Série de Prière: Contemplation

Contemplative prayer is my favorite type of prayer. When people write about contemplative prayer, they usually refer to the old Catholic saints like St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and Madame Guyon. These people are called “mystics”; I don’t prefer the term because of the Catholic affiliation, but I do like to call myself “contemplative.”

What is it?

Contemplative prayer is really something that must be experienced. It is near impossible to describe as it is  communing with God through your spirit (and everyone goes about this a little differently). The basic idea is this: it is a selfless prayer — a prayer that focuses on ministering to God and Him alone. It is giving back to Him because He has given so much to us.

Contemplative prayer is a prayer of the spirit. God is a spirit being, so it follows that He is to be loved in spirit. Although you may receive what the mystics called “favors” (visions, etc.) from the Lord, don’t expect them. Sometimes I come out of contemplative prayer feeling so in love and I don’t know why, I just feel full and like I’m walking on air. Other times I feel more dry than ever.

Practical Steps

I have practiced contemplative prayer in a prayer room, but I think it is most effective in solitude. I like to play soft music or have complete silence.

1. Start with reading the Bible and worshiping. Take this time to write down your thoughts and quiet your soul before the Lord.

2. Find a scripture of adoration (i.e. that makes you love the Lord).

3. Softly repeat the phrase of scripture internally. Seek a connection with Holy Spirit in this.

4. Say the phrase until you feel a distinct “in love” feeling.

5. With no words, remain in that “loving on the Lord” place as long as you can (try to start with 20 minutes).

If you get distracted in this process, go back to repeating the scripture. If you fall asleep, just continue where you left off. It is important to begin with a scripture because of the mystical nature of contemplative prayer. Otherwise, it is possible to get involved in nihilism (extreme skepticism maintaining that nothing in the world has real existence) and other things.

You can use mental imagery when you contemplate, but the mystics consider this a “lesser” form of prayer because God cannot be contained in any imagery and His majesty cannot be given justice through what we know in our heads. I think imagery is a fine place to start, but – in my opinion – it’s good to get to the place where we are able to stare into “the cloud of unknowing” without imagery props.

Recommended Reading

Fire Within by Thomas Dubay is a summary of the lives of two great mystics, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila

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This post is a part of a series on different types of prayer. Click here to read the rest of the series.

Vocal Prayer: A Double-Edged Sword

In modern American churches, we tend to think of prayer as closing our eyes and saying words aloud. Since when was the dignity of prayer cheapened into such a pitiful form?

The authority on this subject I have to hand over to the Catholics. I so admire their history on the subject and the high respect they continue to give it. I am not here to bash vocal prayer; it’s a method of prayer that we practice regularly in the prayer room and I think it’s very necessary. But there’s so much more to prayer.

Here’s my quarrel with vocal prayer: prayer is so powerful (more on that later) and yet most of the time when we close our eyes and pray aloud, we’re not thinking about what we’re praying and even less are we thinking about Whom we are praying to.

“If a person does not think Whom he is addressing, and what he is asking for, and who it is that is asking and of Whom he is asking it, I do not consider that he is praying at all even though he be constantly moving his lips.” – St. Teresa of Avila, Fire Within

I’m going to do a series of posts on prayer: different types of prayer, the power of prayer…I guess it’s my weak attempt to change the mindset of my culture. Everything that I will say I’ve learned myself – I won’t be parroting my teachers or plagiarizing a book.

Stay tuned.

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I have now completed this series. Click here to read the rest of the posts.

Softness, Part 2

In continuation of my previous thought, I realized that this has much to do with communing with the Holy Spirit. I best heard this described in the following quote:

“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and a gentle receptiveness to the divine breathings.” – Thomas Kelly

This is an attitude of spirit that I wish to implement into every moment of my life. I want to wake up praying; I want to be required to make a decision and immediately know where the Lord is leading. In his book Clowning In Rome, Henri Nouwen says, “…Our prayer can only become unceasing communion when all our thoughts…can be thought in the presence of the One who dwells in us and surrounds us.” I want to live there. My desire is to fellowship with the Lord day and night and to make it natural to live at this “profounder level.”

Softness

I recently switched to the NightWatch at my prayer room to help Juan (a leader of our House) with our first Fire in the Night internship. I am loving it…especially my tripled personal time in the prayer room.

The other night as I drove home and the sky was tinged blue in preparation for the sunrise, I suddenly felt rising in my heart a softness…a softness towards the Lord that I have missed in recent months. My eyes brimmed with tears as I enjoyed the sweetness I hadn’t even realized I was missing. It was that feeling of, “why would I want to go one moment without the attitude of my heart being complete love towards the Lord?”

I first felt this tenderness creep into my spirit during my internship at IHOP a year and a half ago. I realize that most people have never experienced this internal change, so they cannot comprehend how their daily lives would be enhanced by living there. I am attributing the privilege of this attitude of heart to simply setting myself before the Lord more. For me, my season of that is in the prayer room, but I am not convinced that is the only place this can occur. I believe that just the act – regardless of feelings attached – of setting yourself before the Lord and simply saying, “Here I am,” can allow the Holy Spirit tenderize your heart to His presence in your life.

I have never heard someone specifically talk about this; this is solely coming from my own experience. If someone else has more ample words to describe what I am experiencing, please do state your own observations.