It is safe to say that unless we are committed and faithful to some form of prayer we will most likely never experience transformation. In the Christian tradition, spiritual reading, meditation and contemplation are aspects of a prayer life committed to the process of self-transformation. And, as we shall see, these three forms of prayer are interconnected.
What Is Spiritual Reading As Prayer?
In spiritual reading, as in lectio divina, one’s reading is the praying. For example, if one reads Psalm 23 one does not read the verse and then pray, but rather the reading of the verse is the prayer. In the Christian tradition we believe there is power in the word, through the Holy Spirit, to awaken in the heart the truth the word expresses. In the example of the 23rd Psalm, the truth of the passage may awaken within us the realization that the Lord is indeed our Shepherd. Understanding spiritual reading as prayer means to accept in faith that the words of the living God are in our own mind and mouth and that there is power in the word to transform our heart. For Christians, the Bible is the normative form for spiritual reading, but it may apply to all spiritual reading that speaks directly to our hearts, that brings us to experience God’s presence and oneness, and offers encouragement on the path to transformation.
What Is Meditation As Prayer?
Meditation in the Christian tradition almost always refers to discursive meditation, meaning meditation using thoughts and images. Spiritual reading and meditation naturally work together in that as one reads a verse one stops and allows the verse to initiate an inner dialogue between oneself and God as to how the verse is active in one’s life today. Using the Psalm 23 example, when reading “he leads me beside quiet waters” one might ask what are the quiet waters in my life? Is it my work, my relationships, my spiritual practices, or is it this moment?
In meditative prayer the verse is a leaping off place for an inner dialogue with God’s presence in one’s daily experience. The key is that the prayer is the thought or image the passage conveys. The thought you have of God, to God, or about God are the prayer in meditation. Teresa of Avila notes that sometimes as one is spiritual reading and meditating one is inclined not to read the next verse or think of anything, but to rather rest wordlessly in the presence of God. This she says is the dawning of contemplation as prayer.
What Is Contemplation As Prayer?
Contemplation is the quiet, child-like resting in the presence of God beyond the words, thoughts, and images associated with spiritual reading prayer and meditative prayer. Experiencing a wordless oneness with God constitutes the fulfillment of contemplative praying. The theme of contemplative praying is non-action. It is not a means to an end or an act that produces results. Nothing is being achieved or produced. Thomas Merton speaks of contemplative prayer as “a sustained stance of simple childlike wakefulness to the divinity of what is in the present moment.” Merton further says that contemplative praying leads to a deep sense of who we really are and are meant to be. That in contemplative prayer our entire attention is devoted to the presence of God and realizing that He is all. It is not thinking about anything but directly seeking the face of the invisible and surrendering oneself over to oneness and love with God.
What Are The Fruits?
The fruit of spiritual reading, meditation, and contemplation as prayer is that our subsequent actions arise from an inner depth, they have a certain quality, and are motivated by love. An awareness of the inherent holy and divine nature of everything and the inherent value of each person rises up within us. Most importantly, our hearts are transformed and we begin to see as God sees. Ultimately, our hearts are liberated from the tyranny of agendas and we experience a faith in the ultimate wisdom of God that sustains us.
Where To Begin
Anyone who feels drawn to incorporating contemplative forms of prayer and meditation into our lives, does so because the Holy Spirit is stirring our hearts. Teresa of Ávila describes these forms of prayer as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” Spiritual reading, meditation and contemplative prayer all begins with fostering intimacy with God and points back to one essential task: falling in love with the God who loves you, the God who IS Love. And having fallen in love with the God who is Love, make time every day to get to know the God-of-Love more intimately, more closely, more fully.
Posted on September 15, 2020