If you are new to Christian contemplative practice, you might have these questions:
- What is Christian contemplation and how can it help you?
- What is the contemplative understanding of Jesus and his teachings?
- What is the most effective way of practicing Centering Prayer?
- Can I live a contemplative life without going to a monastery?
- What resources can introduce you further to Christian contemplation?
This article provides a brief orientation to the teachings and practice of contemplative Christianity.
A Silent Tradition
In Jesus’ teaching there are prayers and then there is prayer. For 2,000 years a tradition has quietly existed within Christianity of contemplative prayer or contemplation — silent communion with God beyond the words of prayers. Planted in the deserts of the Middle East, grown in the cloisters of European monasteries, unobtrusively flowering in the corners of ordinary men and women’s lives everywhere, the contemplative tradition provides a rich interior life for Christian practitioners.
In Christianity the term meditation was always used to describe the intellectual use of the mind. Since the latter part of the 20th century, as Asian spiritual traditions came to the West and used this term to describe their practices of quieting the mind, meditation is also sometimes used in Christianity, along with the term contemplative practice, to describe what we do to open ourselves to a living relationship with God.
Rooted in the theology of the early Fathers of the Church, God is not so much an object of thought or a anthropomorphic being in the heavens, but a loving mystery beyond concepts who dwells within us and beyond us. Christ manifested this mystery. The Spirit prays in us, transforming our minds, hearts and behaviors as Christ comes alive within us more and more. The purpose of contemplation is our transformation in Christ.
The early Fathers called this process deification — the divine image of God coming alive in our unique humanity. As long as we are centered in Christ we are freed in God. Liberated from our false selves we are able to serve others more easily, a little more transparent to the life of God in us.
“Transforming our ordinary separate lives in God’s extraordinary unifying love”
It is crucial for contemporary people to have ways to go beyond the illusion of separation they feel, discovering the unity of all life in God. The pressing issues of our time — social inequality, religious intolerance and environmental degradation — all have their roots in the sense of separation we feel from other people, other faiths and creation. Incarnational contemplation and deepening Centering Prayer open you to the experience of unity in God, and provide a path for being transformed into the source of this experience. In this sense, contemplative practice is an imperative for life in the new millennium.
The ancient tradition of contemplative Christianity has always ebbed and flowed. Its subtle, quiet values are often over-run by social and political change. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Christian contemplation existed as a living tradition primarily only in monasteries, but in the late twentieth century contemplative practice was renewed outside monasteries. Contemplative teachings, practices, resources and small communities, both within and outside of churches, are now available for those drawn to this quiet tradition.
God brings the contemplative path back to life for new seekers in every generation. Although fragile in the world, the contemplative life is is based in God. It is eternal. It is the still quiet life of God within us which searches for and recognizes the invitation of contemplation.
Incarnational contemplation and Centering Prayer are part of the renewal of Christian contemplation. We hope the resources of this website help you on your journey, as you listen and are drawn by God to explore contemplation.