Doorways to Christian Contemplation
Week Twenty-Eight Summary and Practice
Sunday, July 11—Friday, July 16, 2021
The diverse methods of contemplation are the many varied, fruitful, and life-giving practices and ways of praying that are nourished from the same root—the Sacred Presence.
Jesus said, “Judge not and you shall not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Sitting in meditation, we put this teaching of Christ into practice in remaining present, open, and awake to ourselves just as we are, without judging, without evaluating, without clinging to or rejecting the way we simply are. —James Finley
Chanting is at the heart of all sacred traditions worldwide, and for very good reason: it is fundamentally a deep-immersion experience in the creative power of the universe itself. —Cynthia Bourgeault
The imagination must “be here now.” This is where you actually are, this is reality. Don’t create a fantasy. Know who you are and where you are and what you are doing and really be there. —Beatrice Bruteau
I have abandoned all particular forms of devotion, all prayer techniques. My only prayer practice is attention. I carry on a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy. —Brother Lawrence
Prayer is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now by leaping into communion with what is right in front of us.
Meeting the Lord in Imaginative Prayer
We at the Center often teach the transforming effects of silence and unknowing. It has been my personal practice for years. At the same time, one of the great gifts of Jesuit spirituality is to teach us how to draw closer to God through images, words, verbal prayer, our imaginations, and the Bible itself. Here is how writer and retreat leader Margaret Silf invites people into the riches of Ignatian contemplation:
The call to friendship with God invites us to allow our lives, with everything we most truly are, to become more closely linked to the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord and to everything he truly is. . . . One way to allow this closer linking to happen is to enter imaginatively into scenes from the earthly life of Jesus, in what is called imaginative meditation [or contemplation].
Choose a passage that seems to speak to you in some way—a favorite Gospel scene perhaps, or one of the healing miracles. If you don’t know which passage to choose, just rest, relax, and ask God to guide you; then wait to see whether any particular scene or event comes to mind. . . .
When you have chosen a passage, read it several times until it is familiar and you feel at home with it.
Now imagine that the event is happening here and now and that you are an active participant in it. Don’t worry if you don’t find it easy to imagine it vividly. . . . And don’t worry about getting the facts right. You may well find that your scene doesn’t take place in first century Palestine, but in Chicago rush-hour traffic, or that the desert tracts of the Good Samaritan story turn into the sidewalks in your neighborhood.
Ask God for what you desire—perhaps to meet God more closely or to feel God’s touch upon your life.
Fill out the scene as much as you can by, for example, becoming aware of who is there, the surroundings, the sights, the smells, the tastes, the weather, and the feel of the place (peaceful or threatening). What role do you find yourself taking in the scene—for example, are you one of the disciples, a bystander, or the person being healed? Listen inwardly to what God is showing you through your role in the scene. . . .
Talk with the characters in the scene, especially to Jesus. Speak from your heart simply and honestly. Tell him what you fear, what you hope for, what troubles you. . . . Don’t worry if your attention wanders. If you realize that this is happening, just bring yourself gently back to the scene for as long as you feel drawn to stay there.
There are two absolute rules:
- Never moralize or judge yourself.
- Always respond from your heart and not from your head. . . .
Our purpose in prayer is not to defend or condemn ourselves or to come up with any kind of analysis or sermon, but simply to respond, from our inmost depths, to what God is sharing with us of God’s own self.
Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.
Margaret Silf, Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality (Loyola Press: 1999), 152–153. Note: Minor edits made to incorporate gender-inclusive language.