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