Twenty-five years ago, my congregation began offering contemplative prayer events, sometimes in a class setting on Sunday mornings and sometimes at quiet day retreats on Saturdays. I went along to try out silent prayer with others. I learned how to do centering prayer and the prayer of examen, as well as lectio divina . I took to contemplative prayer like a duck to water.
I realize others don’t always have the same experience that I did, but for me, contemplative prayer was like coming home. In the midst of the verbally oriented faith that I experienced at church and in smaller gatherings, contemplative prayer gave a sense of God as big and wild and wonderful—the mystery beyond our comprehension, and yet also our refuge and fortress, a source of peace, comfort and security.
I needed that sense of peace. My life in those years was tumultuous and stressful. My husband was deeply unhappy at his work. Our kids had entered adolescence, and we were baffled and frustrated by their increasingly challenging behavior. I had finished a seminary degree and was a candidate for ordination as a Presbyterian minister, but I had no idea when or if I would ever be ordained, or even if I really wanted to be.
I felt called to congregational ministry, but I was doing some part-time writing and editing for the Presbytery and Synod, and writing was becoming an increasingly significant part of my life. I was worried about my future. Would it include church ministry or writing? How would I decide?
I came to contemplative prayer and found relief from the turmoil and a glimpse of “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I enjoyed the sense of personal peace that came from contemplative prayer for several years before I had a major aha moment. This burst of insight came from an article in the journal Weavings entitled “Prayer as Availability to God” (Sept/Oct 1997).
The author, Robert Mulholland, points out if contemplative prayer involves listening to God, then we will become more attuned to God’s purposes and goals if we engage in contemplative prayer. If contemplative prayer includes offering ourselves to God, then the more we pray in this way, the more we will be able to participate in God’s purposes and goals. In other words, we will become more available to God.
Until I read the article by Robert Mulholland, I hadn’t realized that contemplative prayer was playing a role in tuning my heart to God’s values and empowering me to serve God more fully. The more I reflected on my experience with contemplative prayer, I realized that along with the peace, I was indeed sensing God’s guidance more clearly and growing in my ability to follow God’s leading.
Contemplative prayer, then, is not just a nice thing to do that helps us find relief from the pain of daily life. It does do that, but the peace God gives through contemplative prayer enables us to look beyond our own troubles and issues to the wider world that God loves so much. It is a peace that empowers us to long for what God cares about and to engage with God in loving the people in our hurting world.
Today is the World Day of Social Justice, and I invite you to consider the connections between your prayer life and your availability to God.
- In what ways does your prayer life help you listen to God and engage with God’s priorities in the world?
- How does listening to God speak to you of social justice?
- In what ways does prayer help you engage with God’s priorities and call you to action on behalf of the poor and marginalized?
This post is excerpted from Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation by Lynne M. Baab.