Contemplative Prayer Group
I think, for many people, the word ‘prayer’ conjures up a picture, probably from our childhood, when the suggestion of praying meant hands together and eyes closed! And at the same time, the prayer would usually consist of praising God and thanking God for something and/or asking God for something.
But there are many different ways of praying, one of which is Contemplative Prayer. This has been described as listening for God; opening ourselves to God; waiting silently for God to speak to us. We hope to become aware of the presence of God and to remain silently and attentively in that presence, completely open to God.
It is not just that words are unnecessary, but they may actually get in the way. Prayer involves listening as well as speaking, but so often it’s we who do all the talking and so God can’t get a word in! Simply ‘being with God’ like this is a very natural way of praying. It may be the only way we can pray when we're tired or ill, for example.
Practising Contemplative Prayer may not be the easiest thing in the world and many people give it up, almost before they’ve given it a chance! So it’s often easier to learn how to be still with God, by being in a group of people who meet regularly to pray in this way. In fact, prayerful silence is greatly helped when two or three are together.
So, what happens at a Contemplative Prayer group?
The chairs are usually arranged in a circle, often around a table on which there is a lighted candle. We choose a chair in which we feel comfortable – not too comfortable mind, we need to be alert but relaxed during the session, (though if we do happen to fall asleep, that’s no problem!) Most people agree that our backs should be straight, heads up, legs uncrossed, feet flat on the ground, hands resting on thighs or lap. Many people prefer to close their eyes but others like to concentrate on the lighted candle.
A few moments relaxing are helpful, maybe by deliberately tensing and relaxing the muscles. When everyone is ready, the leader reads something very short such as ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Everyone then repeats the phrase slowly and gently in their heads until they find that their minds have settled and stilled and they can simply stop saying the phrase and rest in God.
Now obviously, no-one’s mind is likely to be still for more than a second or two (if they’re lucky!) before some unwanted thought (or image or emotion) comes into it. This is perfectly normal and natural so don’t worry about it, but as soon as you realise that your mind is engaged with some thought, you give it up (no matter how interesting, worthy or even ‘spiritual’ it seems) by very very gently returning to the phrase and repeating it until once again the mind is stilled.
We continue this way through the session, during which time hundreds, if not thousands, of distracting thoughts will have flitted through our minds. But hopefully there will also have been a few fleeting moments during which we are resting in the presence of God. At the end of the agreed time, (usually 20 – 30 minutes) the leader repeats the phrase and everyone gently returns to the present. After which we have a cup of tea!
At the end of a session we may feel that nothing has ‘happened’. Contemplative Prayer doesn’t usually give “messages” from God, nor does it necessarily give feelings of peace, harmony or wellbeing (although that might happen). Instead the prayer works at a deep level below the conscious mind and the fruits of this way of praying may not become apparent for some while.
Our Contemplative Prayer group meets on the afternoon of the last Tuesday of the month (contact Sandra Clarke 01202 064904 for venue details)
We’d love to see you there – no words or experience necessary – just come and give it a go!
The Revd Sheila Thomas