Saturday, December 16, 2006

Contemplative Prayer

Consider the phrase Be still, and know that I am God. It's a popular verse in the Bible. It is one of the instructional phrases in the Bible, and is the core of a form of prayer known as Contemplative Prayer.

A recent DVD, Be Still offers explanation and examples of what is Contemplative Prayer. The movie is done as a series of interviews with Christian authors, pastors and educators, explaining this.

One way they explain Contemplative Prayer is as the difference between listening to God, and talking to God. If, they suggest, you want to hear what God has to tell you, then stop talking and listen. Very simple, eh?

The movie is presented very much in the mold of Christianity. This concept of stilling the mind so you can listen to God, that transcends Christianity just as God actually transcends Christianity. God is a universal being, so why would God be limited to being expressed through one religion? But I digress.

Several times the speakers describe the Bible as the Word Of God. Therefore, they say, the Bible is a means for God to speak to us. One describes a practice of leafing through the Bible and letting your eye alight on specific passages, a practice I know as a form of divination.

An analogy the speakers use is Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity while flying a kite. Specifically, Benjamin Franklin represents the human ego, the kite represents Jesus (probably), the string represents our prayer, and the storm and electricity represents God. In other words their model is that God is outside us, that we have to reach elsewhere in order to connect to God, that God is far remote from us, and perhaps that we require an intecessor to channel God into us, that we cannot reach God on our own.

They do not give explicit instruction for Contemplative Prayer. They describe the process in general as to find a phrase in the Bible you wish to connect with, and then "lean into" the phrase.

One speaker described becoming quiet, and then listening to the voices talking. I wish to raise a little caution at this moment. If one simply stops and listens to the voices they hear in their consciousness, most of the time that is the ego mind chattering away about concerns of the ego mind. The ego is clearly not God, so if one simply follows the face value of what that speaker said one might be hearing their ego chatter and decide that chatter is God. In some cases that can result in disastrous consequences along the lines of the Son Of Sam murder spree where a fellow kept hearing this voice that told him to kill people.

However, one can first prepare their space to be receptive to hearing the thoughts of God. Rather than simply become quiet and listen, one first spends some time praying, praying to connect with the highest, to connect with and be God. As you practice divine connection then it will be easier for you to hear the voice of God as you stop and listen. Over time you may develop discernment over which voice is the ego, and which is the Divine voice.

One branch of modern Contemplative Prayer is the work of Father William Menninger who found the medieval text, The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works, and from it developed a teaching he called Contemplative Prayer. The site ContemplativePrayer.net includes discussion and tools related to this form of prayer.

Cloud of Unknowing @ Christian Classics Ethereal Library is an online copy of that book.

Websites related to: Centering Prayer, and Contemplative Prayer