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Center for Action and Contemplation
A Contemplative Heart
A Contemplative Heart

Find Your Practice and Practice It

Thursday, August 31, 2023

For people looking to nurture a contemplative way of life, James Finley counsels “Find your contemplative practice and practice it.” 

A contemplative practice is any act, habitually entered into with your whole heart, as a way of awakening, deepening, and sustaining a contemplative experience of the inherent holiness of the present moment. Your practice might be some form of meditation, such as sitting motionless in silence, attentive and awake to the abyss-like nature of each breath. Your practice might be simple, heartfelt prayer, slowly reading the scriptures, gardening, baking bread, writing or reading poetry, drawing or painting, or perhaps running or taking long, slow walks to no place in particular. Your practice may be to be alone, really alone, without any addictive props and diversions. Or your practice may be that of being with that person in whose presence you are called to a deeper place. The critical factor is not so much what the practice is in its externals as the extent to which the practice incarnates an utterly sincere stance of awakening and surrendering to the Godly nature of the present moment.  

At any given time we are likely to have not a single practice but rather a constellation of practices, often with one of them as our primary practice. Others may surround it, each carrying its own special place in our life…. As the months and years go by the constellation changes. New practices emerge. Practices that have been present for years fall out of the picture….  

We discover by experience that if we are faithful to our contemplative practices our practices faithfully lead us in the direction of a more daily, abiding awareness of the divinity of the life we are living.  

Finley stresses the importance of prioritizing intentional presence on a daily basis, while encouraging us to do what we can within the limitations of our lives.  

Remaining faithful to our contemplative practices calls for the integrity of remaining faithful to a commitment that nobody sees; it consists of giving ourselves over with all our heart to simple acts which, on the surface, seem to be but the incidental passage of time. But if we are faithful to this unassuming path of fidelity to our daily contemplative practices, the subtle awareness of the depths to which they grant access begins to permeate the very texture of our daily experience of living. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, fidelity to our contemplative practices evolves into an habitual awareness that does not miss the surprise appearance of God showing up in something as immediate and simple as the sunlight that suddenly fills a room on a cloudy day.  

Finding your contemplative practice is then an event that occurs in each and every granting of contemplative experience in which the divinity of the present moment is realized.… By such fidelities [to practice] you, without your knowing how, are led along the path of your transformation into the depths of divinity that your daily living manifests.  


James Finley, The Contemplative Heart (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2000), 46–47, 48.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Ruah (detail), print. Izzy Spitz, Chemistry of Self 3 (detail), digital oil pastels. Izzy Spitz, momentary peace (detail), digital oil pastels. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Like this simple shape, the contemplative heart is found in the simplicity of everyday life. 

Story from Our Community:  

After starting a deeply spiritual journey 15 years ago, I often feel that I have no idea where my life is leading me. My commitment to a daily practice is just about the only thing I’m sure of these days. I get direction each morning from the Daily Meditations, and it amazes me that the Spirit seems to send me the just the words I need to hear when I need to hear them. For now, my main direction is simply, in Jim Finley’s words, “Not to break faith with my awakened heart.” —Jim D. 

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