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Being With God by Jason Edwards

In his book “Armchair Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer,” Mark Thibodeaux presents the maturation of a life of prayer in four stages: talking at God, talking to God, listening to God, and being with God. The ultimate goal of contemplative prayer is to simply be with God. 

This simplicity is not reached simply, however. 

Over the years I’ve attempted to learn and practice different methods of contemplative prayer. Centering prayer is the approach I’ve practiced most frequently, often utilizing time, space, and “The Jesus Prayer,” an ancient prayer that invites us to give attention to God as we pray “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner” phrase by phrase, in the rhythm of our breathing. This has been quite helpful in times of quiet devotion, worship preparation, and other (more hectic) moments when centering is needed. It is simple in both content and practice.  

Comparatively, the centering prayer practice I’ve attempted this past week has been a bit more demanding. 

It was prescribed to me by Joe Stabile. I’m currently participating in a contemplative spirituality cohort co-led by Joe. Joe has been committed to practicing contemplative prayer daily for decades and says this particular centering prayer practice is the most essential and most transformative. Joe calls the practice a “contemplative sit.” 

The goal of the sit is to be open to whatever God wants to do with you. The form of the prayer is Apophatic (which means it’s empty of words, images, symbols and ideas) rather than Cataphatic (which means it has content). The aim is to empty, which hasn’t been easy for me. It’s important to remember, Joe says, that the only way to fail at contemplative prayer is not to try. Here’s a way to try:

  1. You sit in a chair. Both feet on the floor. Rest in a comfortable position. Eyes closed.
  2. Choose a 1 or 2 syllable sacred word. The word is sacred because you choose it. Could be something like “empty,” “Jesus,” “shalom,” or anything else you choose. The word is what you use when thoughts of any kind come to mind. The goal is to think no thoughts, so when an image or idea comes to mind, gently return to your word as a way to focus and let those thought go. In Eastern tradition, the pray-er returns focus to breath instead of a sacred word. Hunter Mobley, my other cohort leader, suggests using the sacred name “Yahweh” as your word, because you can say it easily as you breathe, combining Eastern and Western practice. 
  3. Find a way to mark off 20 minutes of time. I’ve been turning my phone to airplane mode, then I set the timer on my phone for 20 minutes. Setting a timer eliminates the need to check the clock during your prayer.
  4. At the end of 20 minutes, remain in silence for another minute. You might offer a prayer of thanksgiving or recite the Lord’s Prayer. 

For more information on the benefits and method of this kind of centering prayer, check out the work of Thomas Keating. To experience the benefit, consider committing to at least one contemplative sit a day for the next two weeks. Perhaps more. Two weeks may only show you how much mental, physical and emotional noise in your life is constantly clamoring for your attention. As they arise, be kind with yourself and with each thought. Dismiss thoughts gently, returning to your sacred word or breath or both, with confident hope that God wants to use the space you’ve set aside to be with God to do something new with you, slowly. 

Posted by Jason Edwards at 10:43 AM
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