Ways of contemplative prayer


Although most of my writing concentrates on meditating on gospel stories, my daily one on one prayer with God mostly consists of sitting in silence with the Lord and then letting prayer unfold from there. I still pray imaginatively sometimes, and often converse with the Lord, but for the past few years more simply being with God is more appealing. Today I thought it might be useful to introduce some ways to pray in silence, at least as I have understood and practiced it.

One way people pray like this is to choose a particular word or phrase that can be repeated, and sitting and praying with it. For example, one might choose Jesus or Peace and simply say the word as a way to focus. I think the idea is that by sticking with one word, one is more able to let go of other thoughts, and keep focused on where one is at the moment.

I personally find even a repeated word very distracting and too “wordy”. So instead when I started doing this kind of prayer, I used a different technique of staying with the movement of one’s own breath, and just paying attention to it and letting it move in and out. Again, the technique of breathing isn’t as important as being able to release other thoughts and concerns and be deeply present to God. Of course, one does get distracted, and then the advice is to not worry about it and just return one’s focus to one’s own breath.

Over time, I found that this helped me to get comfortable enough with staying in silence for long periods of time so that I don’t really spend time thinking about my breath much anymore. Instead, one can pray with a kind of internal posture of receptivity, being present to simply receive whatever the Lord gives: a feeling, a movement, a word, an internal touch. It’s rather like “looking” at the Lord with all of one’s focus on God, though it is also a kind of not-looking at the same time because there is not a particular object that one imagines or sees.

Another way to pray contemplatively is to be with the Lord and just offer one’s love and longing for God. Here one prays out of pure love for God and just continually offers one’s love, and waits for whatever might also be received in turn. This is a simple but very fruitful way to pray.

Probably the most helpful piece of advice I have ever received on this kind of prayer came from a Buddhist lama with whom I was sharing across faith lines about how we pray. He suggested to me that I let God (or who I call God, in his view!) take over the prayer. For me, that led to being able to listen to a kind of internal voice that now leads me in internal prayer and directs my “part” in the prayer process. For example, once I felt the Lord invite me to breathe Him in and to breathe my “self” out to Him, and that led into other kinds of experiences.

All of these ways to pray are ways to deepen intimacy with the Lord in prayer. The techniques are not the aim or the end; they are just ways to allow us to open up, sort of like a flower that is blossoming, so that we are made more open to God. In imaginative prayer, we bring one part of our lives to God, and in various forms of silent prayer, other aspects of ourselves.

2 thoughts on “Ways of contemplative prayer

  1. Your post leads me to reflect on my own method of contemplation. I use the phrases, “All is passing. God alone abiding.” I find myself singing it internally. I also picture myself using an arm motion to “All is passing.” Then I draw the motion it back in, as I pray, “God alone abiding.” I do this slower and slower and slower, until not at all. I’m in the “sweet spot.”

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    1. Thanks for sharing that, Faith. I like the inclusion of internal motions. I follow some internal “motions” in prayer sometimes, too, and know what you mean by it. Peace.

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