Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 26, 2011

Contemplation & Reformation

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It occurs to me — having crossed back and forth between Catholic and Protestant contexts for years — that discussion or training in contemplative prayer can sometimes be a problem of a simple “language barrier” and/or cultural bias.

For intance, Protestants in many circles will understand the concept of a daily “quiet time” quite comfortably. One might read scripture, but only with a mental focus, not a mystical transformation/encounter with God sort of experiential focus. Add in another layer by calling it “lectio divina” (or some other Latin or pre-Luther “mumbo jumbo” term), and the average Protestant starts getting nervous.

Prayer, similarly, (especially when I am in “evangelical mode”) can become about me talking rather than listening.  Not all bad, just potentially distracting in terms of actually “hearing” God in the silent spaces when I listen, or attend to Him in a different manner. In non-conteplative mode, prayer may be about offering God the “present” of worship, or even *presenting* Him with my problems as a child does to its Abba, but it is seldom about Presence. And welcoming/recognizing God’s presence is the whole point of meditation or contemplative prayer.

For Presence exposes one to the deep, tectonic shifts of one’s soul, when we shut up and finally experience the Holy Spirit’s presence, and Her restorative work, as She silently sweeps up in the basement of our hearts.

It is hard to trust God enough, to know in our bones that silence is not the same as absence. It takes unlearning some old Enlightenment-era Western biases, before we realize that repetition of a single “sacred word” (for example, to use more Catholic lingo) really CAN produce a different result on the 57th try. It is an affective or spiritual “end around”, a kind of non-rational (as opposed to irrational) reversal, as God then sneaks through the crack that a quieted mind’s prayer creates in the doorway (our brain), and then flows down toward our heart like Living Water.

Give it a try. It probably won’t even take you 57 attempts to start seeing or feeling the benefit, as the new seeds start to bear fruit.


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