Thomas Keating
Thomas Keating
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Contemplative Prayer

“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

At the present time there has been in the West a trend of feeling towards the contemplative aspect of prayer and many have looked to Eastern religions for contemplative practices, partly as a result of the Church’s sad neglect of its own contemplative tradition… It matters greatly for the renewal of the Christian Church that the contemplative vocation be more known and recovered. Michael Ramsey Archbishop of Canterbury 1961-1974

Contemplation has sometimes been referred to as taking a long loving look at what is real.  In a literal sense then, to contemplate is to look thoughtfully for a long time.  In a spiritual sense, contemplation is to enter into silence in order to come into knowledge of the Divine.  Nothing in creation is probably more like God than stillness and silence.  Contemplation then is nothing more than to pay prolonged attention, attention to such as the present moment, to use the senses, smelling, tasting and noticing.   All of these open our interior senses and allow us to see the reality of God.  By entering into silence we are creating inner space so that silence therefore becomes the great revelation for us.

To pay prolonged attention to reality then is prayer.  We can only find God in the present moment because there is always only the now.  In fact the now is the only place that we can find and encounter God.  But our minds find it difficult to pay full attention to the now.  We tend instead to live in the past by remembering, or in the future by making plans.  This means that the reality of God is missed if we stay in what effectively is a dream.  Contemplation is simply waking up!

There are many forms of contemplative prayer but most involve bringing the mind into the now, the present moment in stillness and silence.   In the practice of contemplative prayer we simply wait lovingly and attentively for the Now to express itself.  The boundary between contemplative prayer and contemplation is not quite clear.  It is often only in reflection that we realise it has been crossed.  Whilst we practice contemplative prayer, contemplation itself is Grace, a pure gift from God that cannot be controlled by us.

There are many methods that help us to focus thought and bring us into the now, into stillness and silence, such as the use of a mantra, visualization techniques, becoming aware of the breath or Centering Prayer.  For the contemplative person, whichever method they choose, it becomes a way of life.  The fruits of contemplative prayer are seen in daily life so that the contemplative person sees with much more loving eyes by a gift of pure Grace.

Contemplative people become more attentive to the mystery within which all life is lived.  They are attentive to and wait for signs of the sacred within the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  They see divine grace even in the midst of suffering and brokenness so that peace does not mean being in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work, but being in the midst of these and still be in their heart.  This experience then reinforces the times of prayer practice, which in turn deepens their experience of being alive.  They are now open to God’s presence and action within them in the ordinariness of their daily lives.