Explaining Contemplation

EXPLAINING CONTEMPLATION

The material each week will be exploring a theme and the proposed prayer time will usually have four phases as follows:

1. Centring Prayer

Centring prayer is quite simply the process of seeking to become more fully present to the moment by letting go of other distractions and more attentive to God as we relax into prayer. There are different ways to do centring prayer and each session will offer a way suited to the material in hand.

If you are doing the material alone, I recommend reading through the centring prayer two or three times so its intent is familiar and only then settling to pray.

One tip is to have a paper and pen to hand to catch distracting thoughts. Jot them down so you can let them go for the time you are praying. You won’t forget them. They will be there on the paper to pick up again, if appropriate, at the end.

2. A first exercise to open up the theme in general terms

3. A second exercise to take those first thoughts deeper and inviting the Holy Spirit to help us to understand not just the general application of the theme but its personal application

4. A final prayer thanking God for what has been received.

JOURNALING

It can be very helpful in addition, at the end of the prayer time to sit and reflect further over what you have received and to journal your thoughts and any insights that might stand out for you.

Journaling is helpful because it not only provides you with a record of how God is working in and present with you but as you look back and over what you have written can provide you with further insights through the patterns and themes that may emerge in what you have written.

WHAT IS CONTEMPLATION?

At its simplest contemplation is the process of allowing your attention to settle and to linger gently on something. That something can be anything at all: some aspect of creation, an object, a person, an event, a word and so on.

Contemplation is a quiet process. We are not speaking to the object of our contemplation; we are, in effect, listening to it and letting it speak to us in some way as we let it lead our response to it.

Contemplation, as a result, always has the potential to be transformative. Whenever we are so fully present to what holds our attention, we are affected by it in some way, however subtle its impact on us may be. It may simply be that when we move on from our contemplation, we have slightly deeper awareness or understanding of what we had been considering. Alternatively, we may have spotted something new that we had not realised before. However, it may be that the legacy of our contemplation is much more significant and results in some kind of change of heart or resolve to take action.

WHAT IS MEDITATION?

Meditation is a word associated with many different spiritual traditions. Its exact meaning and use can vary accordingly. The way I use it distinguishes it from contemplation.

Meditation also has a powerful and transformative potential, but it is a more active process and work of the mind rather than a gentle holding and receiving like contemplation.

In meditation we endeavour to understand better the full meaning of the object of our focus. In this context, it is usually an intellectual process of engagement with Scripture; we chew on and grapple with its meaning and application in our lives. As we do so, the words with their truth and revelation take deeper root in us thereby transforming our hearts and minds.

Sarah Dickinson