Last Monday, I told you about the formation of a contemplative ‘listening’ prayer group I believe the Spirit prompted me to begin during a time of silence when I was on my recent educational pilgrimage to Spain.
I promised to provide some information in case you would like to begin your own group.
Before I do, however, I’d like to give a bit of context concerning my understanding of contemplative prayer—also called ‘silent,’ ‘centering,’ or my favorite, ‘listening’ prayer.
I imagine silence as one stanza of Heaven’s music. When we’re in our eternal home, I have no doubt there’ll be times of loud, joyful music that will cause us to clap, wave our arms and dance. (Thankfully, in Heaven, my celestial perfection will include a good sense of rhythm!) I also imagine times of worshipful chanting or heavenly humming. But, I feel certain, there will be times when melody and beat will be inadequate, and all we’ll be able to do is worship silently.
Silent prayer doesn’t replace scriptural suggestions to praise God, pray for one another, ask for good gifts or make our requests known to God.
Christian contemplation, while outwardly similar to other types of meditation, doesn’t release the one contemplating from conscious thought, but as I’ve experienced, focuses on the connection of my spirit to God’s Holy Spirit.
Father Javier Melloni, the Jesuit priest who facilitated the contemplative prayer retreat I attended in Manresa, described contemplative prayer beautifully as being:
Present to the Presence
Following is the process our women’s contemplative ‘listening’ prayer group uses.
We begin the silent portion of our group fifteen minutes after arrival, which gives everyone a chance to get a cup of coffee or glass of water. I’ve cautioned participants beforehand that the door will be locked once we begin our silence.
First, assume a comfortable posture you can remain in for the duration of silence, such as:
- Seated with feet on the floor and hands either up or down on your lap
- Sitting cross legged on the floor
- Yoga child’s pose
Prepare by taking a few deep, slow breaths—breathing in through your nose and out through your nose. Focus on God as you breathe, for without God, we would have no breath.
Job 33:4 The Spirit of God created me,
and the breath of the Almighty gave me life.
Choose a sacred word or phrase, and silently align that word to your breathing. A few suggestions:
- I am yours; You are mine.
- Spirit, come.
- Come, Lord Jesus,
- Abba Father.
It may help to visualize a place or scene:
- By a gently flowing river
- As a wave on the ocean (I am the wave; God is the ocean)
- Soaking in welcoming warm sunlight
- In a peaceful lush, green field
Why silence? ‘Listening’ prayer is about being rather than doing, saying or thinking
We will use the Centering Prayer app. (This is a free download if you’d like to check it out. I use it almost every day in my personal devotions.)
After we’ve breathed and decided on our sacred word or phrase, I read an opening prayer or scripture, which is provided on the app.
There will then be an opening sound of strings which goes on for about a minute. You can use this time to simply breath or praying, praising or expressing thanksgiving to yourself.
When the music stops, a period of silence begins. Our group will use ten minutes, which is what I generally use in my personal devotional time.
- Avoid distractions.
- Since this is a deeply intimate time spiritually, tears may come. Have a tissue handy just in case.
- You’ll probably want to have your eyes closed. This is not a time for reading or journaling.
- If your mind begins to wander (and it probably will) or you start thinking that you are doing it wrong, let that thought go and gently return to rhythmic breathing and your sacred word(s). If you become distracted by your breath, treat this as another “thought” and gently return to your sacred word(s).
At the end of the 10 minutes, there will be a closing sound (I chose three gongs, each a little softer than the one before.)
At conclusion of the gongs, I read a closing prayer or scripture.
Immediately, we begin the Lectio Divina segment, remaining in silence for 15 additional minutes. You may want to change positions at this point. Have your Bible, journal and pen handy.
In Christianity, Lectio Divina is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God’s Word. Wikipedia
- Choose a brief passage of Scripture.
- Read slowly and prayerfully, listening with your heart to what the Lord may be speaking to you.
- If you come to a phrase—or even a single word—that resonates, remain there. Read and re-read. Ponder with your heart. Don’t worry about reading any further if you don’t want to do so.
- Write down the verse(s), phrase or word.
- Reflect prayerfully upon it.
- What are your thoughts? Jot them down.
- What ‘action step’ do you think the Spirit is prompting you to take as a result?
- When will you do that?
- How will you incorporate the message of this scripture into your day today?
- Write a brief prayer.
For our remaining minutes, we’ll check in, and then, dismiss to begin our everyday routines.
That’s the format of our contemplative prayer group in a nutshell. If you would like more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
Blessings as you ‘listen…’