How to Pray: Silence and Contemplation

And prayer is more
Than an order of words,
the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind,
or the sound of the voice praying.

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

One of the great misunderstandings about prayer is that it is mostly about saying the right words. Often people will ask me to pray for them because they feel that they won’t get the words ‘right.’ I hope that I have made it clear that this isn’t the point of prayer. God just wants our heart.

Today, we are reflecting on the fact that some of the deepest forms of prayer have no words at all. Psalm 46:10 reflects that God tells us to “be still and know that I am God.” Prayer comes to a point where we just enjoy the presence of God and don’t feel the need to fill the space with words. This is contemplation and silence, one of the richest forms of prayer. It is similar to two friends who have spent so much time together that they don’t need to speak. They are just comfortable in each other’s presence. Likewise, sometimes God just calls us to rest in his presence. In this reflection, I want to talk about the process of coming into a contemplative space, and then end with a reflection on the gift of silence.

It is ironic that the deepest prayer is also the simplest prayer. But simpler doesn’t always mean easier. It is hard for us to enter a centered contemplative space because people are prone to distractions and may find it uncomfortable to sit in silence. For most of us, we have to ease our way into this form of prayer.

Entering Silence and Contemplation: Me and God

Think of it in three stages. The first is the ‘me and God’ stage. In this stage we find something to fix our thoughts on. This helps us with the issue of distraction. This could be a short piece of Scripture like we talked about in the Lectio Divina series. But it could also be a picture or an object. It could be an image or a concept. We use this ‘something’ to help us focus our attention. As we meditate on it, we explore this object of attention with our mind.

Whenever we get distracted, we come back to our object. During this time of meditation, we find our soul starts to quiet down and the distractions of life fade away.

God and Me

When this happens, we enter the ‘God and me’ stage. As our souls quiet down, the center of gravity changes. It is no longer about me coming to God, but God takes centre stage in my prayer. I find that I am no longer working so hard to stay focused. I am able to release the object that has helped me up to this point. Here I am just sitting in the presence of God.

But don’t think that nothing is happening. You are fully open to the grace and love of God at this point with no agenda. The effects do not emerge within the time of prayer. But you will find if you do practice this form of prayer regularly, you will be surprised that you are calmer, more observant and more patient. Silence and contemplation are part of the slow transformation process of being a disciple.

God Alone

On a rare occasion, there is a third stage. It is the ‘God alone’ stage. This is where you are so absorbed in God that God is everything in the prayer. But this is rare, and is always a gift from God. Be content with the experience of ‘God and me.’

Feeding Our Souls with Silence and Contemplation

Silence is food for the soul. There is so much noise and busyness in the world. This is good; there is a time and a place to be active. But we can’t forget that there is also a time and a place to be still.

Sometimes I will leave my phone and work on my desk and go for a walk. This isn’t just to get exercise. I also try to still my thoughts. It’s so easy to bring everything with me! I just open my ears and eyes to what is around me. Then I find that silence is not the absence of noise. It is the absence of being distracted and stressed; it is being present. This is good food for the soul.


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