As we develop in our Christian faith, prayer and the modes of prayer become more and more important to our transformation and growth in the interior life. In the area of devotional prayer, it becomes increasingly evident that “contemplation” is at the heart of a fruitful and transforming prayer life. The reason for this, I think, is that “contemplation” is primarily experiential whereas other forms of devotional prayer such as meditation and petition engage us with God but not necessarily at the same level.
In order to experience God at the contemplative level we present ourselves before him in prayer as Mary did in Luke 10:38-42. Mary was totally focused on Jesus seemingly oblivious to other stimulus going on around her much to the chagrin of her sister, Martha, who appeared to be annoyed, to say the least that Mary was not helping with the meal preparation. Martha, who was distracted by her serving duties, petitioned Jesus to ask Mary to help her. Jesus however, engaged as he was in His communication with Mary, gently reminded Martha that she was worrying needlessly and that the only real issue to be concerned with is her relationship with Him.
We too often allow the stress and worries of life to interfere with what really counts, which is our being present to Jesus. Contemplative prayer is focused on experiencing Jesus only and not on the background which may be a part of other modes of prayer. In contemplation we experience Jesus and we let go of everything else. Essentially we rest in His presence, listen to Him in our hearts, and let go of all other distracting stimuli that pops up in our mind during the process of contemplation. We name the distraction and pass it on resting entirely in Jesus.
Contemplation may often be the final step in a prayer exercise that begins with a scripture reading. If we employ “Lectio Divina”, we start with a literal reading of the scripture. We then meditate on it to determine if God is speaking to us out of that particular scripture in a particular way. We would then put ourselves into the scriptural scene [such as the scene with Martha and Mary] using our imagination and making use of all of our senses in order to engage Jesus. We then rest in Jesus as He speaks to our heart, listening to Him, being there with Him and for Him and hungering for Him. We need to let Him be for us what He wants to be. We respond to Him by letting go of all distractions. As we complete our period of contemplation we may want to record in our journal how Jesus has spoken to our heart.
As you enter the contemplative phase of prayer, connect the name of Jesus to your breathing so that as you breathe in you use the name of Jesus and as you breathe out you let go of all distractions. This is known as a prayer of “aspiration”.
Thank you John Connolly for the material presented in the 6th Module [Contemplation: The Heart of Prayer], part of the Hearts Transformed program presented by the Diocese of Prince George.