“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.” – Thomas Keating.
I recently re-read a great book by a Trappist Monk named Thomas Keating entitled *Open Mind, Open Heart*: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel. Now when you think of a Monk what do you picture? A bald old man with simple clothes, a gentle heart and a wealth of patience and wisdom? That pretty much describes Fr. Keating.
Monks seem to have this mystical quality about them that we secretly envy. They have a disattachment to material things; they speak sparingly but with intent; and often, they seem to have this connection with God that we’d pay anything to have. Good new for us, this connection can be had for free.
In his book, Fr. Keating lays out the intent, encouragment and techniques of what he calls “Contemplative Prayer”, which is basically getting to a place where we receive God’s presence. His methods are based on his own personal exprience, Catholic tradition, and of course the observation of Jesus’ own prayer life. Without giving away the techniques in his book, below is a list of 8 reasons to pray contemplatively based on his teaching and some of my own experiences in contemplative prayer throughout the years.
- You’ll become a better listener.. Our modern picture of prayer usually consists of a person telling God what they need and asking Him to give it to them in a timely fashion. Contemplative prayer is more about silence and receiptiveness. The goal is to listen with intent, rather than speak out of need.
- You’ll learn to be more present.. In our attention-grabbing world, simply staying put to ‘just be’ is difficult. We want to be entertained, working, planning or relaxing. We need time to just sit and realize that right here and now – despite what we’ve done or will do – we’re loved and cherished by God in this moment.
- You’ll get more comfortable with yourself. Have you ever sat still with noting but your own thoughts for 15 minutes? We tend to get fidgety, restless, or even scared and frustrated when we sit and think. Rather than deal with our thoughts head on, contemplative prayer is a way of putting them aside. After all, we aren’t our thoughts, we’re an image God made after Himself.
- You’ll Connect better with God. If you’ve read any of the Gospels, you may have noticed that Jesus often goes off by himself to connect with God. He needed that time away from people, drama, and the basic hum-drum of life to focus on God. If He needed it, how much more do we need time along with God?
- You’ll hear what God says. This probably isn’t a shocker, but we are far better listeners when we’re silent. A lot of the time we can’t hear what God has to say because we’re too busying talking – or ‘praying’ – ourselves. Praying contemplatively is a way to sit silently, and wait for God to speak.
- You’ll learn to navigate bad thoughts. Dwelling on, or trying to fight bad thoughts just takes away attention from God. Fr. Keating talks about letting thoughts – especially bad ones – float by as if they are ships floating in a river current. Interacting with them only brings them to port, ignorning them means they’ll sail on into the land of the forgotten.
- You’ll build an incredible amount of patience. The contemplative prayer technique that Keating outlines in his book is a test in fortitude. It takes time, effort, sacrifice, and patience to practice. Repeatedly practicing the technique will not only help you get better at contemplative prayer, but will help build up more general patience in your personal life.
- You’ll appreciate God for who He is, rather than what He can do for you. Unfortunately, our feelings about God tend to be connected with what He does or doesn’t do for us. When He gives we feel good, when He doesn’t we feel confused, angry or sad. Praying contemplatively means we’re practicing to appreciate Him for who He is. As Keating says: “Only when we can accept God as he is can we give up the desire for spiritual experiences that we can feel.”