friend wants to talk to you. Cultivating the interior life is about learning to initiate prayerful dialogue with God.



Easy Ways to Cultivate the Interior Life 

-Find a parish close by and make time to go to Eucharist Adoration

-Listen to podcasts of daily homilies or reflections 

-Read literature from spiritual authors in the Christian tradition

-Have a rosary on hand to recite rosary prayers

-Go for a walk before/after work or during break, turning off all media for that time

-Set aside a place to pray at home (create that environment and make it your own!)

-Take a notebook with you to write down thoughts that hit you throughout the day



The point is that these steps help to initiate the desire to pray. It comes down to our willingness to pause our lives and to give ourselves fully to the Lord's presence that will lead us to this cultivation. Interiority deepens our lens on life, a means of finding God in the recesses of one's experiences and to give meaning to the five W's: who, what, when, where, why. These questions can only be put into perspective if we take the initiative to find that inner sanctuary, where God leads us to himself.


While there is a necessity to withdraw from the busy engagements from time to time, cultivation of the interior life can begin by looking within no matter where one is. To close, here is some insight from Karl Rahner:


The devout Christian of the future will either be a mystic,

one who has experienced something, or he will cease to be anything at all.2




Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York, NY: New Directions, 1972), 45.

2  Karl Rahner, Further Theology of the Spiritual Life, vol. 7, Theological Investigations (New York: Herder and Herder, 1973), 250.