Some Contemplative Practices
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New to all this? You may be understandably puzzled by the way certain key words such as meditation and contemplation are used now and in the past; in the west and in the east.
In the Jewish-Christian tradition based on the Old and New Testament, adoration, praise, petition, thanksgiving, intercession, and communion are features of prayer. But the main forms of such prayer in the Christian tradition have been 1. oratio, 2. meditatio, and 3. contemplatio. We may roughly translate these as, respectively, 1. prayer using words; 2. prayer using thoughts and maybe emotions; and 3. prayer not using thoughts or emotions. Here are the three main forms of prayer or worship in a bit more more detail:
Type 1. Vocal prayer uses words, e.g. saying the "Our Father" aloud or in the heart. At some stage in their lives, some people may feel that this type, "oratio" is no longer enough for them.
Type 2. Meditative prayer uses and receives thoughts and maybe emotions and visualisations, often focused on a scene or passage from scripture or some inspiring writing; in some practices, such as in lectio divina, this may be part of process leading to a period of type 3 prayer. In the Christian tradition this has been often called meditation (from the Latin "meditatio"), but it may be a good idea to call it "discursive meditation" or "meditation with content", so as not to cause confusion with the "contentless" meditation of type 3 below. Other relevant names here are affective prayer, methodical prayer, prayer of reflection, and meditative reading. Meditation with content can be, or later become, a complementary partner to the next type of meditation, which is without content.
Type 3. "Contentless meditation" doesn't use emotions or thoughts - not even spiritual thoughts. It's often called simply meditation or or thought-free meditation. It does not develop thoughts, images, or feelings, but rather rather rests attentively, receptively, in awareness, in the presence of God, with the intention of consenting to the presence and action of God in oneself. You do this without identifying with any thoughts or feelings that may spontaneously arise. You don't reject, suppress or block the thoughts, by the way - you just let go of them, without the affirmation "this is I" or "this is my thought". And you rest attentively and receptively in the space between each thought and the next. Those spaces may grow a little, though new thoughts will probably keep coming. One reason for avoiding the use of even spiritual thoughts during contemplative prayer is that at this time you intend to be present to God, not to an idea or image of God. Actually, it's not so much a matter of avoidance but rather not-identifying-oneself-with the thoughts. Another reason is that the ordinary self, which is maintained by thoughts and emotions and by identification with them, is to be given a rest during these practices. And just think of all that "surrendering" training you get by not hanging on to each thought.
"Centering Prayer" is an entry-point into this kind of contemplative state, where one keeps oneself recollected, silent, and open. An advanced stage where "God takes over the soul" is really the authentic traditional meaning of the phrase contemplative prayer, in the Catholic tradition. Trappist monk Fr Thomas Keating recommends Centering Prayer in itself and as a precursor, though not the only possible one, to true contemplative prayer or true contemplatio. Centering Prayer starts with an intention to open oneself to the divine Presence within, and to any action the divine may work on oneself, even secretly, (with "God's priorities, not mine".) It proceeds with contentless meditation as described above. On this site, there is a Centering Prayer page here.
Among the references to contemplative prayer in the New Testament are "Mary has chosen the best part" (Lk 10:42). In the words of the Jesuit priest Nicholas Grou in 1788, "When God bids you be still in prayer, humble yourself silently before His Majesty". Here the humility - and a very radical one it is, too - consists precisely in the stillness of mind and heart; at that time, the thoughts-factory of the ego is given a rest, to make space for a more basic, more authentic reality. There are two millennia of experiences and opinions on these matters, and you may wish to dip into them or study them. However ideas about contentless meditation can never be a substitute for direct experience, so it may make more sense to actually explore the practice itself - see "Centering Prayer" below. In those Christian traditions where contemplation is accepted at all, it's generally accepted nowadays that everyone is called to it, not just an extraordinarily gifted or chosen few.
This is a different form of prayer that has been called four step dance with God, consists of four "moments" called reading (of a short scriptural or spiritual writing), reflection (pondering on a strking phrase without too much thinking), responding, and resting or contemplation (without words or images). These moments are traditionally called lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio. The scholastic method treats these stages as sequential, and is a good way to start the practice so that one recognises the different moments. The monastic method, which is historically earlier and which may now be coming back into popularity, is looser in the sense that one is open to the spirit to lead one into any of the moments at any time. For a good article on the monastic practice of lectio divina, go to a page on the Contemplative Outreach site, here.
This phrase covers a lot of often quite different meanings. For information and practice fellowship, go to the WCCM site (see below).
The World Community for Christian Meditation, WCCM, is ecumenical and serves a universal "catholic" unity in its dialogue about the daily practice and power of meditation to change hearts and so transform our world. The Community continues the work begun by the Benedictine monk John Main, who taught Christian meditation as way of restoring the contemplative dimension of faith. The community sponsors the John Main Seminar and The Way of Peace Program, meditation retreats, teacher training, online audio talks, and a quarterly spiritual newsletter. Information on pilgrimages and local meditation groups as well as an online bookstore offer a wide range of possibilities to practice Christian meditation. (Thanks to Diana Murray for this review.)
Start a Christian Meditation group? Father Laurence Freeman is the author of the book A Pearl of Great Price. It is an excellent guide to starting and maintaing a Christian meditation group. This book has been transformed into a website at: www.christianmeditationgroups.org/
If you feel like doing research, you can follow some of these links that appear in the Wikipedia article on Christian Meditation or in any search engine:
Christian meditation: Catholic traditions * Ignatius of Loyola * Thomas Merton * Bede Griffiths * John Main * Gregorian Chant * Prayer beads (Rosary, Jesus Prayer) * Divine Mercy * Sacred Heart of Jesus Orthodox traditions * Jesus Prayer * Hesychasts * Apophatic theology Protestant traditions * Quakers, including Richard Foster * Emerging Church * Johannes Kelpius Ecumenical traditions * Taizé Community". * "John Main's Monastic Adventure". Fr. Laurence Freeman, O.S.B. * "Lectio Divina - Sacred Divination" See also * Contemplative prayer * World Community for Christian Meditation * Christian anarchism * Christian mysticism * Inner light * Saint John of the Cross * The Cloud of Unknowing * Listening Prayer * Centering Prayer * John Cassian * Holy Spirit * Jesus * Trinity * Henri Nouwen * Taizé Community * Sacred Space * Christian Meditation Music * Active Meditation External links Find more about Christian meditation on Wikipedia's sister projects: Dictionary definitions Textbooks Quotations Source texts Images and media News stories Learning resources * The Voice In The Stillness – overview of Christian meditation techniques * Meditating on the Scriptures by Charles Spurgeon. * The Rosary * Contemplative Prayer Critique * The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila online (CCEL) * The Contemplation to Attain Love of St. Ignatius of Loyola * Antonio Cardinal Bacci: Meditations For Each Day * St. John of the Cross - Collected Works * Poetry of John of the Cross * Contemplative spirituality in the tradition of the medieval hermits who settled on Mount Carmel. * How to Meditate on Scripture by the Advanced Training Institute* * Articles relating to Christian Meditation
Started by a group of Trappist monks and often associated with the name of Fr Thomas Keating ocso, this organisation specialises in the teaching and support Centering Prayer, and Centering Prayer groups worldwide. Leaflets on the method are available in various languages . And there is much more besides. In many countries there are branches or affiliated networks of groups connected with this organisaiton. Go to their multi-inspiration website:
World Community for Christian Meditation - WCCM
The World Community for Christian Meditation based organization that carries on the work of John Main OSB
A guide to starting and maintaining a Christian meditation group: www.christianmeditationgroups.org/
Shalem Institute : www.shalem.org
Contemplative Society: www.contemplative.org
Sacred Space: www.sacredspace.ie
Richmond Hill Online (VA, USA): www.richmondhillva.org/
The Taize Community: www.taize.fr/
Bethany Retreat Center: www.bethanyretreatcenter.org
Here is a useful multi-video site on contemplative and other forms of prayer: How to Pray