On Meeting Mary & Learning to Pray… (Part VIII)

Author: Padraig Caughey
Issue: 24 – April 2008

On Meeting Mary & Learning to Pray… (Part VIII)
Contemplative Prayer

If there�s anyone out there reading any of this then please feel free to say so. If even one person has been following my tale then it�s worthwhile.

Prayer, like life itself, does not, nor should not sit still but like a river turns and grows as it pulls us to the source and sea of love and life, the Eternal God. In the Western Church we talk of stages of prayer, in the East they look at thinks more holistically. Here I�ll talk of stages, but I emphasise that I do not mean an immediate change from one prayer form to another, rather like moving from a bedroom to a bathroom. The change is usually gradual and we wouldn�t normally notice it in our day-to-day life as it happens. Also, though I speak of such stages in a particular sequence it doesn�t have to necessarily happen that way. Nothing quite sets my teeth on edge as writers on mysticism and mystical prayer being definite and positive about things that are fluid and full of mystery. A pseudo-scientific approach to such things can, it seems to me, be rather like trying to catch the wind in a test tube. Not that it�s not good to classify in order to understand, but to recognise that a Reductionist, Scientific approach to such things has its limits. Saint Thomas Aquinas is, some claim, the greatest of Catholic Theologians. Yet before he died he had a mystical vision that caused him to describe all his brilliant theology as just so much hay.

If there�s one thing I would recommend to any Catholic or Westerner interested in mysticism or prayer it would be to read the spiritual teachers of the East. Similarly those of the East could do nothing better than to read from the West. It�s a bit like having two lungs, or legs or eyes; East and West need each other in a similar way in order to give balance and insight.

Another thing about writers on this subject is that often they are writing about prayer forms they have never experienced themselves. I do not say this is wrong, I�m just saying its limited. Saint Teresa of Avila one time commented that she would rather have a learned Spiritual Director than a holy one. But given a choice the best thing of all would be a learned, wise and holy one, if providence can bless you with such a thing; bearing in mind that wise and learned are not always the same thing.

I�d like to talk about the start of Contemplative Prayer. Earlier we talked of us going to collect water of the Spirit to water the garden of our soul. This we do in conceptual prayer when we imagine scenes from Our Lord and Our Lady�s lives. But now the prayer, the water begins to well up a little of its own accord. How do we know this is happening to us? Well there is a much greater attraction to prayer; we more and more look forward to our times of prayer, as a real oasis in our busy lives. There is a deepening joy and peace in the presence of the Lord. Perhaps a greater quietness, a tendency not to feel the need to talk so much but to listen more.

Compare our prayer at the start to a radio transmitter; at first the messages we are receiving are garbled and full of static, but later they come through much clearer. Like a couple who have been married a while we no longer feel the hectic need for constant talk and exchange of ideas but are content for silence to break out. Not the silence of non-communication but silence of intense non-verbal communication.

This essentially is contemplative prayer in its beginnings. If we were to listen to two vast super computers talking to each other we might hear nothing but the sound of silence. For they might be exchanging information so quickly and at such a pitch we simply couldn�t comprehend it. So with contemplative prayer. It is the Holy Spirit taking over the controls if you like and flying the aircraft of your soul Himself. Let Him do so, trust Him, let go the controls.
A changing prayer like this can be challenging, even threatening, to the person experiencing it. Sometimes older folks can go to the priest and complain that they�re not able to pray anymore. When the priest asks them what they mean they explain that when they try to say the Rosary they can�t get beyond the first couple of words before their minds fly away. What has of course happened is that after having spent good and holy Christian lives raising their families they now find themselves, in their Autumn years, moving into the rich, fruitful harvest time of prayer. Contemplation itself.

To be continued…

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