Contemplative Prayer

PRAYER: The Degrees Of Prayer by Evelyn Underhill

November 14, 2014

Printed for the Guild of Health, 1922 The subject of this paper is man’s fundamental spiritual activity – prayer.  Every religious mind is, of course, familiar with the idea of prayer; and in one degree or another, with the practice of it.  Yet we sometimes forget how very little we really know about it; how personal and subjective are the accounts spiritual writers give of it; how empirical and how obscure in its deepest moments, even for the best of us, our own understanding of it must be.  Here we are, little half-animal, half-spiritual creatures, mysteriously urged from within and enticed from without to communion with spiritual reality.  If and when we surrender to this craving and this attraction, we enter thereby – [...]

PRAYER: The Stages Of Prayer by Carlos Carretto

November 3, 2014

From Letter from the Desert Prayer is words, poetry, song. Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer For I am poor and needy. Show me, Lord, your way, so that I may walk in thy truth Guide my heart to fear your name. (Psalm 86) Often it contains a shout, a cry, a groan of anguish. Lord my God, I call for help by day; I cry at night before you. Let my prayer come into your presence. O turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is filled with evils; my life is on the brink of the grave. I am reckoned as one in the tomb: I have reached the end of my strength, like one alone among the dead; like the slain lying in their graves; like those you remember no more, cut off, as they are, from your hand. (Psalm 88) And sometimes an explosion of joy: I love [...]

CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER: Behold! by Carl McColman

July 8, 2014

From Answering the Contemplative Call “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything,” said Julian of Norwich.  This simple statement not only provides an important clue to the heart of mystical spirituality; it also points to the centrality of beholding as the essential contemplative practice.  Our longing for God arises out of God’s love for us – a love that beckons us to this fullness of joy, by inviting us to behold God in all. John Skinner, who translated several mystical classics including Julian of Norwich’s Revelation of Love into contemporary English, has this to say about beholding: “Perhaps the mental image to be conjured is a boy gazing with adoration across the room at the girl he knows loves him and she [...]

PRAYER: Listening by Murray Bodo

June 5, 2014

From Song of the Sparrow The art of listening.  How hard it is to cultivate.  We seem to be able to listen to others only so long before we start talking ourselves, usually about ourselves.  It is that way with prayer, too.  The hardest part is the listening, the quiet, the patience it takes to be still and wait upon God.  We always want to start talking, and yet what more can we say beyond the words Christ gave us in the “Our Father”?  If we spent time in prayer saying the “Our Father” once and then listening for the remainder of the time we set aside for prayer, it would be one of the best disciplines possible in learning to pray.  But we are uncomfortable with silence, with waiting for the other to speak. [...]

THE DARK NIGHT: The Way Of The Night by Wilfrid McGreal

May 21, 2014

From John of the Cross The way of nada is the way of the night, the way of faith.  The word “night” is perhaps one of the most powerful in John’s teaching and yet it can be off-putting.  The night is not a denial of life, but rather through the night we seek a way that will lead to union with God, the Beloved.  This is a union that can best be described as a Mystical Marriage.  Night stands as a symbol for purification, for escape from all that is negative, and it is also a place where true light is encountered.  Again, to understand what is really meant by night in John’s writing then the reader must see what is implied by faith. Faith, for John, was part of our deepest self that is willing to accept truths [...]

THE DARK NIGHT: What To Do—The Teaching Of Saint John Of The Cross by Thomas Merton

May 20, 2014

From The Inner Experience Saint John of the Cross explains in great detail how the soul should behave in order to accept this great gift of God and make use of it without spoiling his work.  It is very important to have competent guidance and instruction in the ways of contemplative prayer.  Otherwise it will be almost impossible to avoid errors and obstacles.  The reason for this is that no matter how good the intentions of the soul may be, its natural coarseness and clumsiness still prevent it from sensing the full import of the delicate work performed by God’s love within its most intimate depths and cooperating with his action. The most important thing of all is to get some realization of what God is doing in your soul.  Learn [...]

CONTEMPLATION: The Mystic As Artist by Evelyn Underhill

January 30, 2014

From Mysticism There is a kind of activity which is characteristic of the mystic: an education which he is called to undertake, that his consciousness of the Infinite may be stabilized, enriched, and defined.  Already once or twice we have been in the presence of this activity, have been obliged to take its influence into account: as, were we studying other artistic types, we could not leave on one side the medium in which they work. Contemplation is the mystic’s medium.  It is an extreme form of that withdrawal of attention from the external world and total dedication of the mind which also, in various degrees and ways, conditions the creative activity of musician, painter, and poet: releasing the faculty by which he can [...]

PEACE: Thomas Merton’s Call To Contemplation And Action by Henri Nouwen

January 24, 2014

From The Road to Peace A reading from the Second Letter of Peter: This point must not be overlooked, dear friends.  In the Lord’s eyes, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years are as a day.  The Lord does not delay in keeping his promises – though some consider it “delay.”  Rather, he shows you generous patience, since he wants none to perish but all to come to repentance.  The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and on that day the heavens will vanish with a roar: the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the Earth and all its deeds will be made manifest. Since everything is to be destroyed in this way, what sort of men and women must you be!  How holy in your conduct and devotion, looking for the coming [...]

PRAYER: The De Mello Three-Minute Mediator by J. Francis Stroud

January 13, 2014

From Praying Naked: The Spirituality of Anthony de Mello, by J. Francis Stroud, SJ (Anthony de Mello was a priest and psychotherapist and is a popular Ignatian writer.) Meditation offers five advantages or rewards 1. Meditation helps you to live in the present.  It eliminates the tendency to relive now not only all the ills of the past, such as resentments, guilt, fears, but even the good experiences of the past.  Tony de Mello described it graphically by saying that when something good happens to you, you tuck it away in your little silver box and then, instead of enjoying the present moment (which is new, energizing, and exciting), you stop and look into your little silver box and contemplate nostalgically those past happy times. [...]

PRAYER: Lectio Divina by Daniel J. Harrington

November 18, 2013

From Awake My Soul: Contemporary Catholics On Traditional Devotions, James Martin, editor Lectio divina is Latin for “spiritual reading.”  It is a method of reading and praying on scripture and other classics of spirituality like Augustine’s Confessions and The Imitation of Christ.  It has deep roots in the history of monasticism.  There are four basic steps in lectio divina: reading (What does this text say?); meditation (What does this text say to me?); prayer (What do I want to say to God through this text?); and contemplation or action (What difference might this text make in my life?). The text to be read can be long or short.  And the full process of “reading” could take fifteen minutes or be [...]

PRAYER: Everyone Is Called To Inward Prayer by Jeanne Guyon

September 9, 2013

From A Short and Easy Method of Prayer Which All Can Practice Very Easily and Through Which All Can Arrive in a Short Time to a High Perfection 1. Everyone is capable of inward contemplative prayer, and it is a terrible shame that almost all people have it in their heads not to do it.  We are all called to this prayer as we are all called to eternal life.  Contemplative prayer is nothing more than heartfelt affection and love.  What is necessary is to love God and to focus on him.  Saint Paul orders us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)  Our Lord says, “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch.” (Mark 13:33-37)  Everyone can, therefore, perform contemplative prayer and must do so.  But I understand that not [...]

PRAYER: The Prayer of Jesus by Richard Rohr

June 11, 2013

From The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See Jesus’s own style of teaching in stories, parables, and enigmatic sayings was undoubtedly learned in his own prayer practices.  He clearly operated from a consciousness different from that of the masses and even that of the religious leaders who largely fought him.  Most seemed to misunderstand him, or even ignore him, despite what seem to be astounding healings and miracles.  Yet he did not let that discourage him, and he merely ended his parabolic discourse by saying, “Happy are you that do see, and happy are you that do hear!” (Matthew 13:15)  It is almost as if he recognized that contemplative/nondual seeing would be the exception and not the rule.  How did [...]

SERMON: The Heart Of Prayer by Francis de Sales

March 24, 2013

I still have to point out the distinction that exists in prayer, whether mental or vocal prayer.  In prayer we go to God in two ways, both of which have been recommended to – namely, sometimes we pray directly to God, and at other times indirectly, as when we say the anthems of our lady, the Salve Regina and others.  When we pray directly we exercise the filial confidence which is founded upon faith, hope, and charity; when we pray indirectly and through the intercession of another, we practice the holy humility which springs from self-knowledge.  When we go directly to God we proclaim his goodness and mercy, in which we place all our confidence; but when we pray indirectly, that is, when we implore the assistance of our lady, of the [...]

SERMON: The Goal Of Prayer by Francis de Sales

March 3, 2013

Saint Bernard – whose ministry is dear to those who have to speak on prayer – in writing to a bishop, advised him that all that was necessary for him was to speak well (meaning to instruct, to discourse); then to do well in giving good example; and finally, to devote himself to prayer.  And we, addressing this to all Christians, shall dwell upon the third point, which is prayer. First, let us remark in passing that, although we condemn certain heretics of our time who hold that prayer is useless, we nevertheless do not hold with other heretics that it alone suffices for our justification.  We say simply that it is so useful and necessary that without it we could not come to any good, seeing that by means of prayer we are shown how to [...]

PRAYER: On Meditation by Thomas Merton

February 7, 2013

From Contemplative Prayer In meditation we do not seek to know about God as though he were an object like other objects which submit to our scrutiny and can be expressed in clear scientific ideas.  We seek to know God himself, beyond the level of all the objects which  he has made and which confront us as “things” isolated from one another, “defined,” “delimited,” with clear boundaries.  The infinite God has no boundaries and our minds cannot set limits to him or to his love.  His presence is then “grasped” in the general awareness of loving faith; it is “realized” without being scientifically and precisely known, as we know a specimen under a microscope.  His presence [...]

PRAYER: Ways Of Praying (4) — Prayers of Intention (includes centering prayer and hourly prayer) by Andrew Dreitcer

January 31, 2013

From Prayer Practices for the Way of Peace:Choosing Peace Through Daily Practices (This is a continuation of a piece, the first part of which was posted on an earlier date.) As I have suggested, the Christian tradition has developed a richness of prayer.  There may be a form of prayer for every sensibility.  In this section, I present a number of ways of praying that may be practiced in order to help form an interior foundation for peace in oneself and in the world. Prayers of Intention Prayers of intention are about being there, being available.  The heart of such a prayer is this recognition: “I want to place myself in God’s presence.”  With this recognition, then, comes a practice conveyed by these words: “I am placing [...]

PRAYER: Ways Of Praying (2) — The Prayer of Desire (includes Lectio Divina) by Andrew Dreitcer

January 28, 2013

From Prayer Practices for the Way of Peace: Choosing Peace Through Daily Practices, edited by Ellen Ott Marshall (This is a continuation of a piece, the first part of which was posted on an earlier date.) As I have suggested, the Christian tradition has developed a richness of prayer.  There may be a form of prayer for every sensibility.  In this section, I present a number of ways of praying that may be practiced in order to help form an interior foundation for peace in oneself and in the world. The Prayer of Desire Christian pray-ers throughout the ages have insisted that prayer begins with desire, with longing.  According to Ann and Barry Ulanov, “We long for contact, for connection at the center, that grounding that brings [...]

PRAYER: On Contemplation by Thomas Merton

January 25, 2013

From New Seeds of Contemplation Contemplation is life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive.  It is spiritual wonder.  It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being.  It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being.  It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent, and infinitely abundant Source.  Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source.  It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond reason and beyond simple faith.  It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words, or even in clear concepts. Contemplation is also the [...]

PRAYER: Prayer Practices For the Way of Peace (part 1) by Andrew Dreitcer

December 22, 2012

From Choosing Peace Through Daily Practices, Ellen Ott Marshall, Editor Prayer is not so much formally addressing God with a list of requests as it is acknowledging that our connection to God is absolute, and unending, and urgent.  (Prayers for Courage: Words of Faith for Difficult Times, Melissa Tidwell) Recently, as I was marching with tens of thousands of others to protest the war in Iraq, I was forced to face what it means for me to be a person of peace, a bearer of peace, a builder of peace.  My reflections evoked two memories, from the street and from the monastery. A MEMORY FROM THE STREET A little over twenty years ago, the U.S. military buildup of the 1980s was beginning to impact the national psyche.  A seminary student at the [...]

PRAYER: Finding Grace at the Center by Thomas E. Clarke

December 15, 2012

From Grace at the Center One of the exercises of interiority which has come into favor in the past few years in the United States has been termed the centering prayer.  Like other recent approaches to prayer, most of which have been influenced by Zen Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, or other currents of eastern spirituality, it directs the focus of mind and spirit inward, toward the self, the center, the still-point.  Non-discursive in character, these approaches yield not a new rational understanding so much as a certain stillness, peace, joy, freedom, awareness. Such exercises may or may not constitute prayer.  It is well known that some of them are being used for such worldly purposes as winning hockey games and earning a faster [...]

PRAYER: Intimacy, Art, and Meditation by Morton T. Kelsey

November 10, 2012

From The Other Side of Silence: A Guide to Christian Meditation One reason that we so often discuss prayer only superficially and intellectually is because this, in some ways, is the most personal and intimate aspect of one’s life.  Speaking about it is like laying oneself open for public examination.  Our meditations reveal what matters most to us, and it is not easy to stand naked before others in our weakness and fear and exaltation.  Perhaps it seems strange that contact with the Holy should be such a difficult experience to share.  Yet this is like telling of the intimate aspects of one’s love life. In reality meditation is the record of one’s love life with God.  Sharing it with another person is like taking someone into [...]

POETRY: Song—Contemplation by Thomas Merton

July 13, 2012

O land alive with miracles! O clad in streams, Countering the silver summer’s pleasant arrows And beating them with the kind armor Of your enkindled water-vesture, Lift your blue trees into the early sun! O country wild with talent Is there an hour in you that does not rouse our mind with songs? The boughs that bend in the weak wind Open us momentary windows, here and there, Into those deep and purple galleries, Disclosing us the birds your genius; And yet the earth is loud With more than this their timid vaudeville. O brilliant wood! Yours is the voice of a new world; And all the hills burn with such blinding art That Christ and angels walk among us, everywhere. These are their ways, their fiery footsteps, That flash and vanish, [...]

PRAYER: Lectio Divina by Macrina Wiederkehr

July 9, 2012

From: A Tree Full of Angels. To encourage you to make this prayer process your own, I will review for you now the Lectio Divina process that I use for my prayer.  Be as original and creative in your own process as you wish.  Let God lead you in this prayer. 1.  I begin with reading, if necessary or desired.  Ordinarily, I select a specific book of Scripture, a Gospel, or a letter.  I often use the Psalms.  I read a little each day.  Since my goal is not to get finished, it often takes several months to complete the specific work I am praying with.  There are times when the readings from the daily liturgy speak so strongly to me that I choose to use those for my Lectio.  I have no set plan that is so rigid it cannot be put aside [...]

PRAYER: How and Why Short Prayers Pierce Heaven

April 26, 2012

From The Cloud of Unknowing Why does this little prayer of one syllable (such as, “Lord!” or “Father!” or “Jesus!”) pierce the heavens?  Surely because it is offered with a full spirit, in the height and the depth, in the length and the breadth of the spirit of him who prays. In the height: that is with the full might of the spirit; in the depth: for in this little syllable all the faculties of the spirit are contained; in the length: because if it could always be experienced as it is in that moment, it would cry as it does then; in the breadth: because it desires for all others all that it desires for itself. It is in this moment that the soul comprehends with all the saints what is the length and the [...]


December 16, 2011

I took the following definition of centering prayer off the website Centering Prayer, ostensibly the website dedicated to the teachings of Father Thomas Keating, one of the priests who began the teaching of contemplative prayer in the modern age.  The definition goes: Centering prayer is a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself.  This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. I find within this definition a perfect expression of our relationship with God: through this kind of prayer we experience [...]