What is Contemplative Prayer?
Contemplative prayer is the ultimate meditation. This practice literally involves clearing the mind of all thoughts to rest in God’s presence. The word practice is used with meditation and with spiritual disciplines because they take practice! Contemplative practices are not something that you just do with ease. It can be very difficult to clear the mind from clutter.
Contemplative prayer uses what is called the sacred word. The idea is that when thoughts start to come into your mind that you focus on the sacred word to bring you back to just resting in God. The word is not spoken. The word is in your mind. Examples of words are: Jesus, Mary, peace, stillness, mercy. Gentleness is the key to using the sacred word. I’ve heard it described that when one’s thoughts drift, to say the sacred word to clear the thoughts. The act is as gentle replacing the secret word as if it were a feather on top of a piece of cotton.
The metaphor is that the mind is a river and thoughts are things that are floating by. In contemplative prayer the goal is to learn to just let the thoughts go, in other words, let them float by so as to clear the mind. Many times inspirational or creative thoughts will enter into the mind. These thoughts, even though they are God inspired are supposed to be ignored. The ultimate goal is to empty one’s self and be in God’s presence. This does not involve listening to God. It is to just be. Answers are to be sought outside of contemplative prayer.
For me, contemplative prayer is one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines; however, it can be one of the most rewarding. To receive the full benefits of contemplative prayer, it is recommended that you practice for 20-30 minutes each morning and in the afternoon.
How to Do Contemplative Prayer – Contemplative Prayer Practice
- Find a quiet place that will be free from noise or interruption. Plan to devote 20-30 minutes to the practice.
- Sit in a comfortable position. The goal is to be conscious and not fall asleep.
- Choose your sacred word – stick with that one word during your practice
- When you are comfortable, close your eyes.
- You can start the time with the sacred word
- When thoughts come into your mind, gently think of the sacred word and let all thoughts go by
- When the time has passed, keep your eyes closed for a few minutes and sit in stillness before getting up
Over time, contemplative prayer will become easier with practice. It is the ultimate gift to unite and rest in God’s presence. Contemplative prayer can also open up feelings and wounds that may be buried deep within the psyche. Memories may come up as a result of practicing contemplative prayer. By letting go of thoughts, it is also possible to let go of areas within ourselves that blocks the flow of God’s love into our hearts and souls.