How To Pray With Contemplative Prayer: A Journey
Learning how to pray has been a long journey for me. I was raised a Protestant, Evangelical/Fundamentalist/Pentecostal to be specific. So the importance of prayer was always stressed, but the actual practice was not taught. And growing up in the 80’s, a lot of “chewing the fat” conversations centered on the evils of Catholicism – so looking to their traditions for guidance was taboo. Many Protestants I knew questioned whether any Catholic would go to heaven (I am ashamed to admit.) But as I matured in the faith and met Catholics with a vigor and passion for God, I realized the narrowness and ignorance of my thinking.
Fortunately most Protestants, like me, have made the shift from blind prejudice to that of acceptance of Catholics as fellow bothers and sisters. But that realization also brings up some cognitive dissonance. If Catholics are siblings, then their traditions and practices are not automatically suspect or evil. And that realization has led me down a road of discovery and consternation.
Quite frankly, sometimes I long for the days of simplicity when my narrow brand of Christianity was all I needed to understand the world and my God. But those days are gone. The world is too complex and my God too big for that narrow understanding to be adequate.
And with the understanding that a more robust understanding of Theology and Orthopraxy was needed, I set off in search of other Christianities. And while I have never abandoned my Protestant roots, I have added to it a broader scope of field, as it were. It was on this journey that I discovered Contemplative Prayer (or centering prayer.) While I have a spotty record of practicing it, it has helped me encounter God at a level beyond words.
The Contemplative Prayer is one where you get rid of all distraction, unrepented sin, words, and thoughts – and focus only on the love of God. While my Pentecostal upbringing taught me to look for outward experience to encounter God (singing, clapping, dancing, shouting) – the centering prayer seeks to encounter God void of any outside influence.
Here is a brief excerpt from the website, ContempativePrayer.net, that tells how Contemplative Prayer was rediscovered in this century:
“In 1974, Father William Meninger, a Trappist monk and retreat master at St. Josephs Abbey in Spencer, Mass. found a dusty little book in the abbey library, The Cloud of Unknowing. As he read it he was delighted to discover that this anonymous 14th century book presented contemplative meditation as a teachable, spiritual process enabling the ordinary person to enter and receive a direct experience of union with God.
This form of meditation, recently known as ‘Centering Prayer’ (from a text of Thomas Merton) can be traced from and through the earliest centuries of Christianity. The Centering Prayer centers one on God.
The Cloud was written, not in Latin but in Middle English – which means that it was intended primarily for laymen rather than for priests and monks. Father Meninger saw that it was a simple book on the ultimate subject, with only 75 brief chapters.”
How To Pray – Using the Contemplative Prayer:
Here are some simple instructions distilled from ContempativePrayer.net:
- In order to begin the Contemplative Prayer you should already be a Christian and have already cultivated a good prayer life.
- You should have already cultivated daily reading habits of the Scriptures. It does not have to be for hours a day, but a daily time in which you listen to God through His Word.
- You should have repented of any sins that are weighing on your mind.
- Once you are doing these things – you are ready to begin the contemplative prayer.
- Be seated in a comfortable position. Make sure you are in a quiet place away from any distractions.
- Start with a simple prayer. It can be in your own words, but here is a suggested prayer that you can make your own:
Serene Light, shining in the ground of my being
Draw me to Yourself
Draw me past the snares of my senses
Out of the mazes of the mind
Free me from symbols, from words
That I may discover the Signified, the Word Unspoken
In the darkness that veils the ground of my being
- Now quiet your mind by deeply breathing in and out of your nose, taking about 5 seconds to inhale and then exhale. You can say something like:
In the Name of
And the Holy Spirit
saying each phrase each time you exhale.
- Clear your mind of any distractions. Use one word, a simple word to focus your thoughts toward God. Use such words as Abba, Father, Jesus, Grace, etc. Make sure that you desire Him and not what He can give you. Be lifted above words. You should feel a stirring of love. It may not last long. But the more practiced you become, the longer this stirring will last.
- Simply love God. Don’t think about God or His attributes or doctrine. Thinking and understanding tend to focus the mind and raise awareness of the temporal. Instead, clear your mind of such concerns so that you may focus on communion and openness toward God.
- When distracting thoughts come – just look past them. If you are fighting your thoughts and cannot quiet them, surrender to them as a captive and thus commend yourself to God in the midst of your enemies. Your thoughts will eventually quiet down – do not fight them, just let them pass.
- If you fall asleep during this prayer, do not be discouraged. Think of it as a gift that God knew you needed.
- End with a vocal prayer. It should be a simple prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is a good one to use. Be slow and deliberate as you say it. It will slowly bring you back to full awareness and act as a gentle closure to the Contemplative Prayer.
Try this in the comfort of your own home. It may initially go against your rational/mechanistic view of God. But this is not New Age hokum, I assure you. This is simply a way to get past ourselves and into the presence of God. The more you avail yourself to the Presence and Love of God, the more He will Shine His Light into your heart.