7 Tools for Your Spiritual Toolbox: Prayer #2

7 Tools for Your Spiritual Toolbox: Prayer #2

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We all forget about tools we have in closets, in boxes in the garage, or in the top kitchen cabinets. Some tools we rarelywhat's in your toolbox use, whether they be in the garage, the workbench, or our spiritual filing cabinet, often because we don’t want to go through the bother of taking them out. A “best practice” in the spiritual journey is to review, from time to time, what spiritual prayer tools we have. This series invites you to explore some spiritual tools, and perhaps take them out to sharpen them.

You never know when we might need them, but when we’re under attack from our enemy, we won’t be thinking too clearly. The time to build our faith, collect some spiritual tools and check their condition is when we’re healthy and strong. When we’re in the dark, it helps to know where we’ve stored our flashlight.

7  Tools for Your Spiritual Toolbox

Last month, I introduced seven prayer practices (aside from #1, reading the Bible) that ease my spiritual journey and deepen my relationship with God. They have been a flashlight for me in times of darkness and struggle. The tools in this series are:

Lectio Divina,

Contemplative Prayer,

Centering Prayer,

The Jesus Prayer,

The Welcoming Prayer,

The Practice of the Presence of God,

and Guard of the Heart.

To recap last month’s post, the spiritual tool called sacred reading or the practice of Lectio Divina trains our spiritual senses to pay attention to a word or phrase the Holy Spirit lifts to our attention as we read s-l-o-w-ly through a passage. Three steps follow to help us pay attention to how God is directing our heart. Sacred reading may be the most effective tool to move our heart closer to Jesus. Try it and see (see https://www.puttingonthenew.com/2018/09/02/spiritual-tools-that-deepen-my-friendship-with-jesus/September 2 post for more details).

Contemplative Prayer

Contemplative prayer is the second tool in our toolbox.

“Contemplation is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being… a gratitude for life, for awareness…It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes both beyond reason and beyond simpe faith.” -Thomas Merton

God doesn’t start communicating with us when we reach the age of reason. His relationship starts with us before we are formed in the womb.

“I knew you before I formed you in the womb…” Jeremiah 1:5

“For He knows the secrets of the heart.” Psalm 44:21

“The LORD knows the thoughts of man, That they are a mere breath.” Psalm 94:11

Prayer expresses our relationship with God. Contemplative prayer is the simplest form of that relationship. God desires to dwell in the heart of every human person. His desire to do so draws our hearts and souls to Him. But we struggle with how to connect.

Many desert fathers tell us that God’s language is silence. If you are a person that craves quiet spaces, you may find great rewards in contemplative prayer. Quiet is often thought of as a negative in our culture, but God has taught us He is not in the big winds and earthquakes, but in the still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13) as He taught Elijah.

Thomas Merton

I learned about contemplative prayer by reading Thomas Merton, a bad boy who had a conversion experience (The Seven Story Mountain) and became a Trappist monk. He wrote about contemplative prayer is his classic book, Seeds of Greatness, which was reprinted ten times in the U.S. alone and translated into more than a dozen languages including Chinese and Japanese. Years ago I read his revision, New Seeds of Contemplation from which I’ll quote here.

I think I’m in a bit of trouble because early on in this book, Merton says contemplation “cannot be taught. It cannot even be clearly explained.” Uh-oh. I’m afraid I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. All I can do, it seems to me, is entice you toward walking in its light.

“The ordinary way to contemplation lies through a desert without trees and without beauty and without water.” p. 235

“The man who does not permit his spirit to be beaten down and upset by dryness and helplessness, but who lets God lead him peacefully through the wilderness, and desires no other support or guidance than that of pure faith and trust in God alone, will be brought to the Promised Land. He will taste the peace and joy of union with God. p. 239

A Mysterious Gaze

Contemplative prayer is a mysterious gaze of faith fixed on Christ. It is described across a gamut of spiritual traditions. It is pure gift. As a result, we can’t do anything to attain this gift. We can, however, direct the attention of our heart toward it, toward God and “be still.”

Some see this as a meditation that does nothing.

“There is no such thing as a kind of prayer in which you doing absolutely nothing. If you are doing nothing, you are not praying.” Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p.243

“Contemplative prayer is a deep and simplified spiritual activity in which the mind and will rest in a unified and simple concentration upon God, turned to Him, intent upon Him and absorbed in His own light, with a simple gaze which is perfect adoration because it silently tells God that we have left everything else and desire even to leave our own selves for His sake, and that He alone is important to us, He alone is our desire and our life, and nothing else can give us any joy. ” p. 234

 

“When it is genuine it is simply a spontaneous desire springing suddenly toward God like spark from fire.” The Cloud of Unknowing, anonymous author, referencing St. John of the Cross’ The Spiritual Canticle 25,5.

We sharpen tools in advance of needing them. Consequently, if contemplative prayer is something you’d like to practice or read more about, then The Cloud of Unknowing and New Seeds of Greatness by Thomas Merton would be two resources to read or borrow from your library. Next month, we’ll explore the third prayer tool in my toolbox: Centering Prayer, a tool that changed my life, and leads to the gift of contemplation.

“For I tell you this, one loving blind desire for God alone is . . . more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, than anything else you could do.” The Cloud of Unknowing, p. 60

About Chris Manion

The parable of the talents drives Chris Manion to keep sharing what God offers her. God’s joy and compassion shows in her award-winning memoir, God’s Patient Pursuit of My Soul which she wrote while rearing two children and running a home-based multi-million dollar business. She speaks about trusting God and how to hear His voice. She's a musician, loves to laugh and eat M&Ms, and teaches children of all ages. Visit her website for more info.

Comments

  1. Saving this post so I can refer to the books when I’m ready to add more devotional books to my library. Thank you.

  2. You’re very welcome, Linda.

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