If you have ever been in a romantic relationship you know that sometimes you talk to your lover, sometimes you listen to them, and but the best times are when you are both quiet and are simply together. When you do this with God it is called contemplation.
Contemplation is above all the prayer of silence. Inner silence. Your goal here is actually not to think, but to empty yourself. You must decrease so that He may increase within you. In it you renounce yourself, even your own thoughts. I know it sounds crazy, but it is the most beautiful thing in the world.
Contemplative prayer is a gift. You can’t just sit down and do it the way you can with meditation. It simply comes. What you can do is make yourself ready for it. The way you do that is meditation. If you practice lectio divina, this is what the final step, contemplatio, will lead to. I will teach you another way.
In the early years of Christianity a Roman named John Cassian went looking for a better way to pray. He came upon the desert fathers of Egypt. They were the first Christian monks. They renounced the world and went out into the wilderness to find God. They would sit for long periods of time saying the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” By sitting perfectly still and saying this prayer over and over they were able to silence their minds and find union with God.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a monk or go out into the desert to do this! This form of meditation is very simple. Simple, not easy. Here is what you do.
- Sit perfectly still. Your outer stillness will help cultivate inner stillness.
- Sit with your back straight. You can sit on the floor or in a chair, it doesn’t matter, as long as your back is straight.
- Breathe from your diaphragm. Your belly should move in and out and your shoulders should stay still. Proper breathing is very important.
- You can close your eyes or leave them half open. I prefer to close them, but that causes some peoples imaginations to go wild so they leave them half open.
- Begin to say what John Cassian called the Forma, and what today is commonly called a mantra. It is a word or phrase that you will repeat over and over in your head. Most people sync it with their breathing. One common one is “maranatha.” It is Aramaic and means “come Lord.” It is one of the last words in the Bible. You say it Ma-Ra-Na-Tha. Over and over you say it. I use the name of God. YHWH is likely pronounced “Yod-He-Vav-He”. I say the Yah or Vay as I inhale and then exhale on the He. Use any word or phrase that you want. Follow the tradition of the desert fathers and use the Jesus Prayer or simple the name Jesus.
- Say your word with gentle love, thinking only of that word. You will think of other things time and time again. Don’t get frustrated. Simple label the thought by saying, “I’m thinking,” and return to your mantra. Think of your mind as a jungle and the mantra is your path. If you ever get lost just return to your mantra.
- Do this at least 20 minutes a day (30 is better) everyday, twice a day.
Contemplative prayer is silence. Words in this kind of prayer are not speeches; they are like kindling that feeds the fire of love. In this silence, unbearable to outer person, the Father speaks to us His incarnate Word, who sufferer, died, and rose; in this silence the Spirit of adoption enables us to share in the prayer of Jesus.