As I’ve been studying and learning more about contemplative prayer (a new rhythm I’m trying to add to my day in 2018), I’ve started to realize how truly horrible I am at the practice of silence. I’m awful at it. I would like to blame my phone or social media or the fast pace life we all lead, but, honestly, I’m just really bad at being quiet and all of those things just serve as excuses for why I’m bad at it.
If you know me well, I love to talk, I love to listen and I love to move. I do not like white space or margin or dead time. My natural state is to fill it all. The unfortunate downside of the introduction of smart phones, on demand podcasts and streaming television is that now I don’t have to work very hard to fill space. And, it’s a slippery slope. I now struggle to read for long periods of time, journal for long periods of time and think for long periods of time. Then I decide to add contemplative prayer to my day and it hits me like a brick- I can’t be silent and if I can’t be silent- how do I ever expect to hear from God or come up with new ideas or be filled so as to be poured out in service? My cup is so full with crap and I can’t even figure out how to be silent long enough to empty it so it can be refilled with virtuous things.
So, what actually is contemplative prayer? Contemplative prayer is silent prayer which prepares us to receive the presence of God. It is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster the relationship. It’s different than other kinds of prayer which include us speaking or listening or journaling or reading or studying or meditating. Those are all beneficial types of prayer, but this is a form of prayer that teaches us to be silent in God’s presence.
This past week, at the recommendation of a friend, I started a new devotional that has you, twice a day, begin and end a time of Scripture reading with 2 minutes of silence. My pride abounded at the beginning of the week- 2 minutes, of course I can sit in silence for 2 minutes. Ha! I wasn’t 10 seconds in before I started thinking about to-do lists and menu planning. Sometimes the distractions were more spiritual in nature. I would immediately start thinking of a verse and what I thought it meant and how I could write about it. Or, I started talking to God. I could not shut up for 10 seconds let alone 2 minutes! Obviously, I have a long way to go. I’m not giving up but I’m definitely humbled. I have a lot of work to do.
Some of you might be wondering- what is the biblical basis of contemplative prayer? Funny you should ask. We are currently in the season of Epiphany on the church calendar. During this season, my church is working through the Psalms. If anywhere in the Bible speaks about silence and contemplation and being in the presence of God, it’s in the Psalms. Today we read from Psalm 62 and verse 5 says, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.” David himself understood the importance of waiting in silence before God.
Many people get contemplation and meditation and prayer confused. Meditation is also a worthwhile, Biblical spiritual discipline. But, mediation is more of a thinking or pondering on something you’ve read in God’s Word. It usually takes place as you prayerfully read scripture and move into questions like, what does that mean to me and how can I apply that to my life today? Prayer is the conversation that you have with God in the context of what you learned about Him and yourself through your study of His Word. Contemplation on the other hand is the act of sitting in silence before God. It’s a trusting and resting in Him.
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The word “know” in that verse refers in the Hebrew to an intimate knowledge of God. It’s the same word used in the Bible when they say someone “knew” someone else as in sexual intimacy. This isn’t a calling to a head knowledge of God, but to an intimate, relational knowledge of God. And, the Psalmist says that can only be experienced if we are still and silent in God’s presence. Let’s think of this in context of human relationships- with acquaintances we often talk and discuss a wide variety of topics. As we move into deeper friendships, we begin to listen and learn about the other person. But, with our most intimate friendships, we are actually able to sit, even in silence, and experience more fully the presence of the other person. It’s the same way in our relationship with God. In order to get to a deeper, more intimate knowledge with the lover of our souls, we need to learn to be silent before Him.
I’m certainly not downplaying the spiritual practices of reading your Bible, meditating on scripture, confession and intercessory prayer. I’m only advocating, especially in our current culture, that many of us, including yours truly, could use a little more practice in the areas of stillness and silence.
I’m committed to building and training this spiritual muscle. How about you?