This question is asked by Jesus three times in St John’s gospel. The first time is in the context of his arrest when Jesus asks the armed soldiers and police. It is in the dark and in a time and place limited context. The second time is again to the soldiers. The third time he asks the question is to Mary outside the tomb where his body has been laid. It is a question outside of time and place. When asked by Jesus ‘For whom are you looking?’ Mary’s reply – as with almost all of our replies to Jesus is to almost miss the point. She doesn’t recognise him until he says her name– and in being known and named by the risen Christ she finds him. He is not now an object and something external to her for her to cling to, but rather a joyous experience of communion to be integrated in the deepest part of her true self.
In contemplation we look and can find communion with Christ in the centre of our being, part of the body of Christ, and the communion of saints. It is prayer based on our serious love of God and (similar to eastern meditation) is where we bring our loving attention – our mindfulness with God. It is a place of silence and stillness, and a place of no-analysis, no-thought, no self-concern, beyond imagination. Alone and in solitude, we wait for God. We are completely in the present, here and now. This is the space of the vertical instant, a space outside of time. In this place of no-self, we may like Mary outside the tomb, meet the risen Jesus Christ and yet not recognise him.
We are alone in the company of ‘Another’. As Bede Griffiths puts it we are ‘alone with the Alone’. Remember Winnicott’s paper on the capacity to be alone. He describes this as one of the most important signs of maturity in emotional development – he wasn’t describing necessarily actually being alone but a capacity that emerges from sufficient experience of being alone in the presence of the mother ‘… where the presence of each is important to the other’. In the section where Winnicott reflects on the phrase ‘I am alone’ he sees this as dependent on the infant’s awareness of the continued existence of a reliable mother.
I think in silent contemplation something slightly similar may be happening. Alone can be described as a state of poverty which some have defined as purity of heart. In other words freed from the illusory false self we have the ability not to project the self onto God. God is then the ‘Other’ who is then also ‘Alone’ (alone in the sense of not being projected onto) although with us. Here, also in this last question, is the ultimate realisation which is that it is not just us who are and have been doing the looking. Christ is searching for us and perhaps, after all, as James Alison suggests, like the experiences of the medieval theologians, we have been uncovered and discovered and loved, rather than the other way round. It has all been and continues to be something lovingly done and lovingly given to us.