These are some notes made for a presentation on contemplative prayer … the group were work colleagues who were interested but did not practise meditation; they were curious but perhaps a bit doubtful about the value. I used ideas from Thomas Merton and ended by playing a track from the CD made of Merton speaking over liturgical music. The CD is called ‘He’s Plenty Near’.
The actual word contemplation has three parts to it –
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 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.
And how can we understand where that temple is – Jesus taught the disciples that asked him where he lived to come and see and he teaches us, as he did the disciples, that God is everywhere but dwells in intimate love within each of us. And that he is always there. He is always at home – even if we turn away and are too busy to notice – so contemplative prayer is the prayer of coming home – a coming home to dwell in intimacy and quiet love with the Lord.
The purpose of contemplative prayer is to simply be with God and offer him ourselves – without thought or words. But that is difficult and so one way is to use a prayer word – such as Jesus or love or peace – usually one syllable is best. Only use this word of love whenever you become aware that your mind has drifted off. This is a way of centring ourselves again to be with God in the present moment. We may not at first detect a response but gradually as St Gertrude expresses it, ‘the soul trains its ear to catch the hushed whisper of divine love’ (quoted by Georges Lefebvre in The Well-Springs of Prayer).
Contemplation is a gift from God. It ‘utterly transcends everything’ we are, yet it is ‘the only meaning for our existence’ (Thomas Merton in Seeds of Contemplation)
Contemplation involves delving beneath the surface level of existence to find our inner world – seeing God and self and creation at a different and deeper level of reality. It is more than an exercise of prayer. It involves the experience of:
(1) seeking God – this is a search like no other for God is everywhere
(2) coming to know one’s true self – in discovering the real within ourselves, we discover God who is Reality itself
(3) learning one’s relationship to the world – when we find God in contemplation and are aware of our total dependence on God and the same dependence of all reality on God, we experience a sense of interdependence with all God’s creation and the sense of responsibility we have towards that – true contemplation increases our sense of social justice and our ecological awareness.