We are addicted to doing. It is one of the most infectious addictions that plague the Church and those dedicated to serving her. The prejudice underlying this addiction is that more activity is always better than less and that the more productive you are, the more dedicated you are. This disease creeps into every part of our life, and it wreaks the most havoc in our prayer life.
Instead of prayer being about spending time with the one we love, it becomes another checklist of activities we want to accomplish. This attitude prevents us from experiencing contemplation because at its core contemplation stands in stark contrast to the doing so loved by the world. Contemplation is a gift from God in which the heart rests in the arms of Him who demands nothing more than a docile heart. Often, our constant doing doesn’t give the space for the more spontaneous workings of the Spirit.
What the tradition calls acquired contemplation are all those practices which give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to penetrate the heart and guide one’s prayer. Often the discursive imagination can be an obstacle to the more intuitive promptings of the Spirit. In addition, there are moments when the believer can be inspired to set aside discursive meditation for a period, and simply rest with the Lord. Over time, religious and monks developed a variety of approaches which helped foster this kind of prayer.
In the East, monks used the Jesus prayer and short arrow prayers to move beyond discursive reasoning. In its earliest expressions, these short prayers were more spontaneous and based on inspiration. As this tradition developed, the Eastern Monks formalized the practice around the Jesus Prayer and tied this prayer with the breath. In the West, similar developments occurred among religious and monks. These traditions are faithfully re-presented in the work of Contemplative Outreach (though not without controversy). They developed a practice commonly known as centering prayer which is used throughout the world.
The question then becomes, how does one integrate such wisdom into their daily meditation practice? At this time, this is still an open question in my mind. I have had good experiences with Contemplative Outreach, and I support their ministry. However, I have not experienced enough of their programs to give an unconditional recommendation (but neither would I discourage anyone from trying it out). Another great organization is the Secular Carmelites. They are committed to supporting lay members grow in the life of contemplative prayer under the guidance of the Carmelite Order. I have great experiences with this group as well.
I wish there was an easy 4 steps to help someone with this kind of prayer, but the reality is that comes through patience practice and docility to the Spirit. The one thing I would want readers to walk away with from this article is to be open to this kind of resting. This openness will bear fruit.