Contemplative or Centering Prayer:
Prayer is an openness to God in speaking or listening.
P. T. Forsythe said that "prayer is to religion what
original research is to science." Most us are
familiar with discursive prayer (speaking to God) which takes the form of
prayers of thanksgiving, intercession, petition, or adoration. Less familiar
for most of us are the contemplative forms of prayer.
First let us look at centering prayer
which can be used as a bridge to contemplative prayer. Thomas Keating in his
popular book Open Mind, Open Heart gives the following directions.
"Once you have picked a suitable time and place and a chair or a posture that
is relatively comfortable, and closed you eyes, choose a sacred word that
expresses your intention of opening and surrendering to God and introduce it
on the level of your imagination. Do not form it with your lips or vocal
chords. Let it be a single word of one or two syllables with which you feel at
ease. Gently place it in your awareness each time you recognize the intrusion
of some other thought."
"The sacred word is a way of reducing the ordinary number of one's casual
thoughts and of warding off the more interesting ones that come down the
stream of consciousness. . . . The sacred word is not a mantra in the
strict sense of the word. We do not keep saying it until we drill it into our
unconscious. It is rather a condition, an atmosphere that we set up,
that allows us to surrender to the attractive force of the divine Presence
with in us. . . . It's an exercise of effortlessness, of letting go. . . . As
you quiet down and go deeper, you may reach a place where the sacred word
disappears altogether and there are no thoughts.
Contemplative prayer can be thought of as opening to God.
The Jesus Prayer:
The "Jesus Prayer" is the simple
repetition, over and over, of: "Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God,
have mercy on me, a sinner." Many people use a shorter version such as
"Lord Jesus, have mercy on me." The words may also be sung. In any case,
the repetition of this, or any simple prayer, can bring the practitioner to a
The following two readings give a historical and a
practical explanation of this practice.
"The method of prayer proposed for lay persons
and monastics alike in the first Christian centuries was called lectio divina,
literally, "divine reading", a practice that involved reading scripture, or
more exactly, listening to it. Monastics would repeat the words of the sacred
text with their lips so that the body itself entered into the process. They
sought to cultivate through lectio divina the capacity to listen at ever
deeper levels of inward attention. Prayer was their response to the God to
whom they were listening in scripture and giving praise in liturgy.
reflective part, pondering upon the words of the sacred text, was called
meditatio, "meditation". The spontaneous movement of the will in response to
these reflections was called oratio, "affective prayer". As these reflections
and acts of will simplified, one moved on to a state of resting in the
presence of God, and that is what was meant by contemplatio, "contemplation".
Thomas Keating - Open Mind, Open Heart
Begin with reading, stopping when a word or phrase really "shimmers", becoming
a vibrant transparency of God for you. The intent is not to get to the end of
a passage but to the bottom of it in God, to the word through which God
touches you now, the word that becomes an icon for you. This is not always a
Move toward an understanding of God in the word: the step of reflection. This
step involves the use of your cognitive capacity to reflect on the possible
spiritual meaning of the word for you life, and at times for the larger
community's life. Do not try to force a meaning. .
Move to active prayer: for your heart to open to God through this word in
direct communion, and for your will to open to God in responsive action, as
may be called for.
Finally, move to a still presence in the spaciousness of God. Seek to simply
rest in your larger identity in God, through and behind the images and
feelings that may rise.
Southern minister, not knowing this tradition technically but knowing it in
his heart, summed it up succinctly when he was asked how he prays: "I read
myself full, I think myself clear, I pray myself hot, and I let myself cool"
(another version of his statement ends "let myself go")."
Tilden Edwards - Living in the Presence
The labyrinth is an ancient meditative art form
whose design can serve as a metaphor of one’s life journey. Its path helps
walkers circle inward to the center of their soul. The labyrinth’s center
represents moving toward a goal and allowing one to release emotions that they
carried inside — in order to create or envision a solution as one turns around
in order to work one’s way back. This liberating exercise lifts us out of our
linear, left-brain thought processes by joyfully invoking our intuitive,
creative right brain.
During various time periods of its 4,000-year
existence, religions throughout the world have embraced its mysterious healing
abilities. Labyrinths are typically found in cathedrals, hospitals, parks and
Some walk the labyrinth methodically, heel-to-toe, as a
contemplative and joyful pilgrimage to draw in, closer to God. Others tread
fearfully on their knees, as a penitence for sin.
There are two basic types of labyrinths: the
Cretan and the Chartres.
1). The Cretan labyrinth is named after
the island of Crete and takes the walker into seven arc circuits in which the
is a cross.
2). The Chartres is named after the
stone labyrinth in the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France. It carries the
through eleven paths that wind
through four quadrants of a circle. It also has a cross in the layout with a
the center which is said to
represent the Virgin Mary.
Prayerfully, meditatively walking a labyrinth can help
deepen your spirituality, no matter which path you choose.
Many people have watched the graceful
movements of the Tai Chi player and resonated with the silence embodied in
this movement. While Tai Chi may not be an option for all of us, we shouldn't
overlook the walking meditation which is available to most of us and
offers us many of the benefits of Tai Chi Chuan. Recently Westerners have been
introduced to walking mediation by attending Buddhist meditation retreats.
Walking meditation can be very enjoyable. We
walk slowly, alone or with friends, if possible in some beautiful place.
Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking. Walking not in order to
arrive, just for walking. The purpose is to be in the present moment and enjoy
each step you make. Therefore you have to shake off all worries and anxieties,
not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the
present moment. You can take the hand of a child as you do it. You walk, you
make steps as if you are the happiest person on Earth.
We walk all the time, but usually it is more
like running. When we walk like that, we print anxiety and sorrow on the
Earth. We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on
Earth. Everyone of us can do that provided that we want it very much. Any
child can do that. If we can take one step like that, we can take two, three,
four, and five. When we are able to take one step peacefully, and happily, we
are for the cause of peace and happiness for the whole of humankind. Walking
meditation is a wonderful practice.
Thich Nhat Hanh - Being Peace
There are many different kinds of retreats—solitary or group, religious or
secular, highly structured or self-directed—but any retreat essentially involves
getting away from your usual distractions to focus on your contemplative
what separates a retreat from other forms of rest or vacation: your intention.
When you go on a retreat, you make a commitment to engage in and deepen your
contemplative practice or religious discipline. Since retreats are often lead by
a teacher, they can also be valuable opportunities for you to ask questions and
receive guidance on more personal spiritual matters.
typical retreat experience involves staying away from your home, at a retreat
center or spiritual community of some kind, such as a monastery or meditation
center. But for many of us it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get away
from everyday life for an extended period. Fortunately, if you have good
self-discipline and a little creativity, you can create a rejuvenating retreat
for yourself at home by setting aside time to be used exclusively for your
primary problem you face during an at-home retreat is that you are surrounded by
your usual distractions. For the period you are designating as your retreat
time, unplug the TV and the phone and remind your family to leave you alone as
much as possible. If you want to read, write, make art or listen to music while
on retreat, gather your supplies before your retreat period begins. You may wish
to keep a journal of your thoughts and experiences. Or, you could try removing
yourself from all distraction -- no reading, no listening to music, no writing
-- and just experiment with being alone with your self for a time. Follow your
instincts to spend your time the way you find most appropriate.
is more traditional to leave your home for a retreat. Retreat settings vary, and
can include monasteries, campgrounds, spiritual or religious centers, or any
rented space such as hotels and conference centers. The duration can vary from
one day to several months, or, in the Tibetan tradition, even several years.
Although attending a retreat does require you to have free time and money for
things such as transportation, food, and registration fees, retreats do not have
to be expensive. Of course, some are held in exotic locales, serve gourmet
meals, and house guests in private rooms, but others are more simple, providing
dormitory accommodations and simple meals, or depend on participants to camp and
provide their own food. Additionally, it is quite common for retreat centers to
offer scholarships, work study programs, or "suggested donations" instead of
material was borrowed from Jim Flory's Contemplative Quakerism Page.
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