A Facebook friend shared with me that she has been “thinking about contemplative prayer as a resource for peacemaking or for community building.” Especially given the horrors in Orlando this past weekend, perhaps this is something we all need to be thinking about. Is contemplative prayer a meaningful tool for fostering reconciliation? Can it foster peace […]
The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults — the Catholic process by which adults enter the Church — suggests that there are four stages or steps in the process of Christian initiation. These steps — evangelization, catechesis, initiation, and mystagogy — not only define the journey of general formation in the life of Christ (in other words, “becoming […]
Your spiritual life need not be limited to times of prayer, meditation, or worship. It is portable and exists with you every moment of the day. You cannot leave it behind any more than you can leave God behind; you can only choose to remain unconscious of the presence of what is holy.
Jesus returned to Nazareth, the town where he had been brought up. And on the Sabbath day, he went to the synagogue, as was his custom. On this particular day, he was appointed to read, and the passage for the day came from Isaiah — the same passage we heard, just a few minutes ago. […]
A post on this blog received the following comment yesterday: Having been with the Catholic Church and seminary trained for all my 71 years of life . I am naturally contemplative . But I do now believe practising formal meditation/contemplation is false . Aren’t we missing the point if we try and set time aside […]
A friend of mine posed the following question recently on Facebook: You may have written about this before but how about dry times in prayer? What to do? Does it really mean anything? Can we have an impact on it or do we patiently wait it out? The fancy term here is “aridity.” I suspect […]
Pray Every Day (And Be Willing to Start Small)
I often am asked for advice on how to begin a daily prayer practice — whether that involves silent prayer (such as centering prayer) or praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Many people find the idea of setting aside forty minutes a day for centering prayer (twenty minutes in the morning, and another twenty at night), or the ninety minutes or so it takes to pray the complete Liturgy, to be daunting. “How can I ever establish a daily habit of prayer? I can barely find enough time brush my teeth, let alone commit an hour or more each day to prayer!”
I believe the secret to daily prayer is in the word daily. It’s better to start small, and develop a daily habit, than to attempt a large commitment that will just compete with all the other demands on your time — and lead quickly to a sense of frustration or defeat, when all those other demands get in the way of your prayer time. It’s the same principle for learning a new musical instrument or adopting a new exercise regimen. If you have been sedentary for the last decade and decide you want to run a marathon, you need to recognize you’re not going to run 28 miles the first day you train! It’s better to start with a nice brisk walk — and then keep training daily, gradually building your strength and stamina so that you can eventually achieve your goal.
The same logic works in fostering a new commitment to prayer. If you want to begin a centering prayer practice, at first just do it five or ten minutes a day — but try to do it every day. And if you do miss a day or two, let go of the temptation to judge yourself; just get back into the daily practice as soon as you can.
Likewise with the Liturgy. Maybe at first you only can find the time to pray one Psalm in the morning and one Canticle in the evening (or something like that). Or maybe you just have time to pray one of the shorter offices, like Compline, each day. It’s okay to start small. It’s better, in the long run, to begin with fostering that daily commitment, and then allowing the commitment to grow over time. As you become established in your daily practice, it’s almost inevitable that you will begin to hunger for more. You’ll find five minutes a day of silence isn’t enough. Or just praying a Psalm or two each day isn’t enough. That’s when your practice begins to bear fruit — and truly becomes joyful. Pray every day, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly (and organically) your daily practice will grow.
I once heard Richard Rohr tell a charming story of giving a retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where Thomas Merton lived. Rohr was surprised to find that not all the monks particularly cared for Merton. When he asked about this, one of the brothers said, “Merton told us we weren’t contemplatives, we were just introverts!” It’s […]
I talk a lot about silent prayer in this blog, which is understandable considering that my focus is on contemplative prayer, which the Catholic Catechism describes as “wordless prayer.” As important as silence is to contemplative and mystical forms of prayer, it’s only one of five essential dimensions of Christian prayer. In this post I look at […]
Silent prayer — contemplative prayer, what the Catholic Catechism calls “wordless prayer in which mind and heart focus on God’s greatness and goodness in affective, loving adoration” — is an important element of a mature Christian spirituality. The Bible instructs us to “be still and know… God” (Psalm 46:10), and even promises us that “silence […]
The core of my being, the most treasured part of my existence, is a contemplative life— a life lived in awareness of the divine. The challenge of maintaining this awareness is to sit openhanded to receive all that comes. It is not possible to hold on to one thought, memory, or idea and continue the contemplative journey. It requires a willingness to live this moment as keenly as possible, always aware of the many dimensions of now. Staying openhanded, treasuring but not grasping, is critical to the contemplative stance.
Christian Proficiency (London: S. P. C. K., 1959)
Martin Thornton stands alongside Kenneth Leech and Evelyn Underhill (at least, in my opinion) as one of the three most important Anglican Catholic writers of the twentieth century. In this book originally published in 1959, his language (like Underhill’s) can sound dated — he uses terminology like “mental prayer,” “recollection” and “colloquy” — but the warmth of his pastoral voice, the evident love for Christian spirituality, and the homespun, down-to-earth character of his writing, all combine to make this general survey of spirituality for the practicing Christian truly a delight. In calling the book Christian Proficiency Thornton points out that his intended readers are not the absolute beginners in the inner life, nor the experts — but rather those who seek a mature, adult spirituality, acknowledging the constraints that family life and career will place on the ordinary seeker. Nevertheless, Thornton points out that such elements as meditation, spiritual direction/accompaniment, and forming/following a rule of life, are all important and accessible elements of a committed life of faith. In the end, he succeeds in communicating to readers that an ordinary life of spiritual practice is truly extraordinary when suffused with the love of God.
In my post where I shared some notes from a class on prayer I taught back in the 1990s, there was a reference to the “Four Circles Diagram.” So I recreated the diagram, and want to share it with you now.
As you can see, it’s a diagram of the Christian spiritual life. The “four circles” are concentric: (more…)
The Christian faith stands on the recognition that God is Love. Therefore, love is the heart of all spirituality, including contemplative prayer. We are called not just to be contemplatives — we are called to be relational contemplatives. Writing in the third century, the Neoplatonist philosopher Plotinus had this to say about mysticism: This is the life of gods […]
Is contemplation dangerous? Some people think so. This past weekend I read a book that has given me some food for thought on this subject. The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? is by Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm, two psychologists in England who study the idea that practices like yoga or mindfulness meditation have observable health benefits. They […]