Contemporary mystic and writer Beverly Lanzetta has thought deeply about how to live a contemplative life in the world. In describing prayer, she turns to Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) and Thomas Merton (1915–1968):
Teresa of Avila describes mental (contemplative) prayer as, “nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with [God] who we know loves us.”  We can imagine God as our intimate friend, with whom we share everything. We can talk to the Divine about our needs, complaints, and difficulties. We can ask for advice, offer thanksgiving, and make acts of faith or reparation for our sins. We can seek guidance for our children, or shed tears about illness and death.
Quite frequently, the most efficacious [way to] pray is found in darkness, emptiness. When we find ourselves simply open to the vast mystery surrounding us, when we center our hearts on an obscure faith, and are absorbed into the divine Presence. This is the contemplation of night, when darkness quiets the soul, and we surrender to unknowing. Thomas Merton prays:
Your brightness is my darkness. I know nothing of You and, by myself, I cannot even imagine how to go about knowing You. If I imagine You, I am mistaken. If I understand You, I am deluded. If I am conscious and certain I know You, I am crazy. The darkness is enough. 
James Finley describes what happens inside us when we commit to such a path of prayer:
As you develop the habit of meditation, you will become more skilled in learning to enter more directly into a quiet state of meditative openness to God. Little by little you will experience yourself becoming more familiar with the inner landscape of your newly awakened heart. As your newly awakened heart is allowed to repeatedly rest in meditative awareness, it slowly discovers its center of gravity in the hidden depths of God. . . .
Since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), God’s ways are the ways in which love awakens you again and again to the infinite love that is the reality of all that is real. As you ripen and mature on the spiritual path that meditation embodies, you will consider yourself blessed and most fortunate in no longer being surprised by all the ways in which you never cease to be delighted by God. Your heart becomes accustomed to God, peeking out at you from the inner recesses of the task at hand, from the sideways glance of the stranger in the street, or from the way sunlight suddenly fills the room on a cloudy day.
Learning not to be surprised by the ways in which you are perpetually surprised, you will learn to rest in an abiding sense of confidence in God. Learning to abide in this confidence, you learn to see God in learning to see the God-given Godly nature of yourself, others, and everything around you. 
 Teresa of Avila, The Book of Her Life, chap. 8, in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, vol. 1, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1976), 67.
 Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings, ed. Jonathan Montaldo (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), xiii–xiv.
 James Finley, Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 33–34.
Beverly Lanzetta, The Monk Within: Embracing a Sacred Way of Life (Sebastopol, CA: Blue Sapphire Books, 2018), 353–354.
Explore Further. . .
- Listen to James Finley and Mirabai Starr discuss Teresa of Avila’s life and work on Turning to the Mystics.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 14 & 21 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States, used with permission. Abel Marquez, Lady Praying, 2020 (detail), photograph, free use. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to core teacher Dr. Barbara Holmes as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. Her photos are featured here together with other images in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: Sometimes we don’t have the energy to climb the stairs or jump off the dock. Wherever we are in this moment: in community, in solitude, in joy, in sorrow, with motivation or with great exhaustion… God meets us here.
Story from Our Community:
After prayer and meditation, I often write to help me sort it all out. I find the practice to be very cathartic and it helps me maintain an awareness of the interconnected world. Realizing that the responsibility for my inner peace rests with me isn’t always welcomed. That forces me to surrender to a Higher Power and gives me the courage to see the shift of consciousness occurring within me.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.