“Empty yourself completely and sit waiting”

Front Gate, Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers GA
Front Gate, Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers GA (photo by Carl McColman)

I sometimes get asked if contemplative prayer is “really Christian.” When someone asks that question, it’s usually because they have noticed the similarity between practices like centering prayer and eastern disciplines such as zazen or transcendental meditation. The fact that many practitioners of centering prayer or other silent prayer forms tend to be interested in interfaith dialogue is sometimes worrisome to others, who do not have a sense of being called to interfaith dialogue and who only want to practically specifically Christian forms of prayer.

I always say “Yes, its roots go back all the way to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, if not earlier.” Which is true, but it’s always nice to be able to quote some sources from the tradition to prove I’m not just making this up. So I’m quite delighted to have stumbled upon this nugget of contemplative wisdom from a thousand years ago.

This quotation is wonderfully paradoxical — the author simultaneously appears to be describing contemplative prayer, lectio divina, and praying the daily office. Of course, anyone who is familiar with all three practices understands that they weave together like a beautiful braid.

St. Romuald was the founder of the Camaldolese monastic order.

Brief Rule of St. Romuald (953 – 1027)

Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.

If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.

And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.

Realize above all that you are in God’s presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.

Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.

(Source: Incarnation Camaldolese Monastery)


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