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  • Writer's pictureJean Brender

Contemplative Prayer

In recent blogs, we have considered the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence. Both provide space for us to engage in prayer with God. We can pray in many ways, i.e., alone or in community, with words or in silence, using the words of Scripture, while sitting quietly or while walking, in our own words or with the prayers written by others.

Solitude and silence are conducive especially for engaging in contemplative prayer. Adele Calhoun describes this type of prayer as “a receptive posture of openness towards God. It is a way of waiting with a heart awake to God’s presence and his Word” (1). She also characterizes it as “being” prayer in contrast to “doing” prayer in which we focus on listening to God instead of offering up our list of requests. When we are practicing contemplative prayer, we seek to spend time in God’s presence and to maintain a posture of paying attention to how the Holy Spirit might be speaking to us.

Contemplative prayer has a long history within the Christian church with it being first practiced and taught by the Desert Fathers beginning in the third century (2). In his book of meditations and prayers, Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), the Archbishop of Canterbury, summed up the practice of contemplative prayer in the following way:

Retire for a little space to God, and rest for a while in Him. Enter into the closet

of your heart; shut out all except God, and what may help you in your quest

of Him. With the closed door seek Him and then say to God, “I seek your Face;

your Face, O Lord, will I seek (3).

The words of Anselm of Canterbury resonate with those of David in Psalm 27:8 in which he prays that, “Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me.” Other Scripture can be used to begin contemplative prayer and foster our openness to God’s presence and speaking, such as Psalm 46:10: "[God] says, Be still, and know that I am God,” and I Samuel 3:10 where the then young Samuel replied to God’s calling, “Speak (Lord), for your servant is listening.”

As we become aware of thoughts and feelings during our time in prayer, we may wonder which ones are truly from God. In her reflection on listening prayer, Susan Currie suggests several questions that we might ask ourselves in this discernment process (4):

1. Is what I am sensing or hearing in alignment with what God speaks in Scripture?

2. Does it align with what I know about God’s attributes?

3. Does it resonate with the fruit of the Spirit, i.e., “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)?

4. Am I willing to wait to see if it lasts, which may be indicative of the Holy Spirit as the source?

5. Am I willing to share the insight that I have received with trusted spiritual friends to help me in the discernment process?

Contemplative prayer works best when we put ourselves intentionally in a quiet environment and embrace listening instead of providing information and offering requests to God. Most certainly, God hears and responds to our prayers of petition. Yet, the posture of contemplative prayer helps foster a deeper sense of God’s love for us and heightens our sensitivity to how God may be speaking to us and our circumstances.

Are you ready to spend some time listening to God today?


1. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 211.

2. Thomas Keating, Intimacy with God (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009), 129).

3. Anselm of Canterbury, “The Mind Aroused to Contemplate God,” in Invitation to Christian Spirituality, ed. John R. Tyson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 147.

4. Susan Porterfield Currie, “Listening Prayer,” in Silencio (Lexington, MA: Leadership Transformations, Inc., 1999), 9.


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