He wrote about faith in a highly skeptical time, just after the Thirty Years War where Europe had descended into brutality and chaos as Christians killed each other over doctrinal differences.
Despite this disastrous religious violence, Pascal argued that the Christian faith was true because it offered the best understanding of human nature: why we are the way we are and what we can do to remedy our condition.
Among many great things he wrote, this is perhaps one of the most famous:
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
The journey inward
Much of the time I am concerned with ‘activism’: about what we can do to make a difference in the world.
But I increasingly believe that this emphasis on outward actions needs to be complemented by attending to our own inward journey. I think authentic Christian spirituality deepens our journey in both directions.
Whatever they believe, everyone should take regular time and space for the journey inward. As Henri Nouwen wrote:
‘Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.’
We need to sit quietly in a room alone. Busyness is indeed the enemy of spirituality.
We all need the discipline of paying attention to what is happening within ourselves – to examine our soul, who we really are. This is not about navel-gazing or self-indulgent analysis. It is about gathering resources in order to live authentically.
In the silence, what do you hear? What are you reminded of? What thoughts flood in? Do you have the courage to listen to what you hear?
Contemplation and activism
It is beautifully distilled, spiritual wisdom about the relationship between contemplation and activism:
The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.
Unity and integrity
These words sum up the way that the journey inward through silence and prayer lead us to faith:
Silence – Prayer – Faith
And in turn, faith sends us outward to live a life of love and service to others:
Faith – Love – Service
It is in the unity and integrity of these inward and outward journeys that we will find peace. Both for ourselves and for the hurting world around us.