“It is actually less appropriate to think of contemplative prayer as an action we engage in, and rather to think of it more as a disposition of the heart.”
Some may be familiar with the title of this reflection. It is also the title of two separate novels by different authors.
This reflection will not be a novel. 😊
However, the phrase, loitering with intent, is an appropriate description for contemplative prayer. Many people desire a deeper understanding of contemplative prayer. More importantly, many want to know how to do it better. We can learn about contemplation by reflecting on this phrase, loitering with intent.
Our efforts at prayer often feel as though we are wasting our time – just loitering. This is especially true of contemplation, which primarily engages the heart. This is unlike meditation, which primarily engages the mind. Even when we read about contemplation, we come across words like stillness, silence and solitude. This language suggests we are not actively accomplishing anything in contemplation. And in our modern, utilitarian society, where everything is intended to produce a result, that can be uncomfortable.
But prayer does not comply with the rules of modern society or our temporal, material world. Prayer is beyond the limits imposed by the world. It is not bound by either space or time, and its effectiveness is not measured by the results we might expect from our worldly endeavors. Contemplative prayer is exercised in the realm of the eternal. Its benefits and results are beyond the circumstances of daily life.
One definition of contemplative prayer states: Contemplative Prayer is a conversation initiated by God and a process of interior transformation leading, if we consent, to Divine Union. In this silence we come to know and live the Divine Mystery within us. The fruit of contemplative prayer is a growing awareness of God as love and Him as the Source and Center of all. Contemplative prayer, then, is its own reward. And though it is practiced in silence, it is the most natural language spoken by the human heart.
It is actually less appropriate to think of contemplative prayer as an action we engage in, and rather to think of it more as a disposition of the heart. We avail ourselves of quiet time to simply sit in the Lord’s presence. Our only act is to be there, to commit ourselves, to make the time. And in silence, to seek to remove the obstacles in our heart that impede our listening to what the Lord has to speak to us.
It normally takes about twenty to thirty minutes just to clear the thoughts and emotions of the day, and to make ourselves truly present to God. Then, we simply loiter in His Presence, with the intention of hearing what He has to say. This sacrifice on our part inevitably brings the Holy Spirit to our aid. We do not need to worry about doing it correctly, the Holy Spirit prays for us.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.–Romans 8:26
In making this sacrifice of our time, and in making the effort to remove the distractions of our daily routine, we will certainly hear the Lord speak to us. And the most important message is the simple fact that we are loved. No matter what other message we may hear in our time of contemplative prayer, all communication will echo one overriding and consistent theme. We are infinitely loved. And the best news of all, there is nothing we need to do to earn this love or to make it last. Hearing this message alone, above every other activity we may undertake in our lives, is what will transform us into love.
We love, because he first loved us.–1 John 4:19
“God cannot cease to love me. That is the most startling fact Christian doctrine reveals. Sinner or saint God loves and cannot help Himself. Magdalen in her sin, Magdalen in her sainthood, was loved by God. The difference between her position made some difference in the effect of that love on her, but the love was the same, since it was the Holy Spirit who is the love of the Father and the Son. Whatever I do, I am loved. But then, if I sin, am I unworthy of love? Yes, but I am always unworthy. Nor can God love me for what I am, since, in that case, I would compel His love, force His will by something external to Himself. In fact, really if I came to consider, I would find that God did not love me because I was good, but that I was good because God loved me. My improvement does not cause God to love me but is the effect of God’s having loved me.”—Fr. Bede Jarrett, Classic Catholic Meditations p. 51
Father Jarrett points out there are differences in the measure two individual souls will receive God’s love, and the effective it will have on them. The things that change our receipt of this love are, first, our unwillingness to engage in contemplative prayer. It is there we most clearly hear His word of love speak to us. Secondly, His love is impeded by the shadows of our woundedness that may not allow us to receive the full light of His love. We all have some degree of deformity, and we do not yet love perfectly. For this we need interior healing.
It is no surprise this interior healing comes to us continually as we engage in contemplative prayer. Consistently being in the presence of love, gazing upon the source with our hearts disposed to receive.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.–2 Corinthians 3:18
Let us pray this week that we might make the time to allow ourselves to be loved.
Article Copyright © Deacon Mark Danis
mage credit: “King David in Prayer” (detail) Pieter de Grebber [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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