Dissecting Contemplative Prayer

Having finished Flannery O’Connor’s Prayer Journal, I’ve moved on to studying contemplative prayer during this season of Lent. Not once have I experienced centering prayer before, so even the concept of it is new to me. I’ve already picked up Thomas Merton’s Contemplative Prayer but I chose instead to first read Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. I’ve already underlined nearly half of the first chapter. Forever zealous.

In all the ways I’ve wrestled with my faith, I’ve yet to wrestle with the basic truth of God’s existence. I don’t know if that’s because the core of my faith is stable or if it means I’m extremely stubborn, but knowing God is real and present and fully invested in me has been a mainstay since my youth. How He oversees the universe and all its goings-on, I have no clue.

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar in the Roman Catholic Church and an impassioned advocate and teacher of contemplative prayer. He begins Everything Belongs by explaining the difference between our centers and our circumferences. At our center is our core, the part of ourselves that innately desires closeness and connection to God. Our circumference is the outward projection of ourselves, our voice, our action, and all the things that claim our identity. Our goal in life should be to anchor God at our core so that our circumference becomes a reflection of Him. To help anchor our core, we can use centering prayer.

I know. It’s heavy. It is so much easier to not think about this stuff. Rohr knows it too. He says, “For some reason, it is easier to attend church services than quite simply to reverence the real — the ‘practice of the presence of God.'” Isn’t that the truth!

According to Rohr, our emotional and spiritual maturity influences our circumference, or rather, our outward behavior. He says, “Those who rush to artificially manufacture their own identity often end up with hardened and overly defended edges. They are easily offended and are always ready to create a new identity when the current one lets them down… It is much easier to belong to a group than it is to know you belong to God.” I say again, isn’t that the truth!

Even though I’m tempted to put young people (those with less life experience) in the category of seeking out groups and forming their identities by cultural standards, I know many adults – older than me even – who have yet to put any emphasis on their spiritual core. Their minds and actions are still swayed by societal norm, which isn’t surprising since societies norms are fueled by peer pressure. Not that I sit here pious and justified in my own thinking. I am entirely a student in this realm. Yet I’ve seen and heard enough questionable ideas from peers and elders to wonder: what would happen if we all just shut up and listened for the voice of God?

So that’s where I am this week – mulling over my core and evaluating my circumference and wondering if the two will ever align.Fr Richard Rohr

Lent Reading 2015

A few years ago I started observing Lent, but instead of giving up meat or coffee or carrots (which Jackson said he was giving up for Lent), I decided instead to take these forty days and immerse my brain in study. I pick a subject (or a subject picks me) and I read a selection of books that will stretch or test my faith.

This season of Lent will be about prayer. I’m starting with a super short book by Anne Lamott.

Help Thanks Wow

In truth, I’m terrible at prayer. I was that girl in the youth group who really tried, mainly because I knew I was supposed to pray so I could say YES when someone asked, “Are you doing your Quiet Time?” (I’m glad no one asks me that anymore.) I’d have bouts of regular prayer in adulthood, times here and there when I’d study something or pray for a very specific thing (like our adoptions), but nothing stuck. I’d get complacent and robotic. So I’d stop. I told myself that if it didn’t feel real, I shouldn’t do it. To be brutally honest, for many early years I was that person who used to say “I’ll pray for you” and never did, not because I didn’t care but because I didn’t understand how to make it a priority in a meaningful way.

Several years ago I stopped saying “I’ll pray for you” because I didn’t want to be disingenuous. I actually do pray for people, but it’s not a formal thing. It’s in the moment, at the second it occurs to me, and it’s usually very brief.

Lord, please make it easy for her today. Amen.

God, this feels so unfair. Make it not hurt so badly. Amen.

Heavenly Father, give him a moment to think. Calm him down. Amen.

Thank you for all of this, Lord. Truly. Amen.

Participating in responsive prayer has been helpful to me in recent years, but I know I’m still missing out on something. For that reason, I’m going to read about contemplative prayer during Lent, a practice I know little about but wonder if it will benefit my scatterbrained mind. After Anne Lamott will be a book by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, who wrote extensively on contemplative prayer. I’ve also ordered Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal, a book I didn’t even know existed.

Inspire me.

We all know how addictive Pinterest can be. Good gracious, I could waste a day clicking links, searching, reading, re-pinning. I force myself to take substantial breaks from Pinterest, even entire weeks away, just so I can come up with my own ideas instead of piggy-backing off of others.

However, there is some really good advice out there and I thought I’d share a few favorites pins today. I’m particularly pensive this week, partly because we’re quarantined on account of Jeremy’s flu and partly because the books I’m reading for Lent are rocking my socks off.


Things I take for granted

Guess who moved

Don't look back

ImproveI would be remiss if I didn’t signify today with a dual “Happy Birthday” to both my nephew and sister-in-law. Cheers and love to you!