The Contemplative Christian Tradition
For the first 1,600 years, contemplation was the goal of Christian prayer. St. Gregory the Great at the end of the 6th Century described contemplation as “the deep knowledge of God impregnated with love.” For Gregory, contemplation was both the fruit of reflecting on the word of God in scripture and a precious gift of God. He called it “resting in God.” In this “resting” the mind and heart are not so much seeking God as beginning “to taste” what they have been seeking. This state is not the suspension of all activity, but the reduction of many acts and reflections to a single act or thought to consent to God’s presence and action at the depths of ones being during the time of prayer.
We may sometimes think of prayer as thoughts or feelings expressed in words. But this is only one expression of prayer. Contemplative prayer is really the opening of the mind and heart, our whole being to God, the Ultimate Mystery, beyond thoughts, beyond words, beyond feelings and emotions. We open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. As Father Keating points out in his book Manifesting God,” God of course does not actually come closer; rather, God’s actual closeness at all times and in every place begins to penetrate our ordinary consciousness.” Lectio Divina is the most traditional way of cultivating contemplative prayer.