Contemplative Prayer

Introduction: Vince Brackett // Video: Fr. Richard Rohr


Today we want to do something a little different. Rather than me try to pass on second hand the topic we hope to learn about and give a try this morning, we’re going to watch a video from someone who is one of the foremost experts in the world on the topic.

The topic is a certain kind of prayer that we think can benefit people like us in a huge way as 21st century Americans / city-dwellers: contemplative prayer

There are lots of different kinds of prayer. We might imagine a spectrum.

On one side you have prayer that is looking for God to change something.
This is the kind of prayer that you see Jesus do when he prayed for the sick or calmed a storm, or when he publicly prayed for resistance and justice and unity and inclusion in the face of the brokenness of the 1st century Roman society he lived in.
It’s the kind of prayer that looks to God as one who can actually impact the world we live in.
This is super important, because these are the kinds of prayers that get us experiencing God as actually alive. As involved and invested in our life and world -- rather than as a distant, removed puppet-master, who doesn’t care about suffering, or doesn’t care about injustice. You will very often hear us encouraging praying these ways here at BLV

On the other end of the spectrum, though, is this contemplative prayer, or meditative prayer it’s sometimes called Which, instead of being about God changing something, is about us being changed. It’s about teaching ourselves to be present and notice the divine in every little thing, and to be affected by that. It’s this kind of prayer that most frequently makes people into more empathetic and loving and happy people.
It’s not about solving problems, or asking questions, or figuring things out, but just about becoming more aware of God’s presence already with us, and ever with us. It’s the kind of prayer that moves faith from being a set of beliefs to something that is actually embodied. If you’ve spent much time with us here at BLV, you might have noticed that we are also really big fans of this kind of prayer Because both ends of this prayer spectrum are extremely valuable!

BUT as people who live in the Western world, in an individualistic culture, the fact of our environment is: We are going to tend to be more familiar with the first kind of prayer, the prayer that is looking to God to change things. We are going to have more of a deficit when it comes to contemplative prayer -- we have less practice in it. Our culture won’t reinforce its lessons for us. And this will particularly be the case for any of us in this community who grew up Evangelical Protestant. Culturally speaking, the Evangelical protestant experience is just more immersed in that side of the spectrum of prayer

The modern people who have the most to teach us about the contemplative side of the spectrum of prayer are often people from Catholic Orders (not necessarily all Catholic churches, but Catholic Orders -- examples of Catholic Orders are the Jesuits or the Franciscans)

And that brings us to the video we have for you today. This is one of our most beloved and helpful teachers at BLV: a Catholic of the Franciscan Order, Fr. Richard Rohr.

He helped found a non-profit called the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. And in this video they produced, he explains contemplative prayer.


Alright, that sounds so attractive to me. I feel like I want and need what he’s talking about. And like everything we talk about here it’s not a belief that we’re in or out of or a behavior that we can simply modify through will power or conviction… it’s a lifelong practice, an approach to being alive.

So Kyle and I came up with some suggestions of things you can try to this week, along the lines of what Rohr describes, if you want to try to live out contemplative prayer... Journal to clear your mind In order to do contemplation, we need to relieve the cognitive strain on all of us all the time in Modern America -- we’re trying to remember save the dates, and appointment times, and directions, and grocery lists, and todo lists for work, etc., etc. Writing those things down on paper before we try to pray means we won’t forget them, and also is a sort of spiritual act in itself of putting our thoughts on the shelf THEN we can feel our minds a bit more cleared and able to be present to God The idea again is that with contemplative prayer we are not seeking to solve any problems or process any stress or answer any questions, we are just being present to whatever is true for us, even if those things are unresolved, and looking for God who promises he is with us in each present moment. So as you try to pray, anytime something comes to your mind, important OR unimportant, just add it to your paper - you can sort through that later, just put them all down to get them out of your head This works for many people. I’ve experienced a lot of success with this myself. But I will note, as I’m a big fan of using my phone as a notepad rather than paper, using my phone for this has proved less helpful. There’s something about actually handwriting that does it for me that typing doesn’t. Maybe it slows me down. I don’t know, but that’s my experience. Focus on something external A leaf (like Rohr suggested), or a candle (an often-used symbol for God’s enduring presence - we use this in our kids program here) The idea is that it helps ground you, keep you focused, bring you back when your mind wanders Here I am praying, and my mind is wandering, but then, ah yes, the leaf, there you are again, reminding me here I am in this moment, and here is God with me, what a great reminder, thank you God. Focus and come back to something you are holding in your mind Word, phrase, scripture, picture As we transition to our time of song and prayer that we have every week, I want to give ourselves a chance to try this one right now, so for our first song together this morning, I want to go back to that definition Rohr gave us for contemplation:

“A long loving look at the Real”

Rohr talked about learning non-dual thinking and this first song is going to be less for singing along, and more for encouraging us to consider something non-dual

The lyrics are not at all black and white, they are paradoxical, and I love that about them… they are this:

O Happy Fault… Fortunate Fall

The idea is considering that when it comes to our own lives and identities: Faults can be happy. Falls can be fortunate. The happy, fortunate life is found not in our triumphs, but in coming to the end of ourselves, in learning humility, in learning self-sacrifice like Jesus.

So as we sing take a long look at the imperfections you notice in you, but not to be disgusted by them, instead to love them. Happy faults, fortunate failures and falls and flaws.