By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist &
Aspirant to the Priesthood
Each week, we will summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you will learn more about contemplative prayer.
Contemplative prayer seeks to become more aware of the mutual indwelling of God in our lives. This style of prayer relies less on the use of words and focuses more on cultivating a simple, wordless presence before God. It is non-verbal and therefore marked by a kind of stillness, silence, focused awareness, and reflective attentiveness to the world around us.
Contemplative prayer is different than other styles of prayer because it encourages us to shift gears from active motion of the mind to an attentiveness towards God through silence. It is a permanent shift in a dedicated life of prayer toward a greater awareness of the presence of God. Contemplative prayer encourages us to slow down, sit quietly without having to do a required task, and let the reflections of the mind come to us naturally.
A contemplative person is characterized by a long-term commitment to practices that actively encourage a deep, inward attentiveness to God’s movement in the self and the world. A contemplative person also values a rhythm of life that includes regular periods of solitude and withdrawal from outside activity.
In our frenetic world today, it is not uncommon for many people to long for this kind of lifestyle. A few individuals discover a vocation to become full-time contemplatives and join a contemplative religious order or even become hermits. In this way of life, they structure their days by making the contemplative practice of prayer a priority. In scripture, for example, Mary of Bethany is a model of contemplative prayer, when she “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak” (Luke 10:39).
Contemplative prayer often appeals to those in the second half of life. Although according to the psychologist, Carl Jung, the task of the first half of a person’s life is to build a strong ego through active achievements, the wisdom of the second half of life encourages us to let go of the ego, in order to explore the world within and seek spiritual wholeness.
All of us, however, can learn to maintain a contemplative rhythm in our everyday active lives with jobs, family, and social commitments. Although personality and temperament are among the factors that incline a person to the quiet, inward, and regular rhythm of the contemplative style of prayer, it is not merely for introverts. Contemplative prayer does not require unusual gifts or maturity in the life of prayer. The practices of contemplative prayer can be chosen and cultivated by anyone, regardless of their vocation, lifestyle, or stage of life.
A daily practice of at least one or two periods of twenty to sixty minutes devoted to quiet prayer or meditation is a normative way to practice this prayer style. For more information and practical tips on practicing contemplative prayer, listen to Jesuit Father Joe Spieler’s recent talk on contemplative prayer at Saint Brendan Church. You can find his talk at www.stbrendanparish.org. Just click on “Our Messages” and scroll down to the section on our Small Bytes talks.