I have always been drawn to silent prayer myself and one year when I was not able to go my usual retreat at Fairacres, I went on a Contemplative Outreach retreat which was based on Fr Thomas Keating OCSO’s teaching. Thomas Keating OCSO (like Thomas Merton) is a member of the Cistercian order, and is one of the founder members of Contemplative Outreach (www.couk.org.uk ), which is a world-wide system to encourage contemplative prayer amongst people who live in the world. I found the retreat and his books very affirming and later I was able to meet him when he came to London and then to Preston. He tells how the journey of contemplative prayer leads to a deep inner healing and to self-knowledge resulting, he says, in a transformation of consciousness leading to the person becoming transformed into a likeness of Christ.
The journey is not always one of continuous joy but also contains the suffering that comes from meeting oneself at a deeper than superficial level. “to know God is to know yourself” (Augustine of Hippo)
The aim of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit that we may be transformed into a likeness of Christ. St Seraphim of Sarov quoted this wonderfully inspiring sentence, and Fr Thomas is an invaluable guide as we seek to follow our own calling to transformation. In his many books on prayer Fr Thomas Keating helps and guides us on our way. All of us are called by our baptism into relationship with God but it is not always easy to recognise the signs of the deep calling, but once your calling has been recognised and affirmed you have begun. For many it begins with an awareness of a need to listen to God as well as to talk to Him, the beginnings of awareness that there is something other in life a new dimension, yet to be discovered.
Christian life and growth are founded on faith in our on basic goodness, in the being that God has given with its transcendent potential. This gift of being is our true Self. Through our consent through faith, Christ is born in us and He and our true self become one. Our awakening to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit is the unfolding of Christ¹s resurrection in us (from “Open Mind; Open Heart). The root of prayer is based in interior silence so it is very appropriate for those called to a solitary life.
Fr Thomas takes us through all the stages of inner growth and transformation and prepares us for the difficult patches that we shall no doubt experience if our journey is real. Through deep prayer we shall be brought into touch with our dark selves and duly become cleansed and healed so that the transformation can come about.
Contemplative prayer is a calling, not a self-chosen path (John 15: 16) and we can be assured, if we persevere in faith, that we will be given what we need for the journey by Him who called us.
It will be good, at least in our earlier years, if we can have a spiritual companion on our way, or a spiritual director, someone who knows the path for themselves. The experience of transforming union is a way of being in the world that enables us to live daily life with the invincible conviction of continuous union with God (Invitation to Love, chapter 16).
When two or three people in this Parish expressed an interest in silent meditation; I decided to offer hospitality for a group. It was good that some members of the local Methodist church were interested as well as our own Anglican congregation. Although I was very familiar with the principles of Contemplative Outreach, I was concerned that our group should grow from where we were in ourselves, as a group who knew each other as persons, though we still used the principles of Contemplative Outreach as a foundation. So that is how we started having a Contemplative/meditation group in my home.
We meet on alternate Tuesdays at 5 pm and alternate Wednesdays at 6.30 pm; this flexibility is to allow for people who are very busy to have a choice of times in which to come though some people do come to all the times. We begin with a short phrase from the Bible, such as Maranatha, ‘come Lord Jesus’ (Rev. 22: 20) and then we adopt a relaxed posture sitting in silence and stillness for thirty minutes finishing with a slightly longer reading from a spiritual classic relevant to the first phrase we used, then we have a cup of tea. Those in the group who would like to, do take a turn in leading a session and it seems that the preparation itself is a very fruitful exercise as choosing a phrase and the following reading requires some deep thought; some others of the group prefer not to lead and they have that freedom of choice.
Prayer is basically communication with God; a relationship and silent ‘listening’ prayer brings us not only closer to Him and to a deeper knowledge of ourselves, but also closer to other people as we become more aware at a deeper level, of the needs of others and so can be more ready to be there for them.
Over a cup of tea we sometimes exchange thoughts on anything inspiring that we have read or heard preached since we last met. We try to contain each session in just over an hour, saving more social conversation for other times. The whole thing is a very fruitful and nourishing experience.
Books by Thomas Keating include:
Open mind Open heart
Invitation to Love
Enfolded in Love
The Human Condition
The Mystery of Christ
Crisis of Faith
Other good sources of reference to this type of prayer are Laurence Freeman OSB and John Main OSB: they too may be found on the Web.