What Is Contemplative Prayer?
Cynthia Bourgeault – St. Philip Anglican Church 6 June 1996

Contemplative Prayer means prayer in silence.

Prayer is not a request for God’s favours. Genuine prayer is based on recognizing the origin of all that exists and opening ourselves to it. In prayer we acknowledge God as the supreme source from which flows all strength, all goodness, all existence.

In prayer we are acknowledging that we have received our being. Life itself comes from this Supreme Power.

Prayer is about silent communion with God.

There are two types of silence:

Non-restrictive Silence/ Free Silence – This is the silence many of us are accustomed to. We listen to ourselves more deeply, being aware of memories, dreams, desires, etc. This can be refreshing.

Restrictive Silence/ Intentional Silence/ Meditational Silence – In this silence we do not encourage free association of the mind. Instead, we try to get some distance from the mind.

Levels of Awareness:

Ordinary Awareness – On this level we operate according to “I want”, “I need,” “I have to…” Everything circulates around “I”. This is the level we feed when we live without any spiritual practice.

Spiritual Awareness – On this level we are always in communion with God. This is the real core of our identity.

Divine Awareness – On this level we know that we are each a Temple of God.

In order to be sensitive to the inner, we have to turn down the boom box of the outer.

At first silence and stillness feel like a place we go to. Gradually this still centre becomes a place we come from.

The outer comes under a new master; it starts to operate in service of God’s love. It is no longer driven by my needs and wants.

In Centering Prayer the sacred word is called “sacred” because of our intention. The word used in the prayer stands for/ symbolizes our intention.

God comes to us in our consent, not necessarily in the quiet.

We come face to face with the energy of our own excitement and yearning which throws us back and can only be transcended in rare moments when we can slip through it. Sometimes in rare moments, God takes us through it to naked communion with his being. This is beyond all feeling to a place where we just are.

When we begin our spiritual journey we are looking for spiritual affirmation. We want to know that we are loved. We want to savour this awareness; but this savouring is part of our ordinary awareness.

We may bet hooked on the pleasurable experience of our prayer.

St. John of the Cross – “The Dark Night of the Sense” – our pleasurable experience in prayer dries up. We may feel that God has disappeared or does not love us. We are being led to a deeper level, a level of “pure faith” beyond felt experience.

We need to learn the attitude of deep inner quiet. Hold the quiet. It is in this place that nothing can hurt us, nothing can frighten us. Nothing has that power over us any longer. This is beyond the level of imagination.

We will always prefer content over emptiness, especially pious content.

Thomas Keating’s 4 R’s of Centering Prayer:

Resist no thought
Retain no thought
React to no thought
Return ever so gently to your sacred word

“Intercessory” means to be yielded between. This is what Centering Prayer is about.

The fruit of Centering Prayer will not be noticed in the practice itself but in daily life.

The fruit of this prayer may include:

being more adaptable

our apple cart will not be so easily upset

we roll with the punches more easily

may experience a greater degree of interior spaciousness that will lead us

our sense of presence improves

when we are with a person we are more able to be with them

our sense of Scripture is deepened

we become more receptive

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