What is Contemplative Prayer?
As the name suggests, contemplative prayer is about focusing within – it’s normally a silent form of prayer, which focuses on God and His word, allowing the individual to be in His presence in an intimate way. With contemplative prayer, we are not asking God for anything, simply being with Him who loves us.
Some theologians between contemplation itself, which is silent prayer focused on God, and meditative prayer, which is silent prayer guided by scripture. But generally, the act of contemplative praying, focusing on God and His word, has been a synchronous practice.
Psalm 1:2 (NIV) tells us “Blessed is the one … whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” Described here is meditative prayer over scripture. Jesus furthermore discusses silent and intimate prayer with God in Matthew 6:6 (NIV): “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Contemplative prayer is also known as silent prayer, centring prayer, and the prayer of stillness. The idea is to simply be in God’s presence, and for many, the consciousness of the presence of God will begin to extend into the rest of their lives. For those who lead busy, active lives, taking the time to be still and bask in God’s presence can be a welcome relief.
Who Practices Contemplative Prayer?
While this method of prayer is sometimes assumed to be too advanced or difficult for ordinary Christians, this is not the case. The practice of communion with God in silence is something that appeals to people of all walks of life. It often allows us to become more fully aware of God at work in us and in creation.
If you find yourself longing for silence, and don’t like to focus on words when you pray, God may be drawing you to contemplative prayer.
How Can I Learn Contemplative Prayer?
Prayer can be a deeply personal experience, and there is no right or wrong way to pray. However, if you wish to learn more about the contemplative approach to prayer, there are various books on the subject, and it can be greatly beneficial to speak with a group who already practice this type of prayer.
There are two key things to keep in mind when it comes to contemplative prayer. The first is that the object of such prayer is to draw closer to God and grow more like Christ. The second thing to remember is that it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can achieve these aims, not through our own efforts.
The Practice of Contemplative Prayer
When it comes to practicing contemplative prayer, you initially need to find yourself a quiet place to sit, where you will not be interrupted. Whether you sit on a chair, prayer stool, or on a cushion on the floor isn’t important, as long as you’re comfortable.
How long you spend praying is also down to you but be realistic – if you can manage ten minutes a day regularly, stick to that rather than trying to commit to more. And remember that you’ll need time to settle down and prepare yourself, time for the silence, and then time to emerge from it.
When you begin, you’ll need to take some time to become aware of your body through your breathing, and to relax your muscles. During your contemplative prayer, the most important thing you do is to spend the time in silence, offering yourself to God as fully as you can in the moment. A summary of these steps can be found below:
- Find a quiet place you can relax in
- Set aside one or two short periods of time each day to practice contemplative prayer
- Prepare yourself mentally and physically before starting, such as concentrating on your breathing and relaxing your muscles
- Focus on God, offering yourself fully to Him
What Can Contemplative Prayer Lead To?
It goes without saying that each person’s experience of contemplative prayer will differ. We may develop a more vivid sense of God in creation or experience a deeper peace or a sense of joy. Contemplative prayer might lead us to discover new gifts in ourselves which can be offered to God.
Becoming more open to the Holy Spirit’s action in us may also mean painful work, with old fears and pains rising to the surface. That’s why it’s important that we keep to our usual worship practice, alongside contemplative prayer, to keep us anchored in the wider fellowship. It is not wise to isolate ourselves, though we may need more time in solitude.
Contemplative prayer isn’t for everyone, but this doesn’t mean you should give up on prayer altogether. There are many other methods of prayer which may be more fruitful. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) tells us: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”