Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Contemplative Prayer ~ Part Two

Dear Friends,

Today we boldly tread into the area of Contemplative Prayer that most fundamental and reformed churches call “A Doctrine of Devils.” Contemplative Prayer grew out of the spiritual practices of the 2nd century Christian mystics and has been deeply embedded in monastic life for the past 2000 years. For the first sixteen centuries, Contemplative Prayer was the goal of Christian spirituality, but the reformation changed that for the Protestant Christian and the "anti-Catholic" backlash included meditative prayer as one of the "evil" church practices. 

So is meditative prayer really an approprate way for a good Protestant to pray? Or has your pastor just been spending too much time at St. Andrew’s Abbey?

Rest easy. Your pastor is in good company.  Other pastors  who endorse Contemplative Prayer are Jack Hayford, Rick Warren, Charles Stanley, Chuck Swindoll and Bill Hybels. Some denominations who endorse this practice are Calvary Chapel, Foursquare, Southern Baptist, Vineyard Church and Assembles of God.

Contemplative Prayer: 
Meditative Prayer has been described as the opening of mind and heart – our whole being – to God. It is stilling your thoughts and emotions and focusing on God Himself. It is putting yourself in His presence to make you better able to hear God’s voice correcting, guiding and directing you.

Focused attention on God is a meditative practice. Scripture is designed for meditation and our Bible is filled with exhortations to meditate. See Philippians 4:8 as an example. At the heart of meditative prayer is silence, solitude and stillness. We start by finding a quiet sacred space in our home (silence) where we can be by ourselves (solitude) so that we can just sit-a-spell (stillness). 

We take deep breaths to relax. Breathing in on the count of five. Exhaling on the count of five. Breathe through your nose and relax.  In The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren says to “choose a brief scripture or simple phrase that can be repeated to Jesus in one breath.”  (see list of suggested short prayers for use during meditative prayer) Repeat the word or phrase as you continue to breathe. After several minutes of deep breathing and repeating the phrase, we find that we have almost effortlessly transcended into a contemplative state beyond words or emotions.

Our thoughts slow down and the sense of our separateness disappears. We come into a unitive experience with God. We have not abandoned our discerning thoughts nor taken leave of our senses. But our mind is clear of the clutter. In the silence, the solitude, the stillness, we hear His Voice.

Rick Warren has said that “God wants us to connect with Him on a moment-to-moment basis.” He said we should “use ‘breath prayers’ throughout our day as many Christians have done for centuries.” From the 2nd century, Christians have used the “Jesus Prayer” as a way to “pray without ceasing..” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

The Jesus Prayer:
Speaking the name of Jesus invites and instills His presence. The name of God, verbally expressed, already contains God’s presence. Speaking forth the name of God, places the reality of God into our circumstances and prayers. Orthodox mystics and Protestants alike ascribe to this ancient belief.

The Jesus Prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon me a sinner.” (Matthew 16:16 and Luke 18:13). The Orthodox practice combines the Jesus Prayer with deep breathing. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God (on the inhale) have mercy on me (on the exhale). Note the shortened version of the original prayer -- you can pray either one.

I have found that after awhile, your mind becomes drawn to the Jesus Prayer and you’ll find yourself praying it while going about your daily activities. With or without the deep breathing component in Contemplative Prayer, the Jesus Prayer is a way for you to stay connected with God in both the daily mundane and in the stressful circumstances. 

It’s difficult to describe, but the Jesus Prayer will allow you to stay focused, relaxed and energized at the same time. This prayer can bring a sense of meditative calmness even in the midst of chaos. The Prayer takes us into a monastic mind-set as we go through our day. We do not disassociate from our conscious and discerning thoughts, but we invite the Presence of God into the center of those thoughts and into the ebb and flow of our life by invoking His name in all that we do.  Amen?

The Short Prayers

Kryie Eleison* (Ky-ri-e E-le-i-son)
Lord, You know that I love You
Maranatha, O Lord come
Lord Jesus praised be Your Name
Jesus, Healer, make me whole
Have your way with me, O Lord
Lord God, have mercy on me
Glory and honor to God
Lord, give me a heart of love (hope)
Not my will but Thine be done
Here I am Lord, I am yours
I in Him and He in me
Father, Jesus, Spirit: One
Jesus, I submit to You
May Your presence give me peace
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna, Lord, Hosanna

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