Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Contemplative Worship

I was raised Roman Catholic and still loved many of the traditions and aspects of worship from the faith. One of my heroes was Thomas Merton, a contemplative monk. As a teen I was fascinated by how he (and contemplatives as a whole) were able to find a deeper relationship with God. But we're told today in many Christian arenas that such practices as breath prayers are non biblical and are actually new age mysticism..."of the devil"!

When I read these attacks on contemplative prayer, I look to the source. Typical opponents are people who have either found Christ after being new agers, or have converts from new age in leadership positions in their congregations. Seems they want to throw out the baby with the bath water!

Those speaking against the practice of breath prayers quote Matthew 6:7,8

"And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions, as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask him".

I agree! If all a breath prayer is is repeating "vain repetitions" then there certainly is biblical grounds for not practicing it. Breath prayer, however, is NOT vain repetition, with many words, supplicating God to answer one's needs. It is seeking God's grace and mercy, through constant conversation.

The Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." is the classic breath prayer. But we can make our own breath prayer. From The Breath of Life by Ron Delbene, The Upper Room in 1992:

The breath prayer is a short prayer of praise and petition, only 6-8 syllables in length.

Here is a way to create your own personal breath prayer.

Sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes. Remind yourself that God loves you that you are in God’s loving presence.

With your eyes closed, imagine that God is calling you by name. Hear God calling you by name and asking you, “(Your Name), what do you most want?”

Answer God with whatever comes directly from your heart. Your answer might be a single word, such as peace or love or forgiveness. Or it could be a phrase or brief sentence, such as “to feel forgiven,” or “I want to know your love.” Because your prayer is personal, it will naturally arise from your present concerns and conditions in your life.

Next, focus on your favorite name for God. How do you address God? It could be Jesus, God, Creator, Shepherd, Spirit, etc, whatever name feels most comfortable for you.

Combine your name for God, with your answer to the question of what you desire. For example:

Desire
Peace

Address God
Jesus

Possible Prayer
Dear Jesus, let me know your peace.

Use this prayer many times throughout the day. Some suggestions: while waiting in line, when fear or anxiety strike, when sitting in traffic, when feeling stressed and overwhelmed, just before answering the phone at work, while washing dishes, during your workout, when leaving home in the morning, etc. The more you use it the more it becomes a part of you.

This is surely one technique. Of late, however, our morning Upper Room devotional provides the inspiration for my breath prayers. There we find a passage of scripture that has impacted someone's life in such a manner that it is deemed worthy of being shared with the entire faith. At the end of each devotional, a simple sentence or phrase reveals itself, worthy of day long contemplation.

How is breath prayer and contemplative worship applicable to a call to the healing ministry? Another time, another post.


4 comments:

gavoweb said...

it's a song in your heart and a rhythm to your walk. these are the things that my practice with the Jesus Prayer have instilled.

revabi said...

Great posting, I hope you are able to invite some to join you in this.

Brother Marty said...

Abi,
I printed out some guidelines for Lectio Divina prayer, and actually went through the process. It was wonderful to hear the different contemplations on the scripture. Everyone found something different from the reading that spoke to them individually.

I believe we may have an initial group of 5 to 10 who participate in the "contemplative prayer" meetings. Lord willing, that will grow.

Marty

Brother Marty said...

Gavin,
Thank you ever so much for your perspective. Sometimes one tries to find words to define how one feels about something...and you've provided just the right words.
Thank you, and God Bless You!
Marty