Contemplation is the stillness we need to be aware of God’s presence. Jesuit theologian Walter Burghart calls it “the long, loving look at the Real.” It is long because our relationship with God (like our relationships with people) takes time. We must devote ample time to this Person we love. It is loving because we need to shed our judgments and fears and open ourselves to love just as we are. It is a look because we must face it. Denial is the enemy. And it is the Real because God is not interested in phoniness. We are being invited by God to look at our lives as they are, not as we would like them to be. Therefore, whatever is real to us is what we bring to contemplation and awareness before God. It need not be something high and mighty or a matter of only the gravest concern. It need only be that which is real to us right now.
Reading this, you may think, “I’m just not contemplative by nature, it’s not for me,” but before you make that assumption, consider that contemplation is not a personality trait, such as introversion. Many highly introverted people are contemplative but so are many highly extraverted people. Anyone can take a “long, loving look at the Real” whether they are quiet and introspective or chatty and outward-directed. You do not have to be a pro at sitting in silence, although taking time to be in silence (even for a few minutes at a time) is helpful in contemplation. Some activities listed here involve a lot of silence and others are interspersed with silence. If you find silence troubling, start with small doses and see if your comfort level doesn’t shift somewhat over time.
One place to get started, whether you’re a beginner to contemplative prayer or just want to “get back to basics,” is this prayer adapted from Anthony Bloom’s “Beginning To Pray.” Bloom, a Russian Orthodox Archbishop who died in 2003, wrote this short book in 1970, and it continues to be an inspiration for prayers today. I’ve broken this prayer down into steps, making it very simple and short, for use as a daily prelude to other prayer practices.
Intention: To “be here now” in prayer.
- Resolve to be in prayer for at least five minutes. Do not answer the phone or allow yourself to be distracted from your goal.
- Be seated and say to yourself “Here I am seated, doing nothing. I will do nothing for five minutes,” (or longer, depending on the time you set for yourself).
- Begin noticing your own bodily presence. How your body feels next to the chair. How your feet feel against the floor. Relax your body. Notice what you feel inside.
- Now notice the presence of all that is around you. Say to yourself, “Here I am in the presence of the room (garden, chapel, wherever you are).” Be aware of the furniture, walls, any pets or people in the room. Just be present and silent in your environment. Relax even more.
- Now say to yourself, “Here I am in the presence of God.” Repeat silently to God, “Here I am.” Bask in the presence of the Holy One until your time goal has been reached.
Feel free to move the steps around. You may want to start by noticing God’s presence. The progression could also move from your environment to your body to God’s presence. I just find I usually need to settle my body down first in order to be still enough to be present to God.
Looking for More?
If you like this prayer and are looking for even more ways to pray, you might enjoy my book, “50 Ways to Pray,” from Abingdon Press. You’ll find this prayer and 49 others to experiment with.
Want to try spiritual direction? I have openings in my schedule for new directees — regardless of where you live. I can work by phone, Skype or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.teresablythe.net.
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