What is Contemplative Prayer and How to Do a Contemplative Prayer Practice
Contemplative prayer is the ultimate meditation. This practice literally involves clearing the mind of all thoughts to rest in God’s presence. The word practice is used with meditation and with spiritual disciplines because they take practice! Contemplative practices are not something that you just do with ease. It can be very difficult to clear the mind from clutter.
A Sacred Word
Contemplative prayer uses what is called the sacred word. The idea is that when thoughts start to come into your mind that you focus on the sacred word to bring you back to just resting in God. The word is not spoken. The word is in your mind. Examples of words are: Jesus, grace, peace, stillness, mercy.
Gentleness is the key to using the sacred word. I’ve heard it described that when one’s thoughts drift, to say the sacred word to clear the thoughts. The act is as gentle as if the sacred word were a feather placed on top of a cloud.
The Mind as a River
The metaphor is that the mind is a river and thoughts are things that are floating by. In contemplative prayer the goal is to learn to just let the thoughts go, in other words, let them float by so as to clear the mind. Many times inspirational or creative thoughts will enter into the mind. These thoughts, even though they are God inspired are supposed to be ignored. (Note, if they are truly inspired, the thoughts or ideas will come back.)
The ultimate goal is to empty one’s self and be in God’s presence. This does not involve listening to God. It is to just be. Answers are to be sought outside of contemplative prayer.
For me, contemplative prayer is one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines; however, it can be one of the most rewarding. To receive the full benefits of contemplative prayer, it is recommended that you practice for 10-30 minutes each morning and in the afternoon. (Page 2 has an example of a contemplative prayer practice and caution when doing contemplative prayer.)