In my years of teaching and facilitating contemplative prayer practices, I have heard some repeated questions that come up for people. I thought today I would address the 3 most common ones.
1. Are they in line with God’s Word?
Contemplative practices show up in both the Old and New Testaments. The heart of contemplative prayer includes waiting, listening, surrender, withdrawing from active life, and resting in being loved by God. So wherever we see these elements, the contemplative stream of our faith is present.
The gift of Scripture cannot be overstated. Every poem, story, letter, and eyewitness account is grounded in the Christ Event, the foundation of our faith, that God took human form and gave Himself to us in love. The life of Jesus shows us what a full human experience was meant to be: a life without bondage, a life that gives itself away, and a life in full union with God the Father. The intimacy that Jesus shares with God is striking and warrants our curiosity. Contemplative practices invite us to that intimacy.
All over Scripture we see evidence of these practices happening, of people having mysterious encounters with God, listening for God’s voice, and feeling God’s presence.
From Psalm 62:5, “My soul, wait in silence for God alone, for my hope is in him,” to Habakkuk 2:1, “I will climb my watchtower now and wait to see what answer God will give to my complaint.”
Twice in Genesis (16 & 21) Hagar meets with God in the silence, stillness, and suffering of the desert. Here God speaks to her, sees her, and provides water that she couldn’t see before.
In 1 Kings 19, a small voice comes to Elijah to care for him and guide him. This same loving voice comes and speaks to our hearts, when we too leave our busy lives and make space to hear. Over and over God comes personally and uniquely to pilgrims on their way.
Jesus is of course our ultimate friend, teacher, and guide, on this journey of contemplative living. We see over and over that Jesus, “went up the mountain by himself to pray,” Matt. 14:23. He would withdraw to a boat, to a desert, to a grove of trees, and would rest, pray, and ask for the Father’s will to be done. Christian contemplative practices are rooted in His example.
painting by Yongsung Kim
2. Is this the same thing as the trends I’m seeing about mindfulness and meditation?
In our current moment, there is a growing interest in mind/body awareness. In a fast-paced, distracted world, we are all looking for ways to slow down and experience stillness instead of inner chaos. Mental health, somatic awareness, therapy, and retreat are growing in popularity.
Because God’s ways and wisdom are woven through everything, everyone can and will benefit from being still, rest, connection, quieting the mind, and from allowing one’s attention to stay with something in meditation. These things are good for all of us.
Contemplative practices may feel adjacent to these trends, and in a sense, they are, but as Christians they are anchored in Christ, deeper, richer, and to be honest, quite a bit more costly. In the life of Christ we see a pattern of stepping away, being reminded of belovedness, aligning with the will of God, and then giving oneself away for the sake of the world.
When we stop to open and listen to God, it is not only for the gift of direction or inner peace, but also for the purpose of letting God have more and more of our being. The fruit of authentic, contemplative practice that is synced with Christ is an outpouring of love.
The purpose of silence, solitude, and stillness is not blankness but is instead an opportunity to be with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, “Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10
3. Is this a “new age” practice?
I have to be honest, I have trouble with this term. I have a deep association with not being able to watch the movie Fern Gully as a kid, because it was “new age.” But as I laugh about that now, I do think this fear of “new age” movements is a tale as old as time and is worth considering.
In the early church, and in times and places since, there have been “prophets” and “teachers” who spoke of a new age. People have claimed mystical encounters and experiences that they believe to be some sort of new revelation. A red flag emerges when these claims cut Jesus out of the equation, decentralizing His gospel or detracting from His divine nature.
With that caution, we are also invited to hold in tension the invitation that God does still speak to our hearts today! We do have a Spirit, a Helper, that Jesus said was better than His embodied presence on earth. We have the opportunity to be guided, comforted, and carried along by this Wind that blows where it pleases!
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27
We must be open to the living, active movements of God’s presence. Contemplative practices invite us to seek God’s Being and Voice in as many ways as are available to us, holding discernment and mystery together.
We love answering questions and inviting you into a deeper and richer journey with the Lord. If you would like to discover more, we have other blog posts and instagram posts that dive into frequently asked questions. If you still have curiosities, let us know what other questions you have, because we would love to continue this conversation.