Introduction to Christian Contemplative Prayer
MEDITATION: PATHWAY TO DIVINE LOVE
In a world of increasing divisiveness and deception, it is becoming crucial that we rediscover our spiritual dimension and its energies, especially that of love. Meditation is the way to do this. Through the practice of meditation, all that impedes our capacity to love unconditionally is slowly but surely uprooted and dissipated. From within our deepest being, divine love begins to flow freely into and through us, rippling out to touch our circumstances and our relationships with its healing and wisdom and guidance. This tapping of the divine love that lies within the innermost core of all beings will be one of the first and ongoing fruits of our meditation practice.
As we continue to practice daily, the flow of this pure, ever present spiritual love into our daily life evolves into a new, more expanded sense of relationship – of community – in which we experience our interconnectedness with others and with all of life. The hard shell of our sense of separateness and isolation and loneliness cracks open to reveal our True Self – that ultimate Reality of boundless Oneness that we share with all of life.
And so, the divine Love at our innermost core that we access via our practice of meditation gives birth to all the fruit of Spirit in our life: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). In this way, contemplative prayer is nothing short of transformational, transforming both ourselves and our world from the inside out.
WHAT? CHRISTIANITY HAS A TRADITION OF MEDITATION??
Yes! There is a very rich history of meditation in Christianity. Traditionally, it is called contemplative prayer and it has been practiced since the time of Jesus. In recent years, a more contemporary version of contemplative prayer has been introduced, called Centering Prayer. The name “Centering Prayer” comes from Father Thomas Merton, a 20th-century monk who spoke of contemplative prayer as “centered” entirely in the presence of God. (See my blog post on The History of Christian Contemplative Prayer.)
So just what is contemplative prayer? We typically think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words toward God, but when we pray contemplatively, we move beyond words and thoughts. We’re not speaking to God with words or thinking about God the way we usually do when we pray.
In contemplative prayer, we go to an even deeper level – we move out of our head and into the core of our spiritual heart, and we rest there in silence and in stillness, in the Presence of God. We enter into this “Holy of Holies” at the innermost core of our being where we are one with God and God is one with us. There, we simply rest in Divine Presence — we simply open in awe to this Holy Mystery – our True and Eternal Home.
Centering prayer is the process of moving beyond all our thoughts and emotions, and even beyond our usual psychological sense of ourselves, so that we may open to God's infinite Presence at our innermost core. Practicing centering prayer teaches us how to open the aperture of our awareness from a tightly focused self-centeredness to a wide-angled God-centeredness.
During our practice of centering prayer, we simply move beyond the confines of our ordinary awareness and sink into the infinite, pure awareness within our heart of hearts – we merge back into our true nature within and at one with Divine Love. We steep ourselves in Divine Love. And in doing so, we are transformed. This mysterious transformation is the inner awakening that Centering Prayer is all about.
We begin to live with an awareness of being in the presence of God at all times and in all places. This brings a much more open and spacious and loving dimension to our lives; it brings a new depth of holiness to everything we do and to everything that happens in our lives. We come into intimate relationship with God.
IT’S REALLY QUITE SIMPLE
Over the years, Christian monks and other practitioners of Centering Prayer developed a simple four-step set of instructions for practicing this method of pr
That’s all there is to it! Father Thomas Keating pointed out that “the only thing you can do wrong in this prayer is to get up and walk out!” There is no way to succeed or fail. It’s simply being in God’s Presence within you and allowing that to work in and through you. Remember: centering prayer is not about “hearing” from God or talking to God; rather, its point is to practice surrender of our small ego self to the infinite Presence of God. Every time you realize that you have gotten caught up in thoughts, you simply re-open the aperture of your awareness so that you may return to being in God’s Presence in your heart of hearts.
So, during your time of centering prayer, whenever you get swept up in a stream of thoughts, you simply return to repeating your sacred word as a powerful symbol of your willingness to let go of your own self-focus and remain open to the Presence of God. Understand that it really doesn’t matter which word you use; rather, it’s your intention that will make it sacred, and its power will come from your consistent repetition of it. At the end of your prayer period, remain in silence with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes as you bring your attention back to the outer world.
It is recommended that you practice contemplative prayer for 20-30 minutes each day. If that feels like too much for you in the beginning, then start with 5-10 minutes. With regular practice, you will be transformed.
 While I frequently use the word “God” to refer to the Ultimate Divine Reality, please note that I could just as easily use any number of other terms (e.g., the Absolute, Buddha nature, Higher Power, Allah, Yahweh, Divine Mother, Great Spirit, etc.), so please substitute whatever term for Ultimate Mystery with which you are most comfortable.
Thomas Keating, Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel, Amity House: 1986.
Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer
Video: Laurence Freeman, “What is Meditation?”
Laurence Freeman OSB, Benedictine monk and director of the World Community for Christian Meditation, skillfully describes the art and purpose of Christian meditation.