There are many places throughout the Christian Scriptures exhorting us to prayer, and to different ways of praying. One quotation serves well as a starting point for a few reflections about contemplative prayer: <em>When you pray, go to your room, close your door and pray to your God in private. ...when you pray do not rattle on ... God knows your need before you ask. (Matthew 6:6-8).</em> The metaphor of a room with a closed door invites us to those places and times where we enter alone into solitude and silence. Martin Laird, OSA in the introduction to his book Into the Silent Land reminds us simply that, "We are built for contemplation ... this subtlest, simplest, and most searching of the spiritual arts. Communion with God in the silence of the heart is a God-given capacity, like the rhododendron's capacity to flower, the fledgling's for flight, and the child's self-forgetful abandon and joy."
Like all capacity, the spiritual art of contemplation must be cultivated. So, as we approach contemplative prayer we do so somewhat like a gardener who does not grow the fruits and flowers that bloom and mature, but rather cultivates, waters, weeds the rich soil, so the seed or bulb, which, by its nature contains within itself the inherent power for growth, might grow and blossom. So, too, when we come to a contemplative prayer. As we cultivate a love of solitude and silence of heart, like a spiritual gardener we literally dispose ourselves, allowing communion with God to grow in fullness.
As we approach contemplative prayer there are two skills we need to cultivate: interior silence and awareness. Like any skill each is sharpened and deepened the more it is practiced. The cultivation of these skills may seem difficult; and they do require a certain disciplined practice. It is not so much in the reading about but in practice that these spiritual skills are developed and as one continues to practice it may be helpful to share periodically with a spiritual guide.
Contemplative prayer is essentially a prayer of silence. There are many helpful methods suggested by many writers for ways to enter into this prayer of silence. When all is said and done, the goal is simple: to bring mind and body to stillness so that the divine seed resting in the center of our very being can come to fullness in the silence of our waiting emptiness. As we allow ourselves to BE in the silence, returning gently and firmly to the place of solitude and silence when distractions would pull us away, the mysterious work of spiritual transformation slowly but surely takes place. Transformation, simply stated, is to be moved from where we are to where we might not otherwise go ... to a place we do not know. This is subtle, imperceptible, but so real that, without knowing it, we are different. Contemplative prayer is the growing of the God-given capacity for Communion with God. When you pray, go to your room ... close the door.... pray to God in solitude and silence.
Sister Kathleen Pruitt, CSJP teaches contemplative prayer at St. Mary-on-the-Lake.
"Life and prayer are intertwined, because the natural thing to do is to talk to God, to pray. Nothing is compartmentalized. "
Margaret Dove, CSJP