Five Ideas that Shape Contemplative Prayer

I recently listened to the audiobook version of Chris Anderson's TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. If your work in any way involves public speaking, I heartily encourage you to give it a listen. Chris is a humble and charming enough speaker in his own right, but fortified with tips and tricks, the do's and don't's, from the best speakers to give talks at TED Conferences over the years, the book provides an excellent survey of what really makes a speech effective.And one … [Read more...]

Seven Important Bible Verses About Silence

Catholics (and other Christians) can be a noisy bunch. I'm always a bit surprised when I visit a church just before Mass and it's filled with chatter. Maybe I'm showing my age here, but I recall as a boy that visiting a church was like visiting a library — it was a place reserved for the utmost silence.Of course, to be fair, nowadays many libraries seem to be pretty chatty places as well.Contemplatives intuitively recognize that silence is the lingua franca of the spiritual life. Silence … [Read more...]

St. Teresa’s Advice for Dealing With People Who Cannot or Will Not Engage in Christian Contemplation

Some things never change.Here's a little quote from Teresa of Ávila's classic book about prayer, The Way of Perfection: Let us now return to speak of those souls I have mentioned who cannot practise recollection or tie down their minds to mental prayer or make a meditation. We must not talk to them of either of those two things— they will not hear of them; as a matter of fact, there are a great many people who seem terrified at the very name of contemplation or mental prayer. The next time … [Read more...]

Instructions on Prayer from a Trappist Monk

"I'm speechless," remarked Brother Elias Marechal, OCSO, after a congregation of several hundred young evangelicals vigorously applauded his visit to their worship service last month. But then he quipped, "We don't talk in the monastery much."Grace Fellowship in Athens, GA (home of the University of Georgia) recently invited this deeply contemplative Trappist monk to come and speak to the congregation, comprised mostly of students. Grace's pastor, John Raymond, has for the past decade re … [Read more...]

John Cassian: The Leap Year Contemplative

February 29 is the feast day of St. John Cassian — who, in addition to being a "leap year saint" is also one of the most important early contemplatives in the Christian tradition.Cassian (ca. 360-435) brought monasticism — and, therefore, contemplative spirituality — from the deserts of the Middle East to Western Europe. His birthplace is uncertain, but by the 380s he was living in a monastery in Bethlehem; subsequently he left that location to travel the deserts of Egypt, where he and his sp … [Read more...]

Emptiness and Non-Attachment

Last week I wrote about the difference between how Catholics understand meditation and contemplation, based on material found in the Catholic Catechism. A reader left the following comment on that post: We rest in God. But we do not empty our minds. We are always in communication with God. Prayer is focusing on God and we praise him for who He is, we intercede for others, and we put our requests to Him. We align our wills with His in prayer. Never do we make our minds a 'spiritual vacuum' for … [Read more...]

Catholic Meditation and Contemplative Prayer: What’s the Difference?

A reader of my blog wrote to me and asked this question: What do you see is the difference between Catholic meditation and contemplative prayer?  It's a great question, made complicated by the fact that words like meditation and contemplation can be used in a variety of ways, especially in society at large.For example, many people may associate "meditation" with eastern or secular practices such as zen or mindfulness meditation, exercises that are primarily a form of self-knowledge or self- … [Read more...]