What is Christian Contemplative Prayer and Meditation?
"when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. " Jesus Christ Matthew 6:6
'You yourself do nothing. You simply allow Him to work in your soul.' Walter Hilton 14th C
"Go, sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything" Abba Moses, (330–405 AD) Desert Father
'All we can do in prayer is dispose ourselves. The rest is in the power of the Spirit who leads us.' Theresa of Avila 16th C
Waiting upon God; listening for God; opening ourselves to God; responding to the invitation to meet God in silent awareness. Perhaps the best description is prayer of the heart. In contemplative prayer we seek to be aware of the presence of God and to remain silently and attentively in that presence, completely open to God.
Why Do It
Because God is God. We need no other reason. We do not embark on contemplative prayer to experience God; to have holy feelings; to advance in prayer; or to lead a better life. Some or all of these things may happen. But when we come to God in silence and stillness we lay aside all else. We are available, open and receptive, for God to do as he wills. We just are with God in silence and stillness, because God is.
“Deep within your heart, he is calling you to spend time with him in prayer. But this kind of prayer, real prayer, requires discipline; it requires making time for moments of silence every day. Often it means waiting for the Lord to speak.
Even amid the ‘busyness’ and the stress of our daily lives, we need to make space for silence, because it is in silence that we find God, and in silence that we discover our true self. And in discovering our true self, we discover the particular vocation which God has given us for the building up of his Church and the redemption of our world.”From Pope Benedict's visit to the U.K. 2010, in his address to Youth
"… contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them. To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.” Dr Rowan Williams, Address to the Catholic Bishops, 2013
Preparing for Meditation and Contemplative Prayer
First we need to find a place and a time that suit us. The place should be quiet and comfortable. Freedom from the sudden distractions of phone, doorbell,conversation, etc, is very desirable. Ideally we should choose a time when we are reasonably alert and able to relax.
When we pray we bring our whole selves to God - body, mind and spirit. If our body is uncomfortable it will distract us from prayer. As we are all different, it is worth experimenting to find a posture which really suits us and helps us relax. Generally people find it best either to sit upright on a straight-backed chair, or to kneel with a prayer-stool to sit back on. Some find the cross-legged half-lotus position is right; others lie flat on the floor.......
So, you are sitting comfortably - what next?
Simply rest in the silence, alert and attentive but without expectation. When distracting thoughts occur bring yourself back to a focus. A candle, a picture, your breathing, a short word or phrase. Let the thoughts drift away.
Our concentrated times of silent prayer can and should spill over into the rest of the day. However busy we are there are always spaces. We knock on a door and wait for it to open; we dial a phone number and wait for a reply; we wait for the kettle to boil; we wait for the bus to come; we walk along a corridor. We can use all these times to remember that we are always in the presence of God, and simply be in that presence.
In other words we are learning to see God in every thing, every event, every person. This very process will stir us to take action in the face of need, injustice or oppression - just as Christ was stirred to action. Contemplative prayer helps us to engage with the world, not to escape it.