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Living as Contemplatives in the World: Centering/Contemplative Prayer.

Sister Doreen’s Reflections

Living as Contemplatives in the world: Centering / Contemplative Prayer

Prayer, real prayer, real contemplation happens when our hearts are open to God in all the colours of the world.  It is living Lectio Divina … becoming people of prayer, not people who say prayers.  As people of prayer we have the opportunity of letting nothing go by without being open to being nourished by the inner meaning of that event in life.

I share some reflections about what centering prayer/contemplative prayer is, some wisdom gleaned that has helped me.  We are all called to be contemplatives in the world – how can this be?  Each of us will discover our own way, by practice.  These thoughts may help, and encourage you to try, if it is not already your practice, building in a period of time each day for some silent prayer time.  Next week Contemplative prayer #2 will be called “Helps Along the Way”.

Do you ever find yourself watching the clouds in the sky? The clouds that speak like a parable to me are those big puffy white clouds that seem to have rather dark bottoms to them. They remind me of perfect lemon meringue pies!  How often, as a person of prayer who desires to grow more deeply as a person of prayer, I find myself looking for God, for lemon meringue pies in the sky.  Looking for signs in the heavens, in something big and compelling, and easily or purposefully overlooking God’s presence in my day-to-day life. 

  • We all know that it is in our experience of everyday living that we discover God’s search for us.
  • We all know that everything was made or is to be lived out in the light of God.
  • We all know that there is a genuine connection between the very specific things that are happening in our lives, and the strands of longing and the search for meaning, for truth, for God.
  • We all know that God has a deep longing for us, for our friendship and partnership.

Why then do we so often find ourselves looking for lemon meringue pies in the sky:  for a big experience, for something out of the ordinary that will surely bring us closer to God than in this mundane, hurry-scurry, overstressed life of ours?  It is not in the lemon meringue pies, but in the nitty gritty bits and pieces, in the scrap yards of my own life, circumstances and experiences that God is at home!

It is in the midst of the scrap yards of our everyday life that we discover ourselves at home in the heart of God.  As people of prayer, the place to which God calls us is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.  This is a call to a vibrant faith, and to an authentic prayer life. This is contemplative living, at the heart of which is centering prayer / contemplative prayer / silent prayer.  It is indeed living Lectio Divina.  The whole dynamic of Lectio is the weaving of listening, responding, and resting and it can become the very fabric of our life lived in relation with God.

“Solitude enables us to bask in a world without clamor.  It renders us capable of hearing the songs within us, of singing the songs within us, of writing the songs within us that wait to be discovered.  It welcomes us to the world of contemplation.” (Joan Chittister – Between the Dark and the Daylight)

“Contemplation means practicing heaven now.  Contemplation is the ‘divine therapy’ and the perennial clearinghouse for the soul.  All the great religions recognize its necessity in their more mature stages.  For Christians, it is Jesus’ sojourn in the desert for forty days and Mary’s ‘Let it be done to me according to your word’. (Richard Rohr – What the Mystics Know)

St John of the Cross wrote “Silence is God’s language” and St Augustine wrote “God is closer to your soul than you are to yourself”

We need to go to those scrap yards of our life and listen with the ear of our heart, for everything that is part of our life in this present moment can nourish us as we try to feed our ache for God.  Everything can bless us but we have got to be there for the blessing to occur.  This is the call to centering / contemplative prayer, to silent waiting with God.  It is not the lemon meringue pies in the sky, the ‘if onlys’ of mountain experiences, the ‘I’d rathers’, but simply being present, really present, to the present moment in our life.  This is a call to a spiritual practice … practice … mindfulness: waiting, the hard spiritual practice of being present to the moment.

Will I be there?  Or will I remain blind to the holy because I am too busy to see?  Can I set aside time in the day, silent time waiting with God?  This is the high calling that God has for us.  And it is a practice, an intentional practice, the hard spiritual practice that opens our hearts and our lives to the gifts that God holds out for us.  it is a call to say yes to the welcoming embrace of our Beloved.

The gift of silence is worn away gradually in the face of the demands of daily life, so that when we meet or encounter contemplative prayer is may seem strange and inaccessible.  But with effort, spiritual practice, we can stop the outer noise.  Stopping the inner noise is another matter … I still go right on talking, worrying, arguing with myself, daydreaming … I have needed to discover an on/off switch! The faithful practise of centering prayer can do this.  In doing this practice for 20 minutes or ½ hour, putting my teeth into attention, being willing to admit that wandering minds are normal, I have made a deal with myself.  If I catch myself thinking, I let the thought go and get back to my intention, loving God and letting God love me.  If the mind wanders and I let things go a thousand times in ½ hour that is wonderful!  A thousand opportunities to return to God!  This is at the heart of centering / contemplative prayer:  letting go. 

Into this spiritual practice, finding a sacred word that becomes a helpmate for letting go, is a helpful companion.  This sacred word becomes your ‘love word’ guiding you back to the heart of God.  It is your own private secret, your own private helpmate.  It is your mantra.

Try it – try silent prayer.  It can be an exciting new beginning and it can be trudging over the long haul.  It is a journey that takes us deeper into the root of our desire to follow Jesus’ invitation to come and see.  At the end our searching we come to the place where, it seems, we first began, but knowing now that it is no longer the ‘what’ but the ‘whom’ we are looking for.