A time to relearn an ancient form of prayer?
Believers in contemplative prayer say Christmas offers a chance to try a more complex way of talking with God.
By K. Connie Kang, Times Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 23, 2006 (http://www.latimes.com) "Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
Theologians often describe prayer as a dialogue, but for some people it's more of a monologue. The supplicant makes requests or recites an established prayer.
But in a practice known as contemplative prayer, the opposite is the case.
As Sister Thomas Bernard MacConnell puts it, the aim is to "listen" attentively, not just with the ears, but with the eyes, heart and soul. Very quietly, practitioners of contemplative prayer try to put themselves in the presence of God and wait to see what he might do or inspire, said MacConnell, 80, a veteran teacher of contemplative prayer. She also is founder of the Spirituality Center on the campus of Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles.
"It's not so much a mind thing as it is a heart thing," she said.
Judy Peace, a spiritual director, described contemplative prayer another way: "A long, loving look at the real. Gazing at the one who is gazing at you."
This Christmas season — when 2 billion Christians worldwide celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ — may well be the time to become acquainted with this ancient form of prayer, experts suggest.
"Jesus is our model for contemplative prayer," MacConnell said, noting how he often withdrew from crowds to pray in solitude.
A Christmas contemplative would bring to the season "a profound wonder and awe at what has happened: that God has chosen to live with us — as us," MacConnell said joyfully, a twinkle in her eye despite a bad cold.
Noting Gospel accounts of the Nativity, she added, "Notice, notice how often the word 'Behold' comes up. That's like an invitation to us: 'Look and see! Look at what's right in front of you: God becoming human.'
"It's not to say that this God was never with us before that, because we have a whole Hebraic tradition of God's presence. But, to come as a human — my goodness, that's an awesome thing."
Sometimes also called "interior prayer," contemplative prayer is distinguished "somewhat" from meditative prayer, MacConnell said.
"In meditation, the mind part of us is very active," she said. "We read, and we reflect and we compare and all that. But in contemplation that's much diminished."
And although other forms of prayer might seem best suited for groups in houses of worship, contemplative prayer is private. It can be done sitting quietly or during the hustle and bustle of daily life.