In her classic work Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, Evelyn Underhill devotes two chapters to the subject of “introversion,” in which she explores three essential mystical practices: recollection, the prayer of quiet, and contemplation. Recollection, she points out, is a technical mystical term, not to be confused with ordinary remembrance; rather she defines mystical recollection as “the deliberate consideration of and dwelling upon some one aspect of Reality — an aspect most usually chosen from amongst the religious beliefs of self” (p. 314). In other words, recollection is a technique for focusing and perhaps stilling the mind. By this way of thinking, the method of centering prayer is a form of recollection. So also would be meditating on a single attribute of God, such as love, or forgiveness, or joy. The point behind recollection is to bring our awareness into a place of rest and repose where we can prepare for the prayer of quiet.
Such quiet Underhill describes as a profound experience which emerges out of recollection. “Out of the deep, slow brooding and pondering on some mystery, some incomprehensible link between himself and the Real, or the deliberate practice of loving attention to God, the contemplative … glides, almost insensibly, on to a plane of perception … characterized by an immense increase in the receptivity of the self, and by an almost complete suspension of the reflective powers. The strange silence which is the outstanding quality of this state — almost the only note in regard to it which the surface-intelligence can secure — is not describable” (p. 317). If recollection corresponds to centering prayer’s use of a single word to silence the discursive mind, than the prayer of quiet represents those moments in the centering experience where the repeated word gently falls away, leaving the person in prayer resting in the deep silence of the Divine presence.
If Underhill’s language (from a century ago) leaves you a bit cold, then compare her descriptions to a much more recent (2006) discussion of these topics, from John Crowder’s Miracle Workers, Reformers and the New Mystics. For Crowder, recollection is that moment of prayer “in which the Holy Spirit ministers healing and cleansing to the soul. It is here where we release the hurts, guilt, and wounds of the past … We release our burdens tot he presence of God. We are also cleansed from the expectations, fears or longings for the future … we begin to see God in the present … This first stage is a place of purification. It is where we lay our cares at the cross” (p. 235). He goes on describe the prayer of quiet as “a place where we recognize our inability to calm our own thoughts with our own strength. We become utterly dependent on God to lead us in prayer … It is a place of pure listening and quietness. Divine love pours over us and our spiritual senses are awakened” (p. 237).
It’s interesting to compare these two perspectives. Crowder’s definitions seem at first blush quite different from Underhill’s, but I think this may be driven largely by the fact that she was a British Anglo-Catholic, he an American charismatic evangelical. They are basically, it seems to me, describing two different paths up the same mountain. No doubt because of my own bias, I rather prefer Underhill’s descriptions, but I do find Crowder’s perspective both refreshing and insightful, if only for their ability to make me look at these foundational elements of contemplative experience in new ways.