I came across a Centring Prayer retreat led by Basil Pennington in 1991 and was interested to see that he attributes the inspiration of the name centring prayer to Thomas Merton. Basil Pennington traces the idea of what is also called the prayer of the heart back to John Cassian and his journey out to the deserts of Egypt where he learnt how to pray from Abba Isaac.
In the course of his teachings Basil Pennington explains the word contemplation as a word made up of three parts and this is taken from his teaching:
The last part of the word ‘tion’ means abiding state – all of us have those, if we are alive, and able to stay in the present moment – when we feel touched by God and we experience the Divine. What we look for in our spiritual lives is a way that helps us live more and more constantly in communion with God
And that’s what the first part of the word means ‘con’ – con means with
And the middle part ‘templa’- well in the early Roman times the templa was seen as a particular part of the heavens, and the then priests of the temple, the priests of the people, would look up into the skies and try to see how the birds flew and what was happening in the sky so as to work out the will of God. From that time, that templa, got projected onto earth and became the templum, the temple, an actual place where people go to commune with God.
So contemplation is abiding with God, where his will is known, where his love is known, where he is present in his temple.