December 15, 2010

What is Contemplation?

I tend to avoid the terms 'contemplative prayer' and 'contemplation' because I have so often heard them used as value judgments rather than descriptive terms. Sometimes--especially in religious life--certain forms of prayer (e.g. devotional prayer) are looked down upon as less advanced. My experience along the way in my own journey as well as working with other pray-ers has convinced me that prayer is so intimately bound up with temperament and condition of life that the best form of prayer is the one that fits, not the one that anyone says is more 'advanced.'

For me, I've always found a quiet form of prayer to be a good fit. Early on along the way God provided me with a spiritual friend who introduced me to the writings of Thomas Keating and the Centering Prayer method. After sixteen years of practice I would hesitate to call my prayer by that name; it has become something else. I have also come to regard some of Keating's writing as eccentric, though I still think the practical doctrine is of great value.

So, given all of that, lately I have been playing with a definition of contemplative prayer and contemplation:

Contemplative prayer is the practice of consenting to let our desire attend exclusively to its Ultimate and Final object, Who is God. In this practice we come to know ourselves in our own deepest identity, as fruits and expressions of the Love who desires us into being, and Who restores us to beautiful being by emptying Himself into our humanity in Christ. Contemplation is the obscure knowledge that these two loving desires are ultimately identical. Christ, then, in the perfect union of his two distinct natures, is perfect contemplation itself. The person of Christ is thus both the model and the object of contemplative prayer.


Greg said...

Would love to read more about this topic...

Have you encountered a well-written piece that fine-tunes the discussion of meditative prayer, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, intercessory prayer, and devotional prayer?

We often end up seeking labels to describe what we are doing, but it may help to have labels well defined.

Will have to look at Bonaventure's Itinerarium to see if it inspires a discernable pattern.

My Feminine Mind said...

That last paragrpaph is so beautiful. If the process by which we are restored is through Christ emptying himself, surely this is how we are to participate in the world's redemption too: by emptying ourselves.