By Keren (photo from Pixabay)
Until about fifteen years or so ago I had no idea there was such a thing as contemplative prayer or Christian meditation, or even such a thing as Christian mysticism. I have a Protestant background and these things are not really ever mentioned at the churches I used to attend before illness prevented me. It was only when I began to be drawn into a life of prayer that I started reading all I could about the subject and discovered that prayer could be a two way conversation, a real relationship. This was thrilling to me and I wondered at never having been taught about this before.
Up to this point, prayer had always been about intercession (praying for others) and a great deal of petition (praying for oneself). Eventually, when I was well enough, and hungry for more, I made a commitment to start praying for ten minutes a day. This was hard at first, and the distractions both outside of me and in my mind were troublesome. But I asked the Lord to teach me and guide me, and he has.
Some brilliant books helped me a lot and I heartily recommend them to anyone on a journey into a deeper prayer life:
Prayer by O. Hallesby
Listening to God by Joyce Huggett
Prayer by Richard Foster
Breathing, I Pray by Ivan Mann
Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird
Hearing God by Dallas Willard
More specifically on mysticism I recommend:
The Big Book of Christian Mysticism by Carl McColman
(this explains the whole subject brilliantly)
Revelations of Divine Love by Mother Julian of Norwich
anything by St Teresa of Avila
anything by Richard Rohr
The premise or starting point for contemplative prayer is expressed beautifully in Psalm 19:
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
Contemplation is essentially just thinking about how something links us to our creator and just tuning to God’s broadcasting frequency. So it is a form of listening prayer. But it is active and not passive, our intellect and souls are intimately involved. My book “Garden of God’s Heart” was written by contemplating one creature, plant or object to be found in the English garden each day. It was fascinating to take everything large or small to God and find prayerful connections in each one. I think I learnt more about the nature of God by doing this than I ever had by reading books on theology.
Remember that we can meditate or chew over scripture or heavenly things in everyday life, not just in “set aside” prayer times. For example, when I was sewing and contemplating the needle I ended up pondering a great deal on wealth and God’s teachings/attitude to it.
Prayer has so many different facets and no two conversations with God are the same. It is never boring (or at least, not for us!) although at times it can be hard; either because distractions take over or because the Lord is showing us something that’s difficult, or hard to accept. So contemplation is just one kind of prayer, and every person prays differently. Some relate best to God when listening to music, like my husband, some in the depths of silence, which suits me best.