The highest level of prayer is Contemplation (Contemplatio)... it is not the same as Meditation (Meditatio). In Meditatio, we are actively working at directing the prayer experience... we imagine, perhaps, sitting at the foot of the cross, looking up at Jesus and become aware of His Great Sacrifice for our Sins. In Contemplatio, God takes over...
"Man achieves the fullness of prayer not when he expresses himself, but when he lets God be most fully present in prayer. The history of mystical prayer in the East and West attests to this: St. Francis, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and in the East, for example, St. Serafim of Sarov and many others. [Pope JPII, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p.18]
"Blessed is the man whose help is from Thee. In his heart he hath disposed to ascend by steps, in the vale of tears, in the pace which he hath set. Since beatitude is nothing other than the enjoyment of the supreme good, and this supreme good is above us, no one can attain beatitude unless he rises about himself, not in body but in heart. Yet we cannot rise about ourselves unless a superior power lifts us up. No matter how well we plan our spiritual progress, nothing comes of it unless divine assistance intervenes. And divine assistance is there for those who seek it humbly and devoutly, who sigh for it in this vale of tears by fervent prayer. Prayer, then, is the mother and the beginning of the ascent. [St. Bonaventure, Mystical Opuscula I, p. 9]
Centering Prayer is an ancient technique used by the early Christian Desert Fathers and Mothers to quiet the mind, the emotions, and to allow for us to become "Silent" and "Rest in the Lord." It is in the Silence where we "BE" with God and achieve Union with Him, without our active participation of the mind and emotions... God takes over our experience.
Fr. Thomas Keating, OCSO is a Cistercian (Trappist) who has written many books on Centering Prayer and there are many interviews and lectures of him on YouTube. He is the founder of www.ContemplativeOutreach.org which is an excellent resource to help anyone who is interested in progressing in the Spiritual Life, particularly with Contemplative Prayer.
The following is a poem by Christina Rossetti that my teacher read to me when I was in 2nd grade. I have carried it with me since then, and often reflect on its meaning. I invite you to take a few moments and reflect on what it might mean to you, and what it might teach us about listening for the still, small voice God (meaning whatever source of spiritual nourishment you hold within your heart) in our lives.
Who has seen the wind? Neither I nor you,
but when the leaves hang trembling,
the wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind? Neither you, nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
the wind is passing by.
It is an honor to be here among you; I offer my sincerest thanks on behalf of both myself and the monastic community to which I belong for the welcoming environment and the sincere connections that we have found here.
Within this sacred space, we come together to celebrate the movement of God in our lives and the lives of those around us. It has been a great source of joy and learning to me, to experience the genuine gratitude and fellowship shared in this space; my deepest self finds rest, refreshment and new ways of thinking each time I join with you in celebration of the great gifts we share.
I have observed that many, if not most of us have come to find some level of comfort with silence, and have experienced a place of stillness in which we are able to hear the voice of the Spirit that instructs us in the ways of love, self-discovery and profound internal growth.
The practice of mindful listening that is cultivated by our encounters with silence is near and dear to my heart. In order to nurture the kind of understanding that nourishes my spirit and enables me to carry out the tasks I am called to do, I must begin from a place of stillness and strive to maintain an attitude of listening as I attend to the work set before me.
In the same way, each of us are called to seek out that place of stillness where the Spirit moves freely and awakens us to our own ability to be a conduit of God’s loving presence in the lives of those around us.
This does not mean that we should seek to convert others to our own ways and ideas about how we encounter God in our lives; such actions and attitudes are nothing more than self-service, which naturally leads to the exclusion of some who bear the greatest need for a profound encounter with the love that we know as God in their lives.
The kind of service I am talking about springs up like water drawn from a deep well; a well that, within each of us, is filled with a kind of refreshment that never runs dry.
From this pure and sacred place, we can find the tools needed for the work set before us, which is the work of compassionate listening. The most sacred attribute of this well is that the more we draw from it with the intention of freely sharing the gifts it bestows upon us, the more refreshing and plentiful it becomes, and is more readily shared with us, providing sanctuary and solace to our deepest and innermost selves.
There have been times in each of our lives where, in the face of great challenges, uncertainty or amidst the burdens of suffering that it may seem as if no one can hear the words, whether spoken or silent, that convey our deepest desires, which are to love and be loved, and to know and be known.
It may seem as if some of the people around us are simply biding their time in wait for their turn to speak; hearing our words but never our voice. This kind of insincerity can be devastating to a soul in suffering.
We must, therefore, be diligent in cultivating an attitude of listening that allows us to hear the true voices of those around us, which in turn allows for a profound communication that comes from a place of unadulterated compassion. These kinds of connections nourish us; they provide us with glimpses of affirmation on our paths toward a Godly state of being. This kind of profound nourishment can be easily seen if we take the time to look for it, both on an individual, as well as a collective level.
It is this form of connected awareness that can help guide us through the fog that clouds our ability to move through the suffering in our lives. In the same way, it can instruct us in the ways of guiding those around us who are overwhelmed by the suffering they experience.
I have a deep conviction that many, if not all of the great teachers throughout history, when speaking of loving one another as God loves us, had this kind of honest connection between our innermost state of being in mind.
Over the coming weeks, I encourage you to recall the meaning that the words spoken here today convey to your heart, and observe the ways in which you respond to the truth that you have found in your practice of listening.
Br. Bjorn, OES, OFH