For years I believed that I was bad at contemplative prayer.
Heck, I just believed that I was bad at all all kinds of prayer.
I didn’t really know where to start with prayer other than just talking a lot.
Using the prayers of others felt like cheating, and I didn’t know a lot about silence or centering prayers. I made plenty of requests, but that was the limit of my prayers for years.
As I learned about the disciplines of silence and solitude, pulling away from the concerns of the day in order to be present for God in love and in faith, I often characterized myself as “bad” at it.
The more I read about contemplative prayer, adopted related contemplative practices, and gained some experience, I learned that I had been completely wrong in my outlook and self-perception.
It’s quite American of me to think that I need a certain level of experience or accomplishment in order to consider myself “proficient” or “good” at prayer.
I’ve compared this to a spiritual shareholders meeting where growth is measured and projected.
I’m not quite sure what happens in this metaphor if growth is sagging… It’s not like I can fire myself, but at the very least I imagined a very disappointed God reviewing my charts and furrowing his brow over my progress.
This spiritual growth chart betrayed a misunderstanding of prayer on my part–at least contemplative prayer.
I can’t say that I’m “bad” at contemplative prayer because it is a pure gift from God, an act of grace in us through the indwelling Spirit.
I may be bad at recognizing contemplative prayer or enjoying its benefits, but God is already present among us. Praying with a certain level of concentration or skill makes no difference as far as God is concerned.
Thomas Keating famously wrote that we can only do contemplative prayer “wrong” if we get up and walk away.
Martin Laird writes the following about contemplative prayer:
“We who think God is on the lookout for our every fault and failing, in order to catch us out, prove that our vision is still heavily lumbered (Mt. 7:5; Lk. 6:42) and hence, unaware of God’s radiant ground shining within all and through all… It is always present and does not know how to be absent, for the simple reason that there is nowhere for it to go.” (An Ocean of Light, 96, 98).
Read More About How to Pray…
This is an adaptation from Flee, Be Silent, Pray. After years of anxious, hard-working spirituality, I found peace with God by practicing contemplative prayer. I’ve written an introduction to this historic Christian practice titled:
Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians