Friends, I’d like to ask you to mark your calendars for an event early in the fall. It’ll take some doing to get to for some of our non-retirees especially, but it’s worth it.
There are lots of ways to pray. The ones we’re most familiar with are us asking God for stuff. This is good and helpful. But it’s only one way to pray. There are many more. One alternative is what’s often called “contemplative” prayer. It has more to do with attending to who God is. If prayer requests are an effort to improve the world together, contemplation is, more simply, sitting and being with someone you treasure. The image here might be of a couple who have known each other so long they finish each other’s sentences, they look alike. And they feel no anxiety just being together—nobody has to talk.
Contemplative prayer does not emphasize the contents of prayer as much as we’re accustomed to. It figures that God already knows what we want and need. It tries to settle our anxious longings and to help us be still (Psalm 46:10). I sometimes pass on a story about Mother Teresa that my pastor, James Howell, passed on to me. She was asked how she prays once. What does she say? “Nothing. I listen.” Ok, when you listen, what does God say? “Nothing. God listens.” Now the interviewer was really confused, and Mother finished him off this way: “And if you can’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”
Contemplation doesn’t claim to tell God what to do with creation. It doesn’t even claim to know what one wants for oneself. It is content to sit with God. Be with God. Become one with God. It’s really difficult. And it’s the best way to pray.
To that end, we’ve invited Cathy Hardy to come teach us to pray this way. Cathy is a singer-songwriter and a spiritual director in the interior of BC. When we met at a conference at which we were both presenting, I was struck by her intense gentleness, her deep wisdom and kindness. She made me want to pray, to be with her with God (again, without having to say much!).
Cathy will lead us in a retreat on contemplative prayer on Wednesday, September 13, from 1:30-4:30pm in our sanctuary. This is obviously in the middle of an afternoon of a work day for many of us. Others are freer in when and whether we work, so I hope we can make time for it. She’ll lead us musically, scripturally, and we’ll leave praying more profoundly, maturely. That night we’ll have an evening of prayer together at 7:00pm also in our sanctuary. Those of us who have learned contemplative prayer for three hours earlier will have a chance to practice what we’ve learned immediately. One need not come earlier in the day to come later. This will serve as a musical and programming kickoff to our year as we bathe all that’s to come in prayer.
I really do want to beg you to be present for these events. I can’t tell you how much I’ve loved learning this way of prayer in monasteries and from people of peace and prayer like Cathy. We can pray always and everywhere, on our own or with others (indeed, we’re commanded to!: 1 Thess. 5:17). But these set-aside times for retreat and prayer can power our life with God for years to come.